It has been a long, hard road to this release for Decapitated, who have been one of the most revered, innovative and creative Death Metal bands from their 2000 debut Winds Of Creation through to the slashing clinicism of 2006’s Organic Hallucinosis. When their tour bus crashed in Russia in 2007 it killed Vitek, one of the genre’s most promising young drummers (and brother of guitarist Vogg) and left vocalist Covan seriously injured, as well as leaving many doubting that we’d ever see the band release another album. It is true testament to Vogg’s perseverance and determination to continue his brother’s legacy that, less than four years – or a quarter of a Chinese Democracy – later, we have a new line up and a new album to hear.
Given the background story, I harboured concerns that the new material would fail to live up to the previously sky high standards that Decapitated had set, and, given the slightly bizarre, gramatically incorrect and decidedly non-metal title, I was actually a little apprehensive before giving it a first listen.
Luckily The Knife opens the album with a warping riff that soon kicks back into Decapitated’s trademark thrashy, groovy-without-being-shit riffing and a huge sigh of relief can be exhaled. The production is so crisp that it makes even the Cream Cracker-esque sounds of The Negation and Organic Hallucinosis seem comparatively soggy. While one has come to expect Vogg’s guitar tone to be drier than The Queen’s fanny, it seems that the never ending search for an ever-sharper aural experience may now have shed a little too much death metal beef. Nevertheless, by the time the guitar solo has darted through your ears, you should be under no illusions that Decapitated are back, firing on all cylinders and are setting about sodomising your face off all over again.
United, disappointingly not a Judas Priest cover, is instead a large piece of tasty death metal pie, full of delicious riff mince and blastbeat gravy. The title track is a hefty 8 minutes and 49 seconds, the double length allowing for a little more sonic diversification when compared to their past releases. A spacey, echoing build up gives way to an extravaganza of polyrhythmic riffing and blasting death, with a return to the intro’s picked guitar – a moody, dissonant passage that wouldn’t appear out of place on the last Opeth album – as a mid-song interlude. This emphasis on arpeggiated atmospherics rears its head again on A View From A Hole and the instrumental closer Silence, giving the album a more mature, solemn and introspective feel. Which is all quite understandable really.
However, you, Mr Beardy, should not be under the impression that this is some sort of teary-eyed, side-parting, scarf-wearing ambient shoegaze album. Homo Sum may alienate the more knuckle-headed death metal contingent with its promises of gay mathematics, but it, along with 404 and Pest, provides the the most natural steps forward from Organic Hallucinosis, proving that there is enough bludgeoning muscle here to not only offset the subtle sonic experimentation but to punch everyone reading this in the balls. Twice.
The new members blend seamlessly into the sound, with new drummer Krimh possessing a pair of feet worthy of following in Vitek’s hallowed footsteps, and, by taking many compositional cues from his predecessor, ensures that there is no gulf in styles that would clash with the band’s previous work. Vocally, Rafal Piotrowski sits somewhere between the still-recuperating Covan and original vocalist Sauron in that there is less of the former’s much-derided ‘hardcore’ style to the vocals but they do not quite reach the gutteral depths that Sauron plunged to on the first few albums. His biggest problem will undoubtedly be his lack of a traditional Polish one-name title, and I would like to suggest that he takes influence from the great one word artistes of the past when choosing it, then slightly mis-spell it in a death metal fashion. Something like Kscher, Prynz, The Artist Formerly Known As Prynz or perhaps Tchiko should suffice. I don’t even charge for this service.
Carnival is Forever may not be the best Decapitated album ever, but that it is here at all is the real story. Fans will eat this up like a fat man attacking an unguarded wedding cake, and it’s more than enough to remind even the most cynical observer that Decapitated are a still a force to be reckoned with. With this, they can rightfully retake their position as the torch-bearers for forward thinking death metal, placing themselves back at the cutting edge they first made their home a decade ago.