When looking back at the albums that defined death metal, Massacre’s debut release “From Beyond” is impossible to ignore. Released in 1991 when the genre was arguably at its creative peak, the album featured the talents of vocalist Kam Lee, widely held as the creator of the death growl and with its thrashy, chugging riffs and horror-inspired lyrics and artwork paved the way for a raft of imitators. Sadly the band faded into obscurity shortly after with only an EP and 1996’s unlistenable “Promise” serving as a wholly unsatisfactory legacy.
However, after a number of false starts, 2014 sees “From Beyond” alumni Rick Rozz and Terry Butler joined by new drummer Mike Mazzonetto and vocalist Edwin Webb with the newly formed quartet clearly on a mission to invoke memories of past glories with new record “Back From Beyond.” The cover art is pretty much identical and little has changed music-wise for it’s apparent that Massacre are only interested in reasserting themselves the only way they know how; by laying down track after track of uncompromising, bullshit-free death metal.
The first thing that you notice upon hitting play is how loud and in-your-face the production is with the guitars and drums thrust to the forefront of the mix, not quite creating a wall of noise but more a barrage of bricks. This gives the likes of the Obituary-esque ‘As We Wait to Die’ and the racing attack of ‘Ascension of the Deceased’ a powerful presence which just about makes up for the slightly unimaginative songwriting. Make no mistake; Massacre will not bowl you over with needlessly technical fret-wanks or attempt to bury you under an onslaught of atonal riffs. They were there at the beginning like the old ones their lyrics reference and know that Slayer influenced descending riffing, pounding drums and songs that you can actually hum along to is what death metal is all about. Check out ‘Succumb to Rapture’ and see what I mean.
Shorter numbers like the blistering ‘Remnants of Hatred’ and ‘Sands of Time’ get the job done in under three minutes and emphatically prove that less is more when it comes to handing out punishment. As for the band members, Rozz is clearly having a great time curling out riff after goddamn riff, and of course, those whammy bar dive-bombs as if the early 90s and the good times had never ended while Butler thrashes his bass like a man possessed, easily keeping up with Mazzonetto’s fairly limited repertoire of blasts. Webb is no Kam Lee but his growls are easily legible and pitched from deep in his gut, giving him a big presence that comes close to filling the old master’s rather large shoes.
More than just an exercise in nostalgia, “Back From Beyond” is an utterly solid death metal release from a crop of seasoned veterans who may be playing it safe, but this means they’re incapable of fucking up. There may be little variation in the songwriting and at fourteen tracks the album is a good ten minutes or so too long, but these qualms can be easily forgiven when you consider Massacre’s overall status and the fact that they sound so hungry after all those years in the wilderness. If there was ever a case where the phrase ‘respect your elders’ applied, this is it.