Swedish death metal has long been over-represented by the slow-shambling corpse of its earliest Sunlight Studios contributions, not only for the sake of the legendary Stockholm-sourced sound design being relatively easy to imitate but for the persisting legions that would never let it die. Nevermind the forward thinking folks in Uppsala these days, much less the stunning wares pouncing out of every suburban nook across the country lately, we’re here for the Boss HM-2 crunch applied to a ‘Mental Funeral’ template! This undying zombie of Swedish death metal ends up being a good thing for folks such as myself, who’d probably never understood “extreme” music as well as they did when first picking up ‘Clandestine’ back in the day. Although their music has more to contribute to the world than some tightly focused nostalgia Gothenburg, Sweden-based death metal quartet Carnal Savagery do a fine enough job representing the early-to-mid 90’s scene their key membership spawned from and in turn, they provide a wealth of nostalgic patternation and sound design for the masses who’d constantly hunger for their sort of gig. ‘Grotesque Macabre’ more or less runs through where the Stockholm sound was from 1989-1993 and in doing so makes for a highly listenable jog through the motions of a classic death metal sound.
Formed back in 2017 and finding bearing with their first demo (‘Zombie Infested‘, 2019) Carnal Savagery made their entrance into public visibility essentially sounding like a Rogga Johansson side-project, for better or worse. Without context or some devotion to classic Swedish death metal sounds there’d be no great reason to chase after what’s next for the band. The major mark for a record like this isn’t just someone who enjoys geographically specific death metal but rather a fellow interested in the history of (and “Where are they now?” curiosities of) the sub-genre. I was personally excited to see what this band was all about because Carnal Savagery shares songwriters and key members with Cromlech (the Kramfors one, see: ‘Eschatological Horrors‘) as I’d long been a fan of the ‘Deleterious Eschathological’ (1993) demo. A good analogue for what Cromlech were doing back in the day would be a band like Decomposed where tradition was edging up against innovation in a subtle but weighty pond-crossing style. Although I was not familiar with Divine Souls, which was drummer/bassist Mikael Lindgren‘s band after Cromlech ended, their line-up featured vocalist Mattias Lilja who also fronts another reformed old school Swedish death metal band Desolation. So, if you’re a death metal nerd like I am the curiosity should be spiking across the board when considering these demo-only band dudes from the early-to-mid 90’s have returned to the sound that’d inspired them back in the day, having persisted with other types of death metal projects since. If provenance does not matter to you, neither will the subtle differences between Carnal Savagery and their influences.
This is no new phenomenon and the all-knowing death metal traditionalist knows a resuscitation of traditional Swedish death metal goes one of three ways: Generic, barbaric, or so brutally cheap and out of touch you’ll wonder why they’d bothered. No punches pulled, generic is the ideal station to be hoped for and it isn’t a crime. Hell, go grab Fleshcrawl‘s ‘Impurity’, Horrid‘s ‘Rising From Hidden Spheres’, or Skelethal‘s ‘Of the Depths’ and tell me that a generic sound and approach was ever such a bad thing. All that matters to me is whether or not these guys have worthwhile riffs to crunch off and stomp away with. Carnal Savagery surely have a bare-assed and generic sound but they manage classic and cumulative-enough riffs with a well modulated pace to the point that ‘Grotesque Macabre’ still ends up being a solid full listen.
No doubt a thousand solid albums could be named in reference to what ‘Grotesque Macabre’ is but I’d hone in on a few specifically. The first is probably God Macabre‘s debut for its dynamic pace, from punkish d-beat chopping to death/doom slugs they’d really been able to pour on the violence and drama back in the day without being overtly melodic. The second is Murder Squad‘s second album, ‘Unsane, Insane & Mentally Deranged‘, as it was a sort of love letter to the origins of the Stockholm sound from the musicians who’d become most famous for it and because it captures the slower ‘Mental Funeral’-isms that help to distinguish Carnal Savagery‘s debut as well. You could obviously throw in Nihilist‘s irreverence but may as well jump forward to Dismember circa 1995 by the time “Left to Rot” rolls around. If I wasn’t such a fan of all of the music I’m mentioning I’d have shut off ‘Grotesque Macabre’ long before the third song hit, it is ‘one of those’ and you’re either along for the ride or you’re not.
The strongest riffs come a bit later in the album where “Carnivore” builds some effective atmosphere far beyond the pieces before it, reaching for what I’d consider an Interment-esque swipe towards the end. “Eaten by the Dead” has some of the more punishing slow sections on the album and this is where I’d like to hear more from the band, the mid-to-slow paced stuff actually hits beyond expected realms most of the time and “Eyes of the Rotten Dead” is probably the peak of Carnal Savagery‘s nuclear doom push on the record. Dan Swanö handles the render at his usual high caliber, emphasizing the growl of the guitars without letting it overtake the whole mix. The only qualm I have with the listening experience comes with Lilja‘s performance feeling a bit naked and too ‘present’, it seems to be a trade between clarity and menace where hallway-sized reverb and more wild shouting might’ve conveyed more energy but the lyrics would suffer. It is the only aspect of the album that doesn’t live up to the throwback buzzsaw bands of today such as Mass Burial or Carnal Tomb. Although my first impression was admittedly nonplussed, the more attention and consideration I gave Carnal Savagery‘s debut the more I appreciated their straight forward, balls-out pure Swedish death metal sound. They’ve got riffs, why not enjoy them? A moderately high recommendation.
Moderately high recommendation. 3.5/5.0
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