Retro-review: ‘Sinister Slaughter’ by Macabre

Chicago’s Macabre know a lot about serial killers.

Want proof?

Listen to their 1993 album Sinister Slaughter.

Macabre are what can be called the death-grind equivalent of They Might Be Giants. Except, where They Might Be Giants occasionally sing songs about math, science and history, Macabre dedicate almost their entire songography to the topics of serial murderers, spree killers and mass murderers. The fact they have gone so far as to meet and interview some of the killers speaks to their dedication to the topic.

Their songs often describe the time in gruesome detail, sometimes taking the killer’s point of view. Even though many of the lyrics are unintelligible to the average listener, it’s not hard to get the gist of the twisted nature of the lyrics.

There’s a huge audience for information and infotainment when it comes to murderers with multiple victims. If there wasn’t, a lot of networks would find their schedules half empty.

There’s nothing wrong with that. People like to know about things, particularly what drives people to be monsters. But, there is a line between a passing or a hobby interest and becoming a fan of the killers. I’m not exactly sure if Macabre has crossed that line or not.

Depending on your sentiment, Macabre may cross the line into outright offensive territory. After all, many of the surviving victims and family members of the deceased victims, are still alive. Even though they probably don’t listen to Macabre, if one puts themselves in their shoes, it’s easy to see how the band’s lyrics could be upsetting.

Unlike many bands of similar age, Macabre has remained the same three members since its beginning in 1984. The members are Charles Lescewicz (aka Nefarious) on bass guitar and vocals, Dennis Ritchie (aka Dennis the Menace) on drums, and Lance Lencioni (aka Corporate Death) on guitars and vocals.

I’m not sure who handles which vocals, but one vocalist has the deeper, more traditional death-grind growl, while the other has a higher-pitched shriek, which occasionally sounds like someone in desperate need of an inhaler.

Sinister Slaughter is the second full-length album from the band. Their first album, Gloom, was released in 1989.

The album

The very first thing that will catch your attention with this album is the cover. It’s a parody of the Beatles album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Bandfeaturing Macabre band members with serial killers and mass murderers instead of famous people.

I actually remember this cover from an advertisement in Metal Maniacs at the time. I don’t think they reviewed the album though.

As far as the album itself, aside from its lyrical content, Sinister Slaughter doesn’t break out of the mold as far as death-grind goes.

Not that they aren’t competent musicians. There are some great grooves and mean beats, but as often with even the best grind bands, a lot of the songs wind up sounding very similar. Sure, this makes picking standout tracks easier, but also brings down the quality of the listening experience as a whole.

For example, “Howard Unrah (What Have You Done Now?!)” and “Gacy’s Lot.” These two back-to-back songs have a very similar guitar rhythm over the verses. If it weren’t for the lead guitar in the middle, they’d be largely indistinguishable.

This is largely what you get with the album from the opening chords of “Nightstalker” to the final beat of “Albert Was Worse than Any Fish in the Sea.”

As far as standouts, the first one of note is “Sniper in the Sky,” which is about Charles Whitman. It’s a tight song with some tempo changes. The band shifts tone a lot here, which helps make the song pretty memorable compared to most of the other tracks.

Zodiac” stands out with its slow grind over some double bass, which lead into a catchy rhythm. You can feel yourself groove with it. I’m not sure which vocalist handles it, but the lead on here keeps their voice deep and monstrous, sounding like one of those demonic creatures who hide in the dark just beyond the light.

“Zodiac” is followed by “What the Hell Did You Do?!” a song with an acoustic lead in. Similar to “Sniper in the Sky,” it uses a lot of tonal changes. The guitar solo on it is also pretty good.

Surprisingly, there’s a very short and totally acoustic number called “Mary Bell.” It’s actually not bad, showing that the members of Macabre are pretty talented. If they didn’t focus solely on serial killers, one wonders if they could have been bigger.

Shotgun Peterson,” Which is toward the end of the album stands out for the vocal performance, which is low and guttural, like a big-mouthed zombie coughing up grave dirt. The guitar is pretty good and the end of the song has a great climax. Probably my favorite track on the album.

As far as other tracks of note, “Montreal Massacre,” “White Hen Decapitator,” “There Was a Young Man Who Blew up a Plane” and “What’s that Smell? (Did Something Die?)” are all decent enough tracks. They are not bad, not great, but not bad at all.

The verdict

Macabre are pretty decent musicians. If they weren’t so fixated on serial killers and expanded into other lyrical territory, they might have seen greater success. In my opinion, the lyrics based on real killers has made them more of a novelty act at best. But, I guess not everyone wants to push their own boundaries, especially after they’ve found their audience.

I wouldn’t recommend buying this album. Most of the songs are too similar sounding to justify it. I would suggest just going to YouTube and listening to the songs I mentioned. If they’re your thing, that’s great, go indulge. If not, then no great loss.

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