Chicago-based “Murder Metal” trio Macabre have been bringing the blood for over a quarter-century now, and in that time they've managed to mix up a signature blend of insanely violent themes – almost always focusing on the exploits of notorious real-life killers – to play out on a rock-solid stage of grind/death metal. The band's original lineup is still together after all these years, and they've marked this career milestone with their most ambitious project of all: a concept album about mass murder throughout human history, from ancient Rome to the early 20th century. We took a listen to this sonic apocalypse, and our brains are still boiling... but that won't stop us from giving you the full breakdown on the carnage within the tracks of Grim Scary Tales, Macabre's first studio release in eight years. Check out the review below!
Prying into the minds and methods of legendary murderers is certainly nothing new to the extreme metal realm, considering there are entire record labels dedicated to the most violent and sadistic musical themes imaginable. But Macabre has managed to push beyond pure shock or gross-out value and dig a little deeper into the motivations of all-too-human monsters. Sure, they slap you around a little bit to get your attention, but once they've got you in their clutches, the songs start to work their way under your skin... maybe that's why they've been able to make this formula work for so many years. Instrumentally, the band taps into old-school & modern metal, punk and hardcore, even folk and jazz elements to give each song a distinctive personality. But the threads that tie the blood-soaked crazy quilt together are horrific but memorable lyrics, which have an almost whimsical storytelling quality – even when delivered in hysterical wails by vocalist Corporate Death, who sometimes sounds full of homicidal rage himself.
Taking on the entire history of mass murder is an intimidating task – even for a band that specializes in the subject – and in Grim Scary Tales these guys really hit the books to find the most psychotic and sadistic source material. Among the more obvious examples like Vlad the Impaler (depicted on the album art enjoying his morning cup o' plasma), they also tackle historic figures that few metal acts have touched, plus a few lesser known (but no less lethal) psychos. It's enough material for at least a double album, but they manage to pack it into fourteen fairly short tracks – which makes for a neck-snapping joyride through some of the darkest and goriest chapters of human depravity.
Working through history in more or less chronological order, the album opens in ancient Rome with “Locusta,” the story of a female serial poisoner who may have served Emperor Nero as a hired assassin. It's a great opener, with gritty riffs underscored by a resonant bass line, occasional bursts of furious neck-tapping leads and maniacally screamed vocals. It's followed by a hilariously over-the-top spaghetti ode to the mad emperor himself entitled “Nero's Inferno,” which features Corporate's goofy “mama-mia” parody of an Italian accent. Moving on to Medieval times, things go fast and heavy with “The Black Knight,” which covers ground previously trod by UK metal icons Cradle of Filth, detailing the acts of baby-killing occultist Gilles de Rais. It's a little over-packed with exposition, but the peppy chorus (which sounds a lot like the old Spider-Man theme) should bring a wicked smile. Of course the poster boy for grand-scale sadism is Vlad Dracul himself, the madman who inspired thousands of terror tales and tunes – now including Macabre's evil track “Dracula,” one of four which originally appeared on the band's recent EP Human Monsters. Also coming over from the EP is “The Big Bad Wolf” – which twists the old nursery rhyme and the fairytale of Red Riding Hood into a chronicle of self-confessed werewolf Gilles Garnier – and a surprisingly loyal re-spin of Venom's black metal classic “Elizabeth Bathory.”
We then leap ahead a few centuries to visit grave-robbing killer duo Burke and Hare (the inspiration for the classic Karloff/Lugosi flick like The Body Snatcher), courtesy of a raw, machine-like grind and blistering death riffs. Baby-killer Mary Ann Cotton is the subject of one of the album's more melodic ballads; the clean vocals here are moody and pensive, but sometimes overwhelmed by the instruments. The trail of bodies reaches US shores for “The Bloody Benders,” a hilarious country-fried ditty (imagine a really sick rendition of the Beverly Hillbillies) about Kansas innkeepers who robbed and murdered many of their guests. Next up is a short but fun take on a popular rhyme about accused axe-murderess Lizzie Borden, wildly rolling carnival rhythm “The Ripper Tramp From France,” a somber half-spoken piece about Belle Gunness entitled “Bella The Butcher” and the sleazy old-school cut “The Kiss Of Death.” The record goes out with an explosion of GWAR-like hardcore mayhem with “The Sweet Tender Meat Vendor,” which examines the case of early 20th century German serial killer Karl Großmann (“...a very gross man”) and actually seems to set up the album as a kind of prequel to Macabre's earlier works about Albert Fish, Ed Gein, John Wayne Gacy and Jeffrey Dahmer.
Despite this seamless transition between albums, Grim Scary Tales comes across as a little more polished and modern-sounding than Macabre fan-faves Dahmer and Sinister Slaughter, or even their 2003 album Murder Metal. The slicker production, together with more melodic accents and more varied vocals, actually lends a movie soundtrack quality to the album that suits the century-spanning scope of the subject matter. It's a step forward in the band's evolution, and expands their favorite twisted concepts to a massive scale. Macabre have managed to carve out a solid niche for themselves in the heavily populated genre of horror metal, and the fact that they've been doing it pretty consistently since the mid-'80s says a lot. Grim Scary Tales is proof they're still able to deliver a big ol' bucket of blood & guts with style and wicked humor.