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Take a second to visualize George Fisher of Cannibal Corpse. His thick-soled jack boots support a beefy, taller-than-6-foot frame draped in black, a sweat-stained T-shirt sporting a bloody, grotesque band logo. His face, sprouted from mountain-range shoulders and a tree-trunk neck, is painted with a furrowing grimace half-covered by a cascade of back-length brown hair perfect for headbanging. One good stare from him prompts a sudden urge to urinate. They call him the Corpsegrinder.
But get him on the phone to talk about his band's headlining turn on the Summer Slaughter tour, and it turns out when he's not gnashing his teeth or bending his voice to unholy octaves, he sounds kinda, well, sweet. Aside from talking about the long-worshipped death-metal band of which he has been the lead singer since the early '90s, there are mentions of dealing with the summer heat and goofing off with his tourmates, all sounding pretty relaxed. Not something one might expect from the hair-swinging king of a tour sporting some of the most savage-sounding bands in the business.
Names such as Goatwhore, Exhumed and Cerebral Bore City describe the amalgam of destructive death-metal practitioners from Southern California to Scotland. But those accustomed to festivals that revel in aural brutality might be a bit surprised by Fisher's calmer offstage side when it comes to the set-time scheduling.
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"We're playing about five fewer songs than we normally would," Fisher says, the demonic growl usually heard over the mic exchanged for a casually chatty, thoughtful demeanor. "We're playing 15 songs during our set; we normally play around 20 when we headline our own tour. We have to keep it a certain length with such a tight schedule; we've got 10 bands playing all day long. People have to get home and get up for their jobs!"
Since forming in 1988, Cannibal Corpse still only have one job: to scare the shit out of you. The Grand Guignol imagery of the band's lyrics and artwork started with their memorably grotesque album cover for Eaten Back to Life, a gut-splattering zombie delight. They initially emerged in a wave of bands inspired by '80s thrash and death metal demigods such as Slayer and Deicide. Album titles such as Tomb of the Mutilated and Torture, their newest release, only scratch at the surface of their extensive back catalog. Each record during their nearly 25-year career further cultivates a signature gory sound and persona. Anyone still perturbed at all the imagery, though, should be aware that songs such as "Frantic Disembowelment" aren't representative of their hobbies away from the band.
"I don't want people watching to think, 'Man, that dude could kill me if he met me,'" Fisher says. "I want to them to understand that when we're playing, we're in a different zone. It takes a lot of time to compose our music and hone it to where it's something we could put on the record. But we're not just walking around with scowls on our faces all day long."
When it comes to explaining how the band have stayed together for so long without killing one another, Fisher says even after all these years of touring, it's no easy task.
"We're all hanging out on the bus, but we all also know how to have our own space, too, and we understand when somebody's grouchy for a certain reason," Fisher says. "When I wake up, I'm grouchy—I'm all, 'Rrrrr, I don't want to talk to nobody.' Those guys who wake up and are all, 'Hey, how you doing?' It kills me; I'm never one of those guys."
Of course, no band can survive unless they lighten up a little. Fisher says ball-busting and practical jokes between band members is their main pastime on the road. And no matter how evil it sounds, it still takes plenty of heart to make a death-metal career last as long as they have.
"We all have our own different interests outside [the band], but we all do have common bonds that we share," Fisher says. "We love this music, we love playing it, we like being out here and playing shows for people, and we're happy people still want to come see us."
This story appeared in print as "Lighthearted Headbangers: Cannibal Corpse are only joking about frantically disemboweling you. Right?"