Alex Webster of Cannibal Corpse looks back on the terrifying side project, Blotted Science

Alex Webster is a hero in extreme metal circles, delivering headspinningly dexterous bass parts since the late 1980s. Outside his band Cannibal Corpse, a recent venture was Blotted Science, the incredibly progressive band headed up by sometime Watchtower guitarist Ron Jarzombek. Asked about the band’s new EP, The Animation Of Entomology – which the band recorded to tie in with video clips of insect life – Webster explains, “Ron did 98% of the writing this time, so all I had to do was play what he asked me to play. Everything had to match up with the video clips. Every song is written out and in fact every instrument was too, so there were very few times when I asked him to change something. Those were mainly times when he would write a piece that is theoretically playable, but actually getting your fingers to play it is a different matter!”

He continues: “There weren’t a lot of fills, but I did write a little solo for this record: Ron had suggestions for how to do it and he also suggested which scales to use. I was familiar with the scales, but I might not have chosen them for the particular chords that we were playing over, so it was helpful and the solo turned out really well.”

The average bass solo doesn’t sound like this one, we reckon, on hearing Webster’s description of how it came together. “He wanted me to go for a distorted kind of solo, really trying to capture that kind of Cliff Burton sound – and I’m a huge fan of Cliff’s, so I was happy to try that out,” he explains. “I found a good distorted sound on my Line 6 Bass Pod, and Ron added some wah after the fact. The notes are not necessarily inspired by Cliff, but the tone definitely is. I did the solo in two different modes of melodic minor, so the note choice was more reminiscent of fusion.”

In true prog style, Webster’s solo was inspired by the creatures on the video screen. As he explains, “There were two characters in my solo. There’s one section that focuses on one character, with a measure that is mapped out for it, and then the same happens again in a different section for a different character. Ron asked me to play something slow for one character and really fast for the other. It’s complicated to score a film, so I was happy to let Ron do it, as he’s done it before. It was like that for the entire EP: everything was more or less in sync, I couldn’t wing it.”

Webster’s gear enabled him to complete his bass parts remotely and send them to Jarzombek for the final mix, he says. “All I needed to record is my Euro Spector with fresh strings, going into the Bass Pod on an Ampeg setting called Classic Rock – which I didn’t have to tweak too much – and then straight into my Pro-Tools Mbox, where I didn’t add many effects apart from on the solo. You can’t add very many effects on the faster stuff anyway, so I like to use a clean tone for those. There were times when the guitar was doing stuff that I just couldn’t do, so we ended up writing a counterpoint part that sometimes works out better. Rather than play sixteenth notes at 220bpm, which I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a fingerstyle player do, it’s cool to do eighth notes and take a note from each of two guitar tracks. Like if one guitar is playing an E and the other is playing a G simultaneously, I could play an E and a G and make a line. It helps to tie them together.”

Bass-wise, Webster uses his signature Spector, which the company made for him in 2010. “I had been playing a black Euro 5 Spector for a while, and they thought at first that they could do one of those for me, but I thought it would have looked too similar to the signature model played by Ian Hill of Judas Priest,” he recalls. “So we added some red inlays and it wound up looking a bit like Ron’s guitar. I still have the prototype, which has the inlays that I wasn’t too happy with, because under a certain light it took on a pinkish hue – and I thought that our fans wouldn’t be too pleased with that!”

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Alex Webster: To The Extreme

For the past 22 years, Alex Webster has pretty much been doing two things: anchoring the seminal death metal band Cannibal Corpse, and pushing himself to wreak technical havoc on the bass guitar.