INTERVIEW WITH CORPORATE DEATH BY STEPHANIE JENSEN
PHOTOGRAPHS BY RODNEY PAWLAK
When it comes to the formation of extreme metal, Macabre undeservedly might be one of the overlooked bands. Formed in 1985, Macabre has reigned for 35 years with their unique, brutal, and a touch of humor sound, focusing their entire discography around serial killers—a genre that has been dubbed “murder metal.”
On November 13th, Macabre will be releasing its newest album, Carnival of Killers, the band’s first in 10 years. Carnival of Killers is one of Macabre’s strongest albums, showing immense progression since their 2011 release Grim’s Scary Tales.
Carnival of Killers is a side of Macabre that fans have never heard. While the catchy melodies and nursery rhymes synonymous with Macabre are still here, there is a wider range in Corporate Death’s vocals—he uses all growl tones as well as cleans. Every song stands out on its own and will get stuck in your head as if Macabre themselves pierced them into your brain. They also write about different killers, such as Leonarda Cianciulli (“Soap-Maker of Correggio,” the song “Tea Cakes” is based on her).
Corporate Death discusses the long album wait, the influences for Carnival of Killers, and what he can say about Macabre’s plans for next year.
It’s been almost 10 years since your previous album. Why have you waited so long?
I never try to push myself and say, “I have to do an album every so many years.” That’s the way I’ve always done it. We’ve had some long waits in between our albums, but there have been a few reasons for a little bit longer delay on this one. We were still trying to work out the right record company to go with. We had different offers, and this wasn’t something we were going to jump into and say, “Okay, we’re going for the first offer just to get this album out.” And I was glad we waited because we’re back with Nuclear Blast. We did an album with them, I believe it was Sinister Slaughter . Now we’re back with them after this many years. They’re a great company and they’re going to give us the right promotion that we never had in the past.
The new album has a carnival theme and some songs have carnival-like melodies. Why did you choose this theme for Carnival of Killers?
It’s something I thought of some years back. I used to correspond with John Wayne Gacy. That’s when he was alive—this was like the early 90s—and I was getting paintings through the mail from John Wayne Gacy. I was actually able to go to death row—it was a five hour drive for me—and meet him in jail. I spent half the day talking to Gacy and interviewing him. I told him I play in a band but never told him, “Hey, we’re writing songs about you!” I got one painting from Gacy. I think it’s his best painting. It’s called “Pogo on a Stick.” It’s Pogo’s circus. It’s kind of like a carnival theme. It has a circus tent and some signs in there. And it has him on a pogo stick as the clown, jumping up and down. That’s where I got the original idea for the carnival theme—Gacy being the clown, that he was dressed up for kid’s parties and was a clown for a part-time thing he did. That’s where the carnival theme came from.
“I WAS GETTING PAINTINGS THROUGH THE MAIL FROM JOHN WAYNE GACY. I WAS ACTUALLY ABLE TO GO TO DEATH ROW—IT WAS A FIVE HOUR DRIVE FOR ME—AND MEET HIM IN JAIL. “
As far as the music goes, there have been melodies and stuff—we’ve always done that in Macabre. For this one, I figured I would take it to a little bit more of an extreme. I really tried to be versatile. I tried to do a lot of music styles and showcase my vocals on this one. I ended up doing all of the vocals on the album. My bass player lives in a different state, so he had to come and stay at my house for a while and learn the songs. I really didn’t have time to work with him on the vocals too much and all the keys, harmonies, or whatever. He’s just like, “You just do the vocals on it,” and I’m like, “Cool.” I really don’t mind. I like to sing. A lot of these melodies you hear are happy melodies and stuff like that. I guess I’m a little bit older, so it’s stuff I grew up as a kid hearing. My mom would buy children’s records, and I would always sing along with top 40s stuff for as long as I remember, ever since I was a kid. I always loved to sing, and there was no death metal or anything like that. A lot of it is from my childhood and melodies that get stuck in my head.
Other than the fact that your bass player didn’t contribute vocals, is there another reason why you chose to experiment and go a step further with your vocals?
It’s a progression of Macabre. It’s just where we’re at in this point. I never want to say, “Okay, I have to write in this one mode.” I consider this an art form. There are no rules to this. I think I can go any direction musically, as long as I sing about these killers. As I said, I always liked to sing. There was one point about 10 years ago, I really got into karaoke. I would pick all of these old 60s songs, songs from the 70s, and stuff. I would sit at home and sing along to these songs, really trying to get my voice to sound just like the guy on the record. I was doing everything from The Beatles, Johnny Cash, Elvis, just anything you could think of. I had 100 songs I could do. I always loved to sing and I figured, “Okay, I’m not going to be shy on this album. I’m going to push the vocals to do different styles.”
“‘TEA CAKES’ IS ABOUT A LADY WHO WOULD KILL OTHER LADIES AND BAKE THEIR BLOOD INTO TEACAKES AND MAKE THEIR SKIN INTO SOAP.”
On Carnival of Killers, you sing about some killers you sang about in the past, like Gacy, and there are also some new killers. What killers are featured on this album?
We did a Dahmer album in the past. It was a musical about Jeffrey Dahmer that went from his childhood to when he got killed in jail. That was a whole album about one guy. I figured some of these guys that we have sung about in the past that were really popular would be good to do another song about them. This is my way around doing another concept album about another guy. As I said, there are no rules to it. I’ve already done three Fritz Haarmann songs. I did the German song on this one, that was the third song I did on this guy. I did two Ed Gein songs on this new album, one is going to be a bonus track. So, I figured, there are no rules so I can do songs on different albums about guys I sang about in the past. I did about half of the old killers we already sang about and the other half are new ones that I never wrote about in the past. I tried to pick the real goofy ones. ‘Tea Cakes’ is about a lady who would kill other ladies and bake their blood into teacakes and make their skin into soap. And she would give it to other people to eat and use during washing. I really tried to pick the goofy ones that we haven’t sung about in the past.
You have a couple of nursery rhyme theme songs on this album that are covers—“Them Dry Bones” about H.H. Holmes and “The Wheels on the Bug” about Ted Bundy. Where did the ideas for these songs come from?
It’s from me growing up. They were on children’s albums. That “Them Dry Bones” song about Dr. Holmes is actually an old gospel song. It was done by The Delta Rhythm Section. So, I took that song and made it into a metal version, did my own lyrics to it. The other ones, it’s just like children’s music, with little parts here and there. The Gacy one I took part of it from the Slinky commercial, the Slinky toy. It’s just stuff I saw growing up and stuff I remembered from growing up. Of course, I make my own happy sounding melodies. Some of it I took from children’s songs and others I made up myself.
“I WAS ABLE TO GO BACK AND FORTH TO CREATE THIS ALBUM COVER PIECE BY PIECE. I TOLD HIM I WANT THIS CARNIVAL THEME, AND WE CREATED EACH KILLER ONE AT A TIME”
Earlier, you were talking about one of John Wayne Gacy’s paintings. Was that the inspiration for the cover art?
That’s where I got the idea from. I came up with the cover design. I have a friend from Australia that I made while we were toured out there. His name is Laz Gein. And he’s one of my favorite artists, he’s really good. You can find him on Facebook. He can do any style. He can do oil paintings, he can do Leonardo da Vinci looking stuff. He’s also a tattoo artist. I got him to do this album cover. With technology these days, I was able to go back and forth to create this album cover piece by piece. I told him I want this carnival theme, and we created each killer one at a time and moved them around the cover to see what looked best. He would send me a killer once every few days or something. And I would say, “Okay, can we change this on the killer or this,” and then he would change it and send it back to me. With technology these days, I was able to do that. It’s not just like someone does the painting and that’s what you get. We were able to build this piece by piece.
Macabre has always had fun melodies. With metal being such an aggressive style of music, why do you think it’s important to make metal fun?
I don’t know. I just thought of this years ago, doing the happy melodies in there. Sometimes my drummer will say, “That’s too happy sounding.” And I say, “No, we’re doing it like this, c’mon!” We always try to be different, try to have our own sound. I think we can go in any direction in music. We’re not doing rap or anything like that, but we can go in any direction we want, as long as we’re singing about the killers. And I think it gives us a more demented crazy sound, using these children’s melodies with these really sick lyrics in there.
“IT GIVES US A MORE DEMENTED CRAZY SOUND, USING THESE CHILDREN’S MELODIES WITH THESE REALLY SICK LYRICS”
Something else interesting about Macabre is you have had the same lineup for the entire existence of the band.
We’ve actually been together for longer than 35 years, but we started the name Macabre in 1985. Part of it is when you have three guys, there are fewer personalities you have to deal with. You get five guys in a band, there’s gonna be more conflicts, be more arguments, different personalities. That’s probably one of the keys to us being together for so long. We’ve been friends for a real long time and played music in bands and stuff together, even before Macabre. Probably the other reason is none of us ever got married or had kids. We’ve come close a few times. So, that’s probably another key to it. It’s hard to start thinking about a family or having to take off touring and stuff. That’s probably another reason for it, for our longevity.
After 35 years of Macabre, your albums have gotten stronger throughout the years. Especially Carnival of Killers, that’s a perfect example. What do you think is the secret to getting better with every album?
I always try to progress. I really feel this is my favorite Macabre album. It shows our progression. I always try to add more styles. I really tried to push the vocals on there. I can get bored doing the same style all the time. I like the variety. There’s no secret to it or anything. It’s just a progression. We try to get better with every album. Hopefully, our next one is better than this one. I want to write more musical stuff in the future and try to get more musical-like melodies that people can remember in their head, not some crazy technical thing that you can’t hum in your head because you’re working or whatever you’re doing. So, I try to be more memorable in stuff you can hum in your head.
“I REALLY FEEL THIS IS MY FAVORITE MACABRE ALBUM. IT SHOWS OUR PROGRESSION.”
Things are unpredictable now, but do you have any plans after the album’s release that you can share?
Well, we had all kinds of festivals planned for this summer in Europe. So, they just postponed them till next year, the same fests. Hopefully, that all happens next summer. Whenever shows are possible again, I want to do a tour. I’d like to do a headlining tour of Europe, the US, Canada, Australia, and try to play a lot of songs off this new album. We’re just not sure when that will happen. I’m glad the album is coming out late in the year, so it’s not old news. If the album came out early in the year, it’s not a new album anymore. Since it’s coming out late in the year, it’s still a new album for everybody.