Paul Mazurkiewicz: Beaten Back To Life
Even if you’re not a Cannibal Corpse fan, there’s a chance you may have seen the band’s silver-screen debut in Ace Ventura Pet Detective. Remember that scene where Jim Carrey is bouncing around in the pit to “Hammer Smashed Face?” That’s Paul Mazurkiewicz fake-drumming as the rest of the Corpse air-shred guitars and lip-synch the vocals.
Despite the mass exposure of appearing in a major-studio film, the Florida death-metallers did have their reservations. “The problem was we don’t want to come across like we are a comedy act,” Mazurkiewicz explains from home in Tampa. “We take our music very seriously 100 percent with all the horror and the gore.”
He need not have worried. As it turns out Carey is a big Cannibal Corpse fan, and went out of his way to get them in the scene. “I think they did a good job,” Mazurkiewicz adds. “Seeing the inner workings of a movie was very enlightening and it was a lot of fun.”
On Torture, the band’s 12th long-player in its 22-year existence, CC is true to form: gurgling mid-tempo grind awash in blood, entrails, and dismembered limbs. It’s an m.o. that’s gotten so comfortable it’s like the choreographed violence in a Tarantino movie. Sure, zombies are hip these days, but far from ossifying into shtick, Torture feels more raw-nerved and frantic than anything the band has done in years. “This album reminds me of something that we would have done way back in the day,” Mazurkiewicz says, referring to 1991’s Butchered At Birth. “We’ve changed slightly over the years but we’ve always retained the Cannibal sound. If anything we might have just refined it more, but I think we kind of brought back that primitive feel in a lot of these songs.”
Mazurkiewicz cites the habit of beginning the beats with the snare rather than with the bass drum as an example. “We did it a lot in the early days. I wouldn’t say we abandoned it, I would just say we used it less and less.”
The feel is equally indebted to the click track, a trend that began with 2009’s Evisceration Plague. If that album is an important next step in playing with precision, Torture is more of a full realization. “When you listen back to Evisceration it really lacks in a lot of ways in the drumming department — I’m not doing anything in the sense of fills or rolls or really playing around the click too much — but I think that’s happening on this one.”
Yeah it is. Single-stroke blitzes on the snare and sweeps across the toms kick off “Strangulation Chair”; flammed cymbal accents pop on “Caged … Contorted”; breakdowns are slimily behind the beat on “Followed Home Then Killed.” Torture possesses the kind of dynamics that make Eviceration’s parts feel phoned in.
Now Mazurkiewicz is weighing whether to use the metronome for live performances. Given the radical tempo shifts within typical Cannibal Corpse songs, more pronounced than ever on Torture, a click would certainly make it easier for the rest of the band. But messiness in the context of this particular band just seems right. “I’ve always been like, if it speeds up then it speeds up,” he shrugs.
But the newly minted master of the metronome isn’t as blasé about a lack of precision as he was in the past. The band had been playing out the new songs before Torture’s release, too, so he knows them inside and out. “Now I feel so comfortable I think it would be a good idea to use the click live,” he says. “So we’re going to attempt it and see how it goes.”
Torture was recorded in Tampa at Mana Studios with Erik Rutan (Morbid Angel, Soilent Green, Nile). Although Rutan has a full Pro Tools rig, Torture has a raw, ripped-out feel. “I would say some of the songs might be a mixture of two takes, but usually nothing more than that,” he says. “If something’s not hitting right, you might pull a part from another song, but it’s not like we’re doing ten takes or anything per song and then just trying to make the best of it [in post-production] — we’re definitely not doing that.
“And then once in a while I get lucky,” he continues. “And I get a song in one take. That happened on ‘As Deep As The Knife Will Go.’ I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ I was very excited for that.”
Here’s the deal with triggers. For the last five or six Cannibal albums, Mazurkiewicz has only used them in the studio and then only on the bass drums and the snare. For Torture it was just the basses. “I’ve never used triggers live — it’s just not me,” he says. “I really like to just play as hard as I can and as best as I can and, you know, it’s a ‘this is what you get’ kind of a thing.”
At least on certain double-bass runs, it seem as if Mazurkiewicz is playing his fastest ever. Now in his early forties he’s no longer a kid, but maybe some things improve with age. Either way, he doesn’t give a rat’s ass. At this stage in his career, he just wants to make the best albums he can, and if triggers are a necessary evil then he’s Mr. Sinister. “It’s about trying to find better tones,” he says. “If we can get a great natural tone from the set we’re using, that’s great. If not, we’ll go back to that technology, and that’s not a bad thing. With a recording, it’s forever, and I think that’s all right for using the triggers and all that sampling.
“When it comes to live, that’s a whole different ball game,” he continues. “I just want to go up and try to play the best I can — so be it if it’s not a great night. That’s just the attitude I have.”
Talking about double bass reminds him of the early teenage years living in the suburbs of Buffalo, whaling alone in the garage on a third-hand Kent drum set. “I don’t even know where they made those — like if it was a Northeast thing — but I got them for a hundred bucks, and it was a double kick. When you’re a kid like that you just want to look cool. That was just the mentality back then.”
Or maybe it was prescient. After getting into Slayer, the future Cannibal basher found a good use for those two basses. “When I heard the song ‘Angel Of Death‚’ it was like, ‘This is how I want to play drums. This is my template,’” he recalls. “It made me push and play as hard as I could and have that aggression.”
And, like his heroes, twin kicks are the only way to go. He tried a fellow drummer’s slave-pedal once backstage on tour, but the revulsion was instant. “It probably is more psychological than anything but I think I’d be able to do it if I had to because it’s the same physics,” he says, laughing. “I’ve never thought about it too much.”
As for the fame and fortune from blockbuster comedies, well, the expected jump in album sales never came after Ace Ventura cycled through the theaters. This is death metal, after all. Yet to hear Mazurkiewicz tell it, it feels like a win for the home team. “People would be like, ‘I never knew about you guys before that movie. I totally got into death metal because of that.’ I mean, we didn’t sit around thinking, ‘This is going to be so big for our future.’ But we knew it couldn’t hurt.”