Cannibal Corpse: Gory Details
Originally published in Guitar World, July 2009
Cannibal Corpse guitarists Pat O'Brien and Rob Barrett discuss the band's new album, Evisceration Plague, and the finer points of being a savage death metal guitar duo.
U.S. presidential candidate Bob Dole denounced them on his 1996 campaign trail. The German government has forbidden them to play some of their songs when performing in the country.
Yet, for all intents and purposes, the guys in Cannibal Corpse are just typical metal dudes, complete with bad reputations.
“We haven’t had anybody come and picket outside of our houses,” says Rob Barrett, guitarist for the Tampa, Florida, death metal act. “If it was really that bad, we’d get security guards or something. It’s not even close to that.”
The ice-cold reception delivered by critics and mainstream metalheads may be the most damaging injustice the band has suffered in its two decades of existence. (The short amount of screen time they received in the 1994 Jim Carrey flick Ace Ventura: Pet Detective runs a close second.) Those unable to look past the group’s breakneck tempos, grunted vocals and chunky distortion are missing out on Barrett and co-guitarist Pat O’Brien’s deft rhythmic texturing, atonal counterpoint and impressive guitar showmanship. Despite their naysayers, Cannibal Corpse’s latest, Evisceration Plague (Metal Blade), debuted at No. 66 on Billboard’s Top 200.
More important, the disc—the second to feature Barrett and O’Brien as a duo—shows off the pair’s well-tempered chemistry, honed after years of soap opera–like lineup changes. The band formed in 1988 with guitarists Jack Owen and Bob Rusay. Barrett, who like the original members is a native of Buffalo, New York, took over from Rusay in 1993, then quit in 1997. Barrett was replaced by O’Brien, former guitarist with Nevermore, but returned when Owen left in 2005. Since Barrett and O’Brien have spent signifi cant time with the group’s other members—vocalist George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher, bassist Alex Webster and drummer Paul Mazurkiewicz—they have a shared vision of Cannibal Corpse’s sound, something that comes through on the album.
Guitar World caught up with the guitarists just days before they embarked on a headlining tour in support of the album, something they’ll continue this summer on the Hot Topic stage of the Mayhem Fest tour, to discuss what makes them such a good team. Unsurprisingly, it has nothing to do with controversy.
GUITAR WORLD What initially attracted you to death metal?
PAT O’BRIEN Death metal was the most extreme music. I still think it’s probably the heaviest, most extreme music. That’s the kind of stuff I want to play.
ROB BARRETT Rhythm-wise, I liked the fast tempos and really fast guitar playing. I just wanted to do the heaviest stuff imaginable.
GW How would you define your roles as guitar players?
BARRETT Pat’s more the main lead guitar player. I’m pretty much just backing him up, doing the rhythms, but I do have a couple of leads on the new album. It’s just one of those things where I know he’s a better lead player, so I let him go at it.
GW Were either of you formally trained on guitar?
BARRETT No, I’m self-taught. I can read tablature, but I can’t read music.
O’BRIEN I studied classical guitar for a while. I think what got me into that was my dad took me to see Andrés Segovia a long time ago. I took lessons from a lot of teachers, too.
GW Since you’ve studied classical music, do you use theory when you’re writing for Cannibal Corpse?
O’BRIEN The only time I really apply theory is when it comes to a harmony or trying to pick a scale when I play lead over a rhythm part. I don’t think theory really applies that much in death metal.