Death Metal will always have its dedicated fan base. What we are seeing is a rise in the number of newer death metal bands looking back at what made late 1980-late 1990’s death metal great. We are now in the golden age of the Old School Death Metal subgenre, with the older death metal bands now aped becoming retconned into the subgenre. All of this is to say that the Belgians in Carnation are part of the Old School Death Metal cohort.
“Where Death Lies” is the sophomore record from Carnation, and a follow-up to the well-received debut: 2018’s “Chapel of Abhorrence”. The album covers alone should inform any consumer that they are in for a grimier approach to death metal, harkening back to “Left Hand Path” era Entombed, Dismember, and Bloodbath, among other Swedish death metal from that time-frame. Some of the criticism levied against “Chapel of Abhorrence” was the lack of diversity and modality in the record, which is easily excusable from a debut album. Lessons have been learned as Carnation has been matured and there are surprises hidden away on “Where Death lies”.
“Where Death Lies” does not hang on lofty pretense, “Iron Discipline” starts off with a dissonant riff with a tone that resembles Bloodbath, and sets the stage for the entire record: no nonsense death metal without the gimmicks of trying to be the fastest, or the most brutal, instead opting to be the most “solid”. Follow-up track “Sepulcher of Alteration” is a perfect example of what Carnation is trying to achieve, thrash-beat laden, low end tremolo picked mid-tempo riffs, steady double bass, and a few melodic arrangements thrown in, throwing back to Death and Chuck Schuldiner’s genre defining songwriting skills. Title track “Where Death Lies” starts off with a Celtic Frost riff and a “ouughh” that would make Tom G. Warrior blush, and “Spirit Excision” is among my favorite tracks on the record because the main riff is an instant ear-worm. The barrage of Bloodbath writing echoes through most of the middling tracks of the record. There is heavy-handed Death worship on “Serpent’s Breath”, which we could argue that Skeletal Remains does better. Album closer, the mammoth “In Chasms Abysmal” dances in and out of “Ritual”/”Verminous” flavors (The Black Dahlia Murder).
However, “Reincarnation” hits different with the first appearance of something more expansive: a keyboard intro that could be straight copied from Hypocrisy’s “Fractured Millennium” but could very well be the freshest take on the record yet. Carnation really needs to lean on some of this expansiveness with future records, and press heavily on the solos like the ones of “Napalm Ascension” which are quite superbly written.
Admittedly, this reviewer is mainly a modern death metal consumer, and a technical death metal fanatic. With that bias, many of the sections, and the songwriting in OSDM and on “Where Death Lies” seems simplistic. That said, the emphasis remains on locking down the higher end of the mid-tempo groove. Carnation does excel at writing great tempo transitions, weaving in and out of thrashy, punchy, groovy, melodic, and brutal sections with apparent ease. Guitarists Jonathan Verstrepen, Bert Vervoort, and bassist Yarne Heylen show their songwriting prowess via these masterful transitions, only hammered down by drummer Vincent Verstrepen. The modern death metal/tech-death fan in me wishes there were more instants of blast beats, as they were nearly non-existent on “Where Death Lies”, but this creative choice falls well within the purview of their subgenre. Vocalist Simon Duson is where I see the most growth had, and yet still needed. While he is trying his best to come out of Corpsegrinder’s shadow staying stays in his box of Cannibal Corpse guttural barks, he finds himself squarely in Bloodbath’s Mikael Akerfeldt’s vocal trappings, and this goes on for nearly the entire run-time. However he sneaks in a cheeky clean vocal section on “In Chasms Abysmal” which was surprisingly enjoyable. More vocal diversity on the next record, please!
Carnation’s greatest strength, can also be seen as it’s biggest failing, and “Where Death Lies” exemplifies this: their sound is a mishmash of greater bands that came before, and fall under the weight of the “Jack of All Trades… “ adage. The instrumentation is a blend of Death, Entombed, Bloodbath, Dismember, and even hints of The Black Dahlia Murder. Yet Carnation still struggles to go beyond the trappings created by being just another lesser clone of those bands. Especially since we are in the era where bands like Tomb Mold, Gatecreeper, Blood Incantation, Necrot, etc. are quickly carving out niches in an already sparsely consumed but quickly crowding supplied OSDM space, by having a signature sound. Through that lens, Carnation seems to be falling short. This does not mean that “Where Death Lies” isn’t enjoyable while it is being consumed, because it is. It simply lacks memorable sections or tracks that would make a listener dust off their vinyl a few years later.
“Where Death Lies” is a ripping Old School Death Metal record with much heart and even more teeth. and will undoubtedly increase Carnation’s stock. Fans of the subgenre will have another record to relive the glory days of Entombed-era death metal. However, Carnation will need to take larger leaps on future works to remain relevant, lest they remain in the dust.