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Green Carnation - Leaves of Yesteryear CD (album) cover

LEAVES OF YESTERYEAR

Green Carnation

 

Experimental/Post Metal

3.93 | 89 ratings

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lukretio
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)

lukretio | 4/5 |

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