Jan 28, 2013

Editor's Pick: Decapitated, "Carnival Is Forever" - The Meanest Band on Earth

It's no secret that I think popularity nearly made metal irrelevant.  Pleasing the masses very rarely pleases the people who are passionate about something.  The people who care most about a thing are usually ignored for the purpose of satisfying the far greater number of people for whom opinions are based on superficial packaging, or cursory glances at a movement without knowing much about its origins.  Once Nu Metal became a viable commodity in the 90's the chances of truly original heavy bands getting noticed became greatly reduced.  That's what trends in entertainment do; ignore innovation. In fact, trends stifle innovation as more and more people imitate a sound or a look that raked in big bucks for someone else, somewhere else.  Trends limit the scope of creativity because less people are interested in doing something new.  People may try to refine something old, but fewer push forward to see what they might come up with that could be truly unique.  Add to that the necessity of a company to meet its obligations, and the focus becomes funneling talent into a proven money making product... a "sure bet", to the extent that there can be such a thing.  In the Nineties, Nu Metal took a small handful of the primal attractions to heavy music; thick guitar sounds, pent up rage and low end frequencies, and made them the only things that mattered.  Enter the seven string guitar and singers who never stop yelling.  Yep, my beloved form of music was dealt a significant blow as it was taken out of the hands of people who respected its limitless opportunities for creativity, and delivered into the hands of people who were more interested in "units sold".

Profit is not, in and of itself a bad thing.  But when profit is the motivating force behind a creative endeavor, creativity takes a back seat.  I for one, do not have the patience to wade through a bunch of bands' music to see who might do something moderately interesting on two songs.  I prefer bands that create an entirely different space for me, and do so consistently.  In the last few years, Poland's Decapitated have impressed beyond compare, and have become my new favorite metal band.  They are certainly the most exciting metal band I have heard since Opeth and Necrophagist gave me hope for the genre after being disgusted with its lack of creativity for the better part of a decade.  Though their newest album, "Carnival Is Forever" has been out for well over a year, it is new to me, and I have to say that the bar has been raised as it pertains to metal being taken seriously.

Simply put, Decapitated are the meanest band I know of.  I became hooked on their previous release, 2006's "Organic Hallucinosis", though I never heard it until it had been out for a few years.  The biggest drawback to taking yourself out of a "loop" is that you never hear something when it is fresh.  None of the guys in Confessor are still hardcore metalheads, so I don't get to hear anything unless it peaks Tannon's interest, and he is as discriminating as I am.  We are both very jaded, but metal is still our favorite form of music when it's done right. "Carnival Is Forever" is definitely done right!

There are some differences between this new record and "Organic Hallucinosis" that jump out upon first listen.  An accident left the band without their unbelievably talented drummer back in 2007, and put their singer in a coma that is still going on to this day.  I had to make some adjustments in the way I absorbed the music on "Carnival Is Forever" at first because those two members were so crucial to the band's sound.  We may never hear another drummer like Witold Kieltyka again, and that is a true loss in the world of metal.  For that matter the singer who has yet to wake up, Adrian Kowanek, was also unparalleled in his fierceness.  Having said that, I must say that the two new members have done a splendid job in filling their predecessor's shoes.  The new drummer maintains the pummeling aesthetic that the band demand without defining the sound as much as Witek.  He does precisely what the vicious riffs require to realize their bleak, punishing vision.  In that regard, his drumming actually becomes more a part of the music, allowing the riffs to be the true focus. The band's new singer is also a wonderful replacement for the guy who blew everyone else off the map.  Relentless and fierce, this guy allows Decapitated to not only hang onto their title of "Meanest Band", but helps cement it into permanence.

The last big difference that you can't escape when listening to "Carnival Is Forever" is its big budget sound.  While it does mean that the band have lost the dirty, almost hardcore edge they had before ( not a strong note in their sound, but a residual presence quite possibly cultivated subconsciously from early influences ), their punishing presentation loses nothing because of it.  In fact, this record benefits from the slick production in that it is by far the meanest "slick" record metal has ever produced. Not mean in the I'm-looking-for-a-fight way Pantera became famous for ( though there is a strong influence I hear in the overall arrangements ) but mean like a sadistic sociopath spliced with the randomness with which nature destroys everything humans love.  

"Carnival Is Forever" highlights the diversity of the band in ways that the other records do not. There are moments that sound like they could be inspired by Opeth's older recordings, and more than a handful that sound like Dimebag Darrell had his hand in the writing process. Decapitated are much meaner than Pantera.  Don't get me wrong!  Pantera were very heavy and aggressive at times.  Metallica were heavy, but never mean.  Pantera appealed to something more primitive in people, or at least in me, though I was never a real fan.  They just weren't creative enough for me to be really impressed.  It takes more than just primitive aggression for me to perk up.  Decapitated take the "I wanna fight" riffing of Pantera and twist it into something more sinister and much more bleak.  Decapitated are the far more creative and nuanced band of the three, and for that reason I take their music much more seriously. For a guy like me, they speak my language.  This record is slightly tamer than their last, but I don't take any points away from them for that because I think what they have done is to find that delicate balance between being brutal, and being palatable to as many people as possible.  No one who doesn't love heavy music will think twice about this record, but for the millions of people who do love heavy music and can deal with underground metal's extremities, this has all of the makings of a genre classic.  I think that from the new members all the way to the refined sound and production of "Carnival Is Forever", Decapitated have made incredibly solid choices, and I hope that they are rewarded for those decisions.

Metal needs more bands like Decapitated.  Even if they are too much for you they are definitely pushing their craft, and that is the thing about metal that I find so inspiring. Musicians who are pushing themselves to their limits and have a vision that is somewhere off the beaten path are underground metal's lifeblood.  By its birthright, metal is the playground of outsiders and the laboratory in which their dark alchemy converts all of their angst and creativity into fierce, physical music.  Metal is supposed to be unnerving and uncomfortable. I had a dream once many years ago, about a giant tornado that was an eternal fixture at the edge of existence.  All life, all ideas and all things eventually got sucked into the great, white tornado.  There was no escaping it.  Nothing ever had, and nothing ever could.  It was not an end, but The End, prescribed, to everything that ever had or ever would exist.  It was a Truth. Decapitated represent to me the soundtrack to such an awesome, life extinguishing idea. Cruel, crushing, and inevitable, Decapitated will grind us all into dust.  Whether we are aware of  that moment of Truth when it comes, or we have already met our maker, death is not The End... Decapitated are The End.


  1. Cool post Stephen. I have to admit that "CArnival..." is my least favorite of their albums, but whatever. I've dug it more with repeated listens. "Organic..." is just incredible. The riffs on "Post Organic" make me crazy. I'm glad that you got around to checking them out. Better late than never(HA!) Keep the posts coming!

  2. ...Also, I should mention that I'm listening to "Condemned" right now.