For some reason, Halloween is exempt from the Prohibition Against Mainstream Fun that prevents Metal fans from publicly enjoying other festivals. Admit that you like Christmas and you’ll be ejected from The Hall faster than if you’d been seen wearing a Five Finger Death Punch t-shirt, but celebrating Halloween is not just permitted but actively encouraged. Clearly not even a Cannibal Corpse gig is enough to spoil the one Metal Approved religious festival in the calendar, and tonight the Forum is packed with Teletubbies, scary clowns, lazily-made-up-skeletons and a man dressed as a giant penis. The audience is absolutely wired from the off, moshing to silence and bellowing for walls of death before the first band even take to the stage.
Fortunately, their enthusiasm is not misplaced as openers Aeon, having apparently not been told that they’re just a support band, rip into their set as if they’re headlining. In a recent interview with Ghost Cult, Cannibal Corpse bassist Alex Webster described Aeon as a personal favourite of his, and it’s instantly clear why. They’ve been given a rich, heavy sound far beyond most openers and they don’t waste it, delivering taut, commanding bursts of powerful, Deicide-esque Death Metal with utter confidence and control. The audience prove that a band who act like headliners get treated like it, with a crowd response extremely healthy for a band playing at 7.30 to a venue that still hasn’t filled up.
Next up, Boston’s Revocation betray their simplistic name with an ambitious mash-up of Death Metal, Thrash and Hardcore with more progressive elements. It’s a complex, often surprisingly subtle blend that eschews many of the more traditional trappings of Death Metal, with Hardcore-style shouted vocals (occasionally giving way to clean-sung choruses), jagged song-structures and frequently dissonant changes of mood and tempo within a track. On paper they’re an odd choice to support a band as orthodox as Cannibal Corpse, and some old school Death Metallers in the audience are visibly perplexed, but for most people here the sheer savagery of the performance and the band’s clear enthusiasm wins through, earning another hero’s welcome (not to mention a circle pit in which the man in the penis costume sticks out like the world’s sorest most misshapen thumb).
By the time Cannibal Corpse take to the stage the audience are so wired that they’d probably circle-pit to ‘Let’s Get Ready To Rumble’ (PJ and Duncan) on a loop, but the band don’t use that as an excuse to cut corners. By this point in their career, reviewing Cannibal Corpse almost seems pointless – if you’re reading this you know exactly what they sound like and whether you like them or not – but live the sheer, undeniable enormity of their performance simply overwhelms everything else. On record their familiarity can be almost comforting, but live they take repetition to the point of transcendence, one idea repeated so often and so powerfully that it annihilates everything else. The point of a Cannibal Corpse review is not to tell you what they sounded like, but to attempt to capture just how good it was.
The first thing you notice about Cannibal is that the flashy showmanship and theatrics employed by both support bands are entirely absent. With the exception of some endearingly awkward stage banter from George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher (challenging the audience to a headbanging contest; sincerely exhorting them to “keep supporting fucking Death Metal!”), there is almost zero communication between band and audience – they stand in a line, lock their feet in place and simply hammer out one song after another like there’s nothing else in the universe. It seems jarring after the usual Metal posturing, but is entirely fitting and consistent with the band’s aesthetic of unrelenting, no-nonsense Death Metal. The second thing is how utterly, terrifyingly tight and precise they are. Watching Alex’s fingers is dizzying in itself, a more fitting visual accompaniment to the musical assault than any amount of shape-throwing or play acting would have been, and it rapidly becomes clear that you are watching a band who – twenty six years and thirteen albums into their career – still rehearse every single day. The music is literally everything, and within the tight parameters they have set themselves, they have attained absolute mastery.
Every possible criticism of their performance – the lack of variety; the relentless, no-pause-for-breath pacing; the lack of showmanship – misses the point of what it is they do, and why. Those aren’t bugs, to steal a phrase from a different world entirely, those are FEATURES. Cannibal Corpse are essentially a machine, constructed solely for the purpose of musically punching the listener in the face as many times as they can until the lights go on – if that’s not for you, that’s through no failing of theirs.
In a genre as insular and niche-focussed as Death Metal bands who dare to put their heads above the parapet will often be derided as sell-outs, but Cannibal Corpse are not just the most successful band in Death Metal, they are its purest and most dedicated adherents, and are still at the very forefront of the genre after twenty-six years.
Cannibal Corpse Setlist
Staring Through the Eyes of the Dead
Fucked With a Knife
Stripped, Raped and Strangled
Kill or Become
Scourge of Iron
Dormant Bodies Bursting
Addicted to Vaginal Skin
The Wretched Spawn
Pounded into Dust
I Cum Blood
Disposal of the Body
Make Them Suffer
A Skull Full of Maggots
Hammer Smashed Face
Devoured by Vermin