Creating a great death metal album is a lot like cooking a delicious meal, in that it requires a delicate balance of different ingredients which all come together to compliment each other and create a pleasant, fulfilling experience that stimulates the senses. The crunching tone of the guitars, the pounding driving rhythm of the drums, the primal bestial howls of the vocals, the thundering rumble of the bass, even the lyrical themes themselves can all be compared to the carefully executed seasoning, dicing, roasting, and searing that goes into the creation of a mouthwatering dish.
By that analogy, Cursed Mortality, the newest offering from Belgian heavyweights Carnation, is like a perfectly cooked steak dinner at a fine dining restaurant, paired with an aged smoky whiskey from the top shelf.
What makes this album so fun to listen to is the confidence with which it is executed. Everything feels very familiar, but it also manages to keep things fresh and exciting with subtle, unexpected shifts in tempo and time signature, not enough to be considered “technical” by traditional standards but more than enough to always keep the listener on their toes, constantly wondering what will come next and consistently being rewarded for their curiosity.
Case in point, when the opening track “Herald of Demise” softly makes its way in with ethereal melodies which steadily crescendo into a flood of rolling blast beats and haunting chords, one would be forgiven for thinking that they were listening to the beginning of a black metal album, and a good one at that. However, less than a minute in, the riffs then tastefully transition into something more akin to Bloodbath, and from there the ball really gets rolling as vocalist Simon Duson bellows forth with a powerful voice and tastefully written lyrical patterns. It is an excellent start to the album which gives the impression that something has awakened, something with formidable purpose and intent.
There is a palpable sense of passion and anger throughout the album’s runtime, but it is focused and channeled with expert precision and a trained ear for pacing. While the opening track is broad and grandiose in scope, the follow-up track “Maruta” is much more grounded and straightforward with a slew of d-beats and punkish chord progressions that sound like a perfect combination of Napalm Death and Fisher-era Cannibal Corpse, and then the third song “Metropolis” perfectly straddles the middle ground between the two.
Carnation are most certainly learned students of the old school, but they also clearly understand the need for diversity and willingness to experiment necessary to avoid stagnation or pigeonholing within the death metal genre, and so just before the halfway point of the album the band change things up yet again by adding slower clean singing segments into the witches’ brew. Purists may scoff at the risks taken in songs like “Replicant” and the closing title track, but those with a sense of perspective will see this juxtaposition for what it is: balance. A palate cleanser, something chilled and sweet to offset heartiness and spice. A well-balanced dish contains a medley of different flavors which all play off each other, and so too must a great metal band be willing to incorporate different styles and trains of thought into their music if they want to create something with a lasting impact.
In short, Carnation have achieved something truly special with this newest offering, a spectacularly heavy accomplishment that proudly carries the torch of its forebears while gently guiding it towards the future with just enough theatricality to remind us all that music is a form of art, and art in and of itself is subjective and ever changing. Whether it be a painting, a sculpture, a thought-provoking film, a delicious home cooked meal, or a badass death metal album, it all requires passion and a little bit of fearlessness, and that is exactly what Carnation have brought to the table.
When Cursed Mortality officially drops this Friday, mark my words — it’s going to leave a smoking crater in its wake. And we will all be begging for seconds.
Carnation‘s Cursed Mortality is out Nov. 3 via Seasons of Mist.
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