Centuries of Torment: The First 20 Years
Directed: Nic Izzi, Denise Korycki, David Stuart
Produced & Released by: Metal Blade Records
Review by Chris Galea
If anything, new album “Violence Unimagined” (2021) proves that Cannibal Corpse are as relevant as ever. But who really are Cannibal Corpse? And how did it all come to this?
“Centuries of Torment” provides the answers to those questions and more. It’s a documentary released in 2008 that dissects the Death Metal pioneers, warts, guts and all. (There’s nothing like a few good puns to open a review!) Basically, it’s a DVD package spread over 3 discs:
The first disc is a documentary about the history of the band and the bulk of this review will in fact focus on that disc.
“Centuries of Torment: Performances” is the second disc and contains lots of live footage – mostly with George ‘Corpsegrinder’ Fisher on vocals but there’s also material from the Chris Barnes era – as well as the band’s promotional videos. All very intense stuff.
Finally, the third disc – “Centuries of Torment: Bonus Chunks” – is an extension of the first but goes into greater depth on issues indirectly related to the band and follows no specific chronology. It covers issues such as general attitudes on censorship, bands that the members of Cannibal Corpse dig, and a hilarious segment on the sanitary limitations of touring bands.
But now onto the first disc…
At over 3 hours duration, “Cannibal Corpse: History” is one of the most exhaustive band documentaries I’ve ever seen. It chronicles the first 20 years of the band’s existence from every perspective imaginable.
It starts by delving into the band’s formation…when none of the founding members had any idea how to play their instrument…and then traces Cannibal Corpse’s post-natal steps. We are taken to the very place where they did their first gig, opening for Dark Angel (which then had Gene Hoglan on drums…incidentally Hoglan contributes quite a lot to this documentary). Cannibal Corpse drummer and founding member Paul Mazurkiewicz also takes us to see the band’s old rehearsal studio where the band wrote most of their early material and where they started to develop their sound.
The success of Cannibal Corpse put Buffalo (U.S.A.) on the Metal map, something which the city’s Metal fans were proud of and consequentially rallied behind the band. This sense of camaraderie was bolstered after the band opened gigs for the likes of Kreator and Death early in their career and always leaving a very positive impression. As a friend of the band put it, Cannibal Corpse “opened the floodgates for the bands of Buffalo”. Before long, demand for the band enabled its members to dedicate themselves to the band on a full-time basis.
So immediate was the band’s impact, in fact, that Metal Blade Records signed Cannibal Corpse less than a year after the band had been together, making then the label’s first Death Metal signing.
Cannibal Corpse – First Live Show (1989)
“Centuries of Torment: History” documents the band’s story via interviews interspersed with rare footage, vintage photography, and snippets of live shows. And it’s really everyone who enthusiastically contributes via personal reminiscences and points of view. This includes band members, family members, fans, school friends, neighbours, touring crew, record label executives and band peers such as Sean Reinert, Paul Masvidal, Eric Rutan, Malevolent Creation (also from Buffalo…Death Metal buddies of Cannibal Corpse), Anthrax, Jeff Loomis, Obituary, The Black Dahlia Murder, Kataklysm, Monstrosity, Immolation and many many others.
Amongst other things, there’s a very interesting analysis of the artworks of Vince Locke that adorn the band’s albums, including an interview with Locke himself. It becomes clear that gore was always part of the band’s imagery…probably even before the music itself coalesced. Furthermore, the band does not shy away from addressing the controversies that arose from its imagery and lyrics. After all, controversies have only served to help spur the band’s career further.
The documentary also analyses each album released by the band up until “Kill” from 2006. With each one, the band members reveal the circumstances that led to its release, its recording and fan reactions while clarifying any related polemics. Musicians from other bands explain the impact that a particular album has had on them.
But before they go into all that, the members of Cannibal Corpse describe their magical journey from the East to the West coast of the U.S.A. to record the band’s debut album at the famed Morrisound studios with Scott Burns, the legendary sound engineer who has produced many classic Death Metal albums such as “Piece of Time” by Atheist, “Spiritual Healing” by Death, “Cause of Death” by Obituary and “Slaughter in the Vatican” by Exhorder. Burns’ wider role in shaping the entire Death Metal subgenre is discussed via interviews with Burns himself and with various bands (including of course Cannibal Corpse). It’s all very fascinating stuff.
“Centuries of Torment” also points the spotlight on the band-members that for some reason or another do not form part of the band any more. Ex-members reminisce on the good times they’ve had with the band but also on the conflict that led to their departure from Cannibal Corpse. This includes, of course, ex-vocalist Chris Barnes, who tells us: ”I’m feeling good where I am [Six Feet Under]. But I like where I came from.” These interviews are quite objective – case in point is when we are told what really happened with the acrimonious firing of founding member guitarist Bob Rusay. Cannibal Corpse drummer/founding member Paul Mazurkiewicz is careful not to place blame for that on just one person. All this enhances the quality of the documentary’s interviews.
Some of the band’s most significant tours are discussed, such as the first European tour in support of the “Butchered at Birth” album. Rarely discussed topics in relation to touring are here openly contemplated, such as the toll that decades of touring have on the physical well-being of Death Metal musicians.
As one might expect, there’s no shortage of trivia and amusing recollections, such as the band’s appearance in Jim Carrey’s Ace Ventura film of 1994. Another one is when band vocalist George ‘Corpsegrinder’ Fisher reminisces on the time the band chilled out at the home of Cher who even cooked for them. All the while, the band members’ jocular personalities ensure the documentary never feels dragging. The irony that Corpsegrinder is fishing while answering several interview questions did not escape me.
‘Devoured By Vermin’ Official Video from the 1996 album “Vile”.
Beside the band being a benchmark of the Death Metal genre, each member of Cannibal Corpse has become a point of reference with regards his instrument of trade. The documentary delves into these traits in context of the Metal scene. For example, there’s a discussion on whether Cannibal Corpse were the progenitors of Death Metal ‘growls’. The styles and approaches of each guitarist are examined, especially for the way they affected the musical direction of the band. Bassist Alex Webster tries to describe his own style of playing but Donald Tardy (Obituary drummer) simply describes him as “a bass player’s bass player” while Eric Rutan regards Webster as the “Steve Harris of Death Metal”.
A crucial element of Cannibal Corpse’s music is of course the drumming of Paul Mazurkiewicz, who highlights some of the techniques he was forced to adopt in order to push the boundaries of the band’s music. Some of those very techniques are today widely adopted by many Death Metal drummers.
Of all Death Metal bands in existence, Cannibal Corpse have one of the most loyal fanbases…as one interviewee says in “Centuries of Torment”, “they make lifers out of their fans”. It transpires that this is partly due to the quality of the music and to the band’s eagerness to evolve. But the band members’ willingness to interact with fans endears them to the same fans and fans the flames of devotion.
Highly regarded guitarist Eric Rutan (Hate Eternal, Morbid Angel, Ripping Corpse) talks about his friendship with the guys of Cannibal Corpse. In the documentary he tells us how his reputation as a producer blossomed after he produced Cannibal Corpse’s “Kill” album of 2006. According to him, a key ingredient of the band’s success was its keenness and ability to always re-invent itself. Unsurprisingly, when I started writing this review it was announced that Eric had joined Cannibal Corpse as their lead guitarist after Pat O’Brien had a run-in with the law.
As I suggested earlier, “Centuries of Torment: History” is impressively exhaustive, especially when taking into consideration the two accompanying discs. And this is definitely its main selling point. Together, the 3 discs are over 7 hours long in total. So, for fans who want to get to know the band better or even anyone simply interested in a great success story…the documentary provides hours of compelling viewing. It could have been better edited but that’s only a minor snag. And keep an eye open for the hilarious bloopers toward the very end.
“Centuries of Torment” was released in 2008 to mark the 20th anniversary of the band’s existence so there are…at the time of writing this…five albums and over a decade of events that aren’t covered. When the “Centuries of Torment” DVD package was released, the band had sold a total of one million albums. Since the documentary’s release they have sold more than two million. Clearly the band’s appeal shows no sign of abating. It would make sense, therefore, to have a second documentary chronicling the last 15 years or so. The blood still flows…
Centuries Of Torment – The First 20 Years Trailer
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