Leaps of faith can land you in some pretty great spots just as easily as they can send you careening so far off course that it takes ages to recover. Belgian death metallers Carnation have just made such a leap with Cursed Mortality. While their Entombed-loving HM-2 hearts are still clearly worn on their sleeve, they’ve added more to the sonic pot this time around and along with a logo redesign, they’re embracing these changes with confidence. Frankly, confidence is really the only approach you can take when you’re a death metal band that is pivoting to incorporating clean vocals, melody, and more complex song structures, you simply have to own it.
The first song that was presented from Cursed Mortality was the title track and it introduced fans to the changes that they were undergoing stylistically. The clean vocals, the near 8-minute runtime, and how they were approaching making all of this work together. While this is an intentional move to get long-time fans over this hurdle, the way this album begins with “Herald of Demise” is anything but progressive. Andy Larocque (King Diamond) gets a guest spot and kicks off the song with that signature shredding of his before the band get to doing what they do best: chugging buzzsaw guitars, ferocious growls, and a skilled and complimentary rhythm section. The advantage to setting things up in this manner is that we know that there are stylistic wrinkles inbound but are utterly unsure of when they’ll appear and that gives Carnation the upper hand of surprise. Coming out swinging like this is a great way to keep the listener in the palm of their hand, at least for a while.
Cursed Mortality is a theme that gives Carnation a loose framework that allows them to explore themes of death through a variety of lenses, whether they be more philosophical or literal. “Maruta” takes a more harsh look at violent acts and atrocities of war, while “Metropolis” (more than likely a nod to the Fritz Lang film of the same name) looks at the idea of civilization as a machine that uses human effort and toil as fuel to keep this cycle sustained. Underpinning the themes in these songs is a solid foundation of death metal that is aptly performed but some of the simpler, more straightforward death metal tracks can be forgettable, even if they pack a wallop when they’re played at max volume. Things get more interesting when the band begins tinkering with their sound on the fourth track, “Replicant.” Twin leads fade in and the clean vocals make their arrival with a line pulled right from Blade Runner, the song’s inspiration. Again the theme of death is explored but through the idea of predetermined expiration based on a limited window of usefulness. While the songs melodies and vocal lines are a little rudimentary, Carnation pull this off well, even if it’s somewhat obvious that this is rather early in their attempts at a song like this.
While the discussion around this album will largely be the new direction for the band, there are plenty of great little details that are executed memorably as well. The way the D-beats hit on “Maruta” and the descending tom fills that accompany them, the lurching doomy passages of “Cycle of Suffering”, and of course the progressive intricacies of the final and title track. These details add a richness to the album that help it become a fun album to listen to moment-to-moment and time will tell how long this record lingers in the minds of those who give it a chance. Transitional albums have often been met with middling or even negative responses and while Cursed Mortality deserves either of those sentiments, this album will be seen as a necessary step toward Carnation's vision for themselves. It will also leave fans and onlookers with the question of what will come next and how future albums will take shape. All of that aside, Carnation should be nothing but proud of what they’ve accomplished here.
Bottom Line: Carnation are taking their first steps toward a new form and Cursed Mortality is the first footfall on this path. While there are some balancing issues along the way, and not every song is memorable, there are some genuinely great ideas presented and they’re executed with confidence. Moving from a more straightforward death metal sound to one which incorporates additional elements can be tricky but Carnation have done well and this album sets some grand expectations for what will come next.