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Macabre always have been something of an oddity. This is their 5th full length release in 27 years – not exactly prolific, but not exactly Cynic-slow either – and bizarrely, it’s themed on nursery rhymes and fairy tales to a certain extent (much of the rest is more appropriately based around serial killers). Now, upon hearing this, my mind instantly screamed ‘gimmick album’ at me, but looking at the music objectively, it’s far from as bad as the likes of Alestorm.
The whole album is essentially a death/thrash album – not quite in the Ripping Corpse sense of the style, although that would be nice, but more along the lines of the melodic patterns of Dew-Scented and Legion Of The Damned, although it is not exactly close to that style either – the riffs are often based around quick chromatic progressions on the lead guitar with a simple rhythm, often with very little melody to it, on the backing guitar.
Often though, there are some nice duelling guitar melodies – not exactly commonplace in death metal, but this shows that any DM which does use them does not automatically become Gothenburg-style pomp and wankery. Indeed, the simplicity of the whole album guitar-wise is only broken by a few arpeggiatted chords (for instance, during the chorus of ‘Nero’s Inferno’, and some well-done soloing.
Bass wise, the whole album is full of solid bass riffing and plenty of catchy licks a la Pestilence’s later work, and ultimately, the only thing to complain about is its lack of originality. Nonetheless, it is certainly satisfying. The simplicity extends here – often the bass line follows the same pattern as the lead riff, which is somewhat rare for a death metal album.
Unfortunately, the lyrics are purely gimmicky and thus awful, for the vocals are clearly intelligible, despite having a deranged feel to them, in the style of Martin van Drunen more than the DSBM stylings of Silencer or Shining. However, the harsh vocals only just reign prevalent over clean vocals – and this is a perfect example of why clean vocals are simply not suited to death metal, especially in the major key in which a lot of them are sung (the best, or worst, as the case may be, example of this, is the song ‘The Bloody Benders’, which has the dubious honour of proving that two things shouldn’t be mixed with death metal in the same song – the aforementioned clean vocals and country music).
The drumming is competent, nothing more, nothing less, and largely uses the ‘Slayer beat’, or simple patterns with fills. Like I said, nothing more nothing less. Therefore, it contributes exactly zero, zilch, nothing to the songwriting, which is in places inspired (‘The Black Knight’, ‘The Ripper Tramp From France’), and in other places diabolical (I will once again name and shame ‘The Bloody Benders’, and add ‘Burke And Hare’). Unfortunately, the latter seems to be the predominant one, and this ultimately leads to a poor collection of songs, with some tolerable-to-excellent exceptions, and a fantastic cover of Venom’s ‘Countess Bathory’. The running time, which is a little long anyway, positively drags as a result of this.
Although Macabre have plenty of quality in their back catalogue, there is little of that previous excellence to be seen here – it seems appropriate that the standout track is a cover. The album’s lyrical content may initially provide a few laughs, but past that, it is of little value, and certainly not worth paying for.
Macabre is a death/thrash band formed all the way back in 1984, whose music and lyrical content were strongly influential on early death metal bands. I had never heard of them before, probably because they're not terribly prolific: Grim Scary Tales is the band's fifth full-length, with all five albums spread pretty evenly over their 27 year career.
What we have here is what might most accurately be called a shtick. First, take the premise: each song is based on some, well, macabre tale from history, beginning with Locusta (a Roman serial killer) and ending with Karl Großmann (a butcher who sold human meat in Berlin during WWI). They are in chronological order, including a faithful cover of Venom's "Countess Bathory". The tales are told with all the corn of a carnival freak show promoter, in both clean vocals and strained growls like you might find in early death metal.
Much of the time, this could come off as ordinary death/thrash, with some catchy riffs and melodies. But the corniness is woven into the structures of the songs themselves. They throw in cheesy music, like Italian folk in "Nero's Inferno" or old-timey horror movie music (you'll know it when you hear it) in "Dracula". If you think music has to be serious, stay away from this. But if you're open to the concept, it is extremely well-executed.
The Verdict: Grim Scary Tales is a lot of fun, good for a few chuckles or rocking out. I'll be keeping my eye out for its planned follow-up, covering the period from WWI to the present.
originally written for http://fullmetalattorney.blogspot.com/