Album Review: Leaves of Yesteryear by Green Carnation

Leaves of Yesteryear provides everything one could hope for in the first new release in 14 years from Norwegian prog-doom-psych-metal titans Green Carnation. Within the first minute of the opening title track we have spoken word samples about loneliness, all-encompassing doom riffs, mournfully longing melodies and necro-prog Floydisms replete with brooding synths. Did I mention the awe-inducing choir vocals and the nourishingly warm hammond organ washes? “Come to me,” sings Kjetil Nordhus. Yes, I will. Thank you.

Emotions are to the fore here. This is the sound of a band baring and brandishing their collective soul as a weapon against anything that could possibly hold them back. As soon as you think the music can’t get any heavier, it does. There are shades of just about every metal sub-genre you can imagine, from brutal death metal chugs to techy solos. But the feeling never lets up. There is enough pathos, enough rawness, enough pure soul-drenched beauty to bring a tear to the eye. Yet the whole thing is also masterfully slick. Effortless. Listening to this feels like watching a gymnast burst into desperate tears whilst still pulling off the best moves you’ve ever seen.

“Sentinals” is orbital space rock, but it is somehow anchored to the earth.  The fragility in Nordhus’ (endlessly adaptable) voice is a gift to behold. I dare you to find heavier death metal than the double-kick and breakneck guitar onslaught here. But there is light (of day) and shade (of darkness) here in spades. Some of the parts sound like they are straight off a pastoral folk-rock record and the tranquil synth parts positively sweat with emotional honesty.

Endre Kirkesola’s production, along with the mixing and mastering (by Endre Kirkesola and Maor Appelbaum respectively), emanates warmth. There is no capitulation to the over-polished “plastic” modern metal sound so loathed by Fenriz and others. And Leaves of Yesteryear is more, not less, aggressive and visceral because of this. The speeding double-kick parts aren’t quantized to death and they still sound like an actual drum kit. The bass smoulders with analog saturation. The infinite layers of guitar and keyboard sounds slot in and dance with each other like a perfectly jigsawed ballet ensemble. The harsh doom chords never get in the way of the trippy synths. The vocals are sometimes isolated and lonesome, and other times layered and reverbed. Often reverse-reverbed. It always sounds completely natural. There is an enviable amount of breathing space; each heavy section feels louder than the last and hits you afresh.

This record is a journey. At the end, after “My Dark Reflections of Life and Death”  (an apt description for the whole album) and the sorrowful “Hounds” (“I don’t want to know / I shut it down / That’s my freedom / As long as you’re around”),  we are left with a rendition of Black Sabbath’s “Solitude.” Not many bands can pull off Sabbath covers without either carbon-copying or desecrating the originals. Green Carnation are clearly one of the very few that can. It feels like their song. Yes, this brings to mind Ulver’s equally-perfect and also ambient cover but this is all Green Carnation and every word comes from the heart. As the last dying embers drift away, we are gradually brought back to earth from outer space. Back to ourselves from the wildness of the open universe.

If you already know Green Carnation, this album will feel like a joyfully tearful quarantine chat with a dear old friend. If you don’t know them – and if Leaves of Yesteryear speaks to you – you will cry tears of joy and longing all the same and you will reach for everything they have ever done. Either way, I have a feeling that this will be one of the most cathartic and raw “progressive metal” releases of 2020.

A Green Carnation show years ago in Bradford, UK, was a formative experience for me as a young rock and metal fan and musician. I hope we will be able to experience them live again as soon as possible. I long to be in the same room as Green Carnation while they pour out their catharsis, and to bask in the blissful tranquility that follows.

Impossibly powerful and intensely beautiful.

Band photo by Petter Sandell, courtesy of Season of Mist.

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