Carnivore – Retaliation (1987)
Today, a giant meteor struck the Earth, obliterating all human life. Luckily, I am actually a tentacle alien from Xebulon 9, allowing me to continue writing this blog even after the extinction of humanity.
Silliness aside, Carnivore is a band notable mostly for the fact that one of its main members (Peter Steele) went on to form the popular, influential gothic metal band Type O Negative. Not having sat down and listened to their albums, I can still say that Carnivore is worthy of attention. Essentially, they play intense, “primitive”, politically incorrect crossover thrash (a form of metal with especially prominent hardcore punk influence), but in a way that belies their surprising sophistication of songwriting. It essentially boils down to very simplistic riffs in varied song structures.
Even if Carnivore did not know how to write songs, they would still have an aesthetic and techniques. Peter Steele’s vocals belong quite firmly to the tradition of shouting – he doesn’t ever try for really high shrieks, but instead stays fairly mid-range, although in terms of rhythm and tone, still expressive. Very occasionally, he actually sings (see the chorus of “Race War”) Backing him up with the occasional gang shouted chorus is the rest of the band. Carnivore’s riffing, owing to its punk heritage, is a bit more openly chord oriented than your average thrashers, and in fact sometimes wanders into conventional tonality, leaving us with some melodic passages. Despite such, this remains a fairly extreme album for 1987 – one song (“Ground Zero Brooklyn”) even wanders into near-death metal territory with its blasted verses and extended bridge in the middle. Drums don’t really stand out as much – they’re competent, but not the real driving force of the album like the guitars and vocals.
But again, Carnivore’s high points come from the fact they know how to write varied songs. They have verses and choruses, but the positions of them are altered in each song, helping to ensure variety. Basically, the song structures fit the lyrics – I don’t know which was written first, but regardless, they fit together in a way that further suggests how much Carnivore cared about its work. The lyrics, of course, are politically incorrect, full of racism, sexism, violence, patriotism, and so forth. They’re also funny; it suggests that the band members didn’t actually subscribe to the ideas these songs are full of. It shouldn’t matter, either way, because this is just at its basis a fun, violent metal album. Peter Steele would keep up some of these themes in Type O Negative, although with a greater emphasis on sexuality. Then he died, and the world mourned; luckily he left us a rich legacy.
Highlights: “Ground Zero Brooklyn”, “Jesus Hitler”, “Sex And Violence”