Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Massacre - Back from Beyond (2014)

Stagnation is stagnation. No matter how many coats of armor it's clad in, no matter how you attempt to further 'brutalize' it, a death metal album cannot work without some balance of quality riff composition, morbid or malevolent atmosphere, or at the very least some head-spinning level of technicality or complexity which forces the listener's brain into a series of mental acrobatics. Funny enough, Back from Beyond has none of this, it's simply a pure 'ca$h in on the fact that we were a death metal band signed during the formative years of the genre' reunion which offers absolutely nothing new or credible with its formulaic, exhausted riffing progressions. That it's an obvious 'sequel' to Massacre's decidedly average 1991 debut From Beyond, arriving to strike when the iron of death metal nostalgia is hot, only serves as emphasis to its dubious nature, and about the only thing in its favor is that it's nowhere near as awful as the shitty sophomore Promise. But that's faint praise, because:

One Direction is not as shitty as Promise.
Li'l Wayne is not as shitty as Promise.
The Last Airbender was not as shitty as Promise.
Having the Earth and everyone and everything you love on it incinerated simultaneously by a solar flare might arguably not be as shitty as having to listen through Promise.

As you can see, Massacre and I have not always had the tightest of relationships, but the worst I could say for From Beyond was that it was 'just alright'. An early 'also-ran' record, sure, but there were only a few coattails to ride on at that point. Not the case with Back from Beyond, which is more or less an effortless doppelganger of decades of traditional death metal. And I mean effortless...Rick Rozz could hardly have spent more than mere moments conceiving such predictably insipid note progressions, and if you've already heard the Condemned to the Shadows EP from 2012, there's almost no point in tracking this down, since those are by far the best tunes here and the rest is monotonous filler with samey sounding rhythm guitars, and vocal patterns that are rarely distinguishable from one another. Of course, if you've listened to Autopsy, Death or Obituary's material from around 1987-1990, there's not much point listening to Massacre in the first place, but that goes without saying. This completely lacks the ambition one could hope for in a band who were around in the old days, and in fact the whole thing seems like its merely struggling to achieve the level of its 1991 predecessor, and settling for a comparable result. It goes a little too far in its quest for 'purity'.

I'm not as offended by the lack of Kam Lee as some purists will be, because the guy was never one of my favorite growlers, but he's moved on to better bands; not to mention Edwin Webb functions close to a modern analog for that sort of grotesque, sustained guttural. But this is so far below the gruesome character exhibited by a John Tardy, Chuck Schuldiner, Chris Reifert, Martin van Drunen or Paul Speckmann during their primes that it might fall out the opposite side of the planet. Likewise, the chords and tremolo picked guitars, as meaty as their tone is, are unshakably bland, patterns that have all been done to death (rimshot) countless times whether we're talking Benediction, Bolt Thrower, Death, Obituary or 72 other bands from the early waves...not to mention the myriad of newer aspirants to the throne of banality. I mean, on a purely production level, I don't have many complaints...the bass is loud and raunchy, the guitars fleshy, the drums accurate and struck powerfully, and the vocals cut right across the instruments, but Back from Beyond is just so devoid of creativity and passion that it seems like it might have just been assembled by robots as some sort of distillation of 'death metal' principles meant to teach children what the genre sounds like.

It hits harder than From Beyond did, but not in any meaningful way...drum and guitar tones just sound so much brighter and more voluminous than they did 24 years ago. The fact is, no matter how heavy it tries to come across, the vacancy of quality songwriting holds it back. Even the leads just feel like sound effects that escaped the Leprosy recording sessions, and have no interesting structure to them. A real failure to launch here. 6-7 minutes and just two songs of this on that previous EP were decent enough, if not exceptional, but hearing them plugged into a 45 minute framework with 14 songs that almost all sound similar beyond the one minute dark ambient intro. Didn't anyone in the band listen through this batch of songs and think to himself 'we could use a little more variety'? By about 10-15 minutes into the album, it was nap-inducing, but by the time I finished, it was practically torture. It's unfortunate, because I almost always want these old timers to kick some ass, and teach the newbies how it's done, but judging by what I'm hearing on this, Massacre seems to require that lesson themselves. It's not the worst thing I've ever heard by a landslide, but sadly you hear one cut from this and you've essentially heard them all; they should be capable of better.

Verdict: Fail [4.5/10]

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