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After 25 years, Cannibal Corpse still a driving force in Tampa death metal

Cannibal Corpse are eligible for rock hall enshrinement.
Published Nov. 26, 2013

Does death metal have a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?

Alex Webster is here to make his case.

"I think if you listen to Elvis and you listen to Cannibal Corpse or Morbid Angel, it's a pretty massive distance," said the bassist and co-founder of Cannibal Corpse. "But the roots are similar. Without rock 'n' roll, metal wouldn't have happened, and without traditional heavy metal and hard rock, you wouldn't have had thrash metal and death metal and stuff like that. I think there's a place for death metal and other kinds of extreme metal in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — maybe not the official Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but figuratively speaking."

Sure, it's a long shot, but if any death metal band has a case, it's Cannibal Corpse. This year marks their 25th as a band, meaning they're actually eligible for Rock Hall enshrinement. And though they formed in Buffalo, N.Y., their home since 1994 has been Tampa, long known as the cradle of that grimy, splattery, visceral breed of metal called death.

Cannibal Corpse were already well known when they moved here — they'd toured in Florida, released four albums and filmed a cameo in the Jim Carrey film Ace Ventura: Pet Detective — but they quickly found their place alongside Tampa's other influential death metal bands, including Morbid Angel, Obituary and Deicide. Today, they remain one of the most successful and best-selling death metal bands in the world.

On Saturday, Cannibal Corpse will play a 25th anniversary show — one of only two this fall — at the Brass Mug in Tampa, where they'll perform songs from all 12 of their studio albums. Beforehand, Webster called to reflect on his band's career and future. Here are excerpts.

I have to think you've achieved milestones that no death metal band could have possibly dreamed of in 1988. What's been the most surreal, is-this-really-happening moment of your career so far?

We've had quite a few. Like you said, none of us could have predicted this. When we got going in 1988, there were only a few bands that had albums out in death metal besides us. Most of the big ones were from Florida, and nobody'd had a career that had lasted more than a couple of years at that point. So to imagine a 25-year career was very incomprehensible. The 18-year-old version of myself would have been bowled over by what the 44-year-old version would have to tell him.

But particular things? Doing that movie, Ace Ventura. That was shot down in Miami at the Cameo Theater, which is a place that we'd actually played. That was pretty surreal, being on the set of a major motion picture and being part of that whole world for a couple of days.

Another thing we did that was really unusual: A lot of people don't know this, but Cher's son Elijah (Blue Allman) is a killer guitar player, and he's really into heavy music. About 10 years ago he had us come out and play his birthday party at the Viper Room in L.A., and Cher was in attendance. We actually partied at his house the day before and had a barbecue, and Cher was hanging out. Those are the kind of things where you're like, Wow, we're barbecuing with Cher. That's pretty intense.

Did Cher offer a review of your performance?

She said she liked it. I don't think she likes that type of music, but I think she enjoyed seeing something that different.

But Jim Carrey was a legitimate fan, right? Isn't that how you ended up in the movie?

He said he was into some of our stuff. He said he had Butchered at Birth and Tomb of the Mutilated; that's our second and third album. And he was calling out songs by name that he was hoping we would perform for the movie. We did do Hammer Smashed Face, and that was the only one that actually made it into the movie.

Does this milestone of 25 years really mean anything to you? Is it just an excuse to play another show?

It's an opportunity for us to stop and look at what we've done. You're just trying to live your life day by day, and you're not thinking in terms of years. … But we had a lot of people around us saying, "This is a really big milestone and you should celebrate it," and that got us thinking about it. I've spent more than half of my life in this band. It's at this point where you realize, Wow, this band is my life. Twenty-five years — it's not a passing thing. It is something worth celebrating, I think, that we've been able to spend a quarter of a century playing our favorite kind of music and actually making a career out of it.

Do you think there's any chance you'll still be doing this 25 years from now?

Whew. Honestly, I do think there will be a presence of our band in 25 years. It just won't be what it is now. In 25 years — let me do the math real quick — I'll be pushing 70. … I don't see us ever officially breaking up, but I could see us being gradually becoming less and less active. It's normal. Sixty-eight years and still playing extreme death metal? Check back in with me in 25 years and we'll see if that actually pans out. (laughs)

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