Friday, 8 May 2020

Green Carnation - Leaves of Yesteryear (2020)



Country: Norway
Style: Progressive Metal
Rating: 9/10
Release Date: 8 May 2020
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I could have sworn that I'd heard a Green Carnation album, out of the blue, and liked it, but long enough ago that I can't remember what or when it was. What I know for sure is that I haven't kept up with what the band is doing, because, even if I heard Journey to the End of the Night or Light of Day, Day of Darkness almost two decades ago, I didn't follow the band through their next few releases until their split in 2007. I've heard more from the other bands that current members of Green Carnation have played for, like Tristania and Trail of Tears.

This is their first studio album in the fourteen years since 2006's Acoustic Verses, and it's a joy. It does seem a little odd, given that its five songs include a cover version and a re-recording of a track from their 2000 debut, those two amounting to almost half the running time, but it feels consistent and appropriate. And hey, Green Carnation have never done anything in the traditional way.

For those who haven't encountered them before, Terje Vik Schei founded them back in 1990 before joining black metal legends Emperor as Tchort in time to play bass on In the Nightside Eclipse. He went back to Green Carnation, but also joined Carpathian Forest and Blood Red Throne, the result being that he was active in black metal and death metal bands at the same time he evolved Green Carnation through doom, gothic and prog phases, often all at once, and wrapped up with an entirely acoustic album.

This return for the band includes pretty much everything they've done in the past, all wrapped up into a new coherent sound. The title track opens things up as prog, mostly just on the metal side of the border with rock, though it heavies up later on. There are doomy gothic sections and a highly effective use of keyboards. Kjetil Nordhus's vocals are clean and help to underline an elegance at the heart of this music. It's prog metal that's a lot closer to later Opeth than to Dream Theater.

And so we go. Sentinels has many of the same ideas but explores them with a heavier sound that's rooted a lot more in doom metal, even when it perks up and goes a galloping. There's My Dying Bride here and Candlemass and a whole slew of other hints, even tinges of folk at points. I found myself so caught up in the music that I neglected the lyrics, but snippets leapt out to tell me that I should pay attention to gems like, "This is the source code of God himself."

The other new song is Hounds, a ten minute delight that explores much of the same ground as Sentinels but with a quiet folk-tinged intro and with a shift from doom towards prog. Those sentinels are sentinels of chaos while these hounds are hounds of existence, so you'll notice the abstract territory the lyrics occupy. I don't have any ideaw what "We live among time thieves in a scarlet night" means, but I love how evocative it is. The flow of the song's just as evocative, from the folk to the doom to the emotion of quieter parts late on. "At the end of the world, we'll find a shore."

In between Sentinels and Hounds is the heart of the album, perhaps the root from which everything else here was built. It's that re-recording, the song being My Dark Reflections of Life and Death, which was originally released on Journey to the End of the Night. It ran an excellent eighteen minutes in 2000, but it's trimmed a little to fifteen and a half here, though still an epic. Compared to the original, it's cleaner, smoother and brighter, with a lot less krautrock in the intro and a little less goth in the rest, with no guest female vocal this time out. It's rare to say so, but I think this new take is the better and more epic version.

That leaves the cover, which is of Black Sabbath's Solitude and wraps up the album. It's almost passé to cover Sabbath nowadays, because that's been done so often and for so long, but this is a delicate and darkly beautiful take, mostly told with piano and voice but with a whole slew of subtle adornments in there too, from keyboards and strings and whatever else.

I adored this album. While it didn't capture me to quite the degree that the latest Hexvessel did, it certainly captured me and I could easily have found myself listening to it for a few days. Now I need to seek out the prior five Green Carnation albums, because they're another new favourite band.

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