The past half-decade has been hard on Poland’s Decapitated. After the release of 2006’s ambitious Organic Hallucinosis, the band lost two of its longtime members to a tragic bus crash; drummer Witold “Vitek” Kieltyka died of his injuries, while vocalist Adrien “Covan” Kowanek fell into a coma and eventually left the band due to his slow recovery. Since then, guitarist Waclaw “Vogg” Kieltyka (Vitek’s older brother, sadly) has disbanded the group, played with longtime compatriots Vader, and returned to reignite the band. Now, Vogg and a new line-up brings us Carnival Is Forever, an album with both a title and cover that has worried some of Decapitated’s longtime fans.
What plagues Carnival is a seeming loss of identity for Decapitated. Before the band was a charging force of blistering tech-death, yet now their sound is overly moody and aggro. Opener “The Knife” is a fuzzy, straightforward battering ram of forceful riffs and nonstop blastbeats, but later tracks like “404” and the title track seem to drag a bit, more reminiscent of Gojira than, say, a previous touchstone like Origin. New vocalist Rafal Piotrowski bellows his face off throughout, but often sounds a bit too breathy, calling to mind Peter Tuthill of Swedish thrashers Carnal Forge. Where the ear craves full-on brutality, it gets something just short of it, and the album, though possessing all the right elements of a total destroyer, never reaches the desired whole.
Carnival is by no means a bad album, and is far less of a disappointment than other anticipated releases this year (looking at you, Morbid Angel). Still, Decapitated’s fifth full-length pales in comparison to their earlier releases like 2002’s Nihility. Perhaps Vogg & Co. just need time to regain their footing, which no one can blame them for. It's been a rough couple of years. CHRIS KROVATIN