Justify Your Shitty Taste: Massacre’s “Promise”

Almost every band has that album: you know, the critically and/or commercially reviled dud in an otherwise passable-to-radical back catalogue. Occasionally, a Decibel staffer or special guest will take to the Decibel site to bitch and moan at length as to why everybody’s full of shit and said dud is, in fact, The Shit. This time around, Greg Pratt defends Massacre’s Promise.

In 1991, Massacre dropped From Beyond, an album pretty universally enjoyed and given at least a thumb and a half up from discerning longhairs. They followed it up five years later with a groove-metal experiment that we’ve collectively decided is better left forgotten, Promise. Well, today I’m going to end off 2021 with a bang by attempting to justify this album.

Even some of the members of the band don’t exactly stand by this record, and it’s a bit of a slog to get through, so this could be tough. But is there value to be found even in death metal’s mistakes? Let’s dive back in to this record and find out exactly what—if anything—makes Promise justifiable.

Kam Lee promises to eventually learn how buttons work.

So, the album starts off with “Nothing,” which rides a groove that I want to say is kinda bargain-bin Sacred Reich, but, nope, it’s bargain-bin Pantera, a straight line to no-funsville, and not the best way to get things started, although it is a very honest representation of what’s to come on the album. But, in 1996, when a death metal band suddenly had big Pantera grooves and nasty Type O deep-spooooky-guy vox, it just made you run for the hills. For good reason. Not the best opener, as there are better songs to be found here.

See, for example, “Forever Torn.” The second track doesn’t do much to pick up the energy levels, but if you squint your eyes and kinda stretch the truth a bit, you get good, mid-tempo Grave-style rockin’ DM with some classic-era Sepultura stomp in there, too. There is nothing wrong with this song.

Hello, “Black Soil Nest,” and hello, unfortunate attempt at clean vocals. That’s about as flatline as you can get, and it really isn’t appealing to anyone… come on, guys, I’m trying to justify this record. This song is a miss for the singing, the cloying grooves, and, well, just everything. We’ve still got time, though.

The title track, now there’s a heavy groove, the band dropping into the swamps like Crowbar for a killer chorus, even if the verse tries to jumpdafuckup, we’re not jumpingdafuckup and we never well, but the band here prove there can indeed be tasteful, mature heaviness in groove with that chorus. It’s heavy, it’s actually very heavy, and there’s absolutely no reason to not put this on and get lost in that groove. Alright, phew, we’ve got like a song and a half of good stuff so far.

“Bitter End” comes raging in as song five, and, yeah, it’s got the groove—sigh—but it also legit sounds like something that could have been on a very good post-Chaos A.D. kinda-DM record. Which is exactly what this is, after all. Ditch the juvenile lyrics (the lyrics all over this album are brutal) and this song has lots to get behind, cool divebombing solo, great march-to-the-death forward momentum, and genuine death metal heft. Justifiable. Justifiable!

Now, the cover of Concrete Blonde’s “Bloodletting” is a major gamble here, and while I really don’t enjoy listening to it, I do commend the band’s attempt at whatever this is, Concrete Blonde being a cool enough band, sure, but the vocals here are outrageously bad, just not at all good to listen to. They tried, but they failed.

“Unnameable” and “Where Dwells Sadness” are a couple late-album tracks I can get behind, just mid-tempo, grooving slightly death metal, no personality or emotional range in sight, but the band locked in to a tight sound that, if you forget about their debut—and you have to in order to get anything out of this record—kinda works for 1996 extreme metal search-for-new-identity stuff. There are points in some of these songs where, you have to admit, if you pretend it’s some lost not-great Bolt Thrower album you’d be saying it’s the greatest thing since the last, great Bolt Thrower album. These moments are fleeting and context matters, but forget the context, put on the blindfold, let the grooves rumble out to the battlefield, and try to tell me I’m wrong.

“Suffering” is basically nu-metal so that’s just a hard pass and “Inner Demon” takes its time at 5:29 (alarmingly, not the longest song here) but is a fine enough way to end the album. It’s a whimper, not a bang, which is what Promise is.

This is probably the most difficult justification I’ve done, and I’ve got an impressive list of pretty crap albums I’ve defended behind me at this point. And, listen, I’m not saying this album’s great; I’m barely saying it’s good. Actually, parts of it suck and, contextually, it’s a total nightmare. I don’t really get any enjoyment out of listening to it. It’s not fun to spin. It’s basically been forgotten to time, which is impressive, because metalheads forget absolutely nothing.

But we do forgive, sometimes. We can look back and we can try really fucking hard and we can understand why Massacre might have felt despondent in 1996 and might have chased some dreams that were, let’s be honest, totally unattainable. We can shake their hands and shake our heads and look them in the eye and say, “Fuck it. We all do weird stuff now and again. You tried.”

Then we can spin a song or two from Promise one last time and acknowledge that it has its moments, then file it away, (hopefully) forgiven and (thankfully) forgotten.