Cannibal Corpse Drummer Talks Vegetarianism and the Origins of Death Metal

The Summer Slaughter Tour hits Marquee Theatre on Saturday, August 13, and with it comes a death metal lineup that is, in a word, punishing.

Alongside headliner Cannibal Corpse are Nile, Suffocation, After the Burial, Carnifex, and a whole slew of other absurdly heavy bands looking to plunge thunderously dark and jagged riffs into your ear-holes. This Summer Slaughter tour is not for the faint of heart.

That fact couldn't please Paul Mazurkiewicz, drummer for Cannibal Corpse, more. His band is finally on a tour surrounded by his genre peers, and he and his bandmates are enjoying the ride.

Cannibal Corpse formed in the late '80s, and went on to release a handful of highly influential death metal albums, garnering a reputation for their outlandishly violent and gory vocals and extremely heavy guitar and drum work. The band's remained consistent in this one thing throughout its career, with song titles like "Edible Autopsy" and "Icepick Lobotomy" — the former from the group's first album and the latter from its latest — that sit comfortably next to each other in their brutality. 

We hopped on the phone with Mazurkiewicz to talk about the band's early days and the influences that drove a young group of musicians in western New York to produce such dark, heavy music.

New Times: How's the Summer Slaughter Tour coming along?

Paul Mazurkiewicz: It's been going great. Great turnouts, great bill. So it's been a fun one this summer, that's for sure.

Seems to me like the lineup is a little more death metal-heavy than previous ones. How's it feel to be surrounded by more of your peers in the genre?

Well that's definitely it, of course. This one being a little more heavy toward the death metal, it's huge, of course.

The one we did a few years back with Between the Buried and Me and Periphery was a great one, great bands, but it may not have mixed as well. But this year ... we just felt that was a huge death-metal contingent, of course. 

Back when you guys first started the band back in Buffalo [New York], what kind of music were you listening to that made you gravitate towards making the style of music you ended up making?

Well, we were all products, of course, of growing up in the '80s, being teenagers and growing with this whole movement of heavy metal. We started out listening to the typical heavy bands; that's all there were [to listen to]. Bands like Black Sabbath, those kind of bands in the early days when when we were really young. Then all of a sudden, you have Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. Then all of a sudden, what's happening, what's going on, things are warping, things are changing. This band Metallica comes out, and it hits you so hard and you're either into it or not.

It took a little bit, but we gravitated towards the heaviness of where metal was heading. A lot of people were like well, that's too much man, I can't get any heavier than Iron Maiden or Judas Priest. And we were the fans that were like, "Whoa." When you heard Metallica, you had to take it to another level. Then Slayer came out and we were in the thick of it, being 14, 15, 16 years old. So impressionable a time for that music [to influence us]. We just gravitated towards that heavy stuff.

So when we were ready to start making music, we were full-on into thrash, and the inspiration was Metallica, Slayer, Dark Angel, Sacrifice, bands like that — bands like that were pushing the envelope and taking it to that extreme.
You listen to those bands, and the first Cannibal Corpse album is a little heavier than the stuff Metallica was making at that time. I wondered if that stuff you were making was a reaction to mainstream metal.

Well, we were just making it heavier, really. Thrash was so prominent at that point, and exactly — right around '87, '88, '89, you got bands like Death and Morbid Angel and Autopsy and other heavier bands that are pushing the limits of thrash. Yeah, it's slightly thrash but it's heavier — what is this? This heavier vocal style and all that. When you listen to the first Cannibal demo though, we sound like Kreator. We were still kind of finding our identity. [First Cannibal Corpse singer Chris Barnes] sounds like the singer from Kreator on that demo. Then you fast forward to only eight months later when we recorded, the album doesn't sound that way. We were more influenced by the death-metal style vocals at that point.

Death metal became a product of trying to make thrash heavier. So that's what we were into. We loved Metallica, we loved Slayer, but yes, we wanted to be heavier. We wanted to be more intense. We have the ability, we want to take it to the extreme. We want to play as fast as we could, play as loud, as angry, as evil as we could, you know. We wanted to take it to that next level.

I feel like the term cookie monster metal was invented to describe bands like Cannibal Corpse. What do you think about that particular term?

That's going to come from probably not understanding and into the music. … Sure, you listen to the vocals in the earlier stuff. We went from pretty cool thrash singing on top of heavy stuff to like that — so guttural and indecipherable. I can understand if you're not into the music, that was a way to describe how the vocals were.
When you first heard that kind of singing, were you instantly drawn to it? Was the band instantly drawn to it, like, 'This is what we want for our singer?"

The way I look at it, we're products of thrash. And we loved regular singers like [Metallica's James] Hetfield and Ronnie James Dio and [Judas Priest's] Rob Halford and [Iron Maiden's] Bruce Dickinson — but yes, exactly. When the music started to change and we're hearing this crazy guttural voice over the top of this music, we were like, "We want to do that, too. "

We were starting to find our identity as a band. We were so new to the scene, and here we are thrust into a record deal and signed. I really feel that we were starting to find our identity at this point. The difference from the demo to the album, we're only talking eight months. ... As the musicians, we as musicians were just making heavy music. The vocals weren't our thing. That was up to Barnes. So when he went more guttural on [the band's 1991 album Butchered at Birth] and [the band's 1992 album Tomb of the Mutilated], it was kind of like alright, this is whatever. It's extreme. It's crazy, and bands weren't doing it as crazy as this. ... But after Entombed and Butcher, The Bleeding comes out [in 1994], and it's not like Entombed and Butchered in terms of vocals. It's still deep, but they're a little more audible, a little more decipherable. I think as a band that's what we wanted it to be. We wanted to have the brutal low vocals, but we didn't want them to be crazy. 

For what it was, it was great — the way we look at it [vocals are] a sixth instrument. … I think we wanted to have them be like they are now. We wanted them guttural and brutal, but we wanted them to have a bit more clarity. So that's what we gravitated more towards on The Bleeding.

It's interesting you mention The Bleeding, because that was the last album with Chris Barnes singing. George ["Corpsegrinder" Fisher, second and current Cannibal Corpse singer], I think, had a little more of an extreme style than Chris did. You can hear it, especially in the later albums.

Of course. That's why we made the change. We wanted to better the band, and we knew we were by getting George.

You're a drummer. Do you play any melodic instrument on the side?

I started playing guitar before I started playing drums. But if you look at some credits, I've written a few riffs since the early days. ... And if you look in the later days, I've written a few songs by myself.

Do you think having that melodic capability inside of you helps you be a better drummer?

Sure, I think it's always going to help. I think anything is going to help you if you multipurpose and are multitalented in those ways, being able to grasp a few different instruments — how can that not help?

In your opinion, What makes a good song?

To me, it's gotta be a good riff. It's gotta be a catchy, good riff. If you've got a good riff, that's where it's gonna start. And then of course it comes down to some good arrangements, of course. But it all starts with a riff. If you don't have a riff, you don't have anything to grasp on to. I think that's key.

One thing about you is that you're vegetarian, and I think that's a fact that people wouldn't necessarily expect from the drummer of a band that is so brutal. When did you become vegetarian?

I've been a vegetarian now for about 13, 14 years. Didn't want to eat the animals anymore. I feel they deserve to live, and who am I to dictate if they do or not.
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David Accomazzo is a music wrangler, award-winning reporter, critic, and editor with more than a decade in the business.
Contact: David Accomazzo