Macabre Credit: Rodney Pawlak

Carnival of Killers, the first album by south-side heavy-music pioneers Macabre in nearly a decade, is pretty much exactly what I hoped it would be. The trio, who haven’t had a lineup change since forming in 1985, have built a global following with what they call “murder metal”—that is, songs about serial killers and other heinous criminals. For all their morbid subject matter, Macabre also provide welcome reassurance: even in these troubled times; you can count on them to create a solid product. That said, they aren’t one-trick ponies, and Carnival of Killers is a reminder of that—their songs stick to a narrow theme, but they have a diverse emotional range. “Your Window Is Open,” about Richard Ramirez, amplifies a churning sense of visceral threat into full-on terror by vividly evoking the fear of the killer’s victims. It stands in stark contrast to “Them Dry Bones,” about H.H. Holmes, whose corny charm takes cues from the old song about which bone is connected to which other bone (it’s both a nursery rhyme and a gospel number). The chorus has been stuck in my head for a week: “Dem bones dem bones / You can buy bones / Dem bones dem bones / From Doctor Holmes.” Macabre are so committed to their craft that they switch to German for “Warte, Warte,” about Fritz Haarmann. Then two tracks later they’re back to trafficking in the musical whiplash that’s an important part of the modus operandi on Carnival of Killers: “The Wheels on the Bug” works another familiar kids’ tune into a song about Ted Bundy. Fascination with murderers’ power can go hand in hand with empathy for their victims, and artists can simultaneously critique and celebrate the oversize role the serial killer plays in pop culture. It’s tempting to deny humanity’s very worst impulses, but lying to ourselves rarely helps anything—and this album actually makes it fun to confront the truth. For the past 22 years, Macabre have anchored a spectacular and cathartic annual festival called Holiday of Horror (lately at Reggies’ Rock Club), but they’re skipping 2020 due to COVID-19. Given the way the pandemic is trending, large family gatherings—the kind you might need to fantasize about killing your way out of—are off the table too. At least there’s new Macabre music to listen to while you beat your head against the wall.   v