Interview: Rob Barrett of Death Metal Legends, Cannibal Corpse

When someone talks of the genre of death metal, there are a few names that reside at the top of everyone’s list. Cannibal Corpse is indisputably one of those names. Formed in 1988, they helped shape the budding underground metal scene at the time, and helped usher in this new type of crushing sound. Signing with Metal Blade Records early in their career, they have consistently put out records over the course of their 26 years of life. They have had multiple lineup changes, and controversies surrounding the band because of their graphic imagery and lyrics (1995 Bob Dole named them one of the bands that was ‘undermining the national character of the United States). But they have seen success in their field, from a cameo in Ace Ventura:Pet Detective to multiple awards and recognition among all who are fans of metal. At the recent Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival at Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Jim Gilbert and I got to speak with guitarist Rob Barrett about the band, the life, and the new album coming out in September.

Jim Gilbert: We cover all of Upstate New York, and upstate are very proud of it’s musicians. I know you guys originally hail from western New York, Buffalo area.

Rob Barrett: Yea, it’s where I grew up as well.

JG: So talk a little about the metal scene in Buffalo at the time, the mid to late 80’s. Death metal wasn’t really out yet, right?

RB: It was kinda of forming at that time, in the late 80’s. All of us were in different local bands, and playing local gigs together. Alex [Webster] and Jack Owen were in a band called Beyond Death, with Darrin Pfeiffer, who actually ended up being in Goldfinger. Chris Barnes, Bob Rusay, and Paul Mazurkiewicz were in a band called Tirant Sin. I was in Dark Deception, and we would all play shows and all the bands rehearsed in the same building, so we always saw each other and we would hang out after. It was a nice tight-knit scene going on.

JG: You had joined Cannibal Corpse after they formed, around 1993?

RB: Yeah, they had already recorded Tomb of the Mutilated (1992). I had joined Malevolent Creation and had moved to Florida in 1989. Originally I moved to Fort Lauderdale, and then I went to Miami and formed a band called Solstice that I was singing and playing guitar in. At that time Phil from Malevolent Creation called our drummer Alex and myself to join up with them. So we were both part of the second Malevolent Creation record, Retribution, in 1992. We went on a U.S. tour with Cannibal Corpse, Obituary and Agnostic Front. That was definitely a good tour, and for me it was the first tour I was ever on, so it was excellent. Cannibal and Malevolent shared a bus together, and we all knew each other from Buffalo, so we all got along great. We were like one big family, and I am pretty sure that is why I got the call to join with them the next year, because they had gotten rid of Bob Rusay and they knew we would get along because they had already toured with me.

Jeff Ayers: So did you move back up to Buffalo at that point?

RB: Yea, I was living in Miami when I got the call. I think I flew up there a few days later, and learned their entire set in two weeks because they had a U.S. tour scheduled, and then just started touring with them.

JG: But you guys recorded down in Tampa.

RB: Yea, yea. The first six albums, I believe, were done at Morrisound Recording in Tampa, FL. Up through Gallery of Suicide definitely.

JA: Just about everybody in death metal was getting recorded there

RB: At that point in time, that was the place that everybody was going. It was the hot spot. Obituary, I believe, was the first band to record death metal down there, and that got everyone else to want to record there. After I moved back up to Buffalo, we all decided to move down to Tampa as a band. For me it was like a triangle: Buffalo, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, back to Buffalo and then back down to Tampa. We have been based out of Tampa since 1995.

JG: Do you still consider yourself a Buffalo band?

RB: We are really widely known for being from Tampa. But if you go back to the beginning, yeah, we all originated from Buffalo. But since the member changes there are now two guys who are not from Buffalo.

JA: So Cannibal Corpse has been THE band in the past 20 years. You guys have paved the way for a lot of bands that are on festivals like this, and everything else. From your opinion, how has the dynamic of the scene changed? You started back in the 80’s, with something that barely existed at that time.

RB: I think that it has improved a lot. These bands today have a lot more technology to make more quality recordings. Back when we first started, everything was rough around the edges. That right there is kinda what made death metal what it’s supposed to be, in my eyes. I mean we practice a lot, we average four days a week when we aren’t on tour. We take it serious, not just getting together a couple times a month. But the comparisons between back then and now, with the technology, the younger bands have more tools to make things not so rough around the edges.

JA: For better or worse I guess.

JG: Now we get massive metal tours, like the Big Four touring together. If you had your ideal death metal tour, who would be on it?

RB: We were actually hearing some talk of someone trying to get a Big Five thing (in death metal) going on, which would have been Deicide, Obituary, Cannibal Corpse, Morbid Angel and Suffocation. I don’t know if that will ever come to fruition. I think it would be great, maybe not as a full-blown tour, but major city dates or something.

JA: Oh my god, I’d be up for that. That would be a lot of fun.

RB: It’s strange, too, because all those bands except for Suffocation are based out of Florida, but never have actually toured together a lot. I mean, we did tour with Obituary, back in 1992 though.

JG: You guys all did you early albums out of the same studio. I’m not sure where Deicide recorded

RB: Deicide has been going to Audiohammer, which is in Sanford near Orlando. We just recorded our last album there as well. But early Deicide was also Morrisound as well.

JG: That whole sound really came from that one spot.

RB: Yea it just kinda happened, you know? Everybody heard Obituary’s recording, and everyone just started going there. A lot of bands went there to record demos, in the hopes of getting a record deal, because their demos would say ‘Recorded at Morrisound.” It actually worked for some of them, I think.

JG: To be in the environment in the beginning, it’s the first time anyone has heard stuff like that. Is there a different feeling now, than opposed to 20 years ago? Are you happy with the direction you are going, are you still pushing the boundaries?

RB: We are working harder than we ever did. We have to stay vital with these younger bands that are coming up in the scene. It’s not like we are trying to hang onto the throne, it’s not a competition, but we want to be able to hang with the younger bands. I think we are doing pretty good. Our sound has progressed to the point that we are keeping up with the times but still staying true to our sound that we started 26 years ago.

JA: Is there a younger band that just blows your mind?

RB: Well, the last one that really blew my mind was this band Aeon from Sweden, that we are actually going to be touring Europe with in October and November. They have been around a little bit, but they are the last death metal band that blew me away with their stuff. It’s like a mix between Florida death metal and maybe Meshuggah. They have a lot of strange timing going on, but with straight forward death metal mixed in. It’s a good combination, and being from Sweden, they also have a lot of shred going on as well.

JA: Of course, lots of shred in Sweden. Keeping up with new stuff, you guys are on the 70,000 Tons of Metal Boat Cruise this year. That sounds like quite a blast, have you ever done anything like that before?

RB: Well we got offered to do the first one when they started it, but we passed on it to see how it was going to go. It was a major success, so we jumped on the second one, and it was great. It was a cool experience, and I wasn’t drinking on that trip, but if you a drinker, you will love it. You are on a boat for four days, and everybody’s just partying.

JG: Can we talk about the new album a little?

RB: Sure. We just released the name of it, A Skeletal Domain, out in September. We have a lot of fast songs in there, and a good amount of slower stuff as well. If you are just playing fast all the time, it’s all going to sound the same. There is no dynamics going on. So we have a few mid-paced songs, which also help out our live sets as well. I mean, I’m 44, and my head feels like it might fall of my neck sometimes. [laughs]. Headbanging every night for that long will take it’s toll on you. George [Fisher] though, he is the king of the head spins. I used to be able to do the windmills like that, but now I just do the ‘chicken peck’ i call it. [laughs].

JA: Your more melodic stuff is always intricate and interesting though. You never have a throw away song or a cop-out.

RB: I mean, our main thing with our sound is to make sure nothing sounds happy, or over melodic. You can be melodic without having it sound happy or triumphant. We try to go for the more uglier sounding stuff.

JA: You want to keep the core true to Cannibal Corpse

RB: Yes, definitely.

JG: Have you released any track names off the new record?

RB: Sadistic Embodiment was the one song that leaked early. There is a couple I can talk about though, that I wrote on the record. There is one called Kill or Become, which is like going back to the old Cannibal lyric style. It’s a zombie song. You gotta kill or become one. I wrote another one called Icepick Lobotomy, which is a nice little ditty about a doctor. It is kinda based on a true story, which I made into my own. Back in the 1800’s, there was a doctor that used to perform lobotomies with ice picks, right between the eyeballs. Paul wrote lyrics for half the album, and Alex wrote four songs, music and lyrics.

JG: Do you read a lot to get inspiration for songs?

RB: Yea, either from reading, or it might be something I’m watching, like a true crime or something. There are all sorts of crazy things in the world that sometimes real people did. So we draw a lot of information from that and twist them into our own little stories. Somebody dies by the end of the song all the time. There is definitely a body count going on. That is what people expect from us, and we aim to give them what they want.