Though it does come as an unconditionally cool sounding death metal band name the choice Berlin, Germany based old-schoolers made in naming themselves after a song from ‘Pieces’, an EP in between the first and second Dismember full-lengths, undoubtedly represents a band in between two eras and amidst a then-peaking wave of Scandinavian death metal. ‘Pieces’ came after the leftover Carnage tracks were well used up between two full-lengths and Dismember had to choose a path forward, to either leave behind the purity of ‘Like an Everflowing Stream…’ or punch into the momentum of melodic and/or death n’ roll that’d swept across their nation at the time. The point being that they hadn’t made a decision yet in 1992 and that still-primal Autopsy influenced Swedish death metal presented an artistic stasis most of Sweden was ready to move beyond. The rest of the world was surfing the aftershocks, of course, and this carries on today within a still-thriving buzzsaw cult that reaches every corner of the globe. From Outre-Tombe to Skelethal and a thousand other clever modern takes on the old ways today there always seems another new and exciting shoulder-punching, zombified ‘old school’ influence death metal band picking up an HM-2 guitar pedal and finding something fresh to do with it. Count the first Carnal Tomb album, ‘Rotten Remains’ (2016), among that crowd and I’d say most folks (myself included) had generally seen it as rank-and-file under ‘old school death metal’ before quickly moving on. Here in 2019 their approach is refreshed by a shift in guitar duties and this appears to have made a world of difference in presenting the greater ambitions of Carnal Tomb in a clarified and immediately striking form, this second full-length ‘Abhorrent Veneration’.
Had you missed their previous output you’ll only need about ten minutes with ‘Abhorrent Veneration’ to figure the bones of their classic death metal influenced creed. The prowling hulk of ‘Mental Funeral’-era Autopsy and the punched-out depth of Grave‘s ‘You’ll Never See’ are the most basic stylistic informants but deeper strains of early death/doom metal and Scandinavian excess mature on the palate with repeated listening. Their attack is not unlike pre-’94 Unleashed in that there is almost always an aggressive, bounding riff at the heart of each song that only ever rests for dramatic effect. ‘Rotten Remains’ had experimented with melodic ideas (“Funeral” was their “Dreaming in Red”) prior but ‘Abhorrent Veneration’ pushes almost in the other direction where the ‘catchy’ element of their work comes from subtler lead guitar focus and some ‘classic’ Swedish death metal moments (see: “Cryptic Nebula”); This sets Carnal Tomb in a more standard feeling space, not as weird as Cryptic Brood and not as melodic as Obscure Infinity but somehow totally appropriate on the same bill as each. A good number of ‘new old school’ death metal albums lead with a seductive ‘classic’ sound but fall flat when it comes time to write memorable songs and I’d say about eighty percent of the time Carnal Tomb boast some kind of memorable aspect to break through the crunch of it all.
…And what a crunch it is thanks to a fine recording from Tobias Engl, drummer for Drowned and Essenz, who was responsible for one of my personal favorite records of 2018, Ascension‘s ‘Under Ether’, and mastering from Laurent Teubl of Chapel of Disease. The guitar tone is tweaked to be less oppressive and allow some reasonable space for the brightening presence of the lead guitars. The bass guitar tone is now vital and made a distinct, often notable, feature of the sound design within (see: “Amid the Graves”) giving some depth to repeat listens without becoming too ambitious or clunky. What does this polish and balance all add up to? Well, stylistically it is a mix of pure Scandinavian death metal and some quasi-death/doom moments that ultimately boil down to a ‘Mental Funeral’ sort of experience but several generations removed and with a sharp use of leads for atmospheric builds and ‘hooks’ within songs. Alternately, imagine if Fleshcrawl had made an actually good successor to ‘Descend into the Absurd’ instead of the choppy, chuggy ‘Impurity’. The high standards of German death metal are in full effect either way. I don’t have a single gripe with the production sound, performances, or general tones employed; It is all presented in damned immaculate form. ‘Abhorrent Veneration’ isn’t a perfect death metal album, though.
There is a safely low standard to work within in creation of old school death metal and I don’t mean instrumentation or atmospherics but instead a lack of vision for the higher-set bars of compelling musical arrangement. I don’t mean that Carnal Tomb don’t write memorable songs, in fact they do most of the time, but that like so many other ‘old school’ leaning death metal projects they’re entrenched in how fuckin’ cool the sound of death metal is and don’t always have a clear vision for songwriting that creates distinct and memorable points of interest. Side A is a goddamned monster, a complete rip of suffocating death, bounding and classicist death metal with several memorable riffs and again, check out the middle section of “Cryptic Nebula” and marvel at its vibe. By the time Side B‘s darker, doomed presence weaves into the Vanhelgd-esque “Dissonant Incubation” and the good, but not great “Feeding Mold” the momentum of the full listen is held but not as captivating as it had been leading up to that point. All of the aspects I’d praised earlier elevate this slight redundancy to a still-great whole but ‘Abhorrent Veneration’ could have made a deeper mark if reaching for bolder choices, whatever their idea of ‘outside the box’ thinking might entail. It isn’t a major slight against the album but you can tell Carnal Tomb are capable of much more when the really ‘big’ moments on the album hit.
For a set of seven roughly six minute death metal songs that so powerfully stride between Scandinavian and North American classic ethos with their own German ingenuity applied ‘Abhorrent Veneration’ can be counted among the more polished and satisfying ‘new old school’ death metal albums of the year thus far. Carnal Tomb roars, buzzes, and clanks its way straight out of the speakers for what will prove to be instant gratification for fans of pure death metal with some death/doom slime in its DNA and I can happily and highly recommend it. For preview purposes I’d suggest starting with the two songs that ‘sold’ me on the experience, the impressive pairing of “Cryptic Nebula” and “Amid the Graves” as well as the doomed lurch of “Dissonant Incubation”.
Drowning in decay. 4.25/5.0
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