originally written by Chris McDonald
Carnival is Forever is the kind of album that will always be tied to the context in which it’s released. In this case, it’s the first new output in over five years from a beloved extreme metal band who has suffered and persevered through a heartbreaking, potentially career-ending tragedy. I know I’m not the only one who is somewhat amazed that Decapitated is even releasing a new album; considering all that’s happened to this outfit, Vogg deserves tremendous respect for picking up the pieces, assembling a new lineup, and continuing onward. I’ll gladly give him that respect without question, but I’m forced to be a little more hesitant in extending the same sentiments to his newest creation. Carnival is Forever is a sonic marvel and often quite riveting in its execution as such, but it’s held back by some undercooked writing and shoddy construction that keeps it from rising to the level of the band’s previous works.
Just like its predecessor in 2006’s Organic Hallucinosis, Carnival is Forever is not a death metal album, and it doesn’t pretend to be. This should hardly be a surprise at this point, as the band has arguably been gradually abandoning their death metal roots going all the way back to the Nihility days, making the transformation complete with Organic Hallucinosis’s Meshuggah-inspired clattering. And stylistically speaking, most of this material is a logical continuation of that album’s innovations. The guitar playing is centered around fast and abrasive polyrhythmic chugging interspersed with spacey melodies and ripping solos, while the relentless pulse of the drumming and the hardcore-tinged vocals attempt to place things in a gritty, futuristic setting.
The music is almost completely dependent on pure sonic bombast to engage the listener – there’s very little in the way of actual riffs here, with the complex beats and unusual timing of notes doing more of the talking. The majority of the songs on Carnival is Forever sound like Chaosphere-era Meshuggah poured through a speedy death metal funnel, and to that end, this album provides some very enjoyable listening. The outstanding production renders the guitars with an intimidating heft and inhuman menace, and the constant undulating pulse of the drumming keeps things rocketing along at a brisk and engaging pace. As a result, grooves like the bridge of “The Knife” and the Nihility-sounding intro to “Pest” hit with an impressive amount of force, and the inspiring guitar solos burst forth from the rhythm-obsessed backdrop with an added vigor. Vogg ventures out into more intricate riffing passages occasionally (“404,” “United”), but the majority of the guitar work on Carnival is pretty one-dimensional and djent-obsessed, aiming for brutality through rhythmic tinkering rather than finger-cramping riff work.
And here’s what makes this record tricky: Its greatest strength on a song-by-song basis is also its greatest drawback when listening from start-to-finish. For such busy-sounding music, there’s remarkably little in the way of actual distinctive content featured on this album. In fact, when you get past the bludgeoning drums and meaty guitar sound, the lack of variety in ideas and execution is pretty unsatisfying. With a few exceptions, all of the songs on Carnival is Forever are crafted around the exact same progression: introduce a chugging polyrhythmic riff, add a few notes to the next chugging polyrhythmic riff to distinguish it from the one prior, and perhaps throw in some brief blast beats or tech-death spirals to round out the package. This formula is stimulating enough initially, but has a tendency to become stale relatively quickly, especially when the segments themselves are lazily written. The utterly drab “Homo Sum” is the worst showcase of this particular trend, repeating the same basic guitar figure in a myriad of barely-different configurations that fail to yield anything interesting whatsoever by the song’s conclusion.
I’m also a little underwhelmed by Vogg’s excursions into dreamy ambient territory with some of his lead playing. While the idea of laying these ethereal passages over the jack-hammering rhythms is pretty intriguing and unusual, some of these leads just don’t sound appropriate in the songs, and also tend to be pretty derivative of each other. The lengthy “A View From A Hole” contrasts the album’s usual assortment of muted chugs with an oddly relaxing melody that clashes with the main source material, while the epic title track packs some mammoth groove early on only to lose its footing in another ill-fitting clean guitar passage. When the varying components of the music coagulate into a unified whole, it sounds pretty terrific. The problem is, this doesn’t always happen, and the times it doesn’t happen tend to stand out.
Carnival is Forever is by no means a terribly disappointing release, and considering the turmoil that has lead to its inception (not to mention the terrible title and cover art), its vibrancy and occasional brilliance is a welcome surprise for this long-time listener. It packs a lot of energy and an impressive degree of pure sonic force, and there’s a few interesting progressions at play that hint at intriguing prospects for future works. But the fact that it represents the triumphant return of a band beset with unfortunate circumstances shouldn’t distract from the fact that Carnival is Forever is still a pretty flawed album, and it falls short of the excellence this band has heretofore upheld with their previous output. Existing fans should obviously experience this immediately, but don’t expect anything more than a serviceable notice that Decapitated has finally stepped into the arena once again.