In a modern world where mass shooters, entertainment-industry sex pests, and ghoulish politicians all find new ways to horrify today's citizens, the idea that the world would be stopped in its tracks and gripped by a serial killer slowly murdering their way through a city seems almost quaint. It has now been over thirty years since Chicago trio MACABRE started gaining notoriety within heavy metal circles for retelling the sordid tales and grisly deeds of the evilest of mortals that have walked our streets. Their flair for filtering these tales through a morbid sense of humor, thrash riffs and campfire singalong song structures made everything more palatable than the subject matter should suggest. "Carnival of Killers", the band's first album in nine years, feels like an album stuck in a state of stasis, both in terms of musical execution and subject matter. The result is a comparatively lightweight record that likely won't result in listeners new to the band being won over, but the already converted that still have a few T-shirts in their closets bearing the images of folks like Charles Manson and Jeffrey Dahmer may be placated at least by the subject matter, if not the riffs.
A MACABRE record has always had the feel of a three-ring circus, and "Carnival Of Killers" is no exception, to the point of beginning with a carnival overture. The early goings of "Your Window Is Open" shows the band focusing on the more purely metallic elements that they bring to the table, with vocalist/guitarist Corporate Death delivering shrieks that are as ghastly and high-pitched as ever, and buzz-saw guitar work that is overloaded with shred. It's the most start-to-finish ripper of the record although there are a few bigger barrages of metallic fury that shine through on "Carnival of Killers", most notably on the ominous shredder "Slaughter House" and the sinister thrash that comprises "Now It's Time To Play". Aside from those tracks and a few other moments here and there, MACABRE leans harder on the twisted campfire singalong side of their songwriting.
Just when you thought that there was no more material left to mine from the sordid lives of John Wayne Gacy and Richard Speck, the trio delivers catchy — if juvenile to a degree — odes to a barbecue gone wrong at the former's house ("Stinky") and the gender dysphoria of the latter ("Richard Speck Has Big Breasts"). The most sublimely ridiculous of the record's singalong side is "Them Dry Bones", a twist on the common folk song talking about what bones connect to each other, which turns it into a tale inspired by 19th-century serial killer H.H. Holmes. The final result is maybe the funnest bone-themed song since Tim Robinson graced fans of Netflix's "I Think You Should Leave" with "The Night the Skeletons Came to Life". Almost as ridiculous though is "Wheels On The Bug", which sees the band turning the popular children's nursery rhyme "Wheels On The Bus" into a horrific tale about Ted Bundy's Volkswagen Bug.
There are no surprises to be found on MACABRE's "Carnival of Killers", and the band's campy humor has always been the primary driver of their musical odes to horrific crimes. But even longtime fans may still lament that, given the nine-year wait, there's not a little bit more metallic meat to the record's bones.