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Green Carnation - Leaves of Yesteryear CD (album) cover


Green Carnation

Experimental/Post Metal

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4 stars Discovering Green Carnation is one of the few good things that came out of my lockdown. Of course, I already knew of Green Carnation, a frontrunner of the Norwegian post-black metal scene that, together with bands like In the Woods, Ulver and Arcturus, in the late 1990s / early 2000s started to push the boundaries of black metal and incorporate disparate influences into their music, from progressive rock to psychedelia and darkwave. But somehow I never got around to listening to their music. And then the lockdown happened. One day, bored out of my mind, I read somewhere on the internet that Green Carnation were celebrating their new album Leaves of Yesteryear, their first studio release in 14 years, with a "lockdown release party", with the band playing live and the audience ... well ... sitting at home in front of their laptops. I decided to check them out and bought a ticket to the virtual show. And it blew my mind!

Leaves of Yesteryear is a fantastic comeback for the six Norwegians. It sounds fresh and authentic, showcasing a band that has retained its own distinctive voice and has still very much to say, today like 20 years ago. The unique blend of 1970s hard prog, doom metal and gothic rock puts Green Carnation in a category of its own. It's progressive metal that had no equals in the early 2000s and that today falls perhaps in a similar territory where Opeth found inspiration for their last couple of albums, albeit heavier on the doom elements and lighter on the progressive rock weirdness.

Although Leaves of Yesteryear is marketed as Green Carnation's sixth full-length release, in truth it feels more like a long EP than a full-fledged album. It is a mix of new and revisited material. There are 3 brand new tracks, for a total of nearly 24 minutes of new music. The other 2 songs are a re-arranged and re-recorded version of "My Dark Reflections of Life and Death", originally included in Green Carnation's debut album Journey to the End of the Night, and a cover of Black Sabbath's "Solitude" (which, coincidentally, has already been covered by another post-metal band, Ulver).

Regardless of its status as EP or LP, there is a lot to like on this album. Although it is not a concept album, there is a cohesiveness in the atmosphere of its 5 songs that ties them together in a concept-like manner. The mood is dark and melancholic, but at the same time strangely comforting and serene. The opening track, the eponymous new song "Leaves of Yesteryear", is a great example of this dark tranquillity that pervades the whole album. Its powerful, gloomy riffs are contrasted by tasty bright guitar leads and gorgeously melodic vocal lines (the chorus is stunning), creating a superb juxtaposition between dark and light. The keyboards are used to great effect to add texture and atmosphere. Compositionally, the song displays all the emotional twists and turns that are trademark of prog metal, albeit the different parts flow seamlessly into one another and there is no indulgence in complex, overstretched structures just for the sake of it. It's a perfectly assembled prog metal gem. Next track "Sentinels", also a new song, follows in the same spirit, though there's more power and muscles on display (listen to the headbanging break in the middle of the song). Singer Kjetil Nordhus puts in a great performance, here as on the rest of the album, showcasing his considerable vocal range, from dark crooning to high-pitched wailing. The other new song, "Hounds", starts slowly with a gentle acoustic part to then develop into bouncy, bass-driven affair that is perhaps a tad too lengthy for its own sake (the chorus is repeated a few times too many), but is nevertheless enjoyable.

The centrepiece of the album is the re-recorded version of the 17-minute tour-de-force "My Dark Reflections of Life and Death". This is a fantastically poignant song, complex yet highly accessible and with plenty of outstanding guitar riffs and memorable vocal lines. The new arrangement is a tangible improvement over the original. The long, slightly meandering intro that on the original song lasted about 3 minutes has been rightly shortened by a good minute. A few vocal lines have been cut out, most notably the female vocal parts and some whispered vocals that were anyway hardly audible on the original track. Most importantly, the transitions between the different parts of the song, that on the original were often too abrupt, have been smoothened using new guitar leads or keyboard intermezzos, so that the various sections flow much better into one another. The coda of the song has also been streamlined, which is a huge improvement since the original track was ending in a rather chaotic way. The new version perhaps lacks a bit of the rawness and feral urgency of the original, but it has gained immensely in smoothness and slickness and is overall far superior to the version from 20 years ago (also thanks to the fantastic production - I love the fat guitar sound on this album!).

The album ends with a deconstructed version of Black Sabbath's track "Solitude" from their 1971 album Master of Reality. Of the 5 tracks of the album, this is the song that impresses me the least. While its mellow, sedated tone may make for a natural conclusion of the album, the sparse, minimalist arrangements - with almost no guitars or drums - make the song feel somewhat empty, especially after the incessant riff frenzy of the previous 4 tracks.

Despite this minor complaint, Leaves of Yesteryear is a very impressive return for Green Carnation. The album contains three stellar tracks ("Leaves of Yesteryear", "Sentinels", and "My Dark Reflections of Life and Death"), plus another two that, albeit not perfect, are nevertheless very good. Whether you are already a fan of Green Carnation or new to the band but with a taste for dark, brooding progressive metal, this is a must-have album, and probably one that will end up in my top 10 of albums from 2020.

(Originally written for The Metal Observer)

Report this review (#2435959)
Posted Saturday, August 8, 2020 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars After a 15 year absence, these Norwegian veterans are back with an amazing album of strong songs--so well constructed and composed as to have both spaciousness and density, great melody and harmony, uniquity and cleverness, as well as an outstanding vocalist in Kjetil Nordhus and great sound production.

1. "Leaves of Yesteryear" (8:03) opens with the metal sounds and ANATHEMA-like keyboard atmospherics we expect before shifting into a more ULVER-esque ominous spaciousness. The dominant metal riffing sounds like a cross between URIAH HEEP and OPETH. Weak chorus. Nice FLOYDian interlude in the middle. Turns full-on Death Metal at the six minute mark, but then returns to a more symphonic heavy prog style for the finish. (13/15)

2. "Sentinels" (5:42) BLACK SABBATH-like simplicity to the heavy opening, turns a speed corner at 1:10 into more modern metal style for the chorus section. Cool guitar play with syncopated chords and space in the middle before falling back into a machine gun chorus section. Clever codas here and there to transition from Sabbath section to bullet-pace and back and forth. (8.5/10)

3. "My Dark Reflections of Life and Death" (15:35) nice slow, spacious, ominous intro before everybody comes crashing in at 2:12 with an alien spacecraft synth in the lead. This switches to electric guitar in the fourth minute as the hard-driving music continues to establish itself. At 3:30, then, there's a pretty little interlude barely containing a lot of potential energy. Then Kjetil begins singing as the band comes back to full throttle. Some cool textural shifts going on beneath his singing. Everything comes to a standstill at 5:30 for some spacey synth notes before Kjetil burst into the fray with a deep tenor and the slower-paced metal chord progression accompanies him. Another standstill at 7:10 which gets filled by a distant-sounding rolling bass and then treated electric piano. Kjetil's John Wetton voice returns with some tom-tom play and piano arpeggi with the bass and synths before a nylon string guitar's up-sliding arpeggi take over. By the end of the tenth minute, the four-chord organ-led heavy metal progression and Kjetil's projecting voice return but then there is another shift into more symphonic palette for a RIVERSIDE-like guitar solo and singing section. This pattern continues, building in intensity, with both singing and instrumental sections, until 13:15 when an almost disco beat establishes to enter a full-on multi-instrumental metal onslaught in which Kjetil does not return until the final 45 seconds. Certainly a labyrinthine song. (27/30)

4. "Hounds" (10:09) great simplicity for a metal song with great melodies and other hooks (including Kjetil's strikingly-similar GREG LAKE voice). My favorite song on the album. (18/20)

5. "Solitude" (5:05) piano, acoustic guitar and gentle background keys and bass are not what you expect from one of the innovators of the metal world early 21st Century. Nice song but never really goes anywhere special. (8.5/10)

Total Time 44:34

My first impression is that Kjetil Nordhus must have been taking GREG LAKE/JOHN WETTON elocution/singing lessons over the past 15 years: the similarities at times are uncanny.

B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music--and a great comeback from these long-absent veterans.

Report this review (#2447376)
Posted Saturday, September 12, 2020 | Review Permalink
Prog Metal / Heavy Prog Team
4 stars [Originally published at The Progressive Aspect]

New music from Green Carnation has long been awaited by many. It's been twenty years since their debut, and almost fifteen since their most recent release. Leaves of Yesteryear is an absolutely outstanding return to form, and a major statement of intent ? but is it an album, or an EP? For some reason, this rather pointless argument seems to have dominated the comment section on numerous social media posts. By its length alone, it would be hard to argue it is an EP, but by its content it conforms far more to what one might expect from that shorter form of release. There are only three new original songs, one reworking of a song from their debut, and a Black Sabbath cover. That's not to say they are not good, for they most definitely are ? but, despite the length, this release never feels more than an EP to me. However, unlike some, I don't see that as a bad thing. I have seen many complaints about the release on social media, but as much as I might have been expecting something different, I am more than happy with this release.

So for me, Leaves of Yesteryear works like an EP released ahead of a magnificent album, and based on the material from this release, the forthcoming album (and I'm sure there will be one) will be magnificent. The band, though, calls it an album, so that is what it is. But who really cares? The title track is one of the most enjoyable Green Carnation songs yet. It brings together both the Green Carnation sound I love (their first two albums), and the Green Carnation sound I like, but which am not so fond of (their next two albums). I think a lot of people were wondering just what new Green Carnation might sound like. I've made a point of not reading any reviews (as I never like to read others' reviews before writing my own), but from what I've seen on social media, most people (myself included) have been very happy with the blend of the dark, gloomy and doomy with the more alternative and melodic that the band have created.

Sentinels is another great new song, but it has quite a different sound from the title track. More direct, and with driving heaviness and intensity, it reminds me a little of Queen's Innuendo put in a blender with Amorphis. I didn't find it as immediately engaging as Leaves of Yesteryear, as it wasn't really what I was expecting, at all. It is so different from anything else on the release, that it (for me) only heightens the sense of this being more of an EP than an album. As much as I enjoy Sentinels now, it still feels out of place, particularly when the preceding track is such an amazing reference to their past sound, with a distinctly modern and novel twist, and the following is a reworking of one of their most beloved songs.

And that reworking? Well, I was initially highly sceptical when the track listing was announced and My Dark Reflections was there. The longest track of the newest release is a song from twenty years ago. But, wow! On hearing it, I am taken aback. Familiarity initially meant this was my favourite track here, and it still is right up there (even if I would probably now give the title track that honour), but this track works only because Leaves of Yesteryear feels like an EP. It would stick out like a sore thumb on an album. It's a tremendous reworking (which I think I may even prefer over the original ? and that is not something I expected at all!), but it's too rooted in the band's past to be part of their future. Then again, one line from the song strikes hard: "Light of Day, Day of Darkness". That is one part of the band's past, that many fans long to be part of their future. A long-awaited sequel to their one song epic album has never been forthcoming. Could the choice of song to rework for this release be a sign that maybe?? No, best not to dwell on that.

Onto Hounds instead ? the final new original song. It's quite impressive, and has more chances within its length than anything else on the release but My Dark Reflections. It's a particularly strong song, which I suspect will be a favourite for many listeners. It is definitely the only song that could have followed My Dark Reflections, and still held it's own. What Hounds does particularly well is to take the directness of Sentinels and better fit it to the sound and strengths of Green Carnation. It would be too simplistic to suggest that Hounds is the confluence of the other two new songs, but it would not be entirely inaccurate either.

We are left with the Black Sabbath cover to end the album, and wow (again!). This is an incredibly beautiful cover of Solitude, which Green Carnation have made entirely their own. It's a beautifully subdued and subtle cover and it is one more string in the bow of Kjetil Nordhus, whose exceptional vocals are the greatest addition to the Green Carnation sound of all the many changes the band has seen over the years. Nordhus conveys a great range of emotions with his performances, and while musically Green Carnation are still led by the writing and guitar of Tchort (without whom, of course, there would be no Green Carnation), Nordhus is proving to be indispensable to the sound and approach of the band.

So, after many years, Green Carnation has returned, and with quite possibly the best prog metal release I've heard so far this year. This release seems to be in many people's opinion, despite its album length, an EP. There are only three original songs on it, taking up 24 of the 44 minutes running time. The others are a re-recording of an old song and a cover. But that's no reason for complaint, and I'm not sure why I have seen so much negativity. It is a surprise, but not a let-down. The only way this release could become a let-down is if nothing else follows it, because Leaves of Yesteryear leaves me hungry for more, and with an expectation I never thought could eventuate ? that the next Green Carnation album might be their greatest yet. And for any suggesting that as an album, this is not a great one ? then as an EP, foreshadowing greatness to come, this is unbeaten. There is not a minute wasted, and not a dud track. As an EP, dare I say it, this is perfect. Thus, while I highly recommend Leaves of Yesteryear, it is with that one proviso. Come at it as an album, and it seems you may be be disappointed. Approach it as an EP, and you should be fine. Or just don't worry about what to call it, and enjoy the music!

Report this review (#2453767)
Posted Sunday, October 4, 2020 | Review Permalink
The Crow
4 stars Fourteen years we had to wait to have another album from Green Carnation!

But the wait was worth because the quality of the music included in "Leaves of Yesteryear" is superior. Their usual moody, sad and prog metal is back here in three new tracks with a masterful quality, very fine produced and shining specially in the vocal sound and the great guitars.

Sadly, the other two tracks are not new, because the long and complex My Dark Reflections of Life and Death is a re- recording of a track of their first album and Solitude is a very good Black Sabbath's cover. So "Leaves of Yesteryear" definitely leaves us wanting for more!

But in summary, this album is a must for every fan of Nordic metal and I hope they will be back soon with some new music. Welcome back, guys!

Best Tracks: Leaves of Yesteryear, Sentinels and Hounds are true masterpieces of prog metal!

My rating: ****

Report this review (#2500063)
Posted Sunday, January 31, 2021 | Review Permalink

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