Many would agree with me that Carnifex deserve to be considered a pioneering, or at the very least, popularizing act of deathcore alongside other mid 2000's groups like Suicide Silence and Whitechapel. Alike the aforementioned bands, Carnifex's early days were rooted in blast beats, breakdowns, gutturals, and a certain angsty, misanthropic attitude. Equally alike the same aforementioned bands, Carnifex has held those traits close and dear to their identity while also experimenting in other styles and formulas as their career progressed.
For a while, I was convinced that the San Diego quartet would be one of the few projects that really dug in their heels and stood their ground stylistically. While I can respect the desire for a consistent style, becoming stagnant rather than progressing leads to irrelevancy. Nonetheless, the more I look at the greater picture of their overall growth, the more I'm proven wrong regarding the band's stagnancy. Since 2010's Hell Chose Me, Carnifex have gradually revealed their black metal influences and evolution. It may not have been as apparent initially, but the group's sound has now become defined by groove, an even darker aesthetic, orchestral flourishes, and most importantly the blackened fusion. They've even been labeled as "blackened deathcore," which may have been too generous before, but is a term that comes to full fruition on this latest Graveside Confessions record.
While a couple of the singles like "Pray for Peace" and the title track opener only tease the extent of their mature and developed style, the band really embrace their hellish black metal / deathcore amalgamation throughout the record. "Seven Souls" is the first piece in the tracklisting that really caught my attention. The main riff holds a stand-out, discordant quality and the vocal line of "ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies / you want to know if I’m really dead behind the eyes / you want to know if I’m going to scare you tonight / you want to know if I want to take my life" was really memorable. The sinister message was scowled as the music eased back, allowing for a greater dynamic impact that I wish was utilized more. A similar touching effect occurred during "Carry Us Away" as Scott Ian Lewis beckoned out the need for killing voices in his head during the outro.
"Cursed," "Talk to the Dead," "Countess of Perpetual Torment," "Cold Dead Summer" and closer "Alive for the Last Time" may not hold much weight individually, but all provide noteworthy proof that they're no longer a deathcore band with blackened elements, but rather have found a near perfect balance between the two genres. The guitar and occasional piano riffs on these tracks boasted a classic Emperor or Cradle of Filth influence. Of everything, I think the most compelling moment on this record was the instrumental Enslaved-esque "January Nights," which brought a blissful contrast to the following chaos in "Cemetery Wander."
As this album parallels the 15 year anniversary of their debut LP Dead in My Arms, they attached three re-recorded tracks from that initial release to demonstrate a return to their roots. Although these versions of "Collaborating Like Killers," "My Heart in Atrophy," and "Slit Wrist Savior" now sound tighter and better produced, the irony is the material doesn't reflect the band's new blackened identity as shown on Graveside Confessions. I enjoy the sentiment of a "return to roots" nostalgia, however pairing three re-recorded decade-old songs with an album of new songs from an evolved band shows how dated this 2007 songwriting sounds. If they updated these compositions to include a blackened atmosphere and tone as they did on their "Dead Bodies Everywhere" Korn cover, it would have been far more impactful. Oh and you read that correctly; they seriously covered Korn on this record and it's actually a damn fun listen.
Although I'm now more invested in Carnifex's newfound blackened sound and applaud their efforts to evolve, I think there's still room for growth. After all, they must find ways to compete with the youthful acts who have risen to power through the same subgenre such as Lorna Shore or Enterprise Earth. Their songwriting could allow for more dynamics, which would see Scott's menacing vocals and message shine through. Additionally, I'd love even more orchestral ambience added, so the macabre mood shown in the lyrics also reflect in the music.
As we see Whitechapel likely reaching the peak of their character arc in their upcoming album, I feel Carnifex also parallels such stylistic maturation here on Graveside Confessions. Longtime devoted fans will certainly admire this record, yet I hope that those who wrote off this band due to their original presence in deathcore scene will give this record a shot and realize that Carnifex are back with a fresh coat of paint. There's some serious bangers and exploration here, so I hope they can garner an even further experimental and forward-thinking mentality in their next demonic blackened deathcore release.