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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