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Carpathian Forest - Black Shining Leather - 40%

KriegdemKriege, March 13th, 2014

Carpathian Forest is a Norwegian black metal band that was founded in 1990 (originally under the name Enthrone) by vocalist/bassist Roger “Nattefrost” Rasmussen and guitarist Johnny “Nordavind” Krøvel. While the band was active during the early years of the infamous Norwegian black metal scene, they are perhaps less well-known today than some of their more notorious contemporaries in the extremely popular bands Mayhem, Emperor, and Darkthrone. One possible explanation for the band’s relative unpopularity is the band’s rather low creative output over the years. While the band released their classic EP, Through Chasm, Caves, and Titan Woods, in 1995, it would not be until 1998, a full 8 years after the band’s formation, that the band finally released their debut full-length. This trend of unproductivity continues to this day. While the band remains active as of 2014, their most recent album was released in 2006. The second reason that might explain why Carpathian Forest has not become as popular as many of their contemporaries is the fact that the music they released after their landmark EP was simply nothing special. While the music performed on Through Chasm, Caves, and Titan Woods was excellent, lo-fi black metal that relied heavily on dark atmosphere, the band’s later work started to incorporate thrash and punk elements into their music and add black humor elements to their lyrics. While this shift in style could have been a refreshing break from the ordinary, the ensuing music found on the band’s full-lengths unfortunately ended up being forgettable at best and downright bad at worst.

Carpathian Forest’s 1998 debut, Black Shining Leather, unfortunately stands as an example of one of their worse albums. While the music presented on the album is still pure black metal without any thrash influences, its relatively long running time, mostly uninspired songwriting, and lack of diversity combine to make a very poor album that has almost zero replay value. While there are some standout tracks, the best being “The Swordsman” and “Death Triumphant”, most of the songs included on the album sound very similar and have the effect of blending together. The album’s second half is particularly difficult to listen to, and the inclusion of two rather boring tracks towards the end of the album that clock in at over six minutes each do not make it any easier. The first of the two, “Lunar Nights”, actually concludes with an interesting and rather powerful segment, but the bland first half of the track unfortunately greatly reduces the impact of this strong conclusion. Further adding to the album’s weak points, the band also finds it necessary to include an absolutely pointless ambient/spoken word interlude titled “Lupus” in the middle of the album. The track was obviously intended to create an eerie mood to usher in the second half of the album, but instead it has the effect of interrupting the flow of the album and distracting the listener from the comparatively good tracks that precede it.

As the album’s title implies, Black Shining Leather is the first of many Carpathian Forest albums to include lyrics based primarily on sadomasochism and violence, as opposed to the nature-themed lyrics that dominated the band’s early work. While this lyrical focus is perhaps a bit more original than the typical genre focus on ice, Satan, and the woods, the sexual themes get old surprisingly quick. While the band members are clearly enjoying themselves and having fun on the album, with Nattefrost regularly shouting out obscenities and “rock and roll!” in the middle of songs, the stale songwriting present on most tracks prevents the listener from really getting in on the fun. Musically, while on the whole the album’s songwriting demonstrates a focus on rather formulaic black metal song structure, there is one unconventional aspect of the music that makes the album stand out a bit in its own right. The bass guitar is strangely prevalent in the album’s mix. This was a rarity in 1990’s black metal, to say the least. The reason for the emphasis on bass guitar is unknown, as the bass riffs are really nothing special (without exception, they mirror the guitar work). In addition to this, all of Carpathian Forest’s later albums would go on to take the more conventional black metal approach to bass by burying the instrument in the mix beneath the guitars. While the prevalence of bass on Black Shining Leather is interesting, at the end of the day it contributes nothing of real value to the album.

There are some positive aspects of the album that must be noted. Nattefrost really is a fantastic black metal vocalist, and his performance on Black Shining Leather is no exception. He is one of the few vocalists in black metal capable of delivering a raw and raspy performance that remains surprisingly easy to understand. Other highlights of the album include an impressive guitar solo performed by Nordavind that is featured on the album’s opener and title track, and the symphonic elements, added through the use of keyboards, that are featured on certain songs. The most effective use of these symphonic elements is demonstrated on the already-mentioned tracks “The Swordsman” and “Death Triumphant”. The latter is by far the best track on the album, consisting of two distinct parts that are equal in their brilliance. The first part is based around a fast-paced riff that is uncharacteristically original and surprisingly catchy, while the second half is based on a slower riff with strong symphonic backing, giving the song an epic and powerful feel. While it is important to note that these positive elements do not make Black Shining Leather a good album, they do save it from being a total disaster.

In the end, Black Shining Leather stands as a poor album that fails to make any positive lasting impression on the listener. While a couple of good tracks are included on the record and the band is clearly enjoying themselves, the album’s uninspired songwriting and terrible second half really make Black Shining Leather not worth a listen. “The Swordsman” stands as the only really brilliant piece featured on the album, and is the only track worth checking out. Through Chasm, Caves, and Titan Woods remains Carpathian Forest’s only essential release, although the band’s second full-length, 2000’s Strange Old Brew does deserve an honorable mention for being a noted improvement over Black Shining Leather. While it’s not a fantastic record by any means, it does feature some good tracks and has a much more thrash-influenced sound. Listeners looking for quality Norwegian black metal are encouraged to either give Through Chasm, Caves, and Titan Woods a listen or skip this band altogether.