“Murder music” might sound like a buzzword from a PMRC wet dream, but no other term describes Chicago’s Macabre better. For more than 25 years, the band—fronted by vocalist-guitarist Lance Lencioni (a.k.a. “Corporate Death”)—has terrorized the metal underground with its twisted humor and songs based on the real-life atrocities committed by notorious killers like Albert Fish (“Albert Was Worse Than Any Fish in the Sea”) and Richard Speck (“What the Heck, Richard Speck?”), as well as an entire album based around Jeffrey Dahmer. In anticipation of the band’s 11th-annual “Holiday Of Horrors” show at Reggie’s Rock Club Dec. 23, The A.V. Club caught up with Lencioni to talk murder, “scary tales,” and what people can expect at this year’s Horrors.
The A.V. Club: You guys have been doing this for a while, and, in a lot of circles, are regarded as having influenced death metal. Does it get weird hearing people say that?
Lance Lencioni: It’s really cool that people say that, and I guess we’ve been around a long time now, but we don’t really do “death metal.” We have in the past, and there are some death metal elements in there. We’ve been calling it “murder metal” for a while, and now I just call it “murder music.” A lot of death metal bands are limited to what they can do, because if they start doing nursery rhymes in there and stuff like we do, I don’t know if people would accept it as much.
AVC: How did the killer-themed music come about?
LL: Me and the bassist (Charles Lescewicz, a.k.a. “Nefarious”) have been jamming together in bands since high school. At some point, someone brought this drummer over (Dennis Ritchie, a.k.a. “Dennis the Menace”). He was a kid, about 12 or 13 years old. But Macabre started from a book report I did back in junior high about Bonnie and Clyde, and I had also read about Albert Fish and Ed Gein in this book called Bloodletters And Badmen. I was just fascinated. How could this old man (Fish) be eating little kids? It was just like, “Wow,” you know? I didn’t really know much about serial killers or anything like that. Years later, this came out in our music. I said, “Let’s do a song about this Ed Gein guy and Albert Fish.” Then one thing led to another and I just said, “Let’s do nothing but serial killer songs. We’ll be pioneers of it.” That’s kind of how it started. This is probably about seven or eight years after I did this report that we started doing the killer songs.
AVC: Earlier this year, you released an album titled Grim Scary Tales. Based on the title, I thought there might have been a thematic shift from killers to gruesome fairy tales…
LL: There’s no fairy tales. We sing about “scary tales.” It’s all real stuff. There’s nothing that’s fake in there. I mean, this Vlad The Impaler guy existed and killed numerous people by impaling them, you know? It’s all historical figures, all real. What I was trying to do was base it on the Grimm’s fairy tales. A lot of those stories are based on real killers, and I’m like, “Okay, we do the kids’ rhymes and stuff in there,” so it just popped in my head one day. I was going to call the album something different, and then it just popped in my head.
AVC: The annual Holiday of Horrors show is coming. How long have you all been doing these shows and how did they come about?
LL: I think this is like the 11th one, so it’s been a while. I’m not sure if there was one year where we didn’t do it. We just figured kids have money after Christmas. Grandma gives them a little envelope with some money in there, so it’s a good time for a show, right? After Christmas or right before it—it’s like two days before Christmas this year. The kids always come out. Older people, too. It’s been really successful. The venue has changed quite a few times. We used to do it at the Metro all the time. Reggie’s seems to be a pretty good place, though. We’ve been there for the past few years.
AVC: What can people expect with this year’s show?
LL: I’m going to try to work on a few of the songs that we haven’t played live off of the new album. We’ll probably have Albert Fish appear onstage, and the Zodiac, like usual. We’ll have maybe three or four new T-shirt designs from the new album. A lot of bands can only do like one T-shirt of their album and can’t really go much further than that. With us, we can do T-shirts of every song, of each different guy and stuff. It kind of works out well for us. Yakuza’s playing, so it’ll be great. I’m going to do a special avant-garde thing with Bruce [Lamont] from Yakuza. We did it once in Europe where we get up there and do all these crazy sound effects for like 10 or 15 minutes. It’s going to be a fun time.
AVC: Is Bruce going to be part of the theatrics again like he was during the Danzig show when Zodiac “shot” him onstage?
LL: If he’ll do it, he will be. Sometimes we use different people for the theatrical parts, but Bruce is pretty good and it’s a possibility that he might be one of the killers or something like that.
AVC: Do you hear a lot of comparisons to other bands, like GWAR, that employ darker humor and theatrics or similar themes?
LL: Yeah. I was always a Frank Zappa fan. I saw him, actually, three times. I’ve always liked humor in music and I’m influenced by that. GWAR’s cool. I can’t think of any more off the top of my head, though. There aren’t too many metal bands that go into the humor thing.
AVC: A lot of metal bands don’t even have a sense of humor about themselves, let alone anything else. On that note, in the oral history of Chicago metal we did recently, Scott from Cianide joked that he’s dying for you guys to break up so Cianide can be the “reigning kings” of Chicago metal. Any response?
LL: [Laughs.] They’re together now? The Cianide guys are great. They’ve been around a long time. I think we did one of the Holiday of Horrors shows with them. Some future touring would be cool if those guys wanna do it. Maybe some U.S. stuff or Europe or whatever. I’m always up for that. People ask about Cianide when I’m on tour.