George 'Corpsegrinder' Fisher: My Life Story

George 'Corpsegrinder' Fischer
(Image credit: Metal Blade)

Responsible for Cannibal Corpse's guttural growls for over 25 years, George 'Corpsegrinder' Fisher is gearing up for his first-ever solo release. Titled Corpsegrinder (why waste a killer title, after all), it's exactly the kind of no-frills, meat-and-potatoes death metal battering we've come to expect. Which naturally means it's fucking glorious. “I’m like a kid on Christmas right now," Fisher enthuses. "I can’t wait for it to come out – especially because it arrives while I’m actually on tour with Cannibal Corpse.” 

To commemorate the album's release, we spoke to the death metal icon about the genre's early years, getting scapegoated by politicians and being immortalised as the singer of an animated death metal band...

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Where and when were you born?

“Baltimore, Maryland in 1970.”

Were you always drawn to the more macabre side of things as a kid?

“Oh yeah – horror movies, comic books… when the Conan The Barbarian movie came out that was amazing. I guess like any other metalhead I would watch loads of movies, listen to music and ride around town." 

Tell us, is The Wire an accurate representation of Baltimore? 

“That’s so funny, a lot of people ask me that! I was in the suburbs, but it could still be crazy. Growing up, once I discovered music nothing else really mattered – it was full steam ahead and by the time I was 15, 16 I realised ‘I wanna be in a band and do this for the rest of my life’.

What drove that home for you?

Black Sabbath were the first band that made me go ‘wait a minute, what’s this?’ From there it was the obvious guys – Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Saxon… all these great bands. At the same time, this was also when Venom were coming out, then after that you’d got Slayer, Possessed, Destruction, Kreator, Celtic Frost… it just got heavier and heavier.”

What kind of scene was there for young George?

“Between Baltimore, Philadelphia and upper New York, there was tonnes of shows and tonnes of bands you could get into. My first band Corpsegrinder actually played G. Willikers in New Jersey, which is where I’m pretty sure Cannibal Corpse used to play at the start too. You’d get out and play wherever you could back then and there was a scene in Baltimore itself. There was one band, Exmortis – but not the current band Exmortus – and they did their first demo in ’87 which was pure death metal.” 

How long did it take you to perfect the death growl? 

“Nobody can pick up a mic and expect to be immediately amazing – it doesn’t work that way. Especially in death metal, I had to punish my vocals constantly. My first band Corpsegrinder started in 1988 so I wasn’t even 18 when I started out and we started doing shows from like February that year.”

What were the original Corpsegrinder like?

“My friend Jeff had a guitar and was taking lessons, and I could sing all the songs in time, but maybe not well! The rest of the band ended up being a bunch of guys we’d met while partying in a hotel. I remember walking out after we’d talked about it and it was like ‘dude, we’re gonna be in a band!’ which was the biggest feeling in the world. We were a shitty little band from Baltimore, Maryland doing Cro-Mags and Sacrifice covers, maybe a few of our own songs but I knew I always wanted more – more songs, faster songs; all of it.”

Do you remember your first show?

“Our first gig was opening for Exmortis and Deceased. I was so nervous before I got up I couldn’t even speak. I don’t even know why I was so nervous; 20 people in the room and half of them were our friends who’d already been watching us in our practice space. But afterwards the Exmortis drummer Aantar [Lee Coates], who has since played with Diabolic, came up and was like ‘dude, your voice is amazing!’”

What was it that drew you out to Florida? 

“I got a call from Exmortis' guitarist Ted [Hartz], telling me he'd been fired from the band but was looking to start something new, would I be interested? At that point things were good in Corpsegrinder so I was like ‘nah, I’m okay’ and it’s a fateful thing – if he’d just accepted that I don’t think I’d be here. He was like ‘look, if we do a demo would you sing on it?’ and I’m like ‘sure, I can be in other bands, I’m just not leaving my guys’. 

This drummer, Lee Harrison, comes up from Florida and we all hung out, watched some shows at G. Willikers and I got the gist those guys weren’t messing about – they were into this as much as I was. I’m not trying to put anyone down, but I wasn’t totally sure the guys in Corpsegrinder wanted to do this their whole lives and I absolutely did. So I decided to go all-in, move to Florida and sing for Monstrosity.”

Was Florida's death metal scene already established by that point?

“Oh yeah. Fort Lauderdale was where Monstrosity started, but Malevolent Creation were pretty much the kings of that scene, because Fort Lauderdale was like 4 hours from Tampa, which had also got a scene with bands like Morbid Angel, Obituary and Deicide, while Death were out in Orlando and we’d got Hellwitch in Hollywood. 

I came to Fort Lauderdale in 1990 and most of the bands had put out their first records already, some were even working on their second. Monstrosity’s first show was either October or November 1990 and the Tampa scene was well established by then. There were shows all the time – I remember going to see Sepultura, Sadus and Obituary in like 1991 – what a tour!” 

Is it weird to you that your first ‘proper’ credit was with Suffocation – a band you weren’t actually in?

“Monstrosity were recording Imperial Doom at Morrisound Studios at the same time they were recording Effigy Of The Forgotten, so we’d hang out between takes. We were drinking together, really putting them away and suddenly they’re like ‘you gonna come sing for us then?’ and I’m tanked! They took me in, showed me the parts and I recorded them half-drunk. I wouldn’t recommend it.”

You’re not one for having a few to take the edge off before you go on-stage then?

“You know, I was talking to John Connelly of Nuclear Assault about this recently, he asked what my thing was before I go on and I told him I don’t have one – I drink some water maybe then go up. He was like ‘I take a couple of shots’ because he gets nervous, but other than a few particular shows I don’t really get that bad.”

So what’s the worst instance of stage fright you’ve had?

“I sang with Triptykon in London [in 2012] and I was literally dry-heaving before Tom G. Warrior called me out on-stage. The guys from Enslaved were saying ‘dude, you’ve sung this a thousand times’ and it's like, I know that but I’m here with Tom G. Warrior and I cannot believe it! I’ve played with Cannibal Corpse at places like Wacken where there’s 95,000 people and I’m just ‘I own all of you’, not worried at all. I just don’t want to mess it up when I’m doing it for someone else.”

This year marks 30 years since the first Monstrosity album – what are your memories of that band?

“I look back on it fondly, you know. Just like with Cannibal, there are times where we’d argue or whatever but we’re not at each other’s throats. We did some crazy things – we played in Peru before Cannibal had ever even played in Peru. We went to Europe and supported Pestilence around Testimony Of The Ancients, I think, and it was great times. I love those guys – my friends in Suicide Silence were recently playing with Jinjer in Tampa and I saw Lee Harrison there, it was good fun.”

How did end up joining Cannibal Corpse? 

“Well I already knew Rob Barrett – he actually played with us in Peru when our guy couldn’t. I was back home in Baltimore and Cannibal were playing in D.C. with Samael, so I went along to hang out with Rob. I met [Chris] Barnes and Alex [Webster, bass] and Paul [Mazurkiewicz]. When everything happened Alex gave me a call; my connection with Rob made them think of me to join.” 

At the point you joined Cannibal Corpse they were in the news with politicians saying you ‘undermined the national character of the United States’ – how did you feel about that?

“Bob Dole was there showing The Bleeding record on CNN or whatever and it was like ‘what? I just got here!’ But the saying ‘controversy sells’ does apply and while we didn’t go out of our way to piss people off, we wrote what we wrote. I can’t speak for when Chris was in the band, but when I joined it was just a case of making things brutal and that’s just what we did.

 People were bitching us out on TV but it was like ‘cool, you’re not hurting us and you’re telling millions of people who we are’ – good job. ‘Undermining the youth’ – yeah, because we want people to get arrested and not come to our shows. We want regular jobs – great plan!” 

Was there much pressure to hit the ground running with your Cannibal Corpse debut, Vile?  

“I mean, Vile was obviously great, it felt like the world was finally gonna know who I was and I’d wanted that for so long. But I remember that I lost control of my voice at first and could see the guys in the control room looking like ‘did we make the right choice?’ and I was nervous. 

I went into the bathroom and told myself ‘you know you can do this, so do the damn song’. Rob had pushed so hard for me to join, like ‘George is the only guy that can do this’ and that first scream you hear is the first one I did when I walked back into the room. I remember on the tour for that record, Alex came up and was like ‘I don’t remember touring when it's been so much fun and that’s all because of you’. It gets me emotional; without those guys I wouldn’t be living my dream.”

You've guested on a lot of records over the years, from Suicide Silence and Heaven Shall Burn to Ice Nine Kills and Dee Snider. Which has been your favourite? 

“Working with Dee Snider is probably the one. Jamey Jasta helped produce that record and I remember sitting there listening to the mix and he’s like ‘that’s you, on a Dee Snider record – can you believe this?’ and honestly… People might say I’m a legend, but Dee Snider is a legend. He’s one of the greatest heavy metal singers ever, so for him to ask this idiot from Baltimore to sing on the record… That’s insane.” 

How did you feel being used as the basis for Dethklok singer Nathan Explosion (from Metalocalypse). Is it weird knowing you’re probably the world’s most recognisable death metal singer?

“I mean, that’s not for me to say but thank you for saying it ha ha. It was really cool going to the studio where they record Metalocalypse. The team who were working on the Nathan Explosion model had walls of photos of me on-stage and Conan The Barbarian. I grew up with Conan, you know?” 

The upcoming Corpsegrinder record is your first solo release… what took you so long?

“I'm usually pretty busy! Jamey approached me after I sang on They Want Your Soul, saying ‘we should do a George Corpsegrinder Fischer solo record’. He always wanted to call it ‘Corpsegrinder’, but I was on the fence about that. I figured if it's called Corpsegrinder I’d have wanted to record all the parts myself, but he warmed me on the idea and it all came together easily in the end.”

With it sharing a name with the first band you were ever in, how much do you think you have changed from then to now? 

“When I started out I was just a little idiot, I didn’t know anything. 30 years later I understand how the business is and how things happen – I have more appreciation. I had dreams and aspirations, but I didn’t understand things back then.”

You’re a huge fantasy fan, do you think you’ll ever incorporate that into the music?

“I think there’s a few fantasy style songs on this record. I don’t know if I’m ever gonna write an Iron Maiden style song about something in history but who knows?  Maybe one day I'll do a record based on World Of Warcraft ha ha. I’ve always thought if you’re singing about epic historical things it should have a classic heavy metal voice like Bruce Dickinson, Rob Halford or even King Diamond.”

What do you see as being your legacy?

“I don’t think about things like that. That kind of ‘this is what we’ve achieved’ stuff is when there’s nothing left to achieve and we’re still here, still breathing. We still have work to do!"

Corpsegrinder is out now via Perseverance Media Group

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Rich Hobson

Staff writer for Metal Hammer, Rich has never met a feature he didn't fancy, which is just as well when it comes to covering everything rock, punk and metal for both print and online, be it legendary events like Rock In Rio or Clash Of The Titans or seeking out exciting new bands like Nine Treasures, Jinjer and Sleep Token.