A note to every young band out there: whatever you do, wherever you go, make sure a video camera is always around, because if you ever get famous, it could potentially make for an astonishing DVD someday. Just ask death metal legends Cannibal Corpse. Whenever they’ve hit the road, whether in their early days of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s or the present, somebody has always been hanging around, camera in hand, to capture the craziness, the hilarity, and the surreal. And now, thanks to an ambitious documentarian and the full cooperation of the band, all those old videotapes have been culled together on Centuries of Torment: The First 20 Years, a lavish three-disc, seven and a half hour set that’s guaranteed to go down as one of the finest metal DVDs ever released. Scanning this DVD’s content, it boasts all the trappings one would expect from a music DVD: live performances, music videos, interviews. Simple enough. So what is it that makes Centuries of Torment so extraordinary?
Much of the credit goes to one Denise Korycki, who took it upon herself to produce, direct, and edit the massive, three hour and 20 minute Cannibal Corpse History that serves as the set’s centerpiece. Using tons of archival footage, some of which goes back to the band’s Buffalo, New York roots where Cannibal Corpse formed out of the ashes of local acts Beyond Death, Leviathan, and Tirant Sin in the late ‘80s, Koryicki’s documentary is thorough, but surprisingly briskly paced as we follow the rise of the most commercially successful American death metal band in history. More importantly, though, is how the documentary is engaging enough to captivate even those for whom songs like “Hammer Smashed Face” and “Stripped, Raped, and Strangled” aren’t exactly their bag.
It’s an incredible story, and no stone is unturned. Friends and family talk about the band’s infancy with fondness (with parents of the band members cutely sporting Cannibal Corpse shirts). We see footage of the band’s first road trip to Florida, enroute to the famed Morrisound studios in Florida to record with upstart producer Scott Burns, as well as their unthinkable cameo appearance in the smash film Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. Guitarists come and go; the band changes frontmen, swapping the diminutive growler Chris Barnes for the swarthy George “Corpsegrinder” Fischer, and still they keep motoring along, surviving countless hilarious tour mishaps (including an accident on New York’s George Washington Bridge that stopped traffic), and churning out album after album of quality, gore-obsessed extreme metal.
In the end, it’s the distinct personalities of each band member, past and present, that makes the documentary so charming. Just a bunch of regular, everyday fellas from Buffalo, Baltimore, and California, they collectively went on to accomplish something extraordinary, and to this day they still come off as exceptionally well-grounded individuals. Fischer is a collectible-obsessed, overgrown 12 year-old who would rather play World of Warcraft and collect crane game stuffed animals for his daughter than bother writing lyrics. Gregarious, hockey-obsessed drummer Paul Mazurkiewicz lives the quiet life on an acreage with his family and horses. The eloquent Alex Webster, in addition to being the finest bassist in death metal, is regarded as the smartest guy in the band. Quiet Pat O’Brien is an obsessive guitar technician and gun nut, while the laid-back Rob Barrett is far more easygoing and funny. It’s a testament to Cannibal Corpse’s legacy that former members Barnes, Jack Owen, and Jeremy Turner gladly participate in the interviews, and we also get terrific commentary from such death metal peers as Obituary, Cynic, Nile, drummer Gene Hoglan, and producer Erik Rutan, young bands like the Red Chord and the Black Dahlia Murder, and even rapper/actor Ice-T. Of all the dozens of people interviewed, original guitarist Bob Rusay, his whereabouts still unknown to anyone to this day, is the only notable exclusion.
While the rather ordinary, sometimes rough stereo mixes of the second disc’s live footage aren’t up to the par of your usual flashy, five-channel surround mixes, it hardly matters, as the band sounds ferocious on all the clips, which span from 1989 to 2007. The third disc features even more fascinating interview footage, ranging from a conversation with illustrator Vince Locke (the man behind the band’s often profane, always disturbing cover art), to tales of the band’s music and images being banned in such countries as Germany and New Zealand, to just how the band comes up with their slasher flick-inspired lyrics.
The way the band so unpretentiously offers its audience far more than anyone could ever hope for, Centuries of Torment is the perfect music DVD. The fans love it for its exhaustiveness and attention to detail, but best of all, anyone who doesn’t know a single thing about death metal will come away knowing a lot more about death metal than they ever thought they would, admiring these likeable, hard-working guys, and maybe even appreciate the intense, graphic, punishing, and thrilling music of Cannibal Corpse.