Thrash ‘Til Death #43: Massacra (France) 1986-1992

THRASH ‘TIL DEATH is a 50 week long set of features exploring the legends who crossed over between thrash and death metal between 1983-1993. The focus is primarily on under-served, unknown, and exemplar bands/releases. The selection is comprehensive but the numbering is not indicative of any type of rank or value: The order of band appearance is arbitrarily chosen. E-mail me if you want to suggest any relevant bands!


There are few analogues for a wide-angled view of Franconville, France metal band Massacra‘s career trajectory but think of their discography as very much in line with Sepultura if they’d put out a pure death metal album instead of ‘Chaos A.D.’. Massacra did eventually go groove/half-thrash but I sure as fuck won’t be covering it! Instead I’d suggest that a closer look at the demo era of this well-remembered underground death/thrash metal band is warranted even if you’re already very familiar with their first three full-lengths. Why does anyone care to remember Massacra? Riffs, tons of them and the vast majority are hugely informed by the rise of thrash metal in the early 80’s. Founder/guitarist Fred “Death” Duval intended to keep up with the pace of extreme metal not only within France but worldwide. His band came a little bit later than contemporaries in Loudblast and Agressor and the debut is slightly primitive and rushed as a result but it is no less of a classic for those reasons. The stylistic progression of Massacra from that point never made sense to me so, lets take a look at it. The first three demos have been compiled as ‘Day of the Massacra’ (2013) compilation on Century Media if you are looking to archive it all in one place. Hey! I’ve done my best to research as much as I can but please feel free to message me (grizzlybutts@hotmail.com) or leave a comment if I’ve left out anything vital or gotten something horribly wrong!


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Artist Massacra
Title [Type/Year] Legion of Torture [Demo/1987]
Rating [3.0/5.0] LISTEN on Bandcamp

An unexpected bout of violence in the northern suburbs of Paris, Massacra would form in 1986 as a heavy metal band intent on making evil thrash that was clearly influenced by German heavy metal, street punk, and the more raw side of their peers not only in France but worldwide. I always felt like ‘Legion of Torture’ was more or less a thrashcore band attempting to sound like a brutal thrash band and only managing a raw metalpunk sound. I’m being a little bit reductive but you won’t likely recognize this first tape from Massacra. At around 200 non-bootleg copies ‘Legion of Torture’ did what a demo is supposed to do in the sense that sending it out to zines and labels allowed the band some invites to festivals/shows where groups like Agressor and Messiah were nearby to take notes with. The tape itself is forgettable, a raucous high energy buzz that cranks out a few half-finished thrash riffs over punk blasts, and won’t likely charge your thrash batteries unless you’ve become more of a fan for the amateur beginnings of extreme metal bands at this point. Don’t skip it but also don’t take Massacra seriously until the second demo.


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Artist Massacra
Title [Type/Year] Final Holocaust [Demo/1988]
Rating [3.5/5.0] LISTEN on YouTube

Here it is, the signature Massacra sound in its most nascent structural form. Consider the NWOBHM jolt of early Slayer applied to the inventive rhythms and dark rasp of ‘Pleasure to Kill’ but don’t think these guys were ready yet, the thrashcore feeling of the first demo is still here but in a more Protector-esque form centered around hard thrashing speed metal riffs. Their rhythms were still somewhat basic in form but that’d be remedied soon enough. No doubt these guys were driven at this point and each new demo would show the work they had done in the year previous, this being a notable step beyond ‘Legion of Torture’. What comes next makes this demo sound very plain but some of these songs would soon receive much more vibrant renditions.


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Artist Massacra
Title [Type/Year] Nearer From Death [Demo/1989]
Rating [4.0/5.0] LISTEN on YouTube

Now they nail it! This is the demo that’d land Massacra a shitty three album deal with Shark Records and first propose what the style of their debut LP, ‘Final Holocaust’, would end up being. Duval and second guitarist Jean-Marc Tristani had made the leap beyond punkish speed metal riff structures and began to write what is essentially a death/thrash version of what Coroner and Kreator were doing in the late 80’s with some hints of influence from early Morbid Angel and Sepultura. This was the demo that’d come out of nowhere unless you’d experienced the band live and no doubt the band could finally stack up next to Agressor and Loudblast. Do you need to hear it? Nah, the LP is pretty raw too and all three of these songs are prominently featured on it but it is notable for being a professional multi-track recording that was clearly rehearsed to all hell.


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Artist Massacra
Title [Type/Year] Final Holocaust [LP/1990]
Rating [4.0/5.0] LISTEN on YouTube | Rawforce Productions Bandcamp

As a twenty something dumbass on the internet in the early 2000’s my metal obsession would eventually lead me towards the (now removed) heavy  metal reviews on Anus.com, among the hundred or so verbose reviews by a nihilistic fellow from Texas I’d discover Massacra‘s ‘Final Holocaust’ as his number one pick for death metal; He’d gone on to suggest it was a peak for death metallic riffcraft and an important step in extreme metal that’d become cognizant of ‘classical music’ inspired arrangements. Sure, I’d really bought into this and loved the album but over the years it became clear that ‘Pleasure to Kill’ and the first two Coroner albums were more of a foundation for what Massacra were doing on their debut. This is the concept that the ‘Nearer From Death’ demo had suggested at the beginning of 1989 taken to a righteous and ballsy extreme.

“War of Attrition” is one of the best death/thrash songs ever written. What is death/thrash? This is one of those albums that helped to define the sometimes arbitrary line drawn between the two sub-genres as they intensified at the end of the 80’s, it isn’t fantastic recording and to be sure Shark Records would soon become meddlesome in their shaping of Massacra‘s sound to fit with trends but for now this was the most pure moment of clarity and relative originality for the band. ‘Final Holocaust’ used to be up there in my top five death/thrash records of all time but I’ve never been happy with any version of it, remastered or not the recording doesn’t meet even the most basic standards of thrash metal at the time. The next album gets it exactly right, though.


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Artist Massacra
Title [Type/Year] Enjoy the Violence [LP/1991]
Rating [4.5/5.0] LISTEN on YouTube! | Rawforce Productions Bandcamp

Nothing had fucked with Massacra yet and everything about ‘Enjoy the Violence’ is an improvement upon ‘Final Holocaust’ even though it is much more of a pure death metal album. They’d gone with mostly the same staff for production but they’d balanced this mix professionally, producer Ulrich Pösselt only took a few stabs at death metal in the early 90’s between Massacra and Thanatos and I’d say ‘Enjoy the Violence’ was the only record where he’d gotten it exactly right. At this point the band was officially ‘big in Germany’ between about fifteen thousand copies sold of their first album and double that for this second release and this success allowed them to begin to do bigger tours. This is the creative peak of the band and though their debut is probably more celebrated it is ‘Enjoy the Violence’ where Massacra realized their original vision.

A comparison with Merciless (Sweden) is warranted when the band introduce ‘Enjoy the Violence’ with blasting speed but you’ll have to look to records from Loudblast, Pestilence, and Mercyless for closer comparisons; If you don’t hear those other bands in songs like “Atrocious Crimes” I’d take a closer listen to ‘Abject Offerings’ and ‘Disincarnate’ in the meantime. This was a complete shift into death metal and a large step away from classic thrash metal structures towards the rhythmic innovation found within Florida’s death metal scenes.


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Artist Massacra
Title [Type/Year] Signs of the Decline [LP/1992]
Rating [4.0/5.0] LISTEN on YouTube!

By the end of ‘Enjoy the Violence’ tour cycle Chris Palengat would and the band would have to quickly hire Matthias Limmer of Obscuritas as a replacement. You’re going to think I overstated ‘Enjoy the Violence’ as a peak in Massacra‘s discography once you’ve fired up ‘Signs of the Decline’ and its fantastically inspired opener “Evidence of Abominations” but hold on, strap in for the full listen and hear me out. Yes, this is a brutal and tirelessly powered-through death metal album with moderately complex rhythmic meter explored but groove metal riffs now make their case across most of the tracks here; “Excruciating Commands” is the most clear example of this, to start. I don’t at all see this album as lesser or any less inspired than its predecessor but rather I see it as an analogue for Messiah‘s (similar but not as good) follow up to ‘Choir of Horrors’ with ‘Rotten Perish’. Though it is a solid record, I mean shit it is brutal as hell compared to anything previous, it was clear the band had been pushing themselves too hard in releasing something new every year since 1986. The ideas were starting to thin out into redundancy but this wasn’t a bad way to go out. Right?

The band would remark in interviews that they were happy to be out of contract with Shark Records because they’d been encouraged to follow trends. Well, after that they went out and engaged in the groove metal trend, entirely changing face by 1994. Just like everyone else was post-‘Chaos A.D.’– Fuck that nonsense, their 1994 and 1995 aggro-alternative metal albums suck shit and each one is almost an hour long. I’ve always found the leap made after the second demo to be inspiring, and for what its worth the style of ‘Nearer From Death’ still feels like an original idea in the frantic wastes of one-upped brutal death/thrash of its era. If you’re a death metal fan you should already know all three of Massacra‘s LPs and that’d be the key point of interest. If nothing else add this to the very small list of death metal bands who’d release three full-lengths in three years without dropping the ball.


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