Saturday, May 15, 2010

Carpathian Forest - Strange Old Brew

Carpathian Forest - Strange Old Brew
2000, Avantgarde Records

The title for this record is a fitting one, because these tracks are culled from material that dates back all the way back to at least '93, I believe, if not earlier, and there is a wide stylistic difference between the songs offered here. Starting out with a traditional blasting black metal attack called 'Bloodcleansing', this album quickly diversifies from the second song on: the next composition 'Mask of the Slave' is almost a 'retro' affair, evoking influences that mix the dark groove of early Bathory with the raw rock 'n' roll feel of Motorhead, utlimately sounding very close to latter-day Darkthrone (or what Fenriz really seems to wish Darkthrone could sound like). The third track 'Martyr/Sacrificulum' (yes, Carpathian Forest are staying with their S&M obsessions) is a swiftly speeding pounder complete with industrial-sounding rhythm work. The fourth song, however, is really where this album breaks wide open: 'Thanatology' (meaning the 'study or record of death', by the way) is a slow, slow melodic piece filled with beautifully melancholy guitars and a tenebrous, suffocating atmosphere. It is so close to Bethlehem at times (especially in the beginning) that I feel ashamed even bringing that reference up, but there you have it nonetheless. However, even though it does remind me of Bethlehem every time I listen to it, I would never say that it is a 'duplication' of that band's sound - no, it just lives in the same lightless realms from which the suicidal German troop regularly issue. Fine. This is the best song on this entire album for me, by the way. It is very stately, dignified, morbid, and, ultimately, pathologically depressing. How fitting is it that the next song is called 'The Suicide Song'?

Similar highlights include the possessing 'House of the Whipcord', with its eerie piano and synth work, strange saxaphone soloing, and misanthropic vocal rambling. There is really no way for me to adequately describe this great composition: it has so many layers of sound (listen to it on headphones) to work through, atmosphere building on top of atmosphere, that I feel it must be listened to many times in order for it to be appreciated. Similarly, the next track 'Cloak of Midnight' is one of the best doom crawling, sluggish guitar pieces that I have heard come out of The North since Thergothon...

I think that a lot of people approach this band anticipating a very traditional sound on their albums, but, if so, they will be pleasantly surprised by the range and versatility shown here. Just about every facet of the 'black metal aesthetic' is explored here: from the left-field ideas of 'House of the Whipcord' back to the more traditional Celtic Frost-influenced 'Return of the Freezing Winds' (this song could fit very comfortably on 'To Mega Therion'). Because this album was recorded in a long session, and a lot of additional material came out of the studio, another record has already been prepared and will be supposedly released next Spring. If it is in any way a continuation of the style shown here, it can not fail to be excellent. This record, in the meantime, is one of the best black metal albums released in a long, long time. I urge you listen to it.