The monkey’s paw is gripped tightly in your hands, a mangy curio purchased on your recent travel abroad. The wizened fakir that sold it to you promised it could fulfill any wish, an absurd statement but here in the stillness of your room curiosity has sunk its claws deep into you and a whispered plea escapes your lips: “I wish for an album that can recapture the sound of early Machine Head.” The paw shudders and before you materializes a copy of The Longed-For Reckoning, the second full-length by German thrashers, Fall of Carthage. You stare unblinkingly as your brain struggles to reconcile the musical apparition that has just been willed into existence. It works! Tremulous with excitement, you settle down for what you hope will be a satisfying slab of classic American-inspired thrash, but in the back of your mind lurks the fakir’s parting words: “Be careful what you wish for.”
Judged solely by the first few tracks, The Longed-For Reckoning does a respectable job of sublimating any initial doubt as tight, crunchy riffs backed by impactful and powerful percussion presents a confident first impression. Opener “Fast Forward” keeps things simple with short, measured chords that alternate between kick-drum and muted riffs, bearing more than a passing resemblance to …And They Shall Take Up Serpents by Byzantine. Nothing fancy but the tone is strong and it gets the head nodding. Sascha Aßbach’s gruff vocals recall Janne Kerminen from Finland’s Am I Blood, a band most notable for incubating Pasi Koskinen for a brief spell before he slipped from the womb to suckle at the teat of Amorphis. With its drawling, groove-ridden chords, “They’re Alive” is the point that Machine Head’s influence begins to be keenly felt, Aßbach here transitioning from a Rob Flynn dilettante to an outright duplicate. Indeed, Aßbach’s lyrebird-like imitation is so convincing that you have to wonder if he was cloned in a vat from Flynn’s discarded toenail clippings.
At this point, it may seem that the fakir’s warning was misplaced. But when “Swept to the Edge” shifts into rap-style vocals, your confidence sinks as fast as your gorge rises and the horrible conclusion dawns: the wish has delivered early Machine Head, only it has pulled from The Burning Red and Bulldozer. If this was The Longed-For Reckoning’s most egregious sin then the wound would remain shallow, after all, The Burning Red is excellent despite its nu-metal leanings and “Swept to the Edge” is not devoid of merit. Ah, but the monkey’s paw is unwilling to let fate settle so lightly.
With “Whodini Peckerwood,” Fall of Carthage go completely off-piste and present a track indistinguishable from a crass, vapid “gangsta” rap song save for a handful of guitar riffs. Admittedly the beats and samples aren’t too bad but it’s a tough call having to stomach “Whodini motherfucker/Peckerwood motherfucker” being flung your way. Worse still is “Puerile Scumbag,” a miserable attempt at a subversive hip-hop track that has the ignominy of sounding like the B-side to a Limp Bizkit record. No one should ever have to endure hearing “Skippidy, bibbity-bop!” being spat at them.
It’s evident by this point that the band is unconcerned with the natural order of things nor with sating listener expectations so it’s hardly surprising that this album is burdened with sixteen songs. With an average track length of around 4-minutes the album clocks in at approximately an hour but as the songs offer little variety fatigue sets in two-thirds of the way through. It’s astounding that at no point did Fall of Carthage come to their senses and pare down the swollen track count, but if they were capable of such lucidity then they wouldn’t have inflicted the previously mentioned sonic monstrosities. Pleasingly the album is mixed well, producing a massive, visceral sound despite the meager dynamic range. Interestingly a few of the tracks are mastered with a very wide dynamic range but again the monkey’s paw stirs as they’re reserved for — you guessed it — those very same red-headed step-children.
The album has come to an end and all is silent. Your gaze returns to the monkey’s paw, its uncaring, knurled fingers still interlocked with your own. It’s painfully clear now that you got what you asked for but not what you wanted. You curse your luck but deep down you knew it would come to this — imitation comes easy but innovation is much harder. Wish you knew this sooner.