If there were a physical embodiment of my mental working space for this Macabre review, it would likely resemble the scenes left by those they sing about: crumpled pieces of paper in place of dead bodies, discarded thoughts in place of splattered blood, and worn-out writing instruments in place of instruments of violence and torture. Most people wouldn’t think this to be a difficult process. The guys in Macabre aren’t exactly virtuoso musicians with mad songwriting skills and progressive tendencies. Yet for some reason I felt this needed to be more than just another album review. Much like a WWE writers meeting, new ideas flowed out but were killed due to lack of vision; unlike those meetings, the old standbys were shot down due to lack of creativity. So now it’s more than five months since the release of Grim Scary Tales and it’s high time I just inject myself with sodium pentothal, take a seat under the interrogation light, and let fly with some thoughts on an album that has been haunting me since before Aaron Rodgers hoisted the Lombardi trophy over his head.
First and foremost, this is a Macabre album: 14 tracks of violence, death, and murder – all based on true stories. Their trademark has always been and continues to be taking these real-life horrors and making them light-hearted, if not comical. In that regard, Grim Scary Tales is perhaps even more of an apt album title than its predecessor Murder Metal. Just like Hansel and Gretyl and the kid with his finger in the dike, these are fairy tales and nursery rhymes – albeit morbid ones – for a culture obsessed with the dark side of humanity.
“Look,” they seem to be saying. “These things really happened. Why not have some fun with them?” That spirit is best embodied in “The Big Bad Wolf,” which tells the story of Gilles Garnier, a 15th-century hermit and child murderer who was captured, tried, and convicted of being a werewolf – a story later reinterpreted as the well-known children’s tale of “Little Red Riding Hood.” They basically do the same thing for other infamous characters, using their stories as the basis for entertaining little musical ditties.
Who can be scared of baby-killing occultist Gilles de Rais or murdering duo “Burke and Hare” when you hear their exploits set to tunes eerily reminiscent of some old cartoon theme songs? The Roman Emperor Nero, who famously played his fiddle while the city burned, doesn’t seem like such a bad guy with traditional Italian melodies backing him up. Even the 19th-century serial killing family of “The Bloody Benders” is rendered harmless thanks to some country-fried rhythms. They’ll even borrow from common storytelling: The aforementioned “The Big Bad Wolf” and “Lizzy Borden” both use parts of the related children’s songs to keep things lighthearted (“Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf?” and “Lizzy Borden took an axe . . . “, respectively).
Others are given a more straightforward musical treatment, although Corporate Death’s varying vocal styles (high-pitched screech, mid-level bellow, straight speech low grunt) keeps things from getting too serious, a la “Dracula” and “The Ripper Tramp From France.” The band does keep Venom’s “Countess Bathory” (a long overdue cover if there ever was one) faithful to the original. Most startling though is the seemingly somber “Mary Ann,” a melodically-spoken track about a woman in the 1800s who would marry, breed, and then poison all of them to collect the insurance money. Then again, there isn’t really anything funny about that.
So after five months of murderous enjoyment, after all the dead papers and splattered thoughts and instruments of torturous writing, I’m left with this: Grim Scary Tales, and Macabre in general, is equal parts crazy genius and shameless cheese. That to me is their appeal. I try not to take my metal too seriously, and I would venture to guess the band doesn’t either, even if they are serious about their historical accuracy. Just don’t let anybody catch you singing these lyrics in respectable public places, or you may wind up in a straitjacket.