annibal Corpse is the world's best-selling death metal band. Despite widespread censorship (in Germany, Cannibal Corpse is prohibited from playing songs off its first three albums, while in Australia, New Zealand, and Korea, the group's merchandise was temporarily banned) and a decidedly niche market, the band has sold a million albums worldwide over 18 years. This is no small feat considering that the band typically has song titles like "I Cum Blood" and "Entrails Ripped from a Virgin's Cunt." Unsurprisingly, much of the band's fan base is old-school death metallers and rebellious teenagers. And of course, the band's lurid image and merchandise has contributed to its sales. However, crucial to the band's success is the fact that over the years, Cannibal Corpse has evolved into a formidable technical death metal band. The group doesn't play as fast or complicated as, say, Hate Eternal or Origin, but in a metal world of ever-increasing chops, Cannibal Corpse has more than held its own.
The band formed in 1988 in Buffalo, NY. Early efforts were enthusiastic, primitive affairs featuring the "Cookie Monster" vocal stylings of Chris Barnes. Musically, the band began to gel on 1992's Tomb of the Mutilated, featuring the memorable single "Hammer Smashed Face." Support came in the surprising form of actor Jim Carrey, who named Cannibal Corpse his favorite band, and the group appeared onstage next to Carrey in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (the credits mistakenly call the band "The Cannibal Corpses"). Further exposure came from Senators Bob Dole and Joe Lieberman's denunciations of Cannibal Corpse as an affront to morality, despite the former never having heard the band's music. After 1994's The Bleeding, creative differences arose between Barnes and the rest of the band, who sought a faster, more technical direction. Barnes left to form stoner death metal group Six Feet Under, and George "Corpsegrinder" Fisher took his place.
The addition of Fisher injected new life into the band. Fisher brought clearer, faster vocal articulation (think Slayer's Tom Araya, but an octave lower), as well as his patented "helicopter hair" headbanging. The band's sound grew increasingly sophisticated, as did its production values. Vile was the first death metal album on the Billboard charts; highlights of the Fisher era include the Worm Infested EP and The Wretched Spawn. Both feature huge production by Neil Kernon, and the latter includes an enormously entertaining making-of DVD. Given the quality of the albums with Kernon, producer Erik Rutan (of Morbid Angel and Hate Eternal repute) had large shoes to fill here.
Kill is hands down Rutan's best production yet. The sound is clear and heavy without the over-processed sheen that afflicts many modern metal productions. More importantly, Rutan brings out impeccable performances from the band. The album has a precision and power about it that comes from a band that's fully in control. Album opener "The Time to Kill Is Now" is two of the most vicious, focused minutes of sound ever recorded. Right off the bat, Fisher screams "Killllllllll" as breakneck riffs and drums fly by. Thirty seconds in, a wrenching, whammy-bar-abused solo crackles across the proceedings. The band's trademark pinch harmonics lead to the irresistibly catchy refrain, "Time to kill is now." One can't help but sing along. "Make Them Suffer" operates similarly, with tremolo picking and thundering thrash beats yielding to the mantra, "Make them suffer." Despite the constantly shifting time signatures (there's very little 4/4 here), the songs always returns to hooks or phrases that tie everything together. Bassist Alex Webster writes most of the band's material, and his songs deftly balance technicality and brutality. For such concise songs (only one exceeds four minutes in length), there's a lot going on. "Five Nails through the Neck" is absolutely crushing, with a steel-toed half-speed march (in odd meters, of course) leading to a rip-roaring gallop that dares the listener to keep up. The album has no weak songs, and has enough variety (album closer "Infinite Misery" is a surprisingly slow, doomy dirge) to keep the listener engaged throughout.
At this stage in the game, Cannibal Corpse won't win any awards for innovation. Over the years, the band has stuck to the brutal death metal template it helped invent, while tweaking its sound just enough to remain relevant. While this group of guys pushing 40 could easily rest on its laurels, Cannibal Corpse has served up a nice surprise here. The songcraft, catchiness, and cohesive energy of Kill make it one of Cannibal Corpse's best albums. Cannibal Corpse is one of the few bands that plays death metal for a living; this album is ample proof why.