How is it humanly possible for a band’s best output to come 15 albums in? Well, if you’re legendary death metal act Cannibal Corpse, you expect nothing less. Their latest, Violence Unimagined, out now via Metal Blade, somehow showcases that not only does the band who has written more genre classics than I’ve had relationships seem more fired up than ever at this stage of their career, there’s also good reason for that.
With the introduction of guitarist and producer Erik Rutan (Hate Eternal) formally into the band, Cannibal Corpse’s now trademark thrash-y, gore-splattered death is as fresh and festering as ever. Seriously, songs like “Inhumane Harvest,” “Follow the Blood,” and “Slowly Sawn” rank among the band’s greatest songs to date. Instead of coasting into legendary status (as one might expect), Cannibal Corpse appear to be reaching their creative peak.
As bassist Alex Webster notes, bringing Rutan aboard only made the band stronger:
“Erik has been awesome; he brings a whole bunch of energy. He wrote three songs, music and lyrics. He’s already been part of the family. We’ve been close friends with him for decades and worked with him on four of our albums before Violence Unimagined, just as a producer. But still, that’s a big deal. Now, him having produced this album, he’s tied with Scott Burns for being the producer who’s worked with us the most. So, he comes into it, and it’s the most natural, seamless transition ever.”
“And you’re right about the legacy thing,” Webster continues. “We really, we want to make whatever we’re currently working on the best that we can. The idea is that, if you’re still functioning as a band, that potentially your best album should be coming in the future. It shouldn’t have already happened. We don’t want to coast on what we’ve already accomplished. We want to try and write the best album we’ve ever done. And that’s what we’ve tried to do all 15 times, actually. And that’s what number 16, whenever that happens, will be our attempt at writing the best album we’ve ever written again.”
Part of the reason the band have been able to not only maintain consistent greatness but improve year after year is an understanding of what they do best, and continuously improving further on that one element.
“For us, we kind of settled into the idea that the way we should push ourselves the most, and what we excel at the most, is our song craft,” Webster acknowledges. “That’s ultimately it. We feel like we’re pretty accomplished players as far as the kind of speed we can play and the technicality we can handle. But those are means to an end at this point. The end that we seek is to write the best collection of songs that we’ve ever written.”
So, what does that mean exactly?
“So, whether or not it’s the fastest album we’ve ever done, or the most technical, that’s not really factoring into it. Or the goriest or any of that. It’s really just what are the best, catchiest, heaviest songs that we can write? And I feel like, yeah, ‘Follow the Blood.’ That’s one of [guitarist] Rob’s [Barrett]. And that’s one of the best songs he’s ever written, and he’s written a bunch of great songs for the band. But I think ‘Follow the Blood’ is probably my favorite song on the album, because, well, what’s cool is he found a couple spots for me to some bass stuff [laughs]. In general, though, it’s so different. It’s still us, but it’s really different. Not only for how Rob writes, but for how the band writes. It’s a really great song. It’s got its own unique character, and that’s what we’re going for, something that’s still us, but different in a way that works.”
How that manifests is by taking on what Webster calls his “vocabulary of influences” and finding new, creative ways to make it interesting.
“I’ll start out with a fairly normal song structure,” he says. “But if the riffs are super heavy and kind of unusual as well, like maybe an odd-metered riff is mixed in there or something like that, it doesn’t matter that there’s this kind of standard song structure. Like A-B-A-B, and then a C and a D section, and then back to A for the solo, and then a B at the end. Those are normal structures used on some of my favorite albums ever, like Raining Blood by Slayer.”
“That has some very straightforward song structure,” he adds. “But I wouldn’t want to change a single tiny thing about Raining Blood. It’s perfect songwriting in my opinion. That’s one of the best albums in metal history. And so, I look to that kind of writing. That’s, for me, personally, on the four songs I wrote, there’s some very definite structure there. I try and make the riffs pretty crazy and all over the place. And a lot of changes within the riffs. But the catchiness can come from repeating things just the right number of times. You don’t want to beat somebody over the head with it, to where they’re kind of bored with it.”
That concept plays out differently depending on who is writing, Webster notes:
“But then there’s other times, too. Like, looking at how Erik wrote ‘Ritual Annihilation.’ There’s a super heavy riff at the end of that one. I don’t want to call it a breakdown, because that’s taken on a different meaning over the past 15 years of so, but we’d call it a mosh part in the ’80s. That part is so heavy. Of course, it only happens once, but that’s enough. That part, you’re waiting for it. Once you get to know that song, then you’re enjoying the rest of the song, but you’re like, ‘Oh boy, I can’t wait until that one part comes.’”
If there were any doubt at all, one listen to Violence Unimagined, and even the most casual Cannibal Corpse fan won’t be able to wait to see where the band go from here. A creative peak this far into a career? It’s only surprising until you hear this classic in the making.
Listen to Violence Unimagined below, and pick up a physical copy and merch here.
Images courtesy of Cannibal Corpse. Featured image credit: James Alvarez.