Decapitated – Carnival Is Forever Review

2011 is turning out to be the year of comeback/revival/reunion albums. Bands like Morbid Angel, Exhumed, and Decapitated have all returned after nearly a decade on hiatus, all with varying success. Decapitated, however, have a lot more riding on their return than most. Not only have they been off the radar since 2006, but the whole reason for their impromptu hiatus is one of the most devastating stories the metal community has ever seen.

Anyone who’s even a remote fan of metal undoubtedly remembers the night back in November of 2007, when Decapitated‘s tour bus careened into a semi-truck, leaving singer Adrian “Covan” Kowanek in a coma and drummer Witold “Vitek” Kiełtyka dead. For me, the news was earth shattering. Decapitated was one of the most highly revered bands in the death metal scene, and their drummer Vitek was a huge influence on me and many other drummers and musicians like me. He was immensely talented and creative behind the kit and from what I know was an extremely caring and genuine person on and off stage. It was a tragedy beyond words and its effects still linger in the metal world to this day.

Understandably so, the future of Decapitated was uncertain for years following the accident. The only surviving member of the band was Vitek’s brother, guitarist Wacław “Vogg” Kiełtyka, and no one would have blamed him if he had decided to call it quits right then. But to many a fan’s chagrin, Vogg decided to continue the tradition of Decapitated in lieu of the accident, paying tribute to his fallen brother and band mates, as he knew they would have wanted him to do.

Personally, I was very excited to hear the news, but it understandably brought forth a lot of trepidation. I was glad to hear, however, that many of Vogg’s riffs which ended up on Carnival Is Forever were written with Vitek before his death. With all the hype and uncertainty surrounding the record’s release, it’s no wonder it has become one of the most highly anticipated records of the year.

So how does it hold up?

Quite well, actually. It’s very evident how central Vogg has always been to the band’s sound and he’s really stepped up his game on Carnival Is Forever. It pummels forward like a herd of buffalo plowing through a sea of zombies in a post-apocalyptic world. It picks up right where Organic Hallucinosis left off and continues the natural progression the band’s evolution has always followed. Essentially, it’s exactly what it needed to be.

Yes, it’s a bit alarming to hear Decapitated without Vitek’s incessant blasting behind the kit and I’d be lying if I told you I’m not a bit sad every time I listen to it, but it pays a wonderful tribute to the departed while still paving the way for other death metal bands to follow.

The album kicks off with the ferocious opener “The Knife“, a down-tuned beast of a song that doesn’t relent for a second. Then comes “United“, a death metal monster chock full of Vogg’s trademark machine gun riffage. The title track “Carnival is Forever” slows things down a bit, veering off into atmospheric guitar work similar to the ambient passages of Meshuggah‘s back catalog before erupting with one of the most powerful riffs on the record. Its 9 minutes of unrelenting dissonance as only Decapitated can do. I do think that the song drags on a bit too long, though. By the end it becomes repetitive and flip-flops one too many times between the ambience and atonal heaviness, leaving you feeling a little unsure of the album’s direction.

It doesn’t last long though, as the 4th track, “Homo Sum“, is by far the best song on the record. It kicks off with Vogg tearing through his guitar strings like a blade through skin and builds to an epically heavy climax that will leave your ears bleeding and your mind in shambles. “404” is reminiscent of some of the material on Organic Hallucinosis, with Vogg chugging away over some trademark off-time drum licks, while “A View From A Hole” slows the pace once again, leading off with more guitar ambience and staying pretty tame throughout. Unlike “Carnival is Forever“, it’s a refreshing break amidst the chaos of the rest of the album.

The last official song, “Pest“, is a sendoff as heavy and fulfilling as anything put out so far this year. Your neck will hurt you’ll headbang so hard. The album closer, “Silence“, is 4 minutes of subtle atmospheric undercurrents, playing like a eulogy to Vogg’s lost brother. It’s serene and darkly beautiful and rounds the album off pretty damn well.

Overall Carnival Is Forever is a top notch death metal album. It’s got all the fixins that make a great record and still leads the pack in terms of death metal’s long and oftentimes tumultuous evolution over the years. Despite the tragedy that looms over the record’s release, Decapitated have made sure to stay relevant and not hold back on the musicianship that made them who they are today. Drummer Kerim “Krimh” Lechner does an outstanding job filling Vitek’s enormous shoes while still retaining his own style and flavor, and vocalist Rafal Piotrowski and bassist Filip “Heinrich” Hałucha fill in the cracks perfectly. Even with everything that’s befallen this band, Decapitated still prove that they are ahead of the pack when it comes to death metal, and show no signs of stopping anytime soon.

Carnival Is Forever – 8.8/10

Track Listing:
1. The Knife
2. United
3. Carnival is Forever
4. Homo Sum
5. 404
6. A View From a Hole
7. Pest
8. Silence

Favorite Song: Homo Sum

Carnival Is Forever comes out today, June 12, on Nuclear Blast Records.

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