Review – Carnifex: Slow Death

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  • Bio: "Carnifex began carving out [a] bond with the audience way back in 2005. Over the course of four albums--Dead in My Arms, The Diseased and the Poisoned, Hell Chose Me, and Until I Feel Nothing--the band attracted a diehard following." - Press release
  • Label: Nuclear Blast Records
  • Release Date: August 5th, 2016
  • Genre: Blackened Deathcore, Deathcore
  • Website: Visit Website
  • Rating (out of 10):

Since reuniting in 2013 after briefly disbanding a year prior, California deathcore act Carnifex have found themselves taking on a far bleaker sound with their output. A blackened one, if you will. It was a sensation one could always feel on earlier works, but it wasn’t until 2014’s Die Without Hope that this jump became far more obvious. Comparisons to influences from bands like Deceased to Emperor were thrown about from long time fans and even some nay-sayers alike. Many wondered if this was just a stylistic choice for this album, or if they would continue to nurture their sound for future recordings. Enter 2016’s Slow Death, the next chapter of progression and second to be told through Nuclear Blast Records. But does this effort stand out like last time, or has the band reverted back to their old ways?

If you happened to hear the band’s previous release, then you’ll be well aware of what to expect with Slow Death. The only difference here is that the audio quality is better all around. The atmosphere of the band performing in a dark room before is built up even more through a crisp, digital setting that make the performances intimate in an early second wave black metal manner. In fact, there’s a great deal of material here that mimics that style and era’s melodic counterparts scattered about the traditional chugs and grooves of the deathcore genre. Of course you do have the typical keyboard input that is becoming mandatory among those acts that try to be far more sinister such as Winds of Plague and Abigail Williams, but it’s executed in more of a straight-up Dimmu Borgir fashion. Even the vocals can sound as though Scott Lewis had been replaced by Shagrath himself when things line-up just right.

A perfect example of that would be “Drown Me in Blood”. The heated introduction seems to be spawned right from In Sorte Diaboli, and even the maniacal black metal chords and steady drumming that immediately follows feels right at home to that recording as well, not to mention a number of other glaring similarities that feel it necessary to hit you upside the head repeatedly as a reminder, though not in an unwanted manner. The guitar work sounds creepy and heated, giving way to the traditional groove oriented death metal that doesn’t share the same attitude at all but still works better to progress the track than the standard one chord chugging breakdowns that make up a good chunk of the song’s conclusion. Even “Necrotoxic” takes much of this style foundation but amplifies it into more of an atmospheric black metal direction, really playing up grand, empowering landscapes between the strong death metal riffs.

“Black Candles Burning”, however, is a nice mixture of all aspects of the black metal and deathcore worlds. The machine-gun bass kicks of the drum kit give the slower track a little more speed than it actually carries, allowing the guitars to throw some unsettling leads your way. Due to the tempo, the chugging and standard grooves blur the lines between your standard breakdown and slams with some traditional creeping brutal death metal inspiration that is effective despite not quite having the necessary impact behind it one would hope for. A lot of this can also be said for closing track “Servants to the Horde”, though this one largely tones down the use of the keyboard. Yes, it is still there during the chorus, but they seem to bow out, allowing the guitars to construct the final rounds of eeriness instead. The end result is the two working together to create something far more powerful than had it been dominated by one instrument in particular.

CarnifexBut, for all the positive aspects of this release there of course has to be that one nagging downfall: The breakdowns. There’s no denying that Carnifex as a whole is having a blast putting this album together in the studio. There’s a great deal of life in the performances that simply cannot be artificially constructed through machinery or mastering, and that enthusiasm is felt very early on in “Dark Heart Ceremony” with its grim hooks and dark, ritualistic atmosphere Cradle of Filth could even appreciate. While the breakdowns work here due to the slower nature of the song and how the second leads to a glorious guitar solo, the rest just seem to interrupt the flow, grinding to a halt to accommodate the kiddies in the pit that want to dance, spin kick, or practice being a windmill. They can even feel forced into the mix during the more hardcore cuts like “Slow Death”, which is a sign of a band that has outgrown the typical tropes of the particular style they were birthed from.

There’s also a few typical deathcore cuts with a subtle modern Carnifex sound for good measure. “Six Feet Closer to Hell” is the most obvious example despite the brief keyboard notes here and there, especially during the start where it bares those blackened fangs just for a brief while. However, not even thirty seconds into the performance, you’re met with a far more hardcore approach that makes you want to jump along with the attitude fuelled music and vocals. This and additional mathcore complexities such as a minute after that initial change of pace throwback to the group’s roots, and not in the most flattering of ways. Admittedly though, this one is fun in a far more simplistic composition that is meant to cater to a live audience more than their average fan listening at home. While you can still sense the joy and pride within the performance, you can also tell this is the only song that seems like an obligation to appease the fanatics that have been in it for the long haul.

If Die Without Hope were the near-finished blueprints to Carnifex‘s new sound, then Slow Death stands as the evolutionary payoff. This is the kind of album that speaks volumes to a group’s abilities, showing that not only have they achieved the sound they wanted to make and are excited to share it with the world, but also kind of lays the groundwork for the further advancement of an entirely new style that had only been more of a gimmick since its inception. That isn’t to say Slow Death is perfect though. In reality, it’s just not. There’s still some room to grow as the band explores how to make the two worlds merge together without jumping from one atmosphere to another when one influence begins and another ends, as well as how to make the breakdowns work in favor of this new sound instead of forcing them into the mix because they apparently have to exist even though they’d be better off left out of the majority of the recording in the first place. That said, Slow Death stands as one of the most impressive offerings in the deathcore field as of late, not to mention one of the more important ones that simply needs to be heard.

Carnifex

Digital review copy of this release provided by Nuclear Blast Records.