Warbeast's Bruce Corbitt Defies Death to Thrash Again

Warbeast at Warehouse Live in 2013
Warbeast at Warehouse Live in 2013 Photo by Eric Sauseda
Semi-disbanded Houston doom-meisters Sanctus Bellum return to wreck Rudyard's on Saturday, and they're bringing some friends down for the occassion: Dallas' mighty Warbeast. Death and gore has been Warbeast front man Bruce Corbitt’s stock and trade for decades, dating back to his time with DFW metal icons Rigor Mortis. In the last few years, though, he’s stared down death for real, and he’s got the scars to prove it.

The horror began when Corbitt’s friend and collaborator, Mike Scaccia, dropped dead from a heart attack onstage at Corbitt’s 50th birthday celebration in 2012. The pair were riding high at the time, having just recorded a Rigor Mortis reunion album, the excellent Slaves to the Grave. There had been no signs that Scaccia was ill, and his sudden death was a huge shock not only to his friends and bandmates, but to the entire Texas metal community.

It was also a major wake-up call. After years of carrying on in the typical, unhinged way that death/thrash provocateurs are wont to do, Corbitt changed his habits, quitting smoking and considering his health seriously for maybe the first time. Imagine his terror, then, when his heart began racing out of control two years ago.

“I was just sitting here one afternoon on a Sunday, and my heart started going, like, 170 beats a minute,” the singer says as he relaxes at home earlier this week. “It definitely wasn’t normal, and I couldn’t breathe right. So I went to the ER, and after a night in the ER they finally got my heart rate back to normal, and I had to go see cardiologists and found out I had a condition called atrial flutter.”

To combat the illness, the singer was put on a health regimen that included diet, exercise and medication that controlled the condition for a while. Corbitt recovered, and was actually feeling better than ever when the scary symptoms returned. The atrial flutter would require surgery to correct — no small financial matter for an underground metal musician. With the help of a crowdfunding campaign, the surgery was a success. But Corbitt wasn’t out of the woods yet.

“I thought I was doing good, and then around December, unfortunately, something went wrong with my heart again,” Corbitt says. “It was similar, but a different kind of feeling. So, I went to the ER and found out it was symptoms of atrial fibrillation. The two are kind of like brothers; they’re different, but they’re similar.

“I’ve since heard that after you have the atrial flutter ablation surgery, half of ‘em get A-Fib later on, which kind of sucks,” he continues. “But at the time, I had to just take care of what was going on and hope for the best.”

Once again, diet, exercise and medication were prescribed, but Corbitt still faced discomfort. Earlier this year, he went in for a heart scan and diagnosed with coronary artery disease, America’s No. 1 killer. No surgery can cure it. In fact, Corbitt must take great pains to stay alive.

“It’s going to be a lifelong battle,” the singer says. “As scary and as bad as it sucks for me, I’d rather know instead of walking around not knowing. I think about it now when I’m walking around at a metal show. There might be 25 percent of the other people at the show who could have heart disease and not know it, either. That’s why I’m pushing for so many who are over a certain age and might be at risk to get scanned.”

With his health taking priority, the singer wasn’t even sure he could continue on as a heavy-metal front man.

“You can try to be cool and say, ‘I’m not scared to die and I’d love to go out doing what I love,’ but the truth is, when it comes down to it and you finally get to that point, I’m scared,” Corbitt says. “What I do with Warbeast is a very strenuous style. There is a good chance that I’m risking my life if I’m not careful and I keep pushing my luck. But I have tried to continue, because, obviously, that’s what I love to do.”

Making Warbeast work again has required some considerable adjustments. Corbitt simply can’t devote the kind of time to screaming and sweating that he used to—not if he wants to keep drawing breath. Essentially, he’s been forced to learn a whole new way of performing.

click to enlarge
Photo by Eric Sauseda
“I’m trying to go onstage as calm as possible now and not be as riled up as I used to be,” he says. “I’m trying to sing in a different manner where I’m trying to sound like myself, but not using as much energy and force. It’s something that’s taken a lot to figure out and get used to, and it’s pretty weird, to be honest. But I’m making the right adjustments and I think I’m getting better at it. For now, I’m going to continue and keep being careful for as long as I can.”

After defying death, Corbitt is still rocking harder than men half his age. Warbeast recently finished up recording a new album with ex-Pantera signer Philip Anselmo, the band’s label boss and a longtime fan and friend, at the metal legend’s studio outside New Orleans. Mixing has just been completed; it’s on track for release this summer.

“With Philip, you’re always going to be serious, but he's going to make you feel comfortable and put you in your element,” Corbitt says. “It’s a perfect environment. We’ve done this thing four times with him, and I look forward to it more every time. They’ve been some of the greatest times of my life, and it’s an honor to work with somebody like Philip who is not only a great front man and singer, but a musical genius when it comes to coming up with ideas and having a great ear for all the instruments, not just vocals.

“He is the epitome of a metal producer,” he adds.

Fans will hear many of the new tunes in Houston on Saturday. Having faced his own mortality several times over, Corbitt says he and the rest of the band are savoring every moment of heavy metal invincibility.

“The new album is going to be called Enter the Arena, and you’re probably going to hear about half of the new album in Houston,” he says. “We can’t wait for the new release. It’s always great to play in Houston, man, especially with Ben and Sanctus Bellum. We have a lot of friends there and it’s a great metal scene.”

Sanctus Bellum and Warbeast perform Saturday, March 18 at Rudyard’s British Pub, 2010 Waugh. $14; 21+; Doors open at 7:30 p.m.
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Nathan Smith
Contact: Nathan Smith