Peel Your Eyes Back, People: This Is Cannibal Corpse

by | Jun 28, 2022 | MUSIC

The first time I heard Cannibal Corpse was in a movie theater on the Dahlgren Naval Base in Dahlgren, Virginia. It was Opening Day for King George Little League, and festivities were held at the field just beyond the armed-guard checkpoint. I was there hours before my team’s game started, just like a lot of other 11-year-olds excited to play baseball that afternoon. 

It didn’t take long before throwing the ball around in the grass with my teammates got boring. So I ran a few blocks over to the movie theater down the street. Everything onscreen there was either a few years old or several weeks off the marquee at Regal Cinemas. Admittance to these features was only a dollar, which was fair. I sat in one of the middle rows as Jim Carrey twisted his face around in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, with my cleats, Rockies uniform, baseball glove, bucket of stale popcorn, and no one else in the theater.

Early into the film, Ace is at a packed metal show, asking questions to a long-haired guy who won’t stop headbanging. On the stage behind Ace was the aforementioned Tampa, Florida death metal band, Cannibal Corpse, ripping through the song “Hammer Smashed Face,” from their album Tomb of the Mutilated. Apparently, Jim Carrey was/is a fan.

I didn’t become a fan of Cannibal Corpse on that Opening Day in 1994. I didn’t care about heavy metal. Some kids on the school bus had talked about Metallica and Iron Maiden and Ozzy Osbourne, but that didn’t really count. I mostly listened to Sir Mix-A-Lot, Weird Al, and whatever my parents listened to. I wore Chicago Bulls t-shirts and had a flattop. Cannibal Corpse could’ve been a mariachi band for all it mattered to me. 

The man grunting over the microphone in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective was Cannibal Corpse’s original singer, Chris Barnes. He was replaced in 1995 by George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher, who has gone on to scream on every Cannibal Corpse album since his debut on 1996’s Vile. They are the best-selling death metal band of all time, and “Corpsegrinder” has become the scowling face of the genre. If you’ve ever watched the Adult Swim cartoon Metalocalypse, Nathan Explosion (the singer of Dethklok) was based on the image and vocal sound of “Corpsegrinder.” 

Even blue-haired grandmothers have heard of Cannibal Corpse. 

Most people had a different first listen to the band than I did. Could’ve been an older brother or sister or some dude from the neighborhood who gave you the inaugural spin way back when. Or the high school friend who climbed into your Honda Accord and smashed Eaten Back To Life into the tape deck in 1990. Maybe you saw suburban teenagers wearing Cannibal Corpse t-shirts huddled around the entrances to Hot Topics in the mid 2000’s and decided to listen to KILL. Maybe your dad played The Wretched Spawn for you out in the garage.

I thought about this at The Broadberry on June 12th as I watched an 11-year-old blonde kid hang over the barricade in front of the stage to scream Necrooopedophiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiillllllllllle” like he was trying to summon a horde of evil 5th graders to descend upon Broad Street. I assumed the older guy behind him was responsible for this. I wondered what the first song he played the boy was. Maybe it was “Hammer Smashed Face” too. It’d be interesting to hear the rest of the blonde kid’s vocabulary.

Cannibal Corpse hadn’t played The Broadberry since their show with Cattle Decapitation and Soreption in 2015. I was at that show. It was murder. I’d never seen anyone headbang that much. On their most recent East Coast raid, Cannibal Corpse brought two bands from Ohio along for this blood meridian before heading to disembowel European audiences in August; Sanguisugabogg (I think it’s pronounced sangey shuga bog) from Columbus, and Cleveland’s 200 Stab Wounds

Leading off on June 12th were local “vicious precision hardcore” badasses, Under Attack, featuring guitarist Mark Telfian, Jason Hodges (Suppression/Oozing Meat) playing bass, Dave Witte (Municipal Waste) annihilating the drums, and Alex Copeland hissing into the microphone like a pit viper turned drill-sergeant. 

Their proclamation of “vicious precision hardcore” wasn’t off the mark. Sometime during their set, the crowd opened up like a well-placed gunshot wound to the abdomen, and a moshpit spilled onto the middle of the floor like some poor longhair’s twitching guts. Other people took advantage of this to rush closer to the stage, leaving the remainder to get out of the way, shove each other or do improvised ninja moves. Maybe it was a track off Under Attack’s just released (June 24th) self-titled album which lit the fuse. Under Attack were all things vicious, precise, and magnificent. 

People-watching is good if you don’t go to metal shows much. That Matthew McConaughey adage of, “I keep getting older, and they stay the same age” works well here too, but in a different sense. I was tossed out of high school before some of the people buying shirts at the merch tables were alive. Toss into the mix an assortment of scene queens, heshers, ne’er-do-wells, punkers, music nerds, stoners, and frat dudes, and you can get an idea of the group you’re looking at. People-watching at metal shows is like watching a fish tank where the fish come up and talk to you about how much they drank at the last metal show, all while spitting out a variety of colorful pebbles and urinating. I like these people.

200 Stab Wounds played their set during my people-watching session. Despite technical difficulties that mostly resulted in silence from the stage and sound dudes darting around, 200 Stab Wounds were great. Songs like “Drilling Your Head,” from their 2021 album Slave To The Scalpel, could be the soundtrack to hitting a heavy bag, while “Paths To Carnage” is made for circle pit bloody noses. But I don’t know if they actually played these songs.

I was side-stage for Sanguissugabogg. Their frontman, Devin Swank, looked a lot like UFC Hall of Famer Mark Coleman. Baseball cap on, big ol’ muscley arms that looked like Swank’s done pushups for the entirety of his 27 years. In between deep, swine-like growls, he delivered lyrics that sounded like Till Lindemann of Rammstein, but exaggeratedly lower; I couldn’t hear most of what he said. Menacing guitars were down tuned to the abyss. Rhythm section thundered down the block like the hounds of Hell. In another life, if I owned a blood-colored ’62 Pontiac Catalina on 24” Sprewells with silver reflective tinted windows and an obnoxiously loud stereo, I’d blast Sanguissugabogg’s album Tortured Whole, and drive slowly down the street like the car was in a fucking parade.

Lurtz was the first leader of the Uruk-hai (creatures that are half Orc/half goblin-men) in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Had Lurtz decided to instead front a band, he’d sound like “Corpsegrinder” and the band would sound like Cannibal Corpse. You can’t hear songs like “Inhumane Harvest,” “Condemnation Contagion,” and “Surround, Kill, Devour,” from their 2021 release Violence Unimagined, and not make the same connection once it’s been dropped like a body in front of you.

At 9:15, George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher took hold of the microphone like it was the neck of some unfortunate, weaker being, and thus began Cannibal Corpse’s bludgeoning of The Broadberry for the next hour and a half. They drove opener “The Time To Kill Is Now” like it was a spike into the sternum of the audience. Alex Webster (bass) and Paul Mazurkiewicz (drums) are the only original founding members of Cannibal Corpse, with guitarist Rob Barrett having rejoined in 2005 after leaving in 1997, and lead guitarist Erik Rutan (Hate Eternal/Morbid Angel) joined as a permanent member in 2021. Rutan’s addition is undeniable. These songs are absolutely wicked. 

They slaughtered the crowd with shots from most of their albums, opting to omit songs from their late 90’s catalogue and instead culling tracks from later releases like Torture and Violence Unimagined, as well as early 90’s classics like Tomb of the Mutilated and The Bleeding. “Corpsegrinder” rolled his head around on what seemed like a steel ball bearing lodged in the trunk of his neck. He did this for extended periods of time, hands on his knees like he’d just eaten fire while Rutan’s fingers fishtailed all over the fretboard and he used the whammy bar like an emergency brake. This wasn’t thrash headbanging, more like watching a long-haired, decapitated head spin around in the front-load washer at a coin laundry.

I stood behind the barricade for the entirety of their set, which fittingly ended with “Hammer Smashed Face.” The SOLD-OUT crowd at The Broadberry were left pummeled and sweaty. Like I said, I’ve seen Cannibal Corpse before, but not this close. It was the best goddamn thing I’ve seen in long time.

Photos by Ryan Kent

Ryan Kent

Ryan Kent

Ryan Kent is the author of the collections, Poems For Dead People, This Is Why I Am Insane, Hit Me When I'm Pretty, and Everything Is On Fire: Selected Poems 2014-2021. He has also co-authored the poetry collections, Tomorrow Ruined Today, and Some Of Us Love You (both with Brett Lloyd). His spoken word record, Dying Comes With Age, will be released by Rare Bird Books in 2022. Ryan is a staff writer for RVA Magazine and maintains a pack a day habit. (photo by D. Randall Blythe)

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