Cannibal Corpse, Suffocation

Distortion Project's death metal mini-fest proves the genre is alive and well in Belfast, says Andrew Johnston

While Belsonic draws the big crowds to Custom House Square, Belfast-based metal promoters The Distortion Project are indulging in a two-day mini-fest of their own on Ormeau Avenue. No one could accuse the 314 people packed into the Spring & Airbrake for Cannibal Corpse, or the 92 at Suffocation’s gig in the Limelight, of being casual music fans. These are people who live, breathe and would likely die for their music.

Heavy metal, and death metal in particular, attracts the kind of dedicated followers that the likes of Kasabian or the Stereophonics can only dream about. Such intense fandom may not translate into multi-million album sales, but there are enough souls at these two shows to keep the death metal engine ticking over.

Cannibal Corpse are playing Belfast for the first time since 2001. Since then, the five-piece from Buffalo, New York, have released a further four albums – Gore Obsessed, The Wretched Spawn, Kill and Evisceration Plague.

The titles alone should indicate that this is not a band for the faint-hearted, and the appearance of frontman George 'Corpsegrinder' Fisher growling, screaming and spinning his head like a maniac from the start of the 75-minute set confirms the matter. Fisher’s threats to come into the audience and fight anyone who isn’t head-banging are delivered with just enough deadpan wit to keep this show on the right side of absurd.

As for the musicians dealing the noise, bassist Alex Webster and drummer Paul Mazurkiewicz – the last remaining members from the group’s formation in 1988 – are machines. At one point during the gig, Webster removes his wristbands to squeeze the sweat from them, and what looks like several pints’ worth of water comes pouring out.

Mazurkiewicz is largely hidden behind his kit, but the double kick blast-beats and searing cymbals get his point across. Guitarists Rob Barrett and Pat O’Brien, meanwhile, are what might happen if Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman of Slayer had been brought up in quarters for the criminally insane.

Cannibal Corpse’s lyrical subject matter perfectly complements the unhinged forcefulness of the music. ‘I Will Kill You’, ‘I Cum Blood’, ‘Staring Through the Eyes of the Dead’, ‘Devoured by Vermin’, ‘A Skull Full of Maggots’, ‘Hammer Smashed Face’ and set-closer ‘Stripped, Raped and Strangled’ are just some of the charming ditties dispatched tonight, all with severed tongue lodged firmly in bloody cheek.

Suffocation the following evening can’t possibly match up, yet their bludgeoning, technical death metal remains a spectacle to behold. The blistering time changes and Frank Mullen’s hardcore punk-infused vocal attack suggest the Long Islanders must have made a pact with the Devil at some point in their 21-year career. A few recurring technical problems and guitarist Terrance Hobbs’s ill-advised 'skullet' aside, this is a masterclass in extremity.

It’s reassuring to know that in their respective fourth decade of pounding out the mayhem, these now 40-something reprobates are keeping it brutal and true. There are no orchestras, choirs or ballads with these boys. Thanks to the integrity of bands such as Cannibal Corpse and Suffocation, the efforts of promoters like the Distortion Project and, of course, the loyalty of the fans, death metal is alive and well.