I’ve known “Cannibal” Cam Schwarz for over 20 years and as long as I’ve known the fellow ‘metal lifer,’ he’s always had some form of project on the go. Whether it’s been booking and promoting shows, doing his own radio show, editing a fanzine, running a distro, being one of the few folks not based in some Eastern European backwood to have never given up on cassettes or filming video footage for various purposes, dude has always his hand in a pie.
His latest venture is The Growl, a forthcoming documentary on a topic near and dear to his and many of our hearts: death metal. Currently in the filming/interview stages, The Growl’s intent is to document the ride the genre has taken from its obscure beginnings through roller coaster-ing waves of popularity and obscurity over the years to how the scene has morphed and come full circle in the present. Interviews have already been conducted with current and ex-members of Immolation, Hate Eternal, Morbid Angel, Cattle Decapitation, Venom, Death, Obituary, Exhumed, Incantation, Unleashed, Grave and more, with more to come. A trailer has been posted (see below), a website up and running for news and updates, there’s merch featuring Mark Riddick-drawn designs and an Indiegogo campaign to help get Cam and his directorial partner, Phil Pattison of Rabid Dog Films over that discouraging financial hump. We caught up with Cannibal Cam for a lowdown on his labour of love.
What can you tell us about the genesis of this documentary?
Myself and Phil with Rabid Dog Films, being a part of the horror movie scene, have accumulated some pretty good friends in the industry, so I pretty much approached some of those friends after watching the Thor documentary (I Am Thor) and with Banger TV working their magic with all their stuff, I was thinking, “Well, how come nobody has done one on death metal yet?” Lo and behold, they thought it was a pretty darned good idea and a few days later, we were like, ‘Let’s do it’ and that’s pretty much it.
There are no other death metal docs out there that you know of.
There was one that was put together in I think around 2005 by Bill Zebub [Actually, 2004 and it was entitled Death Metal: A Documentary]. That’s 15 years old and with the scene being the way it is now, things definitely need to be updated.
How long have you been working on The Growl?
We started in September when we officially announced we were going to be working on this, so about a year-and-a-half.
And in wanting to update, as you say, what is your angle?
Well, it’s not that we want to try and settle the argument, but we’re trying to bring a little more history if we can and dig a little deeper about who brought the extreme vocals, who brought the guttural vocals in, who was the first band to bring in a not-so-thrashy sound, who started bringing in blast beats, that kind of stuff. We kind of want to go a little bit deeper within everyone’s general idea of, ‘Oh, it’s Death, it’s Possessed, it’s Kam Lee, it’s Mantas’ and those guys. Let’s see if there are any more obscure bands that we can dig up amongst the ones that everybody knows of.
What have been some of the surprising discoveries so far?
Well, I don’t know if I want to reveal that right now – you’re going to have to watch the documentary to get those answers [laughs]. There aren’t too many instances where it’s something crazy like, ‘Oh my God, I totally forgot about those guys,’ but there are a couple bands on the side that brought a little more intensity than say Possessed did in ’84 with their demo and say Necrophagia with their ‘83/’84 demo and Mantas did. There are a couple more bands we’ve found that were a little more extreme at the time, but were obviously way more obscure and nobody really knew anything about them until after the fact.
What are you planning for format and structure – interviews, live footage, are you going to be the narrator?
I kind of want to start it as my introduction to death metal and where I was at the time, living in Niagara Falls and being on the border with Buffalo and starting to hear about all these crazy obscure bands like Grotesque Infection, Obscurity, Internal Torment and Cannibal Corpse obviously, but by the time I started jumping in around ‘91/92 Cannibal was already big and doing their own thing. Starting at and getting in with the underground is where I started my path, so we’re kind of going with that, talking to some locals who we’re still in contact with and are still friends with after 30 years or whatever and just start branching from there: what happened in Buffalo, to myself, and starting to find more obscure bands, going to shows and so on. So I guess I would be threading myself as much as I can throughout it, starting from the beginning and going through the decades and seeing what happened. Like in the early 90s when grunge and alternative was popular and everybody started jumping ship and losing the death metal side, but you had the hardcores, like John McEntee of Incantation who was all by himself but not ready to pack it in. Then, there was the late 90s with the more brutal stuff, then slam started kicking in and so on.
How far into the present are you looking to go and how long would that make the final version?
I want to bring right up to now with the whole resurgence of the old school sound and everybody loving tapes and doing photocopies and hand-drawn covers again. I want to bring it up to now and see how kids today are looking at it; they missed the whole boat originally, so it’s neat to see a little scene kicking in that’s almost like how it used to be. I see a lot of tape traders posting their lists online and everyone’s duping tapes for one another. It’s kind of neat to see and I’d like to bring it up to as current as possible just because of the influx of the old school happening again.
Have you mostly been doing interviews at shows that come through the Western New York and Southern Ontario area? Do you have any broader travel plans?
Yeah, we went to New York last summer for one of the deathfests with Guttural Secrete and Dehumanized and all that, where our main focus was to get interviews with Will Rahmer from Mortician and meet up with Al of Earache Records to solidify what we’re doing. We interviewed Malignancy and Internal Bleeding. We went to Baltimore to the MDF pre-party last year. We’re planning on going to Ohio to do a couple interviews out there, we gotta back to New York. Trevor from Black Dahlia Murder wants to hook up, so we’re going to sit down with him. Jason Netherton is totally down and agreed to an interview, we just have to find a time to hook up. We have plans to try and get to Florida, California and Europe and, hopefully if we have money left, go to South America. And we’d like to go to Indonesia because the scene there is ridiculous right now. We want to reference everybody because this documentary is for the fans from a fans’ perspective in all areas.
If there is no money, where is the line drawn about what you’re willing to leave out?
It’s not like we have a deadline about when this needs to get done, so we’re going to try and get to those places at some point. We’ll still travel as best we can to the places we can to do interviews because it wouldn’t be a death metal documentary without as many of the legends as we can put in. We’ll travel to some extent, whether I have the money or not.
You have an Indiegogo campaign running now. Was that an avenue you knew you were going to go down, or something you did begrudgingly?
I think it was something that we thought was going to happen. It’s pretty hard with documentaries nowadays to get funding off the bat unless you have finished product, then you can get someone to take a look at it. Until then, you’re pretty much on your own which is fine because it’s all passion and something I want to do anyway.
Have you thought much about distribution of the final product?
We definitely want to bring it around to film and metal fests and we have a few people we’re in talks with wanting to look at once it’s finished. But that’s a matter of getting it done and if they’re still interested when it’s done. We want to distribute it and get it out there for sure.
How far are you from being finished?
As far as filming goes, I’d say we’re still roughly about 65% done. Like I said, we still need to get some footage. Dave Hewson from Slaughter wants to get on board. I had been hassling him for a few years for an interview, but he had gone through some family shit and was quiet for a while but he’s getting back into the swing of things, so it’s just a matter of finding a date and sitting down with him. When we go to Quebec Deathfest in the fall, Tom G. Warrior and Jeff Becerra have agreed to be interviewed there. We’re going to head to Alex Webster’s place in Portland to sit down with him. So, we’ve got some heavy hitters coming up.