Live photos/review: Cannibal Corpse at Santos Party House

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Hank Shteamer

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To attend a Cannibal Corpse show is to enter an alternate universe where a song entitled "Hammer Smashed Face" qualifies as a sing-along hit. This past Friday, as the Tampa-via-Buffalo death-metal heavyweights closed out their set with said Jim Carrey--approved ditty—followed by an encore run-through of the similarly crowd-pleasing "Stripped, Raped and Strangled"—Santos Party House erupted into a full-club mosh pit. Much like all things Cannibal Corpse, the show blended savagery with a wholesome sense of fun.

That mixture of moods has a lot to do with frontman George "Corpsegrinder" Fisher, who replaced original Cannibal singer Chris Barnes in 1995. A hulking presence and relentless headbanger ("Try and keep up with me—you will fail," he's fond of announcing), he's also an affable master of ceremonies. Fisher is dead serious in performance, barking militaristically and windmilling his long, stringy hair. But bantering between songs, the frontman is a bit of a goofball. "Our two favorite topics are killin' people...and fuckin' zombies," he noted at one point during Friday's show, and he introduced "I Cum Blood" (from 1992's Tomb of the Mutilated) by quipping matter-of-factly, "This song is about shooting blood out of your dick." Fisher clearly understands that since its 1988 inception, Cannibal Corpse has thrived on a delicate balance of stone-faced-ness and camp, and he metes out each element in turn.

Meanwhile, the rest of the band behaves like a single-precision instrument. At Santos, guitarists Rob Barrett and Pat O'Brien chugged in perfect lockstep, occasionally venturing up their fretboards for a well-placed in unison squeal. Alex Webster, the quintet's most renowned virtuoso, held his bass at a precarious vertical angle and plucked out infernally intricate patterns. Drummer Paul Mazurkiewicz, a formidably consistent but (unlike so many other death-metal percussionists) resolutely unflashy player, slammed out workmanlike double-bass-driven flurries. Overall, Cannibal Corpse's performance style blends a willful kind of monotony with harsh, uncompromising beauty—like a complex machine grinding on various settings, from ultrafast ("Make Them Suffer") to agonizingly slow ("Evisceration Plague").

The set ended with a reminder that one of death metal's most imposing bands is also one of its most approachable. Webster and Fisher hung around the stage for an extended high-five sesh with the diehards in the front row, cementing their status as just a couple of friendly dudes who happen to possess revolting musical minds.