Back in high school I had a friend who could do impressive gutturals, though his phrasing was atrocious. His technique drew from an obsession with this newfangled extreme metal that I wasn’t yet privy to: deathcore. Having gotten into death metal via classic albums and acts thanks to Ian Christe’s The Sound of the Beast, deathcore was an exciting development to my ears. I got into the early, edgy standbys: Job for a Cowboy’s Doom, Waking the Cadaver’s Perverse Recollections of a Necromangler, Whitechapel’s This is Exile, and Suicide Silence’s The Cleansing were all shown to me by my guttural friend. He showed me plenty more music, including a band called Carnifex whose then-newest record The Diseased and the Poisoned left little impression on me beyond its uncomfortable cover.
Name recognition compelled me to check out successive Carnifex records as they were released. After a few inconsistent records which nevertheless had their highlights, Carnifex released their best record to date in 2016’s Slow Death. What happened? Mick Kenney of Anaal Nathrakh was credited with production, programming, and writing. This was an interesting development: deathcore had been creeping into Anaal Nathrakh’s sound over the years, and now Kenney was directly influencing the genre which influenced his main project. Kenney is credited for vocal recording on World War X but is not credited as a writer. Nonetheless, Carnifex continues wisely down the path of deathcore influenced by the Anaal Nathrakh material influenced by deathcore. This is less confusing than it sounds. Carnifex has shifted with the rest of the genre to the mould of Suicide Silence’s The Black Crown, which implemented nu-metal’s groove in deathcore. This nu-metal element was replaced by later Meshuggah influences (sometimes “djent” more broadly) by the more extreme bands, including Carnifex. The melodies of both keys and guitars draw heavily from Anaal Nathrakh and Bleeding Through’s Love Will Kill All, which incidentally saw Kenney producing, programming, and writing as well.
There’s an air of competence and confidence to World War X that sets Carnifex above their deathcore peers. In “Eyes of the Executioner” the chorus sounds like a take on a death march – a nice thematic touch. “This Infernal Darkness” gave me some pleasant deathcore nostalgia, but also implemented those bouncy Meshuggah-powered riffs Carnifex did so well on Slow Death. The title track leans heavily into the influences above (especially Anaal Nathrakh) but winds up sounding decidedly like modern Carnifex instead of Nathrakh-core. I’d wager this is because Carnifex doesn’t try to hide their influences and plays what they’d like to hear as fans. “All Roads lead to Hell” abandons the blackened elements almost entirely, which is a refreshing change of pace that slots into the second half of the record well. As one who appreciates smart sequencing, I enjoyed that follow-up track “Brushed by the Wings of Demons” was the most melody-driven track on World War X, chock-full of catchy Nathrakh-style trem-picked runs and a tasteful solo. “All Hail Hellfire” stands out for its songwriting, particularly in its transitions – Carnifex isn’t predictable or jarring in their songcraft here, and their cohesiveness as a band of songwriters shines through nicely.
I have little to gripe about with World War X. While I found ninety percent of the Alissa White-Gluz (Arch Enemy) guest spot superfluous, her decent yet unremarkable cleans fit well underneath Carnifex vocalist Scott Lewis’s forceful growls in the song’s tail end. White-Gluz harms the track a bit with her harsh vocals, which sound like an ill-advised Shagrath impression, but a good solo and decent writing manage to salvage the song from total mediocrity. It’s my least favorite song on the record, and the buildup in the beginning reminds me of what Carnifex did far more successfully on Slow Death with “Dark Heart Ceremony,” which in fairness is one of the best deathcore tracks I’ve heard in years. Regardless, the buildup of tension never occurs, and I find myself waiting impatiently for the brutality to start instead of on the edge of my seat with chills as in “Dark Heart Ceremony.”
It’s both interesting and encouraging to see a band who was part of the deathcore scene at its inception finding their footing and gelling as a group this late in the game. The promise showed throughout Carnifex’s career was actualized on Slow Death and continues through World War X. This is a good record I was happy to spend time with, and will in all likelihood spend more time with throughout the year.