Is it possible to judge Carnival is Forever, the new Decapitated album, solely on its own merits, and not by the events leading up to its inception? Yes and no. Yes, in that it’s a killer metal album with nothing but top-shelf, groovy tech-death riffs one after another (seriously, it gets a little absurd after a while). But no, in that one can’t help but wonder in the album’s more ruminative moments if guitarist Vogg is reaching tendrils out to his audience, expressing a deep sadness in losing two-thirds of the permanent lineup of the band he founded in his teens, including the death of his brother, beloved and influential drummer Vitek. Whether or not a black veil is lowered over the album is beside the point; it’s there from our point of view.

But this isn’t a funereal affair in the slightest, and the band doesn’t get lost in angsty navel-gazing. A new Decapitated release that didn’t have the verve and balls of Carnival would be an insult, and Vogg knows that. Even if the record (through no fault of its own, really) runs the risk of being known as the Resurrection Album, he certainly didn’t reform Decapitated with all new guys just to cash in on a traumatized fan base: Carnival is Forever is overflowing with intent and purpose, getting an eyeful of the sun in the shadow of the legacy of the band that made it. Phoenixes and ashes aren’t exclusive to Hate Eternal, after all.

Opener “The Knife” makes no bones about what you’re getting yourself into: in the first minute of the four and a half the song offers, the band lobs a handful of merciless tech-death morsels to listeners hungry after a half-decade absence. Decapitated’s charms are apparent through the whole song: half-Meshuggah worship, half-death metal riffs clipped right before they get predictable (though it bears pointing out that Carnival is Forever and Nihility sound like night and day in comparison to one another, they’re also separated by almost a decade’s worth of history, so perhaps it’s an unfair expectation). And any awkward wobbling the new band could be doing has been corrected well before Decapitated laid the album down: it’s deeply rooted in polished ferocity, sounding well-oiled and fluid, advanced to a degree that even a few spins later is still hard to predict.

Take the album’s centerpiece, the lumbering and epic title track: after two songs’ worth of tech-death grooves and blasting, the song starts at an uneasily still point, a stuttering, repetitive clean arpeggio building off its own presence until, after a little under a minute, the tunes’ chunky main riff arrives, sucking up all the misty ambience created and bowling over everything in its path. And while a riff this dense is pretty impressive on its own, the way drummer Krimh frames it keeps it moving and versatile: it comes up multiple times over the course of “Carnival is Forever”’s remaining eight minutes, but never sounds dwarfed by repetition. Without resorting to unnecessary orchestration or belabored minor key emoting, the song is powerful and affecting; in fact, its down moments aren’t rooted in melancholy, but a weird, abstract space, fixed more in tension than sadness. The result is a chilling view into the center of one’s self in a dark moment, and the findings are unsettling.

Not that the albums spends a lot of time in a disturbing contemplative space: the only time Carnival is Forever relents is when it’s winding back up to punch you in the throat. “Homo Sum” lifts off after the title track’s deliberate pace with a stuttering palm-muted riff, and “404” drops grooves deathcore kids would shoot their wealthy parents for, in addition to off-kilter jabs their djent cousins wouldn’t mind, either. And while “A View from a Hole” starts similarly to the title track, it’s more focused, a whole other kind of emotional animal. Of course, “Pest” slaughters that animal, all in time for “Silence,” a puzzling four minutes of lonely guitar damp with echo. For that, one could easily argue that’s the peril of having an album where anything’s possible: it can trip over itself if left to its own devices a little too much. Of course, after repeat listens, it doesn’t sound as tacked on as it does initially.

And that’s Carnival’s true power: it gets better the more time you spend with it. Normally, an album that keeps you as much in the shit as this one does reveals most of what it can immediately. But Carnival is Forever is both so densely packed with heavier-than-God riffs and woozy asides (not to mention a few awesome solos thrown in for good measure) that it takes a while to disassemble it. It’s a fitting tribute to a band that can’t be bothered to be hamstrung by death, let alone be bogged down by the sadness surrounding it. One can’t help but think Vitek would be proud. When life seeks to cut you down at a time most inopportune, you swing back at it. For the sake of hearing more great Decapitated albums after this, let’s hope Carnival is Forever is death metal’s Back in Black.

(4 out of 5 horns)


Metal Sucks Greatest Hits