Interview: Cannibal Corpse Drummer Talks About Lyric-Writing Process

By Andrew Bansal

Death metal legends Cannibal Corpse have just released their twelfth studio album “Torture” on Metal Blade Records. An album as strong as anything they’ve ever put out, it has proven to be yet another epic offering in the band’s much-celebrated career, and is being savored by fans and critics alike. It not only enhances their reputation as skillful songwriters, but will also make them an even more devastating live band, as fans will find out during Cannibal Corpse’s upcoming North American headline tour with Exhumed, Abysmal Dawn and Arkaik which starts on April 5th, and then on the Summer Slaughter tour as well. Extreme metal fans who haven’t yet picked up this album definitely need to.

Today on March 15th 2012, a couple of hours ago, I had a chat with drummer Paul Mazurkiewicz, to delve further into the process behind the making of this album, the lyric writing in particular. Enjoy the conversation below, and visit the official Cannibal Corpse facebook page to order your copy of “Torture”.

The new album was released just a couple of days back, and so far it has been received extremely well by fans, critics and everyone. That must be a very satisfying feeling for you guys.

Yeah, it’s very satisfying! We worked very hard at this album, and we’re just glad that it’s finally out. We can’t wait to get out on the road and play these songs for all the fans.

I feel that the music on this album is what people would have expected from you, but there are some songs that are slightly different from what you did on previous albums. Would you say that you’ve made progress since the last album, musically?

I would think so. We’re always trying to make progress. I do believe that these songs are the best songs we’ve ever written, the most diverse songs, with a lot of individuality to all of them. The fact that we’ve had Rob and Pat write a little bit more on this record helped, I think. We’re always trying to step up our game. We’re Cannibal Corpse, we’re going to do what we do, we’re brutal death metal, but at the same time we do want to feel that we’re moving forward, specially in the songwriting department. I think we’ve got some really catchy, heavy songs on this record, and it’s something we’ve always strived to do, to keep bettering ourselves in every way possible.

I also feel that your drums are sounding stronger than ever. Firstly, do you agree with that, and secondly, why do think that’s the case?

Yeah, I do agree with that, and I really think I’ve stepped it up a lot on this album. I’ve worked harder than I ever have. Not that I didn’t work hard before, but for some reason I just went through a lot of changes personally with the drumming, changing up some little things, working on some things I felt I needed to improve upon, like changing sticks, setting up a little higher, using different pedals, and that kind of thing. The big key with that is, we incorporated the click track while writing the last album “Evisceration Plague”, but this time around I felt a lot more comfortable working with the click track. I think it has really opened me up to be able to play a little bit more freely and to be able to do things around the click that I wasn’t able to do with Evisceration Plague, being that it was so new at the time. So I think all those factors really came into play, and like I said, I just stepped it up and tried to do my best. I’m glad that people are noticing that the drumming is a little bit stronger on this record, and like you said, arguably the best I’ve ever played, or one of my best performances.

You’ve always been a major part of the songwriting. In terms of your approach, did you stick to what you’ve always done, or was there something deliberately different on your part?

Nothing too different, really. We kind of had the same formula when it comes to writing. Everybody is writing their own songs individually and then bringing them to the band. I’m helping out where I can with some arrangements, say with Rob and Alex. Lyrically it was kind of the same thing as well. I knew I was going to be writing some songs, of course. I always write Pat’s songs lyrically, and then I wrote one of Rob’s songs. So for the most part, it seemed like we just got our routine down, in terms of when we had to write and get it done. But nothing in the way of too much different than what we did on the past four or five CDs. Lyrically for me, the biggest change, well it’s not really a change, but when you’re writing lyrics you can go about it in different ways. I have gone about it differently in the past, and on this one I really stuck 100 per cent to my imagination. We’ve always done that, but this time I was really not having much reference whatsoever. A lot of times in the past when I was writing lyrics, I might have just come up a lot of words that I liked to use that fit a particular theme, may be pull up the thesaurus and what have you, but this time around it was just all in my head. I tried to keep it more basic, and I think I did fairly well and I’m very pleased with the lyrics that I did on this record. So obviously things are working out.

Yeah, I was going to ask you about the lyrics. You said you stuck to your imagination. So, did it take longer to write the lyrics for this one, or was it actually easier than referring to a thesaurus?

It’s about the same. It just depends, some songs come easier than others. I didn’t struggle too hard with it. It took me a couple of months to get the lyrics together for the most part, but some songs were written quicker than others. For some, the structure was almost there for me. It was almost like, the patterns wrote themselves and then it was just all about coming up with the words. So overall, I really didn’t look at it as being any more tedious or difficult than the lyric-writing in the past. I guess when I do compare, it flowed pretty good for the five that I wrote. It just took some time like anything else. But, I just wanted to come up with some good stories and I felt that I did so on this record.

In the past, what was the kind of stuff you were referring to for lyrical inspiration?

With our band, it’s always been imagination, the stories that come from within. It’s just how you go about possibly writing those lyrics. In the past, I remember some albums when I actually sat down with a thesaurus. For every word that pertained to that subject matter, I tried to use every word possible that might fit. If you look back at some lyrics, like say “Gallery Of Suicide” or what have you, you’ll notice that with my style of lyrics, and may be even on “Vile”. But on this one particularly, like I said, I didn’t pick up a thesaurus once, I didn’t really have any reference, not even a dictionary. When we sat down, I came up with the songs in my head, and then just wrote down in a simplistic way, where I’m not using a lot of big words or anything like that. It’s pretty much just like, you read the lyrics and you know what they are. I don’t think I wrote even one word in there for which you’d have to sit down and pull out a thesaurus or dictionary to figure out what it means.

Cannibal Corpse has such a huge reputation when it comes to the violent lyrical themes, song titles and everything. Do you feel any kind of pressure of living up to that reputation while writing lyrics?

Well, we just do what we do. That’s all we’ve always done for everything, writing music and writing lyrics. We feel that it’s inside us, but of course we want to do something different than the last time around. I think as long as we come up with some good subject matter and we have some good titles, the stories will come. That’s the key, and that’s the way I write my lyrics. Most of the guys in the band come up with the title first, and then the subject matter follows because of the title and the concept that we came up with. That was important, just coming up with those, and we just took it from there. So I don’t think there was any added pressure of needing to do anything specific or feeling like we have to outdo ourselves. Obviously there are going to be a lot of parallels with the lyrics and stories we’ve written on past albums, because we’re horrific death metal. We try to write horror stories, some of them might be a little similar in nature because of writing about zombies, killing and all this kind of stuff, but we keep it fresh in our minds and as long as we do those little subtle different things that I was talking about earlier, we’ll be ok. And we have done ok on this one.

Normally, when do you start writing the lyrics? Does it come as the final step for a new album?

For me it’s always the final step. I think for all of us, it’s the final step. We think about music first, and that’s always been the case. We obviously want to write the song and that’s the most important thing, because if you don’t have the song, you won’t have anything to put the lyrics over. So that’s the way we’ve always worked. We might have a song title in mind, but until after the song is done musically, that’s when we typically start working on those patterns and fitting the lyrics into the song. So they come at the end, and that’s probably the way we’ll always work.

Coming back to the music, there are so many talented drummers out there these days. What do you observe in them, and what do you think about modern extreme metal drumming?

It’s crazy! There are a lot of young kids starting out when they’re ten years old. Hearing Derek Roddy and drummers like that, they’re just incredible, versatile, amazing speed drummers, which is a good thing. That’s not what I want to do, and that’s not me. I feel that I play Cannibal Corpse style of drums, and I’m not the best out there, not the fastest. It’s a “I do what I do” kind of a thing, but it’s great to see that there are a lot of killer extreme drummers taking it to another level of musicianship. We’ll see where that leads. I don’t know how much more extreme it can get, how much faster some of these guys can get, but when I watch them, I’m definitely in awe, and I think it’s a great thing for extreme music.

Finally, I would like to ask you about the tours coming up. You have a headlining tour coming up in North America, and then Summer Slaughter, and I’m sure there’s other stuff after that. As a drummer, it must be physically so demanding. What is your thinking at this point? Are you slightly stressed out at the prospect of playing so many shows?

Well, it’s not getting any easier, of course. You just got to try to do everything you can to stay healthy and have the stamina that you’re going to need to do shows every day for a long time, for months on end. I’m not doing too much different than I’ve always done, like I said, just trying to stay healthy, trying to eat well, get as much sleep as I can, and of course, mentally stay focussed and be on top of what I have to do as a musician. If you do all those things, good things will happen. The older we get, some things might be inevitable. Unfortunately there are a lot of musicians who had to cut their career short because of injuries or back problems, arms problems, tendinitis, or arthritis. Who knows? It’s just a part of our aging as humans. As a band we’ve got a lot of luck on our side with none of us going through anything like that, and hopefully nothing will happen in the future with us. We take it day by day, do everything that needs to be done night in night out, and so far so good. Knock on wood, we’ll hopefully just keep on going.

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