Carnifex - 'Slow Death'
As we settle comfortably into the latter half of 2016, a year that has been incredibly strong when it comes to heavy music, if you’re a band writing a ‘deathcore’ record, you damn well better be doing something original or at the very least exciting. Deathcore, on the whole, is a genre that has become virtually bereft of authentic ideas and delivery, relying on overused tropes and hackneyed expositions to bore the listener into submission. This is not to say that solid bands do not exist in the deathcore sphere, they most certainly do, but for every band pushing the genre in a new or interesting direction, there are at least ten tugging hard on those down-tuned strings, dragging it back into obscurity. Fortunately, on Slow Death, Carnifex are way more of the former than the latter.
Although from San Diego, it’s abundantly clear that the Californian sunshine has had little-to-no effect on Carnifex’s latest output, for, as the cheery album title suggests, this is not a record scrimping on the heaviness or joyless themes. Noticeable across the record as a whole is that on Slow Death Carnifex have, for the most part, opted for something of a step down in terms of pace (perhaps the album title displays a level of self-awareness in that sense), frequently relying on well-executed passages of menacing mid-tempo groove rather than the played-out ‘blast-blast-beatdown’ formula so often employed by others in the scene. Whilst occasionally this can come off as being rather one-paced, overall this tactic actually works extremely well, and is at its best when coupled by the eerie orchestral sections used to good effect throughout this record. These passages add a level of macabre atmosphere so often missing from a genre that should, by all rights, be sinister and intimidatory. The intro to Dark Heart Ceremony, for example, opens with the genre-staple melancholic piano, which morphs into a stirring strings section, before bursting into life in the form of frenzied death metal-inspired riffing and then slotting into a eyeball-dislodging groove.
The standard of musicianship across the board on Slow Death is, along with the songwriting, what puts Carnifex comfortably a blood-soaked head and shoulders above other bands in the scene. When not resorting to an all-out chugfest, the guitar work is reminiscent of Carcass, Immolation and even Cannibal Corpse at their grooviest, with excellent tremolo picking also featuring on a number of tracks, most notably on the excellent Servants To The Horde, which also displays one of the album’s meatiest beatdowns. The rhythm section is right on the money from what is required of a band of this ilk: precise, punchy and completely in the pocket, with tight sections of blasting and double-kick rolls perfectly executed. However, full marks must surely go to vocalist Scott Lewis who, yet again, puts in another brilliant performance on this record and definitely pushes the overall quality of the album straight into the top tier. As well as the expected guttural vocals, Lewis demonstrates an impressive black metal style delivery which, accompanied by the aforementioned orchestral arrangements and razor-sharp riffing gives this record a ‘blackened’ theme that the bulk of Carnifex’s scene associates simply do not have the wherewithal or the songwriting nouse to execute effectively.
Overall, then, Slow Death is aggressive and violent whilst simultaneously pushing deathcore into exciting new realms, which itself is long-overdue, and for which Carnifex should be roundly applauded.