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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.