Except for the relatively-dull Nihility, Decapitated had been a reliable force for sharp, catchy tech death from the dawn of the last decade, and right when it seemed they had released their masterpiece (the great Organic Hallucinosis), a tragic bus accident killed their drummer (and the lead songwriter's brother), and put their new vocalist into a coma which he has still not awoken from four years on. Guitarist Vogg temporarily put the band on hold for a while, a period in which their long-time bassist decided to retire from music altogether, and it seemed like Decapitated was destined to become a relic of metal's past.
Fortunately for us though, Vogg persevered and found new band members to aid him in continuing Decapitated's legacy. And, while the new members aren't as proficient with their instruments as their predecessors were, and the songwriting here isn't quite as consistent as on Hallucinosis, Carnival Is Forever is still a more than satisfactory comeback in the vein of OH. Yes, there is the occasional sticking point, but I think most fans will still be happy with this, seeing as many moments here reminded me of Hallucinosis, but without ripping it off, and the occasional experimental section shows that the band certainly isn't stagnating.
Opener "The Knife", though it has sharp, heavy, catchy riffing and a wicked solo for us to headbang to, still feels more disorganized, twitchier than wanted in its songwriting, without ever really giving a solid, compelling songwriting "path" for us to get into, so to speak. I enjoy it when it's still playing, but the somewhat-haphazard writing gives me little to remember about the song once it's done. One thing that I always liked about Decapitated is that they usually seemed to know what they were doing, where they were going with their songwriting, without the numbing chaos that characterizes tech death songwriting at its worst, so "The Knife" doesn't quite satisfy on that level.
Follow-up "United" works much better, with catchier riffs that also work TOGETHER in order to strengthen the overall song, instead of just hanging loose like they mostly did on "The Knife". If any song on Carnival should be the first one convince you that Decapitated is still going strong, this is it.
Fortunately, it isn't the last of such proving-the-skeptics-wrong moments on the album, like the title track, with its atmospheric, clean guitar intro (matched by an eerily droning outro), which leads into a great, violent, choppy Vogg riff, as the track unfolds into a near-9 minute epic that the band pulls off wonderfully, despite having no previous experience with that kind of song length. It sure surprised me, but they f ucking did a fine job here. "Homo Sum" is more traditional cut, but still very good, with nice, sharp, choppy riffage, and "A View From A Hole", with its surprisingly good, "Chop Suey!"(!)-esque guitar intro, the violent "Pest", and the completely-calm, melancholic closer "Silence", which feels like an aural tribute to Vitek/Covan, manage to round out the album well. The inappropriately bouncy, nu metal-ish riffs on "404" disappoint, but hey, 6 more-than-satisfying tracks out of 8 is still a good deal, right"
When it comes to the new members, Krimh's drumming is good, and he still has that relentless, heavy-on-the-double-bass style Vitek patented, but with less of the occasional flair his predecessor liked to show off sometimes; none of the drumming here is as memorable as the big solo on "Day 69". The new vocalist is just okay, with even more of a hardcore shout-instead-of-growls approach than Covan, which makes the new lyrics much harder to understand (not that you'd really want to, they've gotten pretty awkward since OH), but Rasta's voice still really doesn't annoy; he's just kind of "there", without affecting my view of Carnival for better or worse, so at least there's that. Some of Heinrich's bass work sounded solid, but it still sounds like his instrument has been turned down in the mix compared to Rygiel's on Hallucinosis, but this is metal, so little less bass is acceptable; the rhythm/lead guitar and drum sounds are all good, so I have little negative to share on the production front. I still like OH's production better, but I think I prefer getting a fresh new production, as long as it's still good, so I'm happy here.
Carnival Is Forever isn't the best album of the year, and not quite a great album, but it's still certainly a good one, and I think the kinks here are simply a result of the Vogg being out of the picture for a while, losing his brother, and being surrounded by new influences in the group. I think they'll make a somewhat-more consistent record next time, but for now, even not taking into account the turmoil the band's suffered, Carnival Is Forever is still a satisfying return for them; keep on going strong, Decapitated!