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Green Carnation seem to be a band who either cannot, have not, or don't care if they do find their identity. Starting out as a death doom outfit, morphing into a more mellow gothic doom style and then shedding all of the extreme components for this, their third album, the Norwegians have never exactly found their niche yet have produced some interesting music along the journey. I actually listen to A Blessing in Disguise more than their other albums and feel that their best work is contained within this release, though it is not as consistent as it could be.
Having scratched the itch to write an epic song with the preceding Light of Day, Day of Darkness, Green Carnation seemed to find a sense of freedom here, resulting in a diversity of sounds and song types, all of which are bathed in a melodic glow and a melancholic sheen. The best part is surely the unity of the band and the strong synthesis of their various instruments, though the album is helped a great deal by the guitarists. Tchort comes up with more strong riffs than on any other Green Carnation release, some of them ('Crushed to Dust', 'Myron & Cole') sounding much heavier than the progressive/gothic tag would lead you to assume, crunching and grooving with mighty conviction. Bjørn "Berserk" Harstad also does a fine job, drenching songs like 'Writings on the Wall' with lead guitar atmosphere and some gorgeous melodic solos, making the opening of that song sound like the first burst of sun on a cold winter morning. Other than the guitars, the Hammond organ also makes a notable difference to the album's sound, plying some songs with a nostalgic yearning and proving that the instrument works with much heavier styles than usually expected. There is a lot of praise to be bestowed on the bass performance too, since Stein Roger Sordal's contribution extends far beyond mere bolstering of the sound to a dictation of pace and rhythm in addition to some standalone moments, such as the cool post-punk frame he forms for 'Into Deep'.
I have to say that one of the strengths of A Blessing in Disguise is its welcoming songs, which contain curious lyrics. The songs are welcoming in the sense that they feel free and open, with the potential to go anywhere but the promise that they won't abuse that potential: most have choruses and all have some repeating part, yet they never simply go from section to section blindly following a structure, inserting juicy diversions at will. Kjetil Nordhus is not an excellent singer, though he's easy enough to listen to, using his fatherly voice to guide the lyrics into the cushion of the music, where they settle easily. Most of the subjects that he tackles are rather depressing taken at a glance, just like they are with other bands of this ilk, such as Anathema, Sentenced, or even Paradise Lost, whose sound fits the heavier compositions in some respects. However, whereas a Sentenced song tends to dwell heavily on the downside of these subjects (an album like Frozen largely circles the rim of suicide for 50 minutes) or an Anathema song expands the implications to cosmic levels, Green Carnation are able to craft personal accounts and individual stories, thus giving their songs a lot more personality to hold onto. My personal favourite lyric must surely be the chorus of 'Crushed to Dust', which goes "Playing pieces of a life long play / In which the starring actor / Makes the world go around inside his head", putting into words that feeling that we have surely all had - what if this is all false and what if I'm the only one who isn't in on the joke? Other songs have great stories too, such as the equally troubling 'The Boy in the Attic' and the more esoteric 'Myron & Cole'.
For me, there is a clear hierarchy of songs on A Blessing in Disguise, although that can be put down to my preference towards the heavier style of some of the songs. I could listen to 'As Life Flows By', 'Writings on the Wall', 'Myron & Cole', and 'Crushed to Dust' all day long, while the more reflective songs take me differently in different moods. 'Lullaby in Winter' is more in the Anathema style, drifting icily along but promising hope both in its melodies and in another great lyric ("I know you're sad because it's winter / But I can promise you a spring"), while the mid-section of the album takes a lengthy break from heaviness with the piano-led 'The Boy in the Attic' and 'Two Seconds in Life'. Both begin as sparse ballads, though the increasing pressure of building tension in the former and the livelier instrumental section in the latter give some variety to what would otherwise be a great lull in the middle of the album. Nevertheless, I do have to question the band's decision in stretching those songs out to six or seven minutes, since they would probably have been more effective wrapped up faster and with less chance of becoming boring. The same criticism can be levelled at 'Rain', which is even longer, and has a needless quiet introduction and long outro, although there is again a building feeling to it that happily evolves into a glowering heavy riff and wise refrain, giving closure to the album.
The sense of creative freedom that pervades A Blessing in Disguise is refreshing for fans of any kind of music and the album can be enjoyed by them all, though disciples of bittersweet melodic metal will be especially rewarded. This is surely the point when Green Carnation managed to write a complete set of good songs and flesh them out to the full with worthwhile musical ideas. A few of the songs are exceptional and none are bad, though some could do with trimming to make the album fat-free and of a truly superior calibre. A very rewarding listen.
Following their huge epic Light of Day, Day of Darkness with another hit would be a difficult task for Green Carnation, and yet they still pulled it off. Though it isn't nearly as technical as LoDDoD (but then again, not too many things are), it's still a good follow-up.
It starts off good with Crushed to Dust, a song about a suicide. Although I'm not much for depressing lyrics, it is still very good. The beat is great and it's a song that can stay in your head for a while.
Lullaby in Winter is next, and it's slower-paced than the first one. It's ok, but not a very rememberable track at all in my opinion.
The next song is in my view the best song on the track, Writings on the Wall. The chorus is great and although the lyrics are once again about suicide, it still makes for a great song.
The first three are pretty much the tone for the rest of the album. What you hear then will be what you hear later, some good and some bad. Depressing lyrics, simplistic instrumental lines, but still done very well. Fans of Light of Day, Day of Darkness will find love in this album, whereas people who want stuff more like their first album (Journey to the end of the Night) might want to listen to it before deciding to purchase it. Although it isn't very technical, it's very rock solid and will leave you wanting more Green Carnation.
Best songs on the album: Crushed to Dust, Writings on the Wall, Myron & Cole
Well, that’s is a nice surprise. If you are familiar with the previous release, “Light of Day, Day of Darkness”, it’d be difficult to detect obvious continuity with the new album. Their previous release, if it wasn’t for the extremity of 60 minutes in one-track plus the pressured epic overtones, could be described as a masterpiece. However, “A blessing in disguise” is like an expression of gratitude and respect towards the influences of the group. This is mostly a tribute to the German progressive rock scene of the ‘70s together with a sincere “hail” to all atmospheric metal bands of Norway. An ambitious mixing of styles, supported by sorrowful lyrics, flirting with all the dramatic elements that reminds us of the sounds of Anathema or Amorphis in many ways– for example “Lullaby for Winter” could easily be written by Anathema. Overall the result may not impress us with genuine ideas, yet is very intriguing. The keyboards – Hammond Organ, are bringing back rock memories while the compositions are constantly experimental towards more contemporary styles thanks to the vast musicianship of former-Emperor, Tchort, who seems to know how to preserve his reputation. His guitars are technical, full of energy and passion. In terms of production, I think the appropriate “emotion” is missing, yet it very perceptive. Nordus does a great job with vocals, without exaggerating. In terms of songwriting, “Into Deep” and “As Life Flows By” reflect the concept of well-balanced variety. The apparent gothic approach in “Writings on the Wall” dwells on Paradise Lost sound. “Rain” stands on the edge of melancholy but gets stronger thanks to an innovative finale.
Generally this album offers rich and sophisticated melodies, adjusted to the authentic progressive forms and becomes easily accessible by the average listener. If you expect to find a typical metal album here, don’t bother. But when the rock nostalgia prevails, this is a good choice.