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Three years after Through Chasm, Caves and Titan Woods, Carpathian Forest returned with their debut-full-length, Black Shining Leather. Released through Avantgarde Records in July 1998, this L.P. picks up from where they left off, but fails to really do anything incredibly worthwhile. This is sort of like a sampler platter of Norwegian Black Metal, borrowing various elements from most of the better-known bands in the scene and bringing them together to create something that is rather generic and bland.
Black Shining Leather features a great variety in tempos and styles. From blast beats and fast tremolo melodies to mid-paced Hellhammer worship to the slower and more methodical arpeggio riffs, reminiscent of Burzum, Carpathian Forest manages to take the listener on a bit of a roller coaster ride. Of course, there are keyboard passages thrown in, here and there, for good measure. They do not always fit into the songs, but they are present, nonetheless. The atmosphere shifts from attempts at dark and serious to more of a laid-back rock feeling, quite randomly. Pay attention to the transition from the opening title track, which is kind of dark, to the Celtic Frost-inspired "The Swordsman" and then back to the more dramatic feeling of "Death Triumphant". This continues throughout the duration of the album. The songwriting is rather mediocre, for the most part, with very little really standing out. The songs are not bad; however, this is far more useful as background music, which is not a good thing. For all of the upper-tier bands that are referenced, Carpathian Forest is unable to do anything on the same level. The best songs on here are probably "Black Shining Leather" and "Lunar Nights". The latter represents Nattefrost's most impressive vocal performance, allowing his voice to really come through well. His vocals are, certainly, one of the most enjoyable aspects of this band's sound. This is too bad, since he would be better suited for a more grim musical approach.
The production is better than most underground Black Metal releases, without being polished at all. The main thing one might notice is the peculiar sound that this record possesses. The bass is very prominent in the mix, and the guitars are not as raw and threatening as they should be. This, alone, gives the music a less-serious vibe that the actual compositions are rarely able to overcome. Nattefrost's vocals are always high enough in the mix to be appreciated. The synth is rarely loud enough to overpower the rest of the instruments, though it would not be much of a crime if it did.
Black Shining Leather is an average album that could have been pretty good, with a different musical direction. Given all of the time since the previous E.P., one would think that Carpathian Forest would have been able to construct something much more solid. The songwriting is consistent enough, but the problem is that it is consistently mediocre. There are a couple of memorable tunes on here, but nothing near the level of "Journey Through the Cold Moors of Svarttjern", for example. If you like generic and simplistic Black Metal, this may be for you. Otherwise, save your time and look a bit deeper.
Written for http://ritesoftheblackmoon.tripod.com
Despite that Carpathian Forest is now so mainstream and popular amongst hordes of teenagers (especially thanks to their black and roll style, cool image and cheessiness of their new albums), they managed to create something special eight years ago. Black Shining Leather is a quite underrated album in comparison to their later works, which fact is totally incomprehensible to me. Facts are actually simple, this is their best release and at the same time one of the best albums black metal ever had to offer. It has everything which is so precious in this genre from the legendary status, musical values and finally the great atmosphere of this album to the deep and moving lyrics.
1998 was the time when both Nordavind and Nattefrost were not known well and probably this was the only time when they put their whole energy and effort to make album as true as possible. This, perhaps, opened the gates to their future career but certainly not because this album was commercial but rather because it was mysterious, original and controversial. Therefore, it is obvious that there is no single tune nor lyric made for public and only careful deciphering and drowning into this masterpiece will reveal it.
Surprisingly, Black Shining Leather is not another typical Norsk project and the music on this album varies greatly from standards. Despite some fast tempos and pure black metal riffs like in the title track or Sadomasochistic, the overall image of this album left after listening is rather full of misanthropy, alienation and desolate landscapes. Those visions are inevitable because the album is full of slower bass based songs such as The Swordsmen or In Silence I Observe or even more atmospheric ballads like The Northern Hemisphere or Death Triumphant. Drums are very specific due to the guest appearance of Lazare, they have kinda wooden sounding. Lyrics somehow mix sexual perversions with masochism, murder and nordic nature. The effect is so unusual, it plays strongly on listener’s imagination and keeps the person entertained for the whole length of the cd. It is even more effective because of Nordavind’s inhuman occasional screams and Nattefrost’s wild main vocals ( not horny ones like on newer albums).
All this plus the instrumental track Lupus in the middle(with thrilling whispers), and the genius The Cure cover at the end, makes this album totally unique.
From the moment I heard about this band, a long, long time ago, I knew they wouldn't be all they were cracked up to be. Their sound is pretty much the same as Satryicon's middle albums. Pretty raw, but with that old heavy metal/hard rock sound. Satyricon actually did it fairly well ... someone should have slapped these guys on the wrists, and said "No, no - you suck at that." For not only is the music as simple and repetitive as possible, but the most of the time, it's not even worthy of nodding your head to like Satyricon or newer Immortal. Geez, at least those guys sound angry. How can people say this is angry? I've heard more lividity come from a pre-school playground. Okay ... well, from a punk band.
Which brings me to another point - some of these songs sound like punk songs gone terribly wrong. (Not that a punk song could really be right to begin with) The vocals are just so wussy and crackle in that way ... it's annoying, and, well ... pretty stupid.
The first track contains a section, where the bass pulls out in front, and you can clearly hear it's steely one note sleep inducing strumming. At any given point in the music, the bass will do this; jump out in front, spontaneously, and actually be louder than the guitar.
Not that it matters to most people, but just so that the truth is told - there is absolutely nothing special about the lyrics. I was writing more thoughtful stuff when I was thirteen, and if you think it's any token to their credit that they're "straightforward", consider this: you say what's on your mind, and that's what these "lyrics" are. There's nothing special about making lyrics that are straightforward. Literally, anyone, can do it.
Whoever does write the lyrics, needs to start trying to fit the words into the music. Sometimes the vocals will be going, with words spilling over the edge of the riffs.
The track The Northern Hemisphere starts with a rather boring acoustic passage, and a clip of an old man groaning. Now, my guess is that it was to create the sound of utter anguish - well, they got that sound: the sound of anguish put forth from a 112 year old man having a rough time with a turd. It's not all that obtrusive, but it bothered me.
The reasons I'm giving this points:
1. The ambient track Lupus and sections of ambient here and there, are actually cool and very dark sounding.
2. The track In Silence I Observe, a good, yet still very straightforward black metal track, the keyboardist finally made some noticeable contribution to the music. It's well structured, runs smoothly from riff to riff, and you can actually nod your head to it.
3. The rest of The Northern Hemisphere is a good, more mellow track - despite dragging out too long.
4. The production is very keen for black metal, and it really helps. Because it's not ridiculously shitty (Immortal in their death metal days, or Darkthrone's Goatlord), or over polished (Dimmu Borgir's Stormblast) ...
No points for: Everything else.
Points taken off for: Everything listened above.
That's it. There's nothing special here. Just ignore this CD ...
There are albums which simply blow you away.
No matter how deep you dig into "serious" reasons (musicianship, songwriting, production quality, etc.) to explain such a reaction, these albums hold an unknown something which makes them unique to your ears.
"Black Shining Leather" is one of those albums to me.
Carpathian Forest's first official full length is the missing link between the band's "naturalistic" early days and the "black'n'roll" style which would later become their trademark; it is, anyway, something completely different from your usual Norwegian Black Metal offerings, as Carpathian Forest's usual.
The first big difference lies in the lyrics. No "hail Satan, fuck Christianity" to be found here at all, nor "frozen landscape poetry" as in the band's earlier career: "Black Shining Leather" is packed with bitter verses about misanthropy, suicide, sadomasochism, violence, emptiness and the genral cruel nonsense of everyday life. Another standout factor is the quality of such lyrics: straightforward and almost brutally explicit, yet apparently well thought and skillfully crafted. There are occasional references to the great Northern landscapes (mostly comprised in the beautiful ballad "The Northern Hemisphere"), but the personal approach of the band to their lyrics is unmistakeable.
And then comes the music. First, it is worth mentioning that the whole album has been crafted by the band's original members, R. Nattefrost and J. Nordavind, with the help of just a session member, none less than Lars Nedland aka Lazarus of Solefald and Borknagar, who is responsible for the drums on this album.
The music on "Black Shining Leather" varies from full blasting assaults such as the title track and "Pierce Genitalia" to more groovy and headbanging numbers like "Sadomasochistic" and "Third Attempt", and has also very dark moments like "Death Triumphant" and the ambient-like interlude "Lupus". Carpathian Forest know how to keep the listener's interest high troughout their releases, and this record simply oozes creativity and variation. Let's take an example: "The Swordsmen" begins with a very groovy, percussion-driven intro, then evolves into a up-tempoed verse with some great double bass in the background, and then... just when you expect the song to finish, everything fades out and keyboards (of which you didn't even suspect the existence) come in, painting a bleak and sorrowful musical landscape. You expect the others to join back in for a slow, melancholic finale... and the others join back in, but for a BLASTING grand finale, which even has a room for a nice guitar solo. You won't get bored easily with this.
The songwriting is very good, and such clever arrangements make the variety of the compositions even stronger. The guitars have a nice drive but are never overdistorted and muddy, and Nattefrost's vocals are much clearer than your usual lack Metal shrieks. The bass is very prominent and is often used as a melodic complement, which adds depth to the already well crafted melodic shifts, and adds further drive to the tighter and faster sections. the drums have a very peculiar sound, almost tribal at points, very raw and natural; some might dislike this but I prefer Carpathian Forest's choice to the overtriggered trend we get so often nowadays. The finishing touch is given by subtle synths which appear here and there, and some very well done acoustic passages: the closing track, the slow, epic and emotional "The Northern Hemisphere", is entirely built on an acoustic melody which is played throughout the whole song, while the other instruments simply follow the original pattern, adding a new atmosphere.
There's even an amazing cover version of The Cure's "A Forest" to be found on the digipack version. If you think such a different musical style is out of place here, think again: Carpathian Forest take all the more gloomy and mysterious traits of the original song and multiply them by their unique approach, replacing Robert Smith's shrill vocals with some haunting whispers and creating an unique ambiency using echoing clean guitars and the by now usual eerie synths.
It's not an easy task to describe what an unique atmosphere this album provides. If you want a hint from me, check it out by yourself, you will hardly be disappointed. Just be aware that this album takes a while to be fully appreciated, and grows on you with each listen. It's well worth your effort anyway.