CANCER (UK) – John Walker (Vocals, guitars)
So John, do you still remember how did Cancer get together? Was the line up you on guitar/vocals, Ian Buchanan on bass and Carl Stokes on drums or did you go thru some line up changes?
Cancer started when me, Ian and Carl had a jam in Ironbridge roughly around 1988. We didn’t have a name as such but we all had the intention of making a big sound after we decided to form Cancer.
Who came up with the name of the band?
The name came from a friend known as “Decker”, on a drinking binge.
Was Cancer the very first band for all of you or did you already play in some outfits prior to Cancer?
Cancer was the first metal band which me and Ian played in. Carl on the other hand had already played in groups so he had experience in live situations and the rock&roll lifestyle.
How about the English scene at this point? Were you familiar with known acts such as Napalm Death, Carcass, Bolt Thrower, Onslaught, Sabbat etc.?
Back in this time we knew Napalm Death and Bolthrower because occasionally we’d seen them in the pub and have a drink. The scene had some incredibly interesting bands at this time with the likes of Carcass, Godflesh and Hellbastard, just to name three.
What do you recall of your rehearsals? Did you start writing originals right from the start or were you mostly jamming on covers?
We started rehearsing covers and originals at the same time, fuelled with alcohol and an appreciation for Death Metal and Grindcore. We also liked the metal from Germany and Sweden.
Your first demo titled “No fuckin' cover” -produced by Big Mick Hughes (Metallica's live sound engineer) and Steve Young (cousin of AC/DC's Angus Young) recorded at the Pits, Birmingham- was released in 1988 and the tape consisted of “The growth has begun” and “Burning casket (My testimony)”, do you still remember how was it recorded? Was it your first studio experience by the way?
Again, for me and Ian, the “No Fuckin’ Cover” demo was our first experience in a recording studio. As for Big Mick and Steve Young, I felt a kind of awe for them, the demo was basically recorded in a day.
Can you give us details regarding this demo?
All I can remember of the recording was we drank a lot of beer and arranged the songs a day before we recorded them.
Backing vocals were done by Frazier, who was he?
Frazier came into the studio after drinking in the pub all day, and did the backing vocals on “Burning Casket” for a laugh. Little did he know, it got signed.
How much promotion did you do for the demo? I mean, did you send it to fanzines, was it shopped around to attract label interests and stuff?
The demo had no promotion at all, it got sent to the record companies and it was distributed on the tape trading scene. I don’t remember it being sent to any fanzines. The idea with the demo was to try to get record company interest and to find our direction.
Your very first show was in Birmingham opening for Bomb Disneyland, what do you recall of this particular gig? Was it still before the release of the demo or…?
By the time we did our first gig, opening for Bomb Disneyland, we were already in negotiations with Vinyl Solution Records. All I can remember about that gig was that I felt extremely nervous.
Is it true, that a second demo sessions in 1989 led in turn to an unofficial live album titled “Bloodbath in the acid” featuring “Your fate”, “Into the acid”, “Die Die”, “Revenged”, “To the gory end” and “C.F.C.” and recorded at Wrexham Memorial Hall?
The second demo was basically our ideas that would progress into debut album “To the Gory End”. “Blood Bath in the Acid” was just a live bootleg album recorded after the debut album had been released on the market.
How did you get in touch with Vinyl Solution Records? Were there still other labels interests in the band besides them?
Vinyl Solution Records called us after they got the demo. We did have interest from other labels but Vinyl Solutions gave us the most realistic deal, so to speak.
In winter 1989 you entered the LOCO Studios to cut your debut album “To the Gory End”, was all of the material written when you started recording the album or did you still write some tunes in the studio?
When we started recording our debut album, all the material was written. It had to be because it was recorded in four days.
How did the recording sessions go with the album?
The recoding sessions went OK considering! (4 days). The weather was very cold during the recording and I felt sorry for Scott Burns who had flown over from sunny Florida to the UK.
Would you say, that the songs are finished and perfect the way they are? Sometimes catchy, sometimes fast but mostly very brutal and all memorable…
I would say the songs are simple and a little naïve but “to the point”. We were a trio during this time so we played with as much brutality as possible to fill the sound.
In your opinion, is the album as a whole a nice trip and specific highlights would be the best two songs “Cancer Fucking Cancer” and “Into The Acid” with opener “Bloodbath”, “Die Die” and “To The Gory End” following closely?
To be honest I haven’t heard the album for years. I lent the CD copy I had to someone and never had it back. But when Cancer toured the “Corporations” and “Spirit In Flames” cd’s, “CFC” and “Into The Acid” were on the set list and still sounded surprisingly good.
How did John Tardy end up performing backing vocals on “Die Die”?
When we finished our four days recording in South Wales, Scott Burns and Carl took the masters to be mixed in Florida at Morrisound Studios, because Scott preferred to mix it in his studio. While he was mixing it, John Tardy turned up and was probably persuaded to do the backing vocals.
How do you view, that Cancer's sound on the debut is really crushing, and highly distinct?
I think the debut has a distinct sound and for the time it was released it was relevant and fashionable. In the spirit of low budget gore films “To the Gory End” is what it is, a cult nostalgia, one day may even comeback with a remastered packaging.
Are Cancer a great example of what PURE 100% Death Metal is all about?
For me “To the Gory End” and Death Shall Rise” were both Death Metal. We had no religious message or political stand point. The lyrics were gory and our musical ideas were strong. 100% Death Metal” I don’t know. 100% raw Death Metal perhaps.
Is this album up there with Entombed's “Left Hand Path”, Obituary's “Slowly we Rot”, and other early late '80s/early90's death metal debuts?
“To the Gory End” was a low budget album. I don’t know or care if it’s considered “up there” with Entombed or Obituary, but for Cancer it’s a small part of the journey compared to what the band achieved four or five years later.
A forgotten early death metal classic…
A forgotten early Death Metal Classic…? Perhaps!! But it did a good job in gaining the band’s interest throughout the UK, some parts of Europe and little to the band’s knowledge, the USA . Personally for me it remains a lost Death Metal Classic.
The cover of the record was done by drummer Carl Stokes, but it was censored in some countries, with only the bands name and album title left on a black background, why?
Carl painted the sleeve, he used an image from George Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead”, machete and head. Apparently it got censored in Germany, I think somebody liked the band and decided to censor the cover to raise the band’s profile. This was great for us, because during the late 80’s and early 90’s censorship was big news. Today this has changed.
The album was mixed at the Morrisound Studios, how long did it take? Does it mean, that you weren't satisfied with the first version or…?
I don’t know how long it took to mix. Scott decided he wanted to mix the album in his studio. There weren’t any previous mix’s.
What were the shows in support of the record? Did you start supporting heavily the record?
We played shows supporting our American friends Deicide and Obituary. We also played with fellow English bands like Napalm Death at festivals. All within the UK.
In your opinion, did „To the gory end" satisfied all of the death metal fan's needs back in the day? Did it succeed in drawing a lot of fans attention to the band?
In my opinion, the needs of Death Metal fans were already satisfied with albums by Death, Autopsy and Obituary. What Cancer did was to shine our own different light from the UK. As for drawing fans this would be more prominent after the release of “Death Shall Rise”.
As for the recording sessions of the second album, why did your choice fall on the Morrisound? What about the recording sessions as a whole?
When we started to write our follow up album “Death Shall Rise”, we didn’t know we were going to record it in Morrisound, but I think it was Scott that swung it. He wanted to record the album at the studio where he works. We recorded the album sharing the studio with Morbid Angel during the 1st Gulf War.
Were you more prepared than for the previous one?
I think Scott Burns was more prepared with the recording of the second album, he organized equipment, hotel, food, transport etc…
Did you have a decent budget to record the album?
The budget was two weeks studio time, three air tickets to Florida, hotels and Scott’s fee. So yeah, decent.
Do you agree with, that “Death Shall Rise” was a great follow up to the debut?
“Death Shall Rise” was a natural follow up to the debut. From the release date of “To the Gory End” to the recording of “Death Shall Rise”, the band was busy playing concerts and writing new tunes.
How do you view, that the band continues on the same path that started with “To the Gory End” and the addition of James Murphy on lead guitar is/was definitely a plus?
The progression was highlighted by James Murphy who left Obituary one day and joined us the following. He came to the studio to play a couple of leads as a guest, and shortly after he was asked to play the rest of the leads as we liked what he was doing.
Is this album particularly immense as it features James Murphy on lead guitars so it features a fair bit of “Spiritual Healing” styled melodic technical guitar solos which fits right in over the Bolt Thrower-esque thrashy death riffage this album is so ridden with? Did he (James Murphy) also have a big hand into the songwriting or was the material completely written when he joined the band?
All the music was written by the time we had got into the studio. James joined us after I had recorded all the riffs so he played his leads last. We didn’t know he was going to be playing on the album when we wrote it.
Scott Burns obviously made this record what it is and successfully took Cancer from an unsigned-sounding act to one of the most respected death metal bands of that year, right?
Scott Burns and James Murphy both were instrumental in transforming Cancer’s sound from a raw 3-piece to a more professional Death Metal band. I guess it was the American influence. This helped the band a lot and credit where credits due we couldn’t have done it without them.
Did Cancer as a band overall have a tremendous amount of talent considering writing music and tunes?
Cancer’s music after the release of “Death Shall Rise”, I think displayed more writing ability. We had become more experienced musicians and our lives had changed also.
Do you feel, that you have written an outstanding, classic material?
“Death Shall Rise”, was received well by both our fans and press, I don’t feel that the material was outstanding but many people did or do now. I suppose the Death Metal fans were happy with it and we were fortunate to be a part of it.
Do you agree with, that “Death Shall Rise” was making Cancer exceedingly popular at the time of its release and James obviously added a touch of class to the material?
I agree that Cancer’s popularity increased during this time, this was because the press were friendly to us and PR was being conducted by someone called Rob Tennants; with James adding his leads to the material we had a good team and a good profile.
Was this Death Metal the Way it is meant to be?
I don’t know if this was “the way Death Metal was meant to be”. Perhaps. The Cancer fans could shed more light on this question. It was a result of certain situations leading to interesting consequences.
Is it a fantastic Death Metal album that is really solid from start to finish, without any low points? Did Cancer develop a lot compared to the first album?
As I said, “Death Shall Rise” was a natural follow-up. A good album for the time it was released. The band was still finding its feet in the music business, any comparisons between TTGE and DSR are purely down to Scott and James, but although the songs were arranged a little differently, the sentiment and subject matter remained the same.
Did this second release from Cancer have an excellent sound and is it a very high production on the entire recording? Is the sound quality absolutely crystal clear and not the least bit muddled?
The sound quality and production was Scott’s decision and he must take the credit for this. Working with Scott was such good fun and he worked well with the band because he had similar ideas to us. An original master of Death Metal productions.
How did Glen Benton end up performing backing vocals on opener “Hang, drawn and quarter”?
Glen of Deicide did the backing vocals on HDG because Cancer had played some gigs with Deicide when they first appeared in the UK. He came over to the studio one morning during the sessions, to hang out and smoke, again perhaps he was persuaded to do it, but we had a laugh.
Amusingly, the album caused a great deal of controversy upon release in Europe, when it was banned in Germany by the State body for censorship of works dangerous to the youth, on grounds that the album cover would incite youngsters to inflict violence upon each other, what do you think about it?
Controversy was Cancer’s constant companion during early 90’s. Like many other artists, we were the scapegoats in which government led groups saw reason to control what their societies were buying. Now the EXPLICIT LYRIC stamp is enough. It was never the band’s intention to stir up controversy but I’m not surprised it did.
After the release of the record, UK gigs saw a headline run throughout in May supported by Unleashed and Desecrator, did the tour go well as a whole? Did you get on well with the other bands?
We got on well with all the bands we played with during those years. As well as Unleashed and Desecrator, we played with Pestilence, Malevolent Creation and Scorn including many others.
Then you had US dates, you performed at the Milwaukee Metal Fest 1991 and also supporting Deicide and Obituary, did the US death metal fans really like/love Cancer? Did the shows help the band getting new fans?
Cancer were fortunate to play the Milwaukee Metalfest three times. Other acts on the bill were Deicide, Obituary and Sepultura.
Did it succeed you in expanding your popularity in the US?
Playing this festival expanded Cancer’s popularity in the US very quickly. A North American tour with Deicide was also instrumental in reaching more people.
As for your performance at the Milwaukee Metalfest, it was released later on in 1994 along with Suffocation, Exhorder and Malevolent Creation, what do you think about this record?
The “Live Death” live at the Milwaukee Metalfest was and still is the only official sample of the band playing live during the group’s busiest period. It captures the band in its so called classic years, when our live sound was a little more harsh.
Why and when did James leave the band? Was it easy to get on well with him?
James left the band after completing the second European tour promoting Death Shall Rise. He left because it was impossible to continue for logistical reasons. I think his intention was to do his own group anyway. Personal differences aside, James helped the group to reach more people and he played some superb leads.
Instead of him, Barry Savage joined the band, was he the first choice of the band or did you audition other guitarists as well?
Barry Savage replaced James shortly after he left. I remember rehearsing with Barry for about a week and then we played a couple of shows in Israel. He was the only guitarist we auditioned and by pure luck, he fitted.
At which point did you start approaching the songwriting? Did the label ask you to hear new material or to do some pre-production tapes?
We were starting to write music again after James went back to America. The label didn’t ask to hear any new material. They didn’t have any pre-production tapes because we didn’t record any.
How do you view, that compared to the first two albums “The sins of mankind” seems to have more riffs and the vocals seem to have better rhythm?
“The Sins Of Mankind” was produced by Simon Efemey (Paradise Lost, Napalm Death), who had different ideas to Scott. The group also had been writing more technical material and more complex arrangements.
The Death Metal qualities let one knows just who you really are, but Cancer took it to a whole new level, do you agree with it?
I think “The Sins Of Mankind” is a curious album in regards to Cancer’s discography. We wanted to do something more Heavy Metal that Straightforward Death Metal. But what we got was a Cancer album which paved the way in terms of progression towards the 4th album.
The greatest factor in this album is the constant speed to it...there are not many breaks in this album with long and drawn out riffs, correct?
The speed of the album is constant and doesn’t vary much until the last few tracks. We started experimenting with acoustic guitar and the lyrics were more mature, more focused and more thought out.
Was it a kind of concept album? To what did the title refer?
The title of the album is the concept. The title refers to humanity or the lack of it. Any connections made between the song titles and the album title is for the listeners conscience alone…
Then you went on European tour with Cerebral Fix, any memories about it?
A week before we went on tour to promote “The Sins Of Mankind” Carl suffered a motorbike accident. The tour was publicly confirmed with Cerebral Fix supporting and with Carl’s injuries the tour looked doubtful. In the 11th hour, the tour went ahead with Nick Barker (Cradle Of Filth, Dimmu Borgir) playing drums. It was our live debut in Spain with good attendances in both Barcelona and Madrid.