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Massacre biography
According to the sleeve notes of their debut album, Massacre's first concert took place on Valentine's Day in 1980 as support act at a Peter Blegvad concert, and their final show was in Los Angeles in June 1981. For a band which existed for less than 18 months and only released one album (by the original incarnation), Massacre has had an uncommonly long afterlife.

When Fred Frith formed the avant prog power trio he chose to work with two of the New York downtown scene's hottest musicians, Bill Laswell (bass) and Fred Maher (drums). The pair were both members of Material and had played together on Daevid Allen's New York Gong project, and between them would play with or produce a staggering variety of musicians. Right from the outset Massacre was much more than Fred Frith plus rhythm section - Frith was looking for something that would reflect the music heard in New York's clubs, and Maher and Laswell were as steeped in funk and dub reggae as they were in experimental jazz and avant rock. Massacre was a meeting of equals with a unique chemistry. Most of their pieces were short, some were tightly composed, some were improvised and it wasn't always obvious which was which. Their debut album had a message: PLAY LOUD. Killing Time attracted rave reviews, and was reissued several times with extra tracks. Massacre also contributed to side 2 of Fred Frith's Speechless album, and numerous bootlegs of their incendiary concerts appeared. There were one or two semi-reunions, and then in 1998 Frith and Laswell started playing with Charles Hayward and Massacre was reborn. A studio album came out in 1998, Funny Valentine, and the band also backed vocalist Percy Howard on the excellent Meridiem album at about the same time. In 2001 they played at Robert Wyatt's Meltdown festival in London and the live set Meltdown was released shortly afterwards.

All 3 of Massacre's official albums are excellent, but it's their 1980's debut which remains their strongest. The later releases feature mostly longer pieces with a more jazzy structure, still extremely strong but somehow lacking the visceral power of the original line up.

Why this artist must be listed in :
A superlative avant-prog power trio featuring some of the most important musicians in the RIO/avant prog genre.

Killing Time (1981)
Funny Valentine (1998)
Meltdown (2001)

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MASSACRE discography

Ordered by release date | Showing ratings (top albums) | Help to complete the discography and add albums

MASSACRE top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.51 | 18 ratings
Killing Time
3.59 | 6 ratings
Funny Valentine

MASSACRE Live Albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

4.80 | 5 ratings
3.88 | 5 ratings
Lonely Heart

MASSACRE Videos (DVD, Blu-ray, VHS etc)

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Showing last 10 reviews only
 Killing Time by MASSACRE album cover Studio Album, 1981
3.51 | 18 ratings

Killing Time
Massacre RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by Mellotron Storm
Prog Reviewer

3 stars 3.5 stars. This is MASSACRE's debut released in 1981. We get Fred Frith on guitar, Bill Laswell on bass and Fred Maher on drums. Laswell and Maher were part of Daevid Allen's New York GONG which had just broken up. This trio would also be part of MATERIAL's debut album released the same year as this record, as well as being part of Frith's solo album "Speechless". That New York atttude is here in spades as we get a mostly stripped down sound with a punk flavour. I've read several reviewers who feel this is bordering on Math Rock at times as we get plenty of complex compositions. There are 19 tracks worth over 63 plus minutes.

"You Said" is experimental as sounds pulse and squeek. Sampled spoken words follow as the pulse stops. "Legs" has uptempo guitar and an almost Reggae-like rhythm. Catchy stuff. "Aging With Dignity" is one of those Math-Rock type tracks full of complexities. "Subway Heart" is noisy with lots going on then it slows down some before a minute. Impressive. "Killing Time" is more of the same really. Catchy stuff though. "Corridor/ Lost Causes/ Not The Person We Knew" is experimental with pounding drums to start. I like when it settles in with bass as the guitar continues to scream. A change after 2 minutes as it settles back quite a bit but the guitar continues to challenge. Man Frith can play. Love the bass playing of Laswell too. It's picking up after 4 minutes then it settles with intricate sounds this time. Love the drumming 7 minutes in and the guitar is angular. "Know" is a top three as we get a haunting atmosphere with random drum patterns. "Bones" is catchy with intricate and complex sounds. "Tourism" is stripped down with those Math-Rock complexities. Angular guitar later followed by drums.

"Surfing" puts the focus on the rhythm and there's some pocket trumpet from Laswell. "As Is" is experimental as sounds come and go with no melody. The drums start to dominate 4 minutes in but it's also fairly repetitive here. "After" is a top three of mine. I really like the sound of this one as the guitar makes plenty of noise and it's quite innovative as the bass and drums impress. "Gate" is different, even the drums sound like they are from an island. "Conversations With White Arc" is sparse and stripped down. "Carrying" is just outside of my top three with those deep bass and drum sounds with the innovative guitar expressions. "Brit" features angular guitar and percussion sounds along with a tambourine. "Third Street" is my final top three. It's dark, sparse and experimental until before 2 minutes when the tempo picks up. I like this one. "3 O'Clock, June 21st, Get Down There And Do It" has sampled background words and a dark soundscape of sounds that come and go. "FBI" is catchy with so much going on right before it ends.

My avant friends will be disappointed with the 3 star rating but I just have trouble enjoying this album despite being impressed with all three guys. And yes this is a really good album to get just to hear Frith's excellent guitar work. I'm just not big on this style.

 Lonely Heart by MASSACRE album cover Live, 2007
3.88 | 5 ratings

Lonely Heart
Massacre RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by snobb
Special Collaborator Honorary Collaborator

4 stars Last Massacre trio release recorded during their two concerts in Europe in 2003.

Fred Frith, former Henry Cow guitarist, in late 70s moved to NY, where founded down town power trio with bassist Bill Laswell and drummer Fred Maher. After first release drummer gone, and their next albums were recorded with drummer Charles Hayward. Next one came in 1998 only and became their last (to time) studio release.

In 2001 the group released Meltdown, a six-track set recorded at Robert Wyatt's Meltdown Festival in London in June 2001. "Lonely Heart" was released in 2007.

Fred Frith plays heavy, sometimes fast, and often hard core guitar improvs there on this recording. In fact , all the album is some long improvs for radical electric guitar, with support of rhythm section. Drumming is jazzy and great, Bill Laswell bass is not so impressive, and a bit back-up.

Fred Frith guitar speed and techniques are fantastic there. For sure, as often with free form improv music, unprepared listener will hardly find there any structure or concept. I find it attractive to enjoy excellent electric guitar work and free jazz rhythm section support though.

This album's music was recorded more than decade later after first hard core Naked City releases (with Fred Frith on bass). It's really interesting to hear some ideas and experience Frith brings there on his Massacre project from collaboration with Zorn and guitarist Bill Frisell on Naked City.

Really interesting release for fans of hard core guitar avant jazz fans. Not sure how attractive this music could be for symphonic prog lovers :).

My rating is 3,5, rounded to 4.

 Killing Time by MASSACRE album cover Studio Album, 1981
3.51 | 18 ratings

Killing Time
Massacre RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by Sean Trane
Special Collaborator Prog Folk

3 stars 3.5 stars really!!!

At the very end of Aksak Maboul, Fred Frith (and his Henry Cow cohort Chris Cutler) will retain their Belgian connections and start the Honeymoon Killers, but in the meantime, the guitarist will start Massacre with the then-new bass wizard Bill Laswell and rather unknown drummer Maher for a one shot album recorded after on their short tour supporting their mentor. This Massacre project was a bit the result of a demand of Blegvad for a support group. Whether this was effectively a one-shot from the start or it turned out to be so for almost two decades remains a mystery to this writer, but the fact is that Massacre's only album, Killing Time was alone in the store's stocks for quite a while.

Ultra technical is the first word that comes to mind when listening to Massacre, along with dissonant, un-melodic, overly complex, self-centered and many more. Indeed these words do not sound that positive, but they must be also accompanied with a bunch of others such as stunning, groundbreaking, virtuoso, adventurous, bold etc.. Of course, Killing Time is not for beginners or even novices, but rather for confirmed progheads that know they will be able to digest more or less quickly. This almost completely instrumental (just a few vocalizing) guitar trio's album is full of fairly short tracks (except for As Is) outlining their tightness as a group, which may appear a little strange at first, but very few moments are improvised, the vast majority being written. Contrarily to what could be expected from an instrumental trio, there are no one-man solos and very few accompanied solos and when there are, they generally come from Cutler and remain short and avoid any kind of indulgence or complacency. Even at their most accessible (the title track for example), Massacre remains quite difficult for those not used to dissonance and constantly changing rhythms.

Although largely forgotten nowadays, Massacre's first album's historical importance might still not be that obvious, but can we imagine all these Us techno-prog projects with Bozzio , Levin, Sheridan and whoever else indulged, without Killing Time's existence. I dare think not. Not that I would call this album all that essential, but quite worthy still.

 Funny Valentine by MASSACRE album cover Studio Album, 1998
3.59 | 6 ratings

Funny Valentine
Massacre RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by Sean Trane
Special Collaborator Prog Folk

4 stars Almost 17 years after Massacre's only album and the group's end, a second album appeared out of the blue (for this writer anyway), and while I had never heard their first, it was on my to-do list for years, but I got to hear this one well before the historic album. Still a big Frith project with the great Bill Laswell backing him on bass, but this time they are joined by the immense Charles Hayward (Quiet Sun and This Heat), this album could only be fantastic, even if the operation was risky for their reputation. And truth be told: it is fantastic!! And to top it all the great John Zorn is producing the album as well.

Right off the bat, Massacre (with opener Leaf Violence) catches you by the throat, transforms it in a stranglehold and gives you only the minimum breathing space as not to choke you to death, but let's face it, your brains will have melted by the end of the album, assured air supply or not (no pun intended ;-). Clearly the group has not taken one wrinkle and every moments sizzle so hard that you wonder whether your speakers will hang on for their lives long enough until the disc has been ejected. Not everything is typical either as the mid section of the third track, called Skin Junk is veering in dub- type of music, but the highlight of the start of the album is the 11-min+ Ladder, where Frith just floats on Laswell's great bass bed and Hayward's frantic drumming, torturing his guitar. Ladder has a bit of a drum'n bass feel( (but over halfway, this digresses into a improv too), and it is up to Frith to take the show with his improvisation skills, which he does amazingly well.

Orange Sunset is a rare breathing moment and the quietest and most ambient track of the album. The sinister Six Cylinder is a slow crescendo, climaxing chaotically before returning to its original jungle-like ambiance. Vacant Lot starts much the same way with Frith almost doing a Fripp, but it is Laswell's show, this time. The album goes on with more superb tracks, which are just as torrid as the previous ones, never releasing the clutch and driving your brains to the overdose. Only the fairly different closing White Arc is slightly weaker, but by that time our brains are clinically dead

This absolutely mental album suffers a bit from its length (and to a lesser extent, the lack of more instruments), but overall, it shines like the sun in the middle of drought, frying everything in sight including what's left of your neurones. Massacre just managed great with what could've been a disaster and was most likely a long shot even for three masters like them. Outstanding and standing out.

 Funny Valentine by MASSACRE album cover Studio Album, 1998
3.59 | 6 ratings

Funny Valentine
Massacre RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by Syzygy
Special Collaborator Honorary Collaborator

3 stars Massacre burned brightly for less than 18 months in the early 1980s. They established the blueprint for the avant prog power trio; bridged the gap between 70s European RIO and 80s downtown New York avant garde; threw rock, free jazz, punk, dub and funk into the blender and could make your toes tap and your ears bleed at the same time; released a classic album; gave performances that remain legendary in avant prog circles to this day; then they quit while they were ahead. In short, a tough act to follow.

Reviving the band in the late 90s with Charles Hayward replacing Fred Maher as drummer was always going to be a risky proposition, and this album manages to both please and disappoint. The bad news is that the short, wildly inventive pieces on the debut album have largely been replaced with longer, less focussed tracks, not all of which come off. The good news is that Massacre have not mellowed with age and have moved with the times - this is still fret melting, paint blistering stuff, and the post punk mutant funk/dub rhythms of their first incarnation have been updated. This can be heard most spectacularly on the 11 and a half minute Ladder, where Laswell and Hayward lay down a RIO version of drum and bass over which Frith plays some extremely mean and dirty guitar, sounding like the out and out rocker he could have been in an alternate universe. Elsewhere the trio explore the dark, dubby atmospheres only hinted at in their early work, with Hayward's melodica giving the impression that Augustus Pablo is jamming with Material on South Orange Sunset. For the most part though, this is an album of free jazz workouts using the primary colours of rock music, and as is often the case with such music it is sometimes hard work but rewards careful listening.

The whole thing was superbly produced by John Zorn, with particularly rich and deep bass and drum sounds. If it doesn't quite live up to expectations Funny Valentines is still a powerful slice of avant prog from three masters of the genre at the top of their game. Frith, Laswell and Hayward are incapable of being boring and at their best play with a white knuckle intensity that few of their peers can equal. This album is worth checking out, but definitely non essential.

 Killing Time by MASSACRE album cover Studio Album, 1981
3.51 | 18 ratings

Killing Time
Massacre RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by Syzygy
Special Collaborator Honorary Collaborator

4 stars Fred Frith's move to the USA at the end of the 1970s was the start of an incredibly productive phase of his career; between 1979 and 1982 he wrote 2 albums for Art Bears, 2 solo albums, wrote and recorded with Aqsak Maboul and Henry Kaiser, appeared as a guest on albums by the Muffins, the Residents, Lindsay Cooper, Material and Etron Fou Leloublan and also found time to create the legendary avant prog power trio Massacre. During his time in New York he had been impressed with the thriving downtown music scene (which had also invigorated Brian Eno and Robert Fripp) and joined forces with two of the hottest musicians around, Bill Laswell and Fred Maher.

Massacre was never simply 'Fred Frith plus rhythm section' but a genuine meeting of equals. Laswell and Maher had been around the new wave/no wave scene and were as influenced by funk and dub reggae as they were by rock music, and they had also both played with Daevid Allen in New York Gong. The collision of these styles with Frith's RIO approach yielded musical results that sound as fresh today as they did over 25 years ago. The power trio line up, stripped down sound and stop-start arrangements are all deployed to great effect, with the three musicians evenly balanced in the mix. The playing is incredibly tight throughout, with some of the pieces sounding carefully composed and others sounding more improvised. Fred Frith uses a world war 2 fighter pilot's throat mike to add some bizarre and slighlty disturbing vocal sounds here and there, and there are a couple of sound collages punctuating the album, but for the most part there is little studio trickery in evidence. Highlights include the RIO/funk/punk masterpiece Legs and the lengthy Corridor/Lost Causes/Not The Person We Knew, where each section features one of the three musicians taking the lead. The CD reissue contains the entire vinyl release plus numerous live recordings which almost double the original playing time, but the sound quality is excellent throughout and the extra tracks add to the power of the original.

This was a hugely influential album, and echoes of it can be heard today in bands like Ruins, Korekyojin and Forever Einstein. It's also an album to treasure for Fred Frith's brilliant guitar work, which is not always this prominently featured. It's an essential document of RIO colliding with post punk noise, with extremely enjoyable results - as it says on the label: PLAY IT LOUD! Highly recommended.

Thanks to syzygy for the artist addition.

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