Sound — 8
Deathcore has always been sort of a difficult genre for me, with some really good bands and some really awful bands occupying a relatively small span of sounds, and a lot of my opinions on deathcore came about around 2008 or so, when bands like Carnifex and Beneath The Massacre were relatively new. Carnifex had once performed a concert in my hometown, and for whatever reason, something I can't even remember, their set did not click with me at all, and it would be a long time before I'd ever listen to them again. Fast-forward to their new album, "Slow Death." The band had taken on other influences in their time since that show I attended, including black metal and more "traditional" death metal sounds. The band made guitar solos a more prominent feature in their sound. Eight-string guitars became the norm. Open-chug breakdowns faded out of popularity. Melody became a more important factor in their songs.
This is all apparent straight from the opening track, "Dark Heart Ceremony," which is an excellently-produced piece of metal. Unlike a lot of the deathcore production I'm used to, the guitars sound heavy but never like they're so saturated in distortion that they become an assault on the senses. The title track, which follows, features machine-gun guitar and bass drum riffs with some brief black metal influenced moments, and has one of the best solo sections I've heard in a deathcore track.
This is kind of the expectation set up for the rest of the record: well-produced heavy 7- and 8-string riffage, a bit of black metal influence here and there, usually a clean and melodic solo section. It's certainly a formula, and they milk it on this album. It's really hard to pick out a standout track because they are all basically around the same quality and follow the same basic structure, so if you find the band's formula appealing, this album as a whole should hook you in. The only real exception on the album is the track "Life Fades to a Funeral," a clean guitar instrumental that serves as a bit of an intro to the album's closer "Servants to the Horde" and as a bit of a breather episode for the otherwise relentless metal. It's a really beautiful track, and definitely one of my favourites on the album.
The most positive aspect of this album is the guitar playing, and it's ably handled by long-time guitarist Cory Arford on rhythm and Jordan Lockrey on lead, for his second album with the band. Jordan's solos are quite excellent on the album, especially "Drown Me in Blood" which opens with some almost uncharacteristically bluesy bends before turning up the shred. Bassist Fred Calderon and drummer Shawn Cameron also play quite admirably throughout the record, locking in through all the slower grooves and faster blastbeats alike, even if their playing styles are nothing all that special. Vocalist Scott Lewis' style is nothing original, but it gets the job done quite well.
The production is another positive feature of this album. While it's a bit loud at times, it is nice to have the kind of definition and clarity on an album in this genre that "Slow Death" has. The album does have some surprisingly dynamic moments, and the production lets those sections breathe quite well.
The lack of unique songwriting and not setting themselves apart from other bands in the genre is about the only complaint I have with this record, though with deathcore, it's a bit of a limited style of music as is, so what they were able to do with the formula works quite well for the band.
Lyrics — 7
Lyrically speaking, Carnifex is as violent and bloody as one would expect of a band whose name translates from Latin into "butcher," with pretty much every song being about death, depression, murder, suicide... all very typical topics for deathcore. Many of the lyrics like to punctuate sentences with the word "fucking" put in strategic locations where it'll stand out, which feels like a rather cliched thing in the genre, and kind of a little juvenile at this point, but it's pretty much par for the course. The lyrics are not really my cup of tea, but in such a violent-sounding genre of music, they fit along with the songs quite well.
Scott Lewis' vocal style shows a fairly typical but still impressive range, from low guttural growls to higher-pitched black metal shrieks. The way he shifts between them in certain lines shows that he is quite skilled as a harsh vocalist, and there's enough variety to his vocals that they rarely, if ever, feel monotonous or grating. All in all, this album has one of the better vocal styles in the deathcore genre that I've encountered.
Overall Impression — 8
Carnifex may not be the band that ultimately changes my ambivalence about deathcore, but this album is a very competent, confident, and crushingly heavy release that very ably shows the band's talent, their good ear for melodies, and their penchant for brutal lyrics and vocal styles. It's definitely a much more mature-sounding Carnifex, and this is a particularly good album. It's definitely got its positive points, and most of the negative points are merely personal opinions of mine about deathcore as a whole, which doesn't really reflect the quality of this album, since it's a rather good deathcore record. The album is also quite short and concise, making it a bit easier to digest in one sitting, and when it comes to the more loud, extreme genres, this is a trait I quite like in an album.
So "Slow Death" is definitely worth a listen if you're into death metal or deathcore, and it's not necessarily tied to the "deathcore" label as strongly as some bands, branching into other territories, so even if you're not really into deathcore, this could be worth a listen on that basis as well.