Paul Juser: Hammer-Smashed Life

Gore, violence, and horror have always been hallmarks of Heavy Metal, but Death Metal redefined every topic. While the rest of the nation was teeny boppin’ in neon, southern Florida was ablaze with long-haired dudes in spikey black leather. The hyper-division of Metal genres did not begin in earnest until the late 90’s, so Death Metal’s assertion as a separate discipline was significant. Death Metal was fast and complicated, and talented musicians were necessary. Themes were universally dark. Torture, mutilation, murder, maggots, and Satan.

Slayer was my gateway drug to Death Metal in high school, and my first album was “Legion” by Deicide. “Satan Spawn the Caco-Demon” still can’t be touched. Dr. Filth was listening to Obituary when I was still worrying which album was more likely to damn me to Hell, and he saw Obituary with a brand new Fear Factory as the opening act. Anything from the 90’s RoadRunner roster was good for us, but we were both put off by Cannibal Corpse for a long time.

Even in the brutal, growling Death Metal world, Cannibal Corpse was set apart. They formed in 1988 in Buffalo, NY, nowhere close to Florida. Side-by-side with Cannibal, the other big-name bands seemed plastic and produced. Even Deicide lyrics were campy compared to songs like, “I Cum Blood” and “Necropedophile.” When the old white guys in Congress were starting to truly fear the rise of black music, Cannibal Corpse was receiving special mention in long lists of rap artists as the most dangerous music in America. Glenn Benton is so Satanic he burned an inverted cross permanently in his own forehead, and Deicide didn’t make that list.

Vincent Locke’s album covers were so over-the-top gory and offensive that he should be considered a member of the band. I clearly remember the first time I saw the cover to “Eaten Back to Life.” I was at the mall buying AC/DC cassettes. I was somewhere around the 8th grade, and thought Jason Voorhees was the extent of horror. There in front of me was the CD long box with a bloody zombie ripping out its own innards and shoving them in its mouth. That cover was clean enough to be sold in stores. Most Cannibal Corpse albums require alternate covers for their extreme nature. The official cover of “Tomb of the Mutilated” features two zombies engaged in cunnilingus, and was replaced in stores with a decomposed zombie armed with a knife poised to attack a sleeping victim. To be honest, I always thought the implied violence in the alternate cover was scarier.

TheBleeding
One night in 1994 I was a senior in high school, up late painting Warhammer figures with Rikki Rachtman’s “Headbanger’s Ball” on the TV behind me. Rikki announced the world premiere of a new video by Cannibal Corpse. My jaw dropped. Cannibal Corpse? They were too evil for MTV! Headbanger’s Ball would slip in the occasional Death Metal video, but few of these bands were making videos at that time. This was “Staring Through the Eyes of the Dead,” the lead-in track off “The Bleeding,” which sits to this day in my personal top-5 list of best Metal albums committed to tape.

I don’t listen to much Death Metal anymore, and I haven’t for a long time. I’ll never stop loving Deicide, but that’s mostly nostalgia. My throat hurts when I try to sing along to Malevolent Creation and Morbid Angel, and I feel silly letting some of the sentences come out of my mouth. The subject material gets boring when it doesn’t change, and Cannibal Corpse is largely responsible. Cannibal set in motion the Death Metal gross-out race. I have only one Cannibal Corpse album in my collection, and that is “The Bleeding.” It is a masterpiece. Everything Cannibal Corpse did, they did right on that album, and it gelled perfectly. It’s the only Death Metal album I can still listen to start to finish, though I do feel a little silly singing along to “The Pickaxe Murders,” and “Forcefed Broken Glass.” Original growler Chris Barnes was dismissed in the recording of their next album, 1996’s “Vile,” and I lost interest entirely. I did not see Cannibal Corpse until August 2000, the only time I saw the Misfits without Dr. Filth.

Summer 2000 was not a good year for the Misfits. Michale Graves already quit once, and rumors flitted about the band’s official website that Jerry was courting Glenn Danzig to return for the band’s 25th anniversary. The show was at Northern Lights near Albany. I went with Dr. Filth’s girlfriend, because he couldn’t get off work. She drove, and we met some other Binghamton kids at the club. The first opener was Ignite, fronted by Zoli Teglas, who later sang for Pennywise and took a brief turn with the Misfits when Michale Graves quit midshow in October, five days before Halloween.

Cannibal Corpse took the stage next. The new singer was John Fisher, codename: Corpsegrinder. He was well over eight feet tall and had hair to his knees. Dr. Filth was very clear that Fisher had been using the name since his days fronting another Florida Death Metal act, Monstrosity. “We are Cannibal Corpse from Tampa Florida,” snarled Corpsegrinder.

Someone in the back shouted, “You’re from Buffalo, asshole!”

Cannibal Corpse’s undisputed big hit was “Hammer Smashed Face,” which they played behind Ace Ventura in a scene where he stumbled through a club. The EP artwork featured a smashed face, and the hammer that did the smashing discarded beside. Cannibal Corpse never wasted time with subtlety. They played this and other graveyard classics, such as “Meat Hook Sodomy” and “Edible Autopsy,” along with a collection of unidentifiable rumblings off the two or more albums that had been released by the time I saw the band. The only song title I remember is “The Spine-Splitter,” which I imagine to be similar to a log splitter.

The band did not move at all on stage, except for Corpsegrinder’s full-body headbanging. To be fair, this music is incredibly intricate, and difficult to play, and these were old men that had probably been using drugs and drinking for a long time. When Cannibal Corpse finished, one of the Binghamton girls punched me in the arm. As I rubbed it, she said, “That’s for knowing all he words to ‘Fucked with a Knife.’”

Show went on, Misfits were terrible, Michale Graves spent half the set offstage describing his General Tso’s chicken into the microphone. We talked to Jerry Only after, and he told us he was on the verge of getting Glenn back in the band for the 25th Anniversary tour. Then he made out with Dr. Filth’s girlfriend while I stood awkwardly to the side. A few days later, Danzig put out a press release stating he would never rejoin the Misfits under any circumstances. A conglomerate version of his second band, Samhain, “reunited” in November.

Two weeks before the Misfits/Cannibal show, Dr. Filth and I had been at Northern Lights. We saw the Misfits together six times, but this was the only time either of us saw Danzig. No telling if it was Glenn or Jerry that scheduled his current band’s tour to coincide with his former singer or former backup band’s tour, using the other’s band’s opening act’s either former lead singer or former backup band as his own tour mate. Danzig’s opening act was Chris Barnes’s new band, Six Feet Under.

Glenn had recently “gone Indie,” releasing “Danzig 666″ on the newly formed internet label, E-magine Records. Read that as, “No one gave a shit about Danzig anymore because Danzig 555 was awful without Eerie Von, and after Rick Rubin kicked him out, Glenn was too obnoxious to get a contract from any respectable label.” Back then, we were stealing songs one at a time on our dial-up Napster, There was not enough bandwidth in the world to support an internet label. E-Magine Records’ Wikipedia does not say the company has gone out of business, but I could not find an official website. Much of their back content can still be ordered, including a reissue of Danzig 5, and the Samhain box set. In retrospect, Glenn Danzig was the trailblazer he always claimed to be, but when I saw him, he was nearly 50 and massively overweight. He didn’t even wear his trademarked bare, hairy chest on stage.

Danzig sucked live. He was a lame, fat old man. He stomped about, whined, shouted, and beat up a member of the audience. He played the early-Danzig gold, but no Samhain, even though the reunion was only a few months off. He limited newer material off “BlackAcidDevil (BAD)” and “Satan’s Child.” The only Misfits song he played was an EarthAD so distorted I couldn’t even identify the song until the middle. I thought it was “Wolfsblood.”

Six Feet Under was the real start that night. The music was so fast and thrashy it was more Punk than Death Metal behind the demonic voice of Barnes. Six Feet Under liked zombies, murder, and smoking obscene amounts of pot. Long before Rhianna declared her allegiance, SFU released “4/20,” a four minute and twenty second song recorded between bong hits at 4:20pm on April 20th, 1997.

Barnes was a beast unchained on stage. His dreds were twisted and unkempt, his beard was long and scraggly. There was madness in his eyes, like he could pounce on any member of the crowd and eat them alive. The audience may have let him do it. Sawblade filters spun on the spotlights as Barnes boomed, “Bring me the bonesaw!”

Extreme Gore Death Metal was on the rise, and got boring fast. Every band was out to record content twice as sick and obscene as the last, and none of them were doing it with the wit and humor that kept GWAR fresh. In imitation of Cannibal Corpse, album covers overflowed with severed and mutilated limbs, mangled infants, torn up corpses, cannibalism, and torture. You can only see so many split-open body cavities before it loses all meaning. Logos became so unreadable I still don’t know some of the bands I listened to. I’m sure it was malevolent. Six Feet Under was truly something different, but I was already too numb to care.

Barnes continues writing songs for Six Feet Under, while taking turns in other bands. He works for marijuana law reform and believes in reincarnation. He never returned to Cannibal Corpse, though his opinions about the band have grown mild. He even calls Corpsegrinder a “nice guy.” Dr. Filth went to a show in Philadelphia where both Cannibal Corpse and Six Feet Under played, but no amount of money could get them on stage together. Like Lennon and McCartney, or Dickinson and Maiden, I paid no attention to what these great artists did apart. The magick wasn’t there. The magick is in the opening riff of the song “The Bleeding,” that still sends a shiver down my spine like the first shovel of soil on a shallow grave in the forest.

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Paul Juser lives in Brooklyn. He is the creator of Dr. Filth, a superhero with the power to convince himself anything. Read the adventures of Dr. Filth and more original art, fiction, scripts, and very little poetry at www.printisbetter.com.

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