What can be said of Cannibal Corpse, Metal Blade Records and Brian Slagel‘s “biggest-selling death metal band of all time”? (pp. 149) This five-piece American extreme metal band has accumulated career highs usually only available to rock bands: full-production music videos, boxed set sales, even a cameo in a blockbuster movie. As megastars and pillars of a genre, the band has numerous published avenues for fans new and old to experience them. So, where does a band biography book, like this Bible of Butchery, fit into the picture? A biography “is a detailed description or account of a subject’s life. It entails more than basic facts like education, work, and relationships – a biography also portrays a subject’s experience of these events.” For the Bible of Butchery, compiled and penned by acclaimed author Joel McIver, it tells readers of the origins of Cannibal Corpse.
The Bible of Butchery provides an in-depth look, spanning 170 digital pages. Strengths include in-depth commentary from each current band member, “in-character” explanations for many songs who’s lyrics are featured, full-page, full-color live photos, page display optimized for digital reading as well as physical print, a visual discography, and an extensive index.
Song explanations are usually difficult to obtain except from granular, exclusive interviews, which casual fans might never see. A key strength of the book is the song-by-song explanations by Alex Webster. Regarding “Hammer Smashed Face”, Webster relates “…I might have come up with the title, although Chris (Barnes) did all the lyrics: I chose it because that simple intro sounds like somebody pounding on a nail with a hammer. It has a lot of pinch harmonics in it, which I’d heard a lot in Immolation songs and were a major influence on me…” (pp. 38) Other explanations are just as detailed and candid, and lend the book a fresh and much-needed “this hasn’t been seen anywhere else” feel. As a bonus, commentary from Randy Blythe (Lamb of God) is included for Webster’s homicidal opus “I Will Kill You”.
First-person accounts from each current bandmember are the backbones of, and a major selling-point strength of the book. While the origins of Cannibal Corpse may have been told elsewhere, in this volume, these passages lend it a credibility it might not otherwise possess. These first-person accounts take the book from a static compilation of pictures and words, to a full, viable, and current literary entity. It’s not going to make you jump out of your seat and go on a killing spree, but it will definitely enlighten you regarding the band’s origins and musical career path.
A prominent theme running through the text is that the band members are “normal people” who don’t condone or promote violence. “The truth is that the members of Cannibal Corpse… are settled men in their forties with marriages, mortgages and families. They simply happen to be very good at telling horror stories that scare people…” (pp. 18) The text seems to be serving as a vehicle to underscore the paired notions that heavy metal fans have known for ages, but folks naive to the genre might not realize: that heavy metal music is not a bellwether of, or springboard for, violence or psychopathic behavior, and that censoring art leads to oppression and restriction, not freedom. “…They’re the most normal, laid-back, down-to-earth guys ever. You go on their bus and they’re super mellow, there’s no crazy stuff going on. They’re regular people.” (pp. 150) By including some of the most controversial lyrics, the Bible of Butchery serves as a subtle, pervasive “middle finger” to those who would threaten free expression in art.
Weaknesses include not including former members in the subheadings (or creating a subheading for former members), and a lot of ‘filler’ pages full of lyrics, some from the Barnes era. Fans who own physical copies of earlier releases likely already have these lyrics in their CD booklets. The ‘tell-all tour stories’ are for the most part, quite tame. So it’s not necessarily the ‘ultra-revealing book of madness’ that some may expect. It’s a nice ‘extra’ to include the stories, regardless; lending a personal touch to an otherwise fairly dry, professional read. Including Barnes’s lyrics and a discussion of the band’s early history and timeline without including him, or seeking his input (along with fellow former member, guitarist Jack Owen) seems to be an error – whether that’s deliberate or accidental is up for debate. As this is a band biography, omitting two key members from said biography seems to be a slight or oversight.
There are a lot of photographs; many would be described as “promo shots” or outtakes from those type of sessions. Other random pages are filled with close-ups of album art. The visual material scales well, not getting blocky until pushed to over 250% zoom. Including high-quality visuals is very important, especially in a tangible, physical copy that a reader has to pick up and hold. Presumably this image clarity indicates that the physical print copies will have clear, full-size images when viewed ‘in person’.
The Bible of Butchery is a quick read; consumption of the entire 170-page book, cover to cover, took under three hours (uninterrupted). For fans of Cannibal Corpse, casual and dedicated alike, McIver’s authorized biography presents basic, interesting details surrounding the band. Extras, including lyrics and live photos, provide a respite from what would otherwise be “a lot of text” – a lengthy series of interviews. There’s plenty of ‘cheese’ – the blood-spattered backgrounds, the “bloodline” page footers, the gory lyric selections – like the band, the book stays “in character”. This is a welcome companion to the band’s latest studio album, worth the read. As Gene Hoglan posits, …”they’re a good band and they write killer metal songs. Their records are really tight, with an amazing production”… (pp. 9) As a band worthy of your attentions, pick this book up for a novel, quick, and welcome diversion from your usual newspaper and social media fare.