(Andy Synn reviews the forthcoming album by California’s Carnifex, with sample songs at the end.)
Deathcore is still a dirty word to a lot of folks. Despite the major strides made in proving it as a “legitimate” form of Death Metal, it’s still associated by some with nothing more than frat-boy misogyny, painfully blunt lyricisms, and a preference for dumbed-down-tuning and artificial bass drops.
Many of these big strides in salvaging the scene’s image can be attributed to three of its biggest and brightest stars. After the release of their first, more ‘core-inclined EP, Job For A Cowboy shifted almost immediately toward an increasingly devastating (and increasingly technical) Death Metal sound – dragging the genre’s expectations and potential along with them. The boys in Whitechapel have steadily worked to perfect the genre’s specific brand of murderous, misanthropic groove, while Carnifex – a prime specimen of Deathcore’s fundamental components and an example of its expanding boundaries – simultaneously worked to bring in new strains of influence from the outside.
After a year of self-imposed exile, the band have returned with their fifth album Die Without Hope, a merciless slab of Death Metal aggression and ‘core-ish misanthropy which, at its very best, brims with terrible potential and predatory promise.
You’ll notice straight away the malignant Black Metal influence that seethes throughout the first four tracks. It’s been creeping in for a while now (since Hell Chose Me, if not earlier) but never before to this level, and it certainly adds a welcome new facet to the band’s sound.
After you’ve had your face blown off by “Salvation is Dead” – all malice and murderous rage unleashed in a berserker blitz of scything tremolo runs and vile, screeching vocals – you’re immediately hit with the whirling blackened trem and booming demonic depth-charge riffs of “Dark Days”, part In The Shadow Of A Thousand Suns-era Abigail Williams, part punishing Polish bludgeon, and part bare-knuckle Deathore brawl.
The scathingly savage “Condemned to Decay” begins with a bone-rattling, pneumatic ground and pound, but quickly shifts into a more obsidian assault, augmenting its piston-powered brutality with an undercurrent of bleak crimson melody a la Dissection, while the title track, “Die Without Hope”, is easily one of the best things the band have ever put their name to, a ravenous cannibalising kerb-stomp of uber-death riffage, with enough hooks to gut an orphanage and a streak of frostbitten misanthropy a mile wide.
You’ve probably gathered by now that that the whole first part of the album is pretty stellar, containing some of the heaviest, hardest, and downright best material the band have ever produced.
And that’s actually part of the problem.
You see the second half of the album finds the band resting on their laurels a bit. The redefined Black/Death/Core hybrid sound of the first four tracks is subdued in favour of a series of songs that lean much more heavily on the more basic foundations of the bands earlier albums. These tracks continue to be explosively heavy, lethally efficient examples of Deathcore at its finest, yet somehow seem to lack the same depth and substance exhibited on the album’s first four songs.
Really, the band are their own worst enemy in a way. Having set the bar so high right from the start, follow-ups like “Hatred and Slaughter”, “Rotten Souls”, and “Lost Words” just can’t compete at the same level. Oh, they all hit hard and heavy with their gut-punch riffage and organ-rupturing rhythms, but they are, when all is said and done, all relatively interchangeable. We’ve heard songs like this many times before. It’s a case of Deathcore déjà vu, if you will.
That doesn’t mean they’re bad songs. I’d go so far as to say there’s not a bad song on the album in fact (though the aimless interlude of “Reflection of the Forgotten” doesn’t really add anything). It’s just that there’s a distinctive gap in ambition and imagination between the first and second halves – one vibrant and unrepentant, the other still defiant yet oddly stagnant.
Of these tracks, “Dragged Into The Grave” is the standout, and at least attempts to bridge this gap, marrying elements of the band’s newly realised proto-blackness (scalpel-sharp tremolo, desolate leads, subtle keys) with some brutalising, blast-n’-beatdown interplay. It’s an impressive track, if not particularly innovative or inventive.
However, it’s not until furious closer “Where The Light Dies” that the band hit those early heights again, melding wickedly incisive riffs, darkly demonic melodies, and piercing, barbed hooks into a metaphorical monster of pulverising Death Metal power and pulsing blackened poison.
At its very best this album is a brilliant showcase for the sheer potential the band have at their fingertips, and of the wonderful, terrible things they can achieve when they set their minds to it.
I’m not sure how its odd structure will work in the long run though.
While I can definitely see the opening tirade – four songs of sheer, unrelenting bile and menace – bringing in a number of new fans and converting many a sceptic, I’m not sure how the more ‘core-friendly fanbase of the band will react to the (relatively) new sound. Nor am I sure that the new fans will stick it out if the second half of the album serves only to confirm their worst expectations.
It’s a conundrum.
Ultimately this is a very frustrating, occasionally fantastic, listen. While it clearly demonstrates the next-level potential of the band – not by stepping completely outside the Deathcore genre like so many of their peers, but by feeding it new influences and new approaches to promote growth and creation – it also too often displays a lack of purpose, content to stagnate when it should be mutating.
But, despite what the album title says, there is still hope here. Hold onto it. The potential is clear. It just needs to be awakened.
Die Without Hope is scheduled for release in North America by Nuclear Blast on March 4, 2014. Two tracks have premiered to date. Here they are.