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Strange Old Brew is a rotten album released by a band that was only ever consistent in their own inconsistency. With their sophomore effort, Carpathian Forest chose to explore the more experimental side of things, while also taking a more modern approach to songwriting. The end result is an L.P. that only contains a couple songs worth hearing, and even those are hardly what one would consider to be essential listening.
This record consists, primarily, of disorganized ideas and mediocre execution. The quality of the music represents a severe drop from the band's previous output, especially Through Chasm, Caves and Titan Woods. Half the album is meaningless filler. Out of eleven tracks, four of them easily recognized as garbage, right from the start. The ridiculous intro and outro, along with the two useless instrumentals, do absolutely nothing for the album and only serve to add to the feeling of disarray. Poor compositions like “Mask of the Slave” and “Martyr / Sacrificulum” show just how generic and uninspired Nattefrost and Nordavind were, when writing the material for Strange Old Brew. “Bloodcleansing” and “The Suicide Song” are a step above these, but still rather bland and forgetful. “Return of the Freezing Winds” is at the same level, though the stolen Celtic Frost riffs should count against it. It is pretty sad to think that most of the passable moments of this record have been heard before, countless times. The highlights of the album are “Thanatology” and “Cloak of Midnight”, which are both mid-paced tracks that convey a gloomy and sombre feeling. That said, standing out amongst refuse is hardly an achievement, and neither one comes close to matching the atmosphere of “Journey through the Cold Mists of Svarttjern”. None of the songs on this album give off the feeling that Carpathian Forest were really trying to do anything other than pump out another below-average album, in order to make a few dollars and keep their name out there.
This album was already a few years old, by the time I gave it a listen, and I made the mistake of trying to digest it alongside Black Shining Leather. I failed to really pay attention to the differences between them, and really did not give either a good deal of attention since I was much more impressed by their first E.P. When actually listening closely, Strange Old Brew is not only represents poorer songwriting, but the overall vibe of the record is kind of offensive. Production-wise, this sounds too modern, which seems to work against the very idea of ripping off old school ideas. It is not terribly overdone, but enough so that it affects the feel of the songs. The better tracks on here would have benefited from more of a grim and ugly sound, or perhaps something colder at least. Of course, they had very little connection to the true underground and most of their Norwegian peers had long ago abandoned the old ways.
Strange Old Brew is an album that should be avoided, as it will likely only succeed in lowering your opinion of Carpathian Forest. They were never the greatest black metal band around, in the first place, but this record is over 50% trash. The rest is either sub-par or barely average, which is not something that is worth your time, money or attention when considering how many genuinely good bands are waiting to be discovered. Already, at such an early stage in their existence, it seems this band lost what little creativity that they once possessed.
Carpathian Forest was formed in the early 90's and with the downfall of many of the original second wave they disapeared for a while, but with the release of their masterpiece Black Shining Leather they showed that Norwegian black metal wasn't dead yet, and I think that since that moment that has been one of their main objectives. Their sound has evolved over time, not really maturing so to say, more like crystalizing. On Black Shining Leather and other releases prior they created a sound somewhere in between old school rock influenced black metal and the more epic Emperor sound with keyboards and an ancient atmosphere. The overall message of Carpathian Forest I think is their disgust and contempt for mankind. The so called porno songs they do about sado-masochism have a certain element of contempt and hatred, using others to display their disgust by abusing them.
This album is no different, combining spiritual darkness with pure hatred, S&M and the peace found in destruction. The sound on here is more old school sounding, with a punk rock vibe at times, but there are some odd songs on here that present Carpathian Forest's true oddness. Though very old school and primitive a lot of the time, they aren't above a slow burning song like Thanatology, that has deep choir keyboards and an almost mystical feeling. This is set between hateful black metal songs. They don't use speed too much, don't expect any Immortal like blast beats. Instead Carpathian Forest play with a more thrashy speed, sometimes breaking into pure blast beats. Usually everything has a rock and roll swagger, with Bathory style riffs mixing with some Celtic Frost slowness and an occasional old school Kreator thrash sound.
Ultimately Carpathian Forest, despite all their old school influences are one of the more original bands you'll hear. Many people try to sound like them, but Carpathian Forest is always distinctive and their own beast. Strange Old Brew doesn't break too many boundaries, certainly not as many as Morbid Fascination of Death did, but it does create enough unique atmospheres to be more interesting then most black and roll style bands.
Carpathian Forest doesn't really appeal to everyone, but if you're a fan this is an essential recording, presenting a movement from Black Shining Leather to the more raw old school sound that they followed on Morbid Fascination of Death. However I will warn you if you don't think saxophone, porno samples and ambience should be on a old school style album, stay away for Carpathian Forest rejoice in messing with your head.