Macabre are more than death metal legends. They’re one of the most comprehensive sources of serial killer information that you’re likely to find. Formed more than 25 years ago with a line-up that has never changed, Macabre’s music has been dubbed “murder metal” for a reason, with a discography that deals almost exclusively with real murderers and true crime.
What separates them from the countless other metal bands that cover such topics is their penchant for combining extreme aggression with nursery rhymes and folk melodies, resulting in a sound that is unique to say the least, alienating some listeners while endearing themselves to legions of other similarly sick-minded people. Their inability to be creatively confined has even led to an acoustic side project called the Macabre Minstrels, in which the band plays campfire songs dedicated to the same murderous miscreants. Their dedication to the, well, macabre is borderline obsessive, going so far as to attend the trial of Jeffrey Dahmer, which provided the foundation of an excruciatingly detailed account of the killer on the 2000 concept album simply titled Dahmer.
Now, eight years after their last full length, Macabre returns with Grim Scary Tales, a death metal history lesson on infamous mass murders from 15th-century serial killer Gilles De Rais to Gilles Garner, the 16th-century cannibal convicted of being a werewolf. RM#110 (cover: Hobo with a Shotgun) features an interview with Macabre front man Corporate Death. We present to you the rest of Aaron Von Lupton’s interview, with all of the gory details left intact. As Albert Fish likely said more than once to himself: Bon Appetit!
Grim Scary Tales is your first album in eight years. Why the long wait?
After Murder Metal, I took a break from the whole serial killer thing, mostly for my own sanity. Too much of anything is not good for you. Sometimes I take a couple years off from reading and writing and then I come back with a fresh perspective on these different killers and how I’m going to approach the next album. We never stopped touring during that time though. I just took a break and then came back and spent years writing notes, reading books, doing research, and the result was Grim Scary Tales. I actually wrote a ton of songs for it but I just couldn’t get them all on one CD with all the time constraints of recording so I figured I would do a two-part album. Hopefully I will be able to release Grim Scary Tales Part Two next year. I think the break I took helped with Grim Scary Tales. If you listen, it’s just a more versatile album.
How would you say Grim Scary Tales compares to, or varies from, your other albums?
In the past we coined our music “murder metal.” We did an album in the past called Murder Metal as a take-off on Venom’s Black Metal. But now we feel like we can go in any direction we want. We can do any music style we want to do (expect rap, I probably won’t do rap) whether it’s country music, jazz, clean vocals, whatever, as long as we are singing about killers. So I would probably call Grim Scary Tales “murder music” instead of murder metal. For me it’s just more fun to have variety. I don’t want to sing the same vocals all the time, it bores me. I want to do different styles of music, I want to change my vocals up, and I think it’s more interesting for me and I think it is more interesting for the people watching it [at live shows] too. Check out songs like “Nero’s Inferno.” I’m trying to do more operatic vocals on that. It’s sort of an Italian-sounding song. On “Mary Ann,” I am doing like a Uriah Heep, ’70s rock sound. If you go song by song, the vocals change a lot and on Part Two I want to go even crazier with it. I want to go in even more different directions.
Grim Scary Tales’ lyrics do not adhere strictly to serial killers. You have some straight up horror stories on there, like “Dracula.”
Vlad the Impaler was a gruesome historical figure. I’m sure he killed a lot of people. He was in many wars you know. I don’t think anything is off-limits for us these days, as long as it’s factual. If it’s fictional, I’m not going to sing abut it. It has to be historical. Back on the Gloom album we did have some more straight horror stuff but after that I was like, “Why don’t we just write songs about killers?” We kind of cornered the market on it.
What can fans expect from Grim Scary Tales Part Two?
On Grim Scary Tales, I kind of left off around WWI so I’d like to do more modern killers on Part Two and do new songs on some of the guys we’ve done before like John Wayne Gacy. I have a song called “There’s a BBQ at John Wayne Gacy’s House” because he would invite all his neighbours over to have a BBQ at his house once a year, meanwhile he had about 28 dead bodies in his house while he’s got all these people outside that he’s cooking for. I’ve got a new [Ted] Bundy song, and a new Albert Fish song, but I’m also going to sing about a lot of killers that I haven’t done in the past.
Do you consider yourself a horror fan or strictly a serial killer scholar?
I like horror films. I love that stuff. The name of the band actually comes from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I saw it back in the early ’80s and, at the beginning, when John Larroquette is doing that intro, he says the word ‘macabre,’ and it just stuck in my head. I told the guys, “Hey, how about this for the name of the band?” and they were like “Yeah, that’s great, let’s use it.” But if I didn’t come up with that as the name of the band at that point it probably would have been taken by someone else eventually.
Tell me about your experience attending the trial of Jeffery Dahmer.
Well, it was open to the public, which is how I got to go. It went on for three months. You had to go wait in line at the Milwaukee courtroom and get there early because there would be about twenty people and only eight seats. You had to go through a metal detector. I was actually about six to eight feet away from Dahmer and on the other side of a bulletproof wall. You didn’t get to talk to the guy and in fact he never talked the entire time. He would just walk in, sit down, and you would see him throughout the trial but most of the trial was just the psychiatrist testifying on his interviews and his fantasies and all this crazy stuff he did, stuff you didn’t see in the books too much. The books could only include so much on the guy but there is a lot of crazy stuff with Dahmer. It was pretty much a media circus. That’s why we came up with a song on the Dahmer album called “Media Circus.” [The trial] was filmed every day and put on some cable network. There was a documentary being done on it. Every day it was in the newspapers. I guess everyone is interested when the front-page article is [titled] “Cannibal Killer from Milwaukee.” Everyone has a bit of morbid curiosity. But it is history and that is what the media is there for, to report on it.
How did you initially become interested in serial killers?
It started in junior high. I did a book report on Bonnie and Clyde. I was about fifteen-years-old or something. I was playing guitar at the time too. I didn’t put the pieces together until later on though. I read about Ed Gein in this book called Bloodletters and Badmen. Just out of curiosity, I would start turning the pages and then I came to Albert Fish and it’s talking about how he made stews out of kids. Then, years late,r I was like, “OK, we could do a song about this guy Ed Gein.” Then we did a song about Albert Fish and it just kind of happened. It was never planned or anything like that.
Speaking of Albert Fish, I noticed you write a lot of songs about him. I counted three in your back catalogue. Is he your favourite?
I read this book called “The Cannibal” a long time ago and the stories of what this guy did are pretty crazy. Of course, Albert Fish is a name that is easy to rhyme with – fish, dish, whatever. I’m going to do a whole album on Albert Fish probably right after Grim Scary Tales Two. It’s going to be called Fish Tales and will be an acoustic and electric journey through the mind of Albert Fish. It will be all this seafaring stuff with a lot of sailor-type stuff and just really crazy. We have a lot of songs written for that, it’s just a matter of actually going into the studio to do it. It’s going to be a pretty involved album. I mean, Dahmer had 26 songs on there and I think the Fish one will be more than that. It will be like a musical about Albert Fish.
Combining extreme metal with nursery rhymes is a really unique move. Have you ever received any kind of negative reaction from the metal community because of it?
With our band, it seems that everyone either loves us or hates us. We have a great fan base that love everything we do but there are people who are stuck on one style and that’s it. Hey, more power to them if that’s what they like. But we’ve been accepted pretty much across the board by all the metal fans we have played in front of when we are a supporting act for different bands. A few people think we are making fun of death metal but we are really not. We’re just doing what we want to do.
By focusing on serial killers, has Macabre ever been a source of controversy?
Not really. Individually, I’ve had a few people say that it’s wrong to sing about serial killers. It’s mostly my mom though. She hates it. She tells me “that’s a bunch of shit, that music.” But now she is starting to like the Macabre Minstrels stuff that we did. You know, we did Tom Dooly.
Do you have any plans to do anything with the Macabre Minstrels soon?
The next Macabre Minstrels recordings I will do will be on the next Macabre album, with some individual songs or just on a couple parts of Macabre songs. We talked about doing a limited Macabre Minstrels tour where we get up there for half an hour and just do all acoustic songs. We did it in Czech Republic at the Obscene Extreme festival in 2008, where every night, in between torture shows when the guys are hanging from hooks and doing crazy crap, we would do a 40-minute Macabre Minstrels set. It went over pretty well but we weren’t really rehearsed or ready for it. It’s hard for me to do those nice vocals when I am doing a Macabre set every night because I do all kinds of screams that affect them. I could probably pull it off though.
Your discography is filled with songs about usual suspects such as Dahmer, Gacy, Lizzy Borden, etc. Then I see a song about Marc Lepine. It’s interesting because, here in Canada, a song about the Montreal Massacre seems in poor taste. Though really, Marc Lepine is no worse than any of these other guys.
Would you say it’s in bad taste for someone to do a newspaper article on that when it happened? We are just doing the same thing, but after the fact. It’s like making a movie about it. It’s history. Should we just sweep it under the carpet and pretend it never happened? I’m not condoning Marc Lepine in this song. I’m saying he was a crazy guy who went out and shot some people.
Why have you never written a song about Charles Manson? Seems like a glaring omission.
Actually, I did write a song about Manson on the Murder Metal album but it wasn’t released because I used the music from the Addams Family TV show theme and Disney owned the rights to that. You know the intro “They’re creepy and they’re kooky, etc.” but instead of the Addams Family, we did the Manson family. I did all the Lurch voices. We never released it but I still have it. It came out great. Maybe some day it will leak out on a 7″ or on the internet. It’s probably something that will never be put on an album but we’ll see what happens. Parodies are possible. It’s only 45 seconds long.
Are you not particularly into Manson? Has he been “done to death” so to speak?
Yeah, he is just so popular. Everyone knows who Charles Manson is and can recognize him on a T-shirt. People probably expect us to do a song on him more than anything.
Do you own a large library of serial killer books?
I’ve given away too many, otherwise I would have had a huge library by now. I still have a lot though. I don’t buy so many individual paperback or books on one killer because it just takes too long to read and research. I’d rather watch an interview with the guy or something on A+E Biography. You give me an hour and I can come up with a song on that, no problem. I would rather read a chapter on one guy. I don’t need all the details unless I am going to do something like the Dahmer album where I am really getting in depth with the guy. Now I try to buy books that have a lot of different killers. I just bought one the other day: 501 of the Most Gruesome Crimes or something. It’s got everyone that you have heard of: Gacy, Manson, the Night Stalker, but there is a lot of people in there I have never heard of, so there’s a lot of material for new songs in there.
Is everyone in Macabre into serial killers as much as you are?
Nefarious [bass guitar] read more in the past, but I write all the lyrics and music. I do it all. He also wrote some songs in the past, but I wrote everything on Grim Scary Tales. The other guys will read the story later from my lyrics. They don’t read on their own.
How did you get Scott Jackson to do the artwork for Grim Scary Tales?
We played at this thing called Fear Fest, a horror convention. They had a lot of different guys there. Scott Jackson’s booth was right next to ours and we hung out with the guy for hours and saw his artwork and thought he was great. We will probably use him on the next album to keep the continuity of the artwork. He’s mainly a comic book artist and he is really good. His style is almost cartoony, but at the same time, it’s real-looking. It’s a weird style. It’s not total realism. I think the guy is very talented. We just gave him some ideas and he came up with his own thing and I’m happy with it.
Is Macabre a full-time gig? What do you do when you’re not singing about serial killers?
It’s turning into a full-time gig, but I do other things too. I do textile printing like all the Macabre T-shirts for the USA. I do other bands too. I’m also a house painter like Albert Fish and I do custom jobs. These are just trades I learned over the years. But we’ll be touring four to five months out of the year so it is going to be pretty much a full time thing this year.
For more on Macabre, check out their official website here.