Review Summary: ...and thus, a new sub genre of metal was created: cringe metal.
For those who don’t know, Massacre was an old school death metal band formed straight amidst the booming Florida scene by Rick Rozz, Bill Andrews, and Kam Lee, all of whom were original members of the band Death. In fact, Kam Lee was Death’s first vocalist, way back when the legendary Chuck Schuldiner filled only at the guitar, but Kam Lee was fired from Death following a massive blow out due to “personal problems”, notably aggression issues. Lee has since gone on to say that Massacre was, in some ways, a form to get back at Chuck Schuldiner and Death. In an alternate reality, perhaps we could have a very similar story to Metallica vs Megadeth, where an ex-member of the first band went on to form the second band with legendary results, and at first, it seemed like Massacre was a very worthy foe. Their debut, From Beyond, is an extremely solid old school death metal release and nearly rivals that of Leprosy, and many of their demos and EP’s from the time were also ripe competitors against Death. In the early 90’s, the battle appeared to be waging with Massacre possibly having a chance. So what happened? Why aren’t there fanboys screaming at each other about who’s better? Why is “Death vs Massacre” not really a valid battle? Simple: because Massacre decided to shift away from death metal and instead tried creating a new subgenre of metal I like to call “cringe metal”, and their sophomore release Promise is one of the essentials of the subgenre.
Although Metallica still gets flack for selling out nearly 30 years ago, I really hope people know now that they certainly weren’t the only metal band to attempt going mainstream. Practically every metal band from the 80’s dipped their toes into the mainstream pool, and Massacre was unfortunately no different, but their stylistic shift is...uh, perplexing, to say the least. The music is clearly diving into the groove metal sound, directly copying and borrowing from bands like White Zombie and Pantera, as well as some nu-metal lifts from bands like Static-X and Coal Chamber (exactly what I want to hear from a death metal band), but that doesn’t really describe Promise’s sound with justice. Look, Promise is an awful album, one of the worst metal albums ever made, but I’ll give it one thing: it’s certainly unique. There exists no other album sounds like Promise, but the reason for that is because nobody is stupid enough to slap their name on music this atrocious.
I’ve mentioned the riffs feature hardly any death metal and instead reek of dated 90’s groove metal with a pinch of nu-metal, but compared to everything else wrong with the album, you’ll give the stylistic shift a pass. The mixing and production are ungodly bad, with a guitar that sounds like it was recorded in a bathroom, a snare drum that sounds like a guy coughing, and a slappy clowny bass guitar that’s actually louder than the electric guitar. The mixing is so bad on certain tracks, namely “Unnamable” (see what I did there? Oh forget it...) that you can’t even decipher the riffs of the music. Of course, do you really want to hear painfully stale and generic Pantera rip off riffs?
However, above anything else on this album, considering everything we’ve just said and analyzed, nothing tops the crowning victor of the absolute worst aspect of this album. Behold: the vocals. Oh...my...Satan. What can I say? This is easily the worst vocal performance in the history of metal, and I don’t say that lightly. Kam’s death growls sound amateurish at best and atrocious at worst. Each scream sounds like an inexperienced kid with a virgin throat growling in his bedroom, the kind of kid that has to stop every line and cough a bit before continuing, quite the insult to the man who’s considered to be one of the first death growlers ever. Even worse is the production on his vocals, that make it sound like Kam Lee was either underwater or falsely made louder using the “amplify” tool in Audacity. The vocals are maxed out full volume and constantly clip throughout the entire album, and it’s an all-out assault on your ears and an attack on your intelligence to think a sound producer out there thought the vocal mixing sounded passable. When Kam isn’t growling, however, he’s actually speaking in a cheesy, wannabe-tough guy deep macho voice that sounds like he’s trying to narrate an 80’s action movie. Unbelievably, he spends over half the album talking in this cringeworthy voice, so much so that this could probably be classified as in the “spoken word” genre, and you might think that would be better than his growls, but no. 90% of the insane cringe factor on this album come from his talking voice. Seriously, who thought that was a good idea? The vocals here are so astronomically bad in fact that there are many conspiracists who firmly believe Kam Lee was NOT the vocalist, and he was featured on the album name credit-only. Admittedly, it does sound absolutely nothing like Kam Lee on From Beyond or any of the demos, but nearly six years had passed since their first album. If that’s true, who is the mystery vocalist who delivered the worst metal vocal performance of all time? Perhaps we’ll never know, and I’m that man is glad is identity hasn’t been revealed yet, assuming the rumor is true.
What’s worse that the worst vocals ever? Nothing, but the worst vocals ever singing the worst lyrics ever certainly make things a bit harder. People mocked Death for writing “soft” lyrics, but at least they never wrote about blatantly emo whiny angsty nu-metal topics you’d hear in Korn or Limp Bizkit. Seriously. This entire album appears to be about a breakup of some sort, but it seemed to be written with the understanding of an edgy middle schooler. Take the very first line we hear on the album, from the title track and opener: “tell me why you’ve become so damn unconcerning / the way you make me feel is so condescending.” I don’t even think that makes grammatical sense, but that’s only the tip of the ice burg when it comes cringe lyrics. Taken from “Suffer”: “You lied to me / That makes me mad / You lied to me / That makes you glad” Yes, a grown adult wrote that (supposedly). Also from “Suffer”: “I suffer because I’m in pain / I suffer and not in vain”. Really I could go on and on about the atrocious lyrics, because this is one of the worst lyrical efforts in the history of extreme metal.
Also, for the single worst metal song of the 90’s and possibly of all time, check out “Bloodletting”. It features everything you need to know about cringe metal, with hilariously cheesy lyrics about vampires, a lethargic White Zombie rip-off main riff, and Kam Lee’s spoken vocal style. It’s a song so bad that it makes you want to slam your head against a while screaming “who thought this was a good idea!?!”
There’s a lot more to be said about Promise, but do we really need to dig any deeper? There literally are zero positive things to say about this trash heap, except that it is probably the most definitive album in the 90’s cringe metal subgenre. Promise is essentially the Illud Divinum Insanus of the 90’s; in fact, Illud Divinum Insanus might as well be a spiritual sequel to this album, even though I prefer that album to Promise. Yes, Promise is that bad. Perhaps in an alternate timeline, Massacre produced several more albums that gave Death a run for their money, but instead they put out Promise. Massacre pretty much disbanded after this album and wouldn’t be active again until 2012, where they later released their “long awaited” third album in 2014. I like to think that this album was just so awful that the band gave up music. If there’s one album that could make a band realize there’s just no point anymore, it’s Promise.