Massacre holds a special place in the annals of American death metal. They were one of earliest true death metal bands, and along with Death, they started the infamous Florida death metal scene. Hell, original vocalist Kam Lee is even credited with inventing the death metal growl! At one time or another, members of Obituary and Death passed through their ranks and though they released a series of highly influential demos like Aggressive Tyrant, their plans to release a debut album in 1988 were hamstrung when Terry Butler, Rick Rozz and Bill Andrews all jumped ship to record Death‘s immortal Leprosy album instead. They weren’t able to get their From Beyond debut out until 1991, by which point its impact on the scene was significantly less than it would have been a few years prior. Though it missed its “magic window,” From Beyond was still a mighty slab of ugly, no-nonsense, Neanderthal death with absolutely no nuance or pretensions. It kicked ass, took names, then re-kicked the named ones and gave us such death metal classics as “Dawn of Eternity,” “Defeat Remains” and the timeless “Corpsegrinder.” After that, the band promptly proceeded to implode, ending their run with the completely unlistenable pap of 1996s Promise.
After a promising teaser EP in 2012, Terry Butler and the Rozzster reunite along with some new blood to deliver Back From Beyond, an album clearly intended to be the proper successor to From Beyond. It’s basic, old school, meat and taters American death, painstakingly crafted to conform with the classic Massacre sound, and in that at least, they totally succeeded.
Mere moments into opener “As We Wait to Die,” it’s abundantly clear Massacre is back to pummel with vintage American death circa 1988 and everything about the style and song structures sound exactly like From Beyond and Death‘s Leprosy. Simple riffing, oodles of Rozz’s trademark whammy dives and the nasty bellow of Kam Lee’s replacement, Edwin Web (who often sounds quite a bit like the Kammster). This naturally creates a warm, nostalgic feeling for long time fans like myself, and it’s like homecoming weekend: comfortable and oh-so-familiar. The songs bounce from mid-tempo rumbles to thrashy outbursts and the odd doom grind moments, with a preference for hovering right in the middle.
Unfortunately, though the music sounds just like their glory days, many of the songs struggle to leave a lasting impression. “As We Wait to Die” is a pretty generic tune by any measure, and though it’s awesome to hear Rick Rozz maul his fret board and whammy bar again, the song itself doesn’t win me over. “Ascension of the Deceased” has little moments I love (all thanks to Rick), but as a whole it leaves me a bit nonplussed. Things hit a particularly rough patch from “Hunter’s Blood” through to “False Revelation,” with nothing really seizing the ear beyond the odd riff that reminds you of “Forgotten Past” or solo that makes you realize Rozz pretty much invented the death metal solo style you’ve been hearing since 1988. It’s just a sea of generic, mid-tempo, groove-riffing that you’ve heard a million times before (mostly by Jungle Rot).
Things do improve somewhat with “Succumb to Rapture,” which feels like a bonus track off From Beyond and has enough vigor to wake you from your ennui. After that it’s a mix of the dull (“Remnants of Hatred”) and the decent (“The Evil Within”). “Beast With Vengeance” is the most dynamic and stirring track, with aggressive riffing and some nicely eerie touches that make it memorable. “Shield of the Son” is a bit different and incorporates Amon Amarth-esque battle riffing which helps break the tedium and shake off some of the dust from the crypts of eternity. The title track/album single is respectable, but gets bogged down in doom riffing, which isn’t their forte and as a result, ends up a bit boring. Closer “Honor the Fallen” incorporates some interesting ideas to the riffing not unlike what Kreator did on Renewal and it helps make the song a little more interesting, though it won’t blow anyone’s mind.
Though Web does a fine job on vocals, I miss the larger-than-life presence of Kam Lee. In all honesty, a Massacre album without him is like Clams Casino without the clams. This leaves it to Rick Rozz to single-handedly save the day with his classically simplistic approach to death riffing and as much as I love his style, he can’t pull it off. Many of his main riffs are tepid and recycled, and while I still eat up his whammy abuse and frenzied little solos, they can’t save a collection of songs that aren’t memorable to begin with.
Though nostalgia points must be awarded, after waiting so fucking long for a proper follow-up to From Beyond, this just isn’t going to cut it. Back From Beyond is closer to a Six Feet Under album than vintage Massacre, and that my friends, is a big old bummer. Go spin From Beyond and bask in the glory these innovators once grasped in their dirty, caveman hands.