The Lovecraftian aesthetic enjoys a ravaging resurgence.
The death metal subgenre has always carried a rather blatant kinship with the works of H.P. Lovecraft; all but the point of the former’s very birth being a necessary consequence of the latter’s existence. But in the specific case of one of the style’s earliest pioneering acts, namely Floridian trailblazers Massacre, there has been a near exclusivity to the works of said famed early 20th century author and inventor of the cosmic horror genre and the lyrical content that accompanies the dissonant and otherworldly sonic landscapes of their craft. And much like the chaotic world that has been built out of Lovecraft’s mythos, this band has often found themselves in a state of instability, often marred by an all but perpetually shifting lineup and a correspondingly massive degree of setbacks. Even in the mid-80s when the ascendant death metal scene was experiencing a great deal of underground buss, Massacre’s success in the tape trading world via their early demos would not translate into success until the early 1990s, several years after initially going defunct for lack of label interest.
It goes without saying that this outfit’s 1991 debut “From Beyond” would prove to be both a seminal and formative moment in Massacre’s career, despite the fact that it was built mostly off of material from the mid-80s and was stylistically similar to the early work of Death, an arguably inevitable result of every musician involved having been a former member of Chuck Schuldiner’s revolving door of collaborators. But for an album that was maybe a few years late into the game, it proved a highly competent and compelling exploration of existential horror within a sound aesthetic that was highly similar, if maybe a tad more spacey than 1988 death metal classic “Leprosy.” In more recent years, varying incarnations of this outfit have attempted to recreate the magic of the original, with now former guitarist Rick Rozz and bassist Terry Butler fielding a de facto sequel in 2014’s “Back From Beyond” with a different vocalist and drummer, bringing the formula of the original into a more modernized context, but also struggling to court much of Massacre’s established fan-base due to the absence of original pioneering death barker Kam Lee.
Several years later and a lot of interpersonal drama notwithstanding, Massacre would reform again in 2019 under an entirely different lineup thanks to the previously noted original front man winning the rights to the band’s name. A string of singles consisting of two cover songs and a rerecording of the title track of their debut LP would follow, suggesting that Lee’s version of the band would be similarly tasked with continuing the same tradition as the 2014 incarnation. Thus stands “Resurgence,” an album that manages to continue the same tradition of Lovecraftian-steeped death metal, but without sounding like an overt retread dressed up in a bigger, more modern production gloss. It is an album that is unapologetically old school in its approach, featuring clearly delineated segments of thrashing violence cut with slow-trudging and dissonant doom moments, but also an album that translates the theatrical aspects of this band’s signature sound of yesteryear into the colossal trappings of recent efforts by the likes of Nile and Immolation. In other words, a massive production that features some cinematic and symphonic moments, but still tied to the primitive trappings of the early 1990s death metal template.
From its earliest moments, this album goes to impressive lengths in creating an elaborate visual of a world of dread and mystique. The opening crusher and quasi-epic slough of unrelenting heaviness “Eldritch Prophecy” proves dank enough to rival Incantation at their most extreme, but also has a highly cinematic character to it that makes it an ideal opener for what proves to be a more kinetic and thrash-prone album. The faster grind of “Ruins Of R’yleh”, titled for the realm of the Lovecraftian monstrosity known as Cthulhu no less, brings a similar sense of fear to the table, but with more of a percussive, current day Cannibal Corpse flavor with growler Kam Lee digging deep into his guttural persona for some truly inhuman vocalizations. Following on this theme of exploring the realms of the horrific with an eye for an elaborate visual, the slightly less drawn out “Book Of The Dead (Necronomicon)” employs some creepy ambient sounds and samples that pay tribute to the Evil Dead series, and is then chased by a more straight up thrashing fit of mayhem that’s all but a dead-ring for the late 80s Death sound that provided the basis for Massacre’ earliest efforts.
Though definitely going a bit heavier on the theatrics this time around, most of what makes up this album’s individual chapters is cut from a more straightforward grain. One can’t help but note the late 80s death/thrash trappings dressed up in a meatier mixture of pummeling guitars and thunderous drums that typifies compact and high tempo fodder such as “The Innsmouth Strain”, “Into The Far-Off Void” (which closes on a more atmospheric note) and “Fate Of The Elder Gods”. Between the Slayer-inspired riffing provided by modern Swedish death metal trustee Rogga Johansson and multi-instrumentalist Jonny Pettersson, to speak nothing for the Hanneman meets Schuldiner-like soloing approach of Memorian shredder Scott Fairfax, these shorter anthems just scream old guard Floridian death metal goodness like it’s on the verge of a second death. Likewise, one would be remiss not to note the brilliant drum display put on newly acquired kit man Brynjar Helgetun on the chaotic cruiser “The Whisperer Of Darkness” and the thrashing murder-fest of a closer “Return Of The Corpse Grinder”, though the whole crew just knocks it out of the park with the pummeling violence of “Spawn Of The Succubus”.
This is as much a rock solid return after several decades of failed rebirths as it is a bittersweet triumph, if for no other reason than that this grand display of extreme sonic mayhem required the complete overhaul of the original lineup. Apart from Kam Lee and bassist Mike Borders (who was briefly in the band back in the mid-80s but ironically didn’t appear on any recordings), the link that ties this album in with the initial glory that was achieved back in the 80s and early 90s is found in a highly competent emulation by younger adherents rather than a reunification of the original titans that made it possible. It’s a small hurdle that hopefully every fan of the early days of this band and the greater Florida death metal scene will be able to cross, as the absence of Rozz and Butler does virtually nothing to detract from the competency showcased here in bringing the old ways into the 2020s. Nostalgia hounds will find a grand smorgasbord of decrepit death metal entrees here that will take them back 30 years plus in an instant, while the current generation will find something powerful enough to sink their ghoulish teeth into, so let all eat in moribund health.
Released By: Nuclear Blast Records
Released On: October 15th, 2021
Genre: Death Metal
- Kam Lee / Vocals
- Mike Borders / Bass
- Rogga Johansson / Guitars
- Jonny Pettersson / Guitars
- Scott Fairfax / Guitars
- Brynjar Helgetun / Drums
- Eldritch Prophecy 6:24
- Ruins Of R’lyeh 5:25
- The Innsmouth Strain 3:05
- Whisperer In Darkness 3:57
- Book Of The Dead 4:09
- Into The Far-Off Void 4:11
- Servants Of Discord 3:57
- Fate Of The Elder Gods 3:15
- Spawn Of The Succubus 3:19
- Return Of The Corpse Grinder 2:32
One of the earliest forces within the death metal underground, and arguably the most setback prone, has reformed under the leadership of its now restored helmsman and a new contingent of British and Scandinavian veterans to prove that the old ways are still quite strong