Cannibal Corpse – Butchered at Birth – Review

Cannibal Corpse

Butchered at Birth (Metal Blade)
by Tim Den

Hard to believe it’s been over ten years since Cannibal Corpse first burst onto the scene with Eaten Back to Life. It seems only yesterday I was watching the young band grind through their set in front of 100 kids at a broken-down Miami Beach club. Ah, the memories. Back then, no one could’ve guessed that these guys would go on to become arguably the best-selling death metal act of all time. But one thing we did know (and still do): Cannibal Corpse’s first three albums – recently reissued with new liner notes, multimedia, and an extra track each – are some of the genre’s best.

The debut, Eaten Back to Life, is perhaps the group at its purest – before violence mingled with sex, catchiness with technical arrangements – just five, gore movie-loving guys, pounding away at their instruments, trying to write Kreator songs backwards. Tracks like “Shredded Humans,” “Edible Autopsy,” and the sing-along “Skull Full of Maggots” remain fan favorites to this day, as then-vocalist Chris Barnes tried to gain control of the deeper growl to come. Indeed, Barnes’ not-yet-mature growl and the band’s love of simple thrash riffs give Eaten Back to Life an almost innocent feeling: The wet-behind-the-ears newcomers who’re just happy to be playing music for a living. The enthusiasm is infectious, the songwriting straightforward, and the youthful inexperience tangible. Eaten Back to Life might not have made initial shockwaves, but it has stood the test of time as one of the band’s catchiest and most fun-to-listen-to albums.

As drummer Paul Mazurkiewicz states in the new liner notes, sophomore album Butchered at Birth was essentially the band’s attempt to take Eaten Back to Life‘s sound further, trying to be “the most brutal band on Earth.” Of course, as we all know now, the album would take the band further in a different sense: Its graphic album cover (depicting zombies carving a baby out of a half-decomposed female corpse) would gain the band controversial press, getting them banned from multiple countries, and targeted as the enemy of right-wing conservatives. Of course, it also gave the band great hype and exposure. Ironic, since Butchered at Birth is probably the band’s weakest release, mainly due to the group’s obsession with being “heavier” instead of “better.” Most of the songs on Butchered at Birth lack dynamics, as all nine tracks bulldoze through eerie riffs and lightning drums like one giant, continuous explosion. The band did succeed in creating their heaviest album ever (mainly due to producer/engineer Scott Burns’ bass-y knob-twiddlin’ and Barnes’ now deeper-than-shit gurglings), but the songwriting clearly suffered (another reason might be that the band didn’t tour for Eaten…; instead going right to work on Butchered… as soon as the debut was done). But giving credit where it’s due, Butchered at Birth does earn its keep with a few choice cuts. “Meat Hook Sodomy” and “Covered With Sores” pack some of the band’s most insane breakdowns, “Under the Rotted Flesh” milks one creepy riff into a nightmarish romp, and closer “Innards Decay” has the band almost doing a death metal grind version of “XYZ.”

Ah, and now we arrive at Tomb of the Mutilated, where everything finally comes together for the band. This is the album that birthed the modern Cannibal Corpse sound and image: The sexually-based gore lyrics, the intense technical sparring, and the “how much can you take?” artwork tradition (this one featuring oral sex between corpses). I remember the surprise of first hearing the now-classic “Hammer Smashed Face” and “I Cum Blood.” Someone had taken musical lessons (or practiced a lot)! The maturation seemed to be spearheaded by bassist Alex Webster, whose flawless acrobatics are featured prominently for the first time, and not the last. The songwriting certainly grew with the players’ proficiency, as Tomb of the Mutilated packs in the fast, slow, doomy, suspenseful, and everything in between. A crisp, snappy production job (handled again by Burns) made the riffs come alive and jump out at you, while Barnes’ newly integrated snakespit vocals screeched sonic arrows through your ear drums. With no filler in sight, Tomb of the Mutilated‘s musical leap made Cannibal Corpse the toast of the genre, and for good reason. The album remains a milestone in the band’s career.

Guitarist Rob Barrett would replace Bob Rusay during the Tombs… tour, eventually helping the band reach its creative zenith (The Bleeding) before (controversially) ushering in new vocalist George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher. An album (Vile) later, Barrett left the band and was replaced by Pat O’Brien. This line-up would endure most of the band’s late-’90s/early-’00s work, leading us to the most recent release: The limited-edition EP Worm Infested. Featuring two songs from the Gore Obsessed sessions, a re-recording of “The Undead Will Feast,” and a few covers, Worm Infested reminds us that – although the band’s best work is behind them – there’re still plenty of reasons to love Cannibal Corpse. With so much studio and road work under their belts, the band has remained heavy, catchy, technical, and lyrically grotesque in the face of the genre’s overpopulation. Always promising to never sell-out, Cannibal Corpse continues to defy the musical logic that repetition = redundant. They still deliver with every release, pleasing fans with nothing but finely-crafted brutality. Ah, what a long, bloody trip it’s been. These reissues (and the EP) remind us just how much sadistic fun we’ve had along the way.
(2828 Cochran St. PMB 302 Simi Valley, CA 93065)