Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Carnal Forge - Aren't You Dead Yet? (2004)

Aren't You Dead Yet?, not to be confused with Children of Bodom's Are You Dead Yet? the following year, or the Quarter-Facial Zombie Massacre, entirely unrelated, is a rather important effort on the Carnal Forge timeline. Not because of its significance to metal at large, mind you, because let's face it, this band had long been relegated to the lesser tier of Swedish exports; but because of its significance to the the band itself. You see, this was the final offering by the band's 'classic' lineup that had been meting out the blood, sweat and tears for a number of records, including Please...die!, which had been their best to date. More specifically, it would prove the last hurrah for vocalist Jonas Kjellgren, before focusing his attention on other bands like Scar Symmetry, in which he played guitar for awhile. Aren't You Dead Yet? also seemed to be the first album that put them squarely into the stock melodeath camp, exhibiting a lot more tiny, pretty guitar lines in amongst the rabid modern thrash median between Slayer and At the Gates which spawned their career.

Okay, when I say 'stock' I'm not implying that all of the Swedish bands sound the same, a sentiment I've seen expressed a number of times which is largely cow-patty...sure, a number of melodic death metal or older school Sunlight-tone death metal bands sound xeroxed from the originals, but this is by no means some trait unique to the country...why, the USA itself is ridden with doppelgangers across a number of styles, as is the remainder of Europe or the UK. Say what you want, but Hammerfall does not equal Opeth does not equal Entombed does not equal Candlemass does not equal Watain, and to assert otherwise is a statement of fuckwitted prejudice that screams to me 'I Hate Swedish Bands Because They Are Successful', and I've expressed in the past my feelings for this sort of overt, irrational, whiny faux-elitism, so to see so many bands of varying genres so often lumped together because of their nationalistic relativity is simply stunning. No, many of these bands got popular because they are good, or WERE good at some point; a judgement of value on a case-by-case basis just like any other scene. Yeah, a lot of them can tour, feed their families, and afford to have their records sound pretty sleek, but it's not some conspiracy. They're not out to 'get you'...the place has had great metal since the 80s, so no fucking surprise that it would pan out in all the subgenres later.
Now that I've gone on that tangential (but not irrelevant) rant: when the bitching is being applied to melodic death metal in particular, well then it might hold a fraction more weight, since that's a sound the region more or less pioneered or at least 'defined' after taking inspiration from records like Carcass' Heartwork, and a lot of the 'known' acts in the field are variations on a singular theme of fast-paced, eruptive and very often 'uplifting' material which is the stepchild of the tryst of death, thrash and trad/power metal. But it's not a lot different than brutal USDM, or German power metal, or whatever...I'm not holding grudges just because Darkane, Soilwork and Dark Tranquillity have some similarities; they've also got subtle differences that distinguish them one another, and an overall sound that was inspiring for the turn of the millennium and continues to be so, if in a smaller capacity than before because a lot of the 'mainstreamers' in the niche seem to be facing identity crises or just not writing good songs anymore. A record like Aren't You Dead Yet? does get lost in the herd because most of its ideas are those which have already been expressed by a number of these other artists, on records like Natural Born Chaos, Damage Done or Rusted Angel which were all exponentially 'fresher' and better visualized and composed.

Essentially, this disc is a ligament between the punchy, tightly-woven 21st century chug-thrash of the last four being meted out at an often high pace desperately clenched to its own ideas of momentum, to ensure that there might never be a dull moment, and then its all interspersed with clinical, brief tremolo picked phrasings or loads of melodic spikes that sing like candy to the ears of a listener who wants that contradiction...that contrast. Tunes like "Exploding Veins" play out like mid-paced nu school Exodus neck-wrenchers slathered in The Haunted style vocals, where others are parallels to fellow Swedes Terror 2000 who play more or less uppity racetrack/street thrash. The vocals here have a broader palate of growls and snarls than on the older works, so they seem more like a gang effort, but I don't always like them because the 'shouting' does feel like a typical generic, overbearing metalcore mob, if better inflected. Though all the instruments are quite clear, it's obvious that the guitars are the star of the show...the beats and bass-lines fail to function without some interesting note progression kicking into the listener's skull, and to be fair they do have some. It's not the best selection of quality riffing in their catalog, but this is certainly stronger than Firedemon or its own direct predecessor The More You Suffer, and I attribute that to the better leads as well.

But, again, Carnal Forge prove here that they've not really got a lot to offer that their local kin have not already delivered. If you've worn out your copies of The Haunted Made Me Do It, Slaughter of the Soul, or A Predator's Portrait, then this might make for a decent backup, but a sprinkling of quality solos and melodies, and a handful of tight and unpredictable rhythm patterns aren't enough to propel this one into the pantheon of the memory banks. Pacing and production are not at fault (it still sounds good a decade later if you're into this stuff), merely the fact that we've got a set of songs which are by all means well executed but still fail to stand the test of time. These guys are all excellent musicians and their professional, consistent resumes all point to that, but where and when it was released, Aren't You Dead Yet? did not make any sort of statement and might have been even further disregarded if not for the Century Media release. The bland digital photography zombie cover is uninteresting, the logo seems to have grown even worse with each new rendering of its font, the lyrics and titles just average, but I'd honestly place this in the 'top half' of their first six releases, trailing just slightly behind Please...die! in effectiveness and value.

Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10] (I finally found my place in eternity)


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