If there’s one thing that metal is good at, it’s proliferating more weird and obscure subgenres than almost any other style of music. Some are extensive scenes and come with a tonne of lore (and baggage) like black metal. Others, like post-metal, are vague and less easy to identify, and some are just completely made up by music writers (seriously, what the fuck was djent?!). Some subgenres only exist in the music of only one band, as with Macabre, who for nearly 4 decades have been the premier exponents of murder metal.
One of the very earliest bands in the death/grind scene (their debut EP Grim Reality came out the same year as Necrophagia’s Season of the Dead, Napalm Death’s Scum and Death’s Scream Bloody Gore) Macabre’s brand of explicitly serial killer-themed gonzo metal singled them out as one of the few bands in the scene with a sense of humour (albeit a sick one). Inspired as much by the nihilist punk of bands like Charged GBH, The Exploited and Discharge as by the US thrash scene, their snotty, rough edged sound, faux-hillbilly get up and distaste for anything resembling orthodoxy has made them something of a cult act. The band’s lyrics revel in the crimes of history’s greatest murderers, and can veer dangerously close to being exploitative, but for the most part they just about manage to stay on the right side of darkly funny.
Carnival of Killers is the band’s first album in 10 years, and comes just in time for their 35th anniversary. It’s fitting then that the album is a prime example of all the things that make Macabre an extreme metal one-off. Once past the clichéd circus music of the intro – it’s one of their favoured styles, so if you have outstanding clown-based trauma this would be an ideal time to get over it – we blast straight into the thrashing mania of ‘Your Window is Open’. The track is a frantic mix of hardcore and death metal, with co-vocalists Nefarious and Corporate Death (easily two of the most distinctive singers in extreme metal) trading between a low-end growl and a creepy, sing-song falsetto. The band’s love of inserting almost childlike melodies throughout the record (something they’ve done since the Dahmer album in 2000) gives it an extra queasy feeling and is particularly evident on their cover of the nursery rhyme ‘Them Dry Bones’, with the lyrics changed to be about notorious murder house killer, H.H. Holmes.
In a more traditional metal mould we also have tracks like ‘Lake of Fire’, which chugs along with a Stormtroopers of Death-style crossover rhythm and features some epic soloing, and the rather unsettlingly named ‘Now it’s Time to Pay’, which bludgeons the listener with some vintage brutality. While some of the music here may seem slightly silly, on closer inspection it becomes clear that the band (who have been playing together since 1984) are fantastic musicians, able to switch between styles effortlessly and compose songs that are actually far more complex than they initially seem. Instead of the one-dimensional gore grind of Mortician or Exhumed, Carnival of Killers actually brings to mind art-school thrash pranksters G.W.A.R. or Primus if they’d grown up on video nasties.
It’s safe to say that Macabre are an acquired taste, and their latest offering is not going to change anyone’s mind about them. However, for those who have never given the band a listen it’s a great place to start, and for old-school fans it’s proof positive that in the big wide world of metal music there’s no one quite like Macabre.
Carnival of Killers is out via Nuclear Blast on Friday 13th November and can be ordered here.
Words: Dan Cadwallader