photo credit: Alex Morgan
In the beginning there was Death or maybe Possessed or maybe even earlier with Celtic Frost. Whether your death metal genesis story allegiance lies in Florida, San Francisco, or Switzerland, the fact remains that no band has embodied the genre’s attitude, aesthetic, and abject rancor as successfully and as long as Cannibal Corpse. Beginning with their 1990 debut Eaten Back to Life to this year’s Skeletal Domain, Cannibal Corpse have been unwavering in sticking to the death metal formula they helped pioneer. Replacing original vocalist Chris Barnes in 1995, George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher was quick to dispel any notion that the band would soften or its image or dull its edge. In a metal world that too often suffers from identity crises, Cannibal Corpse remain unwavering and unapologetic with their obsession with terminal. In this special two-part interview feature, SfB spoke to Fisher about his own personal journey to the band and the humble beginnings that led him to where he is now.
When you think about your very beginnings as a heavy music fan, where were you when it found you in such a way that you felt that first push to create? Was there a specific band or song?
Oh well, I mean Black Sabbath. My parents, my mother, listened to like a lot of old country and 50s stuff and later stuff like Frankie Vallie and all the older doo-wop bands – that’s what she really listened to. My father listened to that too, but he listened to a lot of rock and roll like the Stones and shit like that. Sabbath was just so much heavier than everybody else. Everybody was listening to Zeppelin and the Stones and KISS. KISS, to me, looked like Black Sabbath sounded. Black Sabbath looked like a bunch of hippies back then. KISS looked like monsters and Black Sabbath sounded like monsters. Black Sabbath to me is the first metal band. Not Led Zeppelin. Not KISS. No offense to them, but that’s more rock and roll music. Black Sabbath was not rock and roll. It was something else. It was heavier than anything.
As far as what made me go “Holy – what is this?!” I was already listening to older music like Elvis and stuff because my mother was listening to it. Of course from there, I was maybe eight or nine or maybe even younger than that, but really started to get into it really heavily probably around ten. It was just dominating everything I wanted to do, and all my friends in school and I kept up with it like when Ozzy drifted away from Sabbath and had his solo album and stuff. I was lucky because my parents – they never gave me hell about anything I wanted to listen to. I had Don’t Break the Oath by Mercyful Fate, and that’s a fucking Satanic album. I had Venom albums and Kreator and all of those. And of course most parents lump everything together thinking “Well, if they’re singing about this then they’re singing about that. It’s all the same to me. Even if I can’t understand the lyrics I know it’s evil.”
King Diamond you could actually understand the lyrics because he was singing, but either way obviously from Sabbath it’s Maiden then Priest and then Saxon and Accept and then so forth with Destruction and Kreator and Slayer and things like Celtic Frost. That’s how it all went. For me, it was just that I wanted to get into heavier and heavier stuff. Anything that was heavier and faster was what I was into. I really loved all the Bay Area thrash, too, Violence and fucking Forbidden. I was listening to everything, and of course at the same time I was listening to the fucking Cro-Mags and Agnostic Front. I listened to everything that was in any way just heavy and extreme and fast. It’s weird because obviously those are two sides of the fence when you’re talking about what Kreator is writing about as opposed to a band like Agnostic Front or Cro-Mags. They’re writing about reality and real life shit. Kreator – I’m sure they had some of that stuff too, but it was more the setting of horror kind of stuff.
It was more brutal the way they wrote the lyrics. As far as when I started wanting to sing in a band, I used to always sing up in my room. I’ll never forget my sister and her best friend, I’d go in her room and put on Ozzy or fucking Maiden, and I’m sure I sucked balls trying to sing that stuff, but they’d sit up there and watch me, and I was totally cool with it. I wasn’t embarrassed or nothing. I was like the king, and they were watching me. I remember because I had a crush on my sister’s friend, this girl Dana, so of course I was doing my thing. But of course with doing the heavy stuff singing just went out the window. I didn’t even know if I was good or not. I couldn’t have told you one way or another if I was fucking worth a fuck singing “The Number of the Beast” or not, but I know that when I started singing heavier shit, when I started trying to do Slayer and fucking Destruction, and Kreator, and Death – especially Death – that’s when I knew. It just came more natural to me. I could emulate those guys better.
I used to sit in my room and sing everything. I would have stacks of all the albums that I had, and any album that had the inlay with the picture of the band on it or the back of the album had the picture of the band, I would set them up in front of me. It was in the attic where me and my brother slept, and the attic had the apex roof, so I would tack them and all my old albums if you look at them – they have a tack mark in the middle of them. You’ll see the indention of the tack mark and the hole. So I tacked them up in front of me, and I had this piece of wood – this board – and it was under my bed and helped hold the bed up in the middle, and I would just take it out and play that and pretend that it was my guitar. I put the lyrics in front of me after I’d bought the album, and I would just sing it. I just started doing that, and I’d put on an album from spectrum to spectrum like I’d be listening to the Cro-Mags and then the next thing you know I’d be playing fucking Eternal Nightmare from Violence, and then years later I’d go to Slowly We Rot.
I was singing all this different stuff, but it was all just more aggressive singing. Then this friend of mine who I went to school with, Jeff, he bought a guitar and was like “Dude, man. I got this guitar,” and I remember I convinced my mother to buy me a bass. Basically she got it for me, and my friend Jeff – he was taking some lessons, and he was like “Here’s some scales,” and he was taking guitar, but he’d say “Just practice the scales and get better.” I would just get in my room and put on a record like Hell Awaits and I’d set up all the pictures of the bands so they’re all watching me like my audience, and I’d just play whatever on the fucking bass. [Laughs] I really started realizing that I didn’t wanna try to learn an instrument. At the time when I got the bass there was the idea that we were gonna try and do a band if we could meet some other people that were into the music, because we had a bunch of our friends – we probably had twelve when we all hung out – but about four or five of us were into the really heavy shit.
All of our other friends were listening to Bon Jovi or Mötley Crüe and Poison. The first two Mötley Crüe albums we thought were pretty heavy, but then when they did Theater of Pain we didn’t think it was as good. They had the makeup and stuff on so it was kind of disappointing to us. [Laughs] But yeah, only my friend Jeff had a guitar and nobody else had any visions of playing an instrument or attempting to be in a band. But we would go to all of these shows and just one day we met these guys who one of them happened to live right down the street from my girlfriend at the time who’s now my wife, but right down the street – literally like three blocks away. But he played drums, and there was this guy Chris who played guitar and they were like “Man, we see you at every show, and you’re singing all the words. We’re trying to get this band together. What do you think?”
But we just sort of talked about it and exchanged numbers, and we called ‘em up and they were like “Hey, this guy’s having this party at this hotel room,” which we ended up having to flee because the cops came. Which was weird because Cannibal’s never been about that. We don’t fuck stuff up or get crazy. We’re just not like that, but back then, man, I was eighteen years old or something, and people were just messing up the room and just throwing shit around. I don’t think we really broke too much stuff, but we were just really loud and had the door open to the hotel room, and of course they called the cops, and we had to run out the back door which opened up to this hill, and it’s like this ten foot drop with this tree right next to it. But that’s when we first hung out with those dudes, and we were like “OK, next weekend we’re gonna practice,” and we went back to this other party where a friend of ours was dating this girl, and I’ll never forget it because we were telling everybody: “Hey, we’re gonna be in a band.”
We were just freaking out. It was the biggest fucking thing ever. “We’re gonna be in this band, and we met these guys, and we’re gonna practice next week,” and of course everybody else is like “Oh cool.” [Laughs] To them it didn’t a whole lot. I mean, they were happy for us, but we were thinking “Dude, we’re gonna rule the metal world.” [Laughs] That was our thing, and we were gonna be the best, and that was my first band. It was called Corpsegrinder. It’s an old Death song, and that’s where we got it. When I first started doing it I just did it because I loved singing. I loved doing it. And then my friend Jeff was like “Dude, you know all the lyrics. You gotta be singing.” Then I started thinking about doing it and wanting to be in a band, and then it ended up happening.
Of course two years later after we did Corpsegrinder I ended up meeting Lee Harrison and going down to Fort Lauderdale, and we did Monstrosity, and then five years later Alex calls me up to do this, and the rest is history. I just started listening to music, though, and it had to be heavier. I just started singing in my room, and people ask me if I ever had vocal lessons, and I say “No,” but I really did. I had lessons from all the guys I tried to emulate. I remember one time I went to Godfrey’s Ballroom – I’m from Baltimore originally. I went to Godfrey’s Ballroom, though, and I saw Death. They were supposed to play with this Canadian band called DBC, but they cancelled, and I was really bummed about it but we were there to see Death, too. We had Scream Bloody Gore, and our friend Matt was really into them, and he had all their demos, so we’d already heard them for years, but I’ll tell you, I think some bands when you hear them on the record – and I’d heard Chuck Schuldiner and I thought he was awesome – but man…when I saw them play and Leprosy was just about to come out, they played a lot of songs off that, and they played a lot of older stuff.
They played songs that weren’t even on Scream Bloody Gore, and man, they opened up with “Infernal Death,” and when I heard Chuck do that scream, that “Diiiiieee!!!” I was like “That’s what I wanna do. I don’t care about any other kind of vocals. I wanna do those kind of screams.” Him and Rob Urbinati from Sacrifice were the big influence on me as far as like any of the high stuff. It’s those two guys. I gave up the pursuit of trying to do Rob Halford vocals. Even though he’s awesome! I gave up trying to be Dio because I just fucking fell in love with heavy singing. I just loved and love the aggressiveness.
There’s such a commonality with those beginnings when it comes to heavy metal. Those early bands, that handful of bands have been the primer for a whole culture of music, really.
Absolutely. Yeah, man. You find and you just hear something, and it makes you go: “That. That’s it.” You hear a band that changes everything for you. Celtic Frost was really probably one of the first heavy, heavy bands that I heard. Or really Hellhammer. There was a lot of stuff coming out, and then there was Possessed, but Celtic Frost really grabbed me. Just the way they looked and the fucking lyrics, I don’t know, that was just one of the first bands where I just started freaking out. That was outside of the box of fucking Accept. Accept was kind of in the middle because Udo’s voice was more scratchy and rough. Everybody else like Halford’s got a great singing voice and Dio and Dickinson, too, and so is Udo, but it’s more like this screech that’s almost in the middle where you think he’s gonna use this thrashy death kind of voice. It’s rough and raw. It sounded like he was gonna fight you.
But obviously when you hear Tom G. Warrior singing, it’s totally different. We did some shows with Triptykon, and we shared a bus with them and of course I was in total awe. I just told him about my love for Celtic Frost and how I played “Dethroned Emperor” with my first band. I could sing it and play it on the drums. So I told Tom G. Warrior this story, and it was just an honor sitting there talking to him, and he was like “Well hey, in London, you should come and sing it with us on stage,” and I was like “Really?! Fuck yeah! I’ll definitely do it.” I go tell those guys, and Paul our drummer, he loves Frost as much as I do, and he’s like “Dude, you gotta do that,” and of course London is like 2,500 people or something. For a little bit during the day I was honestly like “Dude, I don’t know if I can do this.”
And our tour manager at the time just comes up to me and says “Listen, Fisher, you fucking pussy. If you back out of this, you’re never gonna forgive yourself. And you know this song like you know your fucking penis.” And I was just nervous because it’s Celtic Frost, and I remember Enslaved were there because they were on the bill, and I’m just sitting there next to a trash can just dry heaving. I was freaking out. I knew if I got through the first line it would be all fucking good, and I did. I just stood there, and I headbanged, and I sang. Tom G. Warrior came over and hugged me, and it was just like “Fuck yeah.” I told him “Thank you for letting me do that, dude.” That’s probably one of the greatest thrills of my life.
Thanks to George for his time.