My young daughter once called me, in tears and utterly distraught, because a boy at school had told her she wasn’t allowed to like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles®, simply because she was a girl. This simultaneously defined and exacerbated the gender disparity, which was already apparent in her little world. It also cemented that little fuck’s place on my list for all eternity. When I afforded myself some rare adult clarity, however, I remembered that he was only 6 and, most likely, only repeating his father’s words. It occurred to me just how important our father’s actions are, whether we emulate them or run a mile in the opposite direction. I was strongly reminded of this when I first plundered Gun to Mouth Salvation, the seventh album from Sweden’s Carnal Forge. After a twelve year hiatus, these melodeath thrashers have returned with some new blood intent on riffs aplenty. Considering the touted return to their thrashing roots, the material does what it say on the tin. I’m just not sure the intended statement is that potent anymore.
Carnal Forge managed to carve something of an identity by qualifying their ubiquitous melodeath with Germanic thrash rhythms. Unfortunately, the years wrought a reliance upon trite groove and I became increasingly disinterested. Gun to Mouth Salvation definitely puts emphasis back on the riff, and that’s no bad thing. The album is rife with Gothenburg’s signature style, but lacquered in modern production. Openers, “Parasites” and “Reforged,” boldly employ melodic progressions and hyper-modern groove, respectively. But, there’s also a darkly familiar sense of interchangeability amongst the structures that, despite the passion behind the riffs, is unfortunately difficult to ignore.
It seems to me that, if you can’t rely on dynamism to author your record, then at the very least engineer the formula so that its efficacy masks the repetition. On Gun to Mouth Salvation, Carnal Forge are quick to establish a patterned weave of the only two styles the album carries. “Endless War” is the first track to really challenge my neck. Jari and Petri Kuusisto haven’t lost their touch in crafting engaging rhythms but they just don’t have enough staying power. Each song seems to start out strong, but by halfway, I’ve almost completely lost interest. This symptom also drags a 45-minute album well past the confines of its run-time. “Hellride” and “State of Pain” are certainly worthy riff-beasts and really represent what the album does well. But at this point in the record, I can deduce their content from the alternating melodic thrash/groove/thrash/groove approach that comprises the entire album. Sure enough, the following “Sin Feast Paradise” meanders along as predicted.
Tommie Wahlberg’s inclusion on vocals is effective, if a little derivative. His harassed delivery works well enough but he’s clearly suffering with a touch of the Lindbergs. That schizophrenic higher-register rasp has certainly been done a lot better, but it’s so indicative of the genre that it at least feels logical. His best moment coincides with the record’s strongest cut, “Bound in Flames.” The song is by far the album’s most cogent amalgamation of melody and crunch and boasts smooth twin-leads and a fantastic chorus. It’s frustratingly tantalizing as one of the very few songs on Gun to Mouth Salvation that sounds complete.
Gun to Mouth Salvation is a bizarre album. Rarely have I heard a collection of such killer riffs that inexplicably, yet uniformly, lose their teeth after 2 minutes. Fans of Darkane, The Haunted and later At the Gates will almost certainly disagree with me. But with every spin, I was insistently reminded why – a handful of records aside – the majority of the Gothenburg scene always fell a little flat for me. After 12 years, Carnal Forge are still repeating their parent’s words verbatim and no amount of modern gloss will change that. Ultimately, I can’t help but feel that these Swedes should reconsider their name and make the leap from Carnal to Charnel. At least then the band’s semantic field might better reflect their proclivity for so lovingly swaddling their forefather’s bones in transient rags.