25 year, 13 albums: Cannibal Corpse are stronger than ever
US-death metal monster Cannibal Corpse are about to release their new album ‘A Skeletal Domain’. In their 25th year of existence the band seems to grow stronger and stronger at least judging by their increasing commercial success with their last three albums. I had the chance to chat with a very relaxed Rob Barrett just before the band was heading over to Australia to start promoting their new record.
Marc: Hi Rob. You must be about to get over to Australia to play your shows over here?
Rob: We are leaving the US in a couple of days to head over there. We are going to do five shows in Australia and then we are going to do four shows in Japan. And then a week after that we have eight shows in Russia and then a full European tour.
Marc: Your new album ‘A Skeletal Domain’ is going to be released next week as well. What can you tell me about the new album? Who was part of the production team?
Rob: We recorded at Audio Hammer Studios in Florida just outside of Orlando. Mark Lewis produced it. We switched it up from the last three albums. We worked with Eric Rutan. That was awesome working with Eric. We are not counting out working with him again in the future but we just decided to change it up a bit. You know, try somebody else out. And Mark did definitely do a good job. We’re happy with it.
Marc: Listening to the new album there certainly seems to be some change. My impression is that the songs are a bit more technical than in the past. Is that something you planned or did that just happen in the creative process?
Rob: It just came out that way, really. I mean I wrote two songs on my own that I don’t think are more technical than anything else that I’ve written but Alex’s and Pat’s songs are definitely more on the technical side. I don’t really think they purposely come out that way. That’s just the way that these songs in particular are getting written when they are working on it. I think there was some really technical stuff on the last albums. On the ‘Kill’ album there was some really technical stuff that was hard to play. I just think whenever we are writing we’re not purposely trying to write something that’s hard to play. It just comes out that way sometimes.
Marc: How does the song writing process work for you? Do you go off and write songs on your own and then present it to the band?
Rob: Yeah, that’s pretty much it. Pat, Alex and I come up with ideas, a complete song. Then we just make a demo out of it at home with just a click or a drum machine, whatever ideas we have for the drum beats. Then we just record the riffs and show it to everybody and send it to everybody as an email so they can hear it. Then we just start working on it and practice until everybody is playing it together. We just build songs that way and then put the lyrics on top of it after the songs are complete.
Marc: So the lyrics are always at the back-end of the process? You never start with the lyrics?
Rob: No, that never happens. I was just telling that to somebody else earlier. We kind of write in the reverse way than I think most commercial bands actually write their songs. They write the lyrics first and then write the music around what they wanna say. We actually do the reverse. We concentrate more on the music than on the lyrics. The lyrics actually come last.
Marc: The lyrics have been a big factor in your career. So I guess there are no surprises regarding the lyrics on ‘A Skeletal Domain’?
Rob: Not from my perspective. I mean it’s the more of the usual dark themed lyrics, mostly about either serial killers or sociopaths. ‘A Skeletal Domain’, the title track, is basically talking about a world that has been obliterated and has become a skeletal domain. There is a lot of different subject matter going on. I don’t think it’s anything that is straying off the past or what we usually write about. We just want the lyrics to fit the dark nature of the music that we write.
Marc: You certainly achieve that. Over the years you have been banned from playing certain songs in certain countries and albums have been censored and so on. Does that still bother you? Or do you just go own and do your thing anyway?
Rob: When it bothers us is when it actually becomes a problem when we are getting hassled about playing in certain countries. It’s only been really Australia and Germany for the most part which is ironic because you are a German living in Australia. (Laughs) For the most part it has only been Germany where we had the problems with censorship. It only bothers us when we are actually not allowed to play certain songs and stuff like that. For a while we weren’t allowed to play certain songs of a certain album in Germany. So we had to change our set list whenever we played there. Supposedly that ban on those certain albums and songs was lifted several years ago so we are back to playing whatever we want to. Even though it was ironic. We wouldn’t be allowed to play ‘Hammer Smashed Face’ but we could play ‘Fucked With A Knife’. I just didn’t understand the reasoning behind all of this. For us that’s mainly the only time when it bothers us, when it actually interferes with our live shows.
Marc: You are now in your 25th year of existence. You had some more line-up changes in the early years. You personally had been with the band, left and came back. ‘A Skeletal Domain’ is now the fourth album with the same line up. What has actually led to this more stable environment?
Rob: I think for the most part, when I came back into the band and when we had our discussions about where we wanted to go and what we wanted to do, it was clear what we wanted to do as a band. I felt I had never left the band as soon as I came back. I just fit right back in. I could tell that the guys had a shot of excitement back in just knowing that I was excited about coming back. There was a lot of good chemistry going on and we had a lot of energy going on. I think we’re still working off that. Just being together for this long we’ve become a very tight unit, especially in writing songs together. When we write songs now, when we come up with new material, I think each of us all keep in mind everybody’s weak points and everybody’s strong points. Whenever we write material it actually comes together to where we all play well together instead of not being able to play all that well. We know each other’s boundaries well enough now to know, when we write material, that everybody can play it well.
Marc: Listening to the last four albums from my point of view every album just gets stronger. Tight is really a good description of the new album. You also seem to increase your commercial success with every release. That’s fantastic in a world where album sales are dropping.
Rob: We’re definitely very fortunate to still be on the rise. For us as a band, popularity wise we haven’t topped of yet. We’re still on the rise. I think what contributes to that it that we haven’t changed our style. We are staying true to how we started playing out style wise. There were no drastic changes that caused us to lose a large amount of our following at once. Other than that as well I think we stay out there a lot. Whenever we record an album we have our touring cycle we go through for a year, year and a half at a time. We’re a dependable band. We actually put new material out on a steady basis. We’re not just sitting around and nobody is hearing from us for a while. We’re staying out there and we’re staying in the game. I think that’s what helps us to still have as much success as we are having because we’re staying in the game. We’re not taking any big breaks like other bands do.
Marc: In fact you are touring already. Have you played the new songs live?
Rob: We haven’t played any of the new material yet. So Australia is gonna be the first crowds that will hear the new stuff live. We did the Mayhem tour over the summer here in the States. It was just too far from the album being released. With people with their phone cameras videotaping everything and YouTube and all that nowadays everybody is going to see videos of these new songs live. We much rather want that people hear the actual recording first. We were holding off on playing any new material. So we’re gonna let it go now and we’re gonna play four or five songs. Those are going to be thrown into the set from now on. We just wanted to wait until now to actually start playing that stuff because we wanted to have the album be released so people can be familiar with the material.
Marc: Busy times for you ahead. You are going to play Australia, Japan, Russia and Europe. That means you are going to play another full tour in the US next year then.
Rob: Right after the holidays in January/February we’ll do another US tour. There’s been some talk that we might do the big summer festivals in Europe next year. That will be a possibility for next year.
Marc: Lots of stuff on for you guys. 25 years in the game and still on the rise. Another thing is that you are going to release a biography this month. What can the fans expect from that?
Rob: Basically Joel McIver from the UK – he has written twenty something books already – he asked us if he could write a book about Cannibal Corpse. So we had him ride along with us when we were doing some dates in the UK with Triptykon and Enslaved about three or four years ago. He just rode along with us and just interviewed the band members about different times of our career and just compiled all this stuff. That should be pretty cool. We had the ‘Centuries Of Torment’ documentary DVD that came out which has most of the information about the band. It’s cool to have it in a book too I suppose.
Marc: That’s a lot the fans can look forward to, new album, need songs being played live around the world and a new biography. It’s good to see Cannibal Corpse still being on the rise after 25 years.