Tuesday, December 11, 2012

REVIEW: Carthage - Salt of the Earth

Carthage of Baltimore
Math-core, metal-core, djent, technical death metal. All these subgenres of heavy metal have one important thing in common—complexity. The new album by Baltimore’s Carthage is rife with challenging complexity and notable musical virtuosity. But do I like it?

Well, yes, but not for the reasons you might like it. Or hate it. Salt of the Earth does not fit neatly into my typical musical palate, which by choice is filled with a lot of fairly dark and evil black metal. One simply does not listen to blast beats and tremolo riffs all the time. I am also a fan of much more technical metal bands like Obscura (and their inspiration Gorguts), the math metal geniuses Meshuggah, djent groups like Vildhjarta; and straight up tech death groups like Decapitated and Atheist. And, of course, my secret guilty pleasure—The Acacia Strain.

The subtle rhythmic complexities of whatever it is you want to label Carthage as playing are mentally and intellectually simulating. This is not background music; it commands your attention from start to finish throughout 12 tracks and about 40 minutes of music. A standout track for me includes “The Furthest Thing” that blends some lovely harmonics and melodies with some insanely challenging riffs. Lovely harmonies mixed with death metal-like growls and screams can be heard throughout the album. This dichotomy is sometimes why I don’t like bands in these subgenres.

Another standout feature of the record is the fat bass and precision percussion. These two instruments alone lead listeners into another standout track called “Pushing Forward.” The vocals here start much cleaner at the beginning but then move into the familiar growl. Vocally, I like the middle part of this song better than the “call to action” at the beginning (and which returns in the end). But hey, the melody is nice and rather proggy.

As with many groups today, the vocals can kill the songs for me. It’s not that the vocals here are bad—not at all, these guys are very talented vocally. And there are many guest vocals (**see note below). It is just that there are too many different KINDS of vocals—some clean, some death growls, some guttural, some pretty. This is really a kind of a taste thing. Many groups use this technique with great success, and there is a fan base that thinks this style is awesome. I am just not one of those people.

Musically, however, Carthage’s Salt of the Earth presents a masterful collection of thought out, finely tuned compositions. And I don’t mean that like their instruments are “in tune;” I mean that like the music is well written, sharply honed and expertly executed (and recorded). Guitarist and vocalist Tre Watson says these songs have been around since 2010, so apparently Carthage has had time to perfect them.

Other favorite tracks on the album include “ To Return” and “Green.” Both tunes have memorable, melodic riffs and cool sections. The album closes out with the quite beautiful “Continuous,” which happens to be the longest track on the record. Frankly, I think some of the songs leading up to this encore piece could have been a little longer.

And yes, like many groups in this category, Carthage songs have “breakdowns,” but it’s not like the breakdown section is the only heavy part of these songs. Carthage provides aural assault from the first chord to the last note.

In the final analysis, Carthage seems to be carving out a unique enough niche that should break away from the pack. I don’t think Carthage sounds like anyone else—I think they sound like themselves, and that is a good thing. It is the worst thing for a band to be an obvious derivative of another group.
I would not be surprised if Salt of the Earth is part of the plan that puts Carthage on the world’s musical map and gets them noticed for tours with more well-established groups or airplay on stations like Liquid Metal. That would be a good thing for Baltimore, because as the cliché goes, “A rising tide lifts all boats.”

The members of Carthage include:
Eric Hendricks - Vocals
Tre Watson- Guitar/Vocals
Ian Starks- Guitar
Noyan Tokgozoglu - Guitar
Robby Gossweiler- Bass
Billy Berger - Drums/Vocals

**According to Tre, there are many guest vocals on the album as well, “including members of our friends in In Dying Arms, Forgive The Fallen, VELA and Sky Came Burning! and of course, you! A lot of you submitted your vocals to be on the song "1984/4" and everyone who submitted was used. I hope you're really excited.”

You can listen to Carthage – Salt of the Earth below.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Music I have purchased on Bandcamp

Sometimes instant gratification wins out and I need to obtain a musical recording as soon as possible. Many people turn to iTunes and Amazon, and I have purchased my fair share of music from those outlets--mostly with gift cards from friends or family. 

However, I prefer to buy music hosted on Bandcamp. I love the Bandcamp interface and I feel like the performers are probably getting a better deal in terms of compensation. 

The music industry is rife with greed and musicians are constantly looking for ways to pay the bills. When I can, I buy music directly from the artist when I see them live. I also sometimes buy t-shirts and other related items. So far this year, I have attended 47 live music shows. I will probably see a couple more before we ring in the New Year. Suffice it to say I support the local music scene.

Check out my purchases on Bandcamp this year here http://bandcamp.com/metalmaven

What music did you buy in 2012?