By: Geoff Teach
Three qualities define Macabre: Experience, dignity, and a sentient, earthy connection with their fan base and the world of metal in general. To say this is easy enough, but to really understand it, I had to sit down and have a nice, long phone chat with Lance Lencioni, more commonly known as Corporate Death, lead singer and guitar player of Macabre, the proto-death metal band that has existed in some form or another since way back yonder in 1985. Corporate Death and his two mates, Nefarious (Charles Lescewicz, bass and backing vocals) and Dennis the Menace (Dennis Ritchie, drums) have not only survived the ups and downs of the music industry, they have thrived as an underground and independent staple of Chicago metal for over a quarter-century by simply maintaining the metal line, and never abandoning their own artistic tendencies, even if those tendencies include personal flirtations with convicted serial killers and occasionally letting their music drift into children’s rhymes and themes. By sticking with this plan, though, they have established themselves not only as a European success, but have also endeared themselves to plenty of domestic fans, too, with their quirky brand of piratical, satirically sadistic “murder metal”. Many a major-label signed metal performer has listed Macabre as one of their influences, and for good reason; Macabre are pioneers of heavy metal not only in this country, but around the world.
To achieve this kind of global relevance, it has taken plenty of time and dedication, and through the process, the gaining of plenty of experience in all facets of the music industry. I asked Corporate Death how he thinks that Macabre has managed to maintain their original lineup through nearly three decades worth of work, and his answer smacked of wisdom: “Well, you know we’ve had our problems and stuff and I guess we didn’t tour as much as other bands did. We did a lot of touring at some points. But, you know, when you’re stuck together all the time, especially doing little van tours where you’re in close confinement, you know, and hotel rooms, it sucks. But the tour buses in Europe, the Nightliners, we’ve done it in the States, too. You get a little bit more space to do your own thing, but that’s part of it is that we didn’t tour a whole bunch in the past. We do so many months a year of touring, we don’t just concentrate on touring all year. Second thing would probably be that it’s only three guys in the band, you know? You’ve got fewer personalities to deal with each other. You get five guys, the variables are there to have more problems, and there are more characters to deal with. Eventually someone gets married, has a kid, ‘I can’t do this anymore, I’ve got this and that’…we’ve got just the three guys. We’ve all been friends for a long time, after all these years, I can’t see Macabre with any other characters. We’ve done it so many years. If we did other projects on our own, that would be a different story, but it’s always been just the same three guys. It’s a vicious cycle of bands out there. I’ve played with so many bands in the past that have started out going good and then lost guys, or changed members. It’s like starting over again sometimes and then they changed the names, changed the image, or something else like that. We’re just like ‘Stick with it, get some people you get along with, stick with the same people.’ That’s part of it. There are not too many bands from the past [that are still together with all original members], I think we’re one of the only bands, especially extreme level bands, that has the same original members. I mean, Slayer gets a lot of respect, but a lot of people forget that even Dave Lombardo left for a time.” For perspective’s sake, Slayer formed in 1981, a mere four years before the Macabre train began to pull out of the station. Macabre’s knowledge and experience extends beyond longevity, however, and extends into their approach in the studio at this point in their career. I asked Lance what it was like to work with Neil Kernon, the Grammy Award-winning producer, on “Dahmer”, and his answer was quite relevant, “Yeah, it was great. That was our first experience working with him, and then we did “Murder Metal” together, too. We needed some delays on the vocals and stuff like that, and I learned from the guy, you know? It’s like now I know how to go into a studio and tell a guy what I want when it comes to production. ‘I want delay here, I want reverb here on the end of my scream there.’ Now I get in there with new engineers [and I know how to tell them what I want it to sound like]. “
While studio time is a place for their experience to shine, it is also where they show off their cardinal trait, dignity. Macabre certainly will never be known for changing who they are just to sell some albums or to gain some sort of social popularity. Lance’s near-obsession with serial killers is well-documented, and his unwillingness to change the way that he and his fellow band mates compose their music and write their lyrics is an amazing testament to how truly “metal” that Macabre really is. This being said, one would usually assume that a band with these kinds of credentials would have a long track record of major-label signings, big interviews and reviews in major publications, and gold records hanging on the walls. For Macabre, though, this is not the case, and while it hasn’t stopped them from continuing to write, record, and tour, it has left a semi-sour taste in the mouth of Lance: “Yeah, I don’t know…maybe? I mean, we get our recognition as a ‘cult band’ and through ‘word-of-mouth’, but yeah, I mean, it bums me out a little, sure it does, but, it probably has something to do with the serial killers, it’s like people think we’re some weird old guys looking for little children to eat or something, “ laughs Lance, and continues to say, “I don’t know if that’s part of it, or maybe it’s just that we’re so goofy with our stuff like sometimes we can jump into the children’s music, or the rhymes or stuff. Maybe people just think it’s not ‘metal enough’ for them. I don’t know. I don’t know the politics of this all, but, it’s a little disappointing. I mean, I didn’t even see our album reviewed [Stateside]. It got a lot of reviews in European magazines, but we’re actually bigger out there, anyways. But yeah, I get Revolver all the time, and I see them reviewing all these new bands, and most of them, I’ve never even heard of, you know? I don’t even think we’ve ever been in there, I don’t know if they’ve mentioned us or anything. We’ve been around a long time…” A little resentment at the lack of mainstream attention is completely understandable, especially when Corey Taylor of Slipknot and Stone Sour fame has been known to tout his love for Macabre whenever he can, and yet they still can’t get any love in the major metal publication of today. But ultimately, to the band, it’s just really not that important. What’s important to Macabre is maintaining their artistic happiness and satisfaction. By succeeding at this, they have shown the world that they have more dignity in their little pinkies than most metal bands of the past thirty years have over their entire careers.
To this end, Macabre has not only sustained their own artistic decorum, but they’ve managed to somehow stay connected to the metal world going on around them. While it’s one thing to write music with the same verve and same approach for as long as Macabre has, it is another thing entirely for them to still stay on top of the music that is done by others, if only because it may have some connection to how Macabre’s own artistic output is written or recorded. I inquired with Lance as to what he thought of the state of metal today, and he answered, “Everything’s been done so many times, like over and over again. It’s just like anything; things come and go, you know? Things progress, and they morph and evolve, they change, and metal is no different. I’m into more progressive stuff now, actually. I’ve been listening a lot to the band Animals As Leaders. I’m into the guitar work and the crazy time signatures. Of course I love stuff like Meshuggah and all the crazy math stuff. I like more avant-garde type stuff like Sleepy Time Gorilla Museum, too. It’s heavy as hell and sort of bizarre. The vocalist is really good, and the music is just all over the place, and the only thing you say to it when you hear it is “Wow!” I just love it because the vocals are so good, and it’s different, you know? It’s not just straight death metal coming at you, I mean, I’ve heard that so many times. But even the death metal bands are progressing these days. They’re becoming more technical, and it’s almost like a competition to see who’s more extreme, and that’s great. I’m just more into classical, I don’t even really listen to that much metal, but when I do, it’s mostly progressive stuff these days.” I would say that’s quite a surprising answer, considering the answer is coming from the same man who wrote the song “The Sweet Tender Meat Vendor”, but it’s really not when the realization hits that Macabre’s music ranges all over the map, from sickening, brutally heavy riffs to the downright serene and playful, even encompassing the band’s alter ego, The Macabre Minstrels, the acoustic, classical version of the original. Lance’s playfulness when it comes to writing lyrics and music probably surfaces most with this version of the band, as evidenced by his own words when asked if there are any plans for more Minstrel material: “I probably will. I’m torn between more Minstrels now, or another Macabre album. I wrote a bunch of songs when we did ‘Grim Scary Tales’, there were a lot of other ideas I didn’t use. I mean, there were only so many I could use, so, I already have maybe about half an album’s worth of lyrics and music written. I don’t know if I want to do it acoustic or electric. We had that album that we did a little bit of like 15 years ago about Albert Fish called ‘Fish Tales’ and it was all like sea-faring, sailor songs, and all this children’s music about Albert Fish eating kids (laughter). It’s super-demented, and I like to do that. It would probably easier to do that than to do something electric right now, but, we’ll see what happens. We’d need a lot of work on it. I think on the next Macabre Minstrels stuff, I don’t know if we’d use drums on it, but I think I’d probably use guitar synths on my acoustic, that way I could play flutes and violins along with the guitars. A lot of different vocals, too, like lots of harmonies, like really go crazy with my vocals on it.” Needless to say, if more Minstrels material is on the way, you can bet your bloody steak knife that it will be varied, connected, modern…and incredible.
On the whole, Macabre’s murderous vision of art and music are a force to be reckoned with, even if they don’t get all of the accolades that they so definitely deserve. After twenty-seven years, nearly twenty releases, and countless studio and stage sessions, Macabre is still going strong, still sporting a rabid fan base, still packing European and American venues, and are still completely and utterly underground, even if not completely of their own choice. This, however, is not a slander in the slightest. To be underground for as long as Macabre has is to sustain a modicum of respect from your fellow metal mongers, and the longer you go, the more respect you rack up. If this equation is correct, Lance, Charles, and Dennis have accumulated more “cred” than just about any other five bands you can list, major label or not.
Macabre is playing with Avernus, Stone Magnum and Jarr’d Loose on the night after the end of the world! December 22nd, 2012 at Reggie’s Rock House! As long as we’re all still here, don’t miss the show, folks, it should be incredible!