Green Carnation - Leaves of Yesteryear [Season of Mist - 2020]Green Carnation are a veteran Norwegian progressive metal band featuring ex-Emperor member Tchort, with albums dating back to 2000. Their 7th album Leaves of Yesteryear came out this year on Season of Mist.
Unfamiliar as I am with Green Carnation's music, I didn't know what to expect. What I got was a pleasantly blended variety of styles and influences within the sphere of melodic progressive metal, from the Tool-esque opening lick to the chugging Dream Theater styled heavier riffs, and the characteristic melancholic Scandinavian folk metal leads.
The most distinct thing about the band, perhaps, is the way they draw upon power metal and classic thrash derived progressive metal, but play at a more relaxed speed, utilizing these kinds of heroic chords and melodic progressions without needing to dazzle you with the speed of their shred. The piercingly clean tone of vocalist Kjetil Nordhus's voice is pure classic metal as well.
Dazzling displays of technicality are not missed, as the songwriting is impeccable and the mood quickly becomes immersive. The relaxed tempo allows the complex harmonization and sweet melodicism of the music to come through. This is a comfortable album with no forced affect, no ego, and nothing to prove, as befitting a band late in their career.
The lyrics and vocal tonalities are worthy of reflection, albeit blatantly pessimistic, with many an interesting line to contemplate. "Crusaders of empty space / are born into a lifelong chain" is the opening line of the album. "This is the source code of god himself", Nordhus states in "Sentinels". I am reminded of the introspective affect of the late Chuck Schuldiner's Control Denied project.
I find it interesting that Tchort left Emperor in 1994, and yet ended up finding a similar sound to late period Emperor (and the following Ihsahn solo albums) with this band, with the heavy 80's influences, clean/lush production and emphasis on melodic, emotionally expressive metal. Perhaps it is the scene in Norway as a whole that began to tend in this direction in the 2000's. I applaud this band's decision to make their sound tuneful without simplifying the music to the point of creating formulaic radio rock (like Katatonia). There's a lot of great catchy melodies on this album which could have become chorus refrains, but nothing is obnoxiously repeated, and the songs largely have lengthy, ambitious structures with many an instrumental break, often thinning out to a piano or a single guitar and slowly rebuilding energy.
Tchort's guitar work is wonderful and varied, displaying a level of creativity and talent I never guessed at from his brief appearance as Emperor's bassist. The piece credited to him, "My Dark Reflections of Life and Death", is a 15 minute masterpiece that is fittingly the most existentially pained and gothic flavored opus on the album, with despairing lyrics and plodding, minimal progressions accentuated by a variety of instrumentation like piano, keyboards and harmonizing backing guitars. In this way they take the mystic, otherworldly atmosphere of black metal or funeral doom bands like Skepticism, and bring it to a more melodic progressive context.
The other songs are written by bassist (and backing vocalist) Stein Sordal, interestingly enough. His music is naturally complimentary to that of Tchort.
The album ends with an ethereal, stripped down cover of Sabbath's "Solitude", in which the lead instrument is a piano, and a filtered, smooth synth bass fills out the nocturnal soundspace. It's very passionately sung by Nordhus with a tone like a lullaby, and actually turns out wonderful, enough of an intentional shift from the original to be a beautiful and inspired idea. It reveals, at its roots, the folky bardic beauty hidden beneath Sabbath's blues pentatony. This goes down in history with Type O Negative's riveting version of "Paranoia" as the greatest covers of Sabbath yet heard.
Green Carnation's Leaves of Yesterday is a pleasant and listenable marriage between traditional progressive metal and Scandinavian folk atmosphere, which also happens to contain one of the greatest covers of Black Sabbath ever recorded. The band's own music is a solid 4/5, tuneful and fluent but not always profound, but this cover pushes the album up into perfect rating territory, as it simply must be heard.Josh Landry