Finnish project W424’s preceding effort, 2021’s Alandlord, found Lasse Alander exploring the sludgier boundaries of the post-industrial sound plied by his other notable project Cardinal Noirse. New LP Carnal picks up the torch from that record and runs headlong into the murky caverns its predecessor was plumbing, going deeper, and much darker in the process.
While you can find traces of Alander’s roots in extreme metal in various places across Carnal – the shredded vocals and occasional off-kilter guitar riffs being the obvious markers – it’s by no means an industrial metal record. Instead it treads the blasted territories that make up the border between dark ambient and death industrial, a suitable location for its loose structures and opaque textures to occupy. The weightiness of the album’s sound design gives the impression that each track has difficulty holding together under the strain of its own carriage; see the album’s arguably most musical moment, the plodding sludgy “Hellmouth”, whose arrangement of guitar, drums and bass are wreathed in so much saturated noise that they eventually disintegrate into a sea of stormcloud pads and reverb. Conversely, closing track “Touch of Heaven” spends time gathering its clangorous percussion and long bassy tones together, only able to hold them in formation through seeming force of will before they shake themselves apart and need to reassembled again.
Oddly, it’s while the record is at its most fluid and structureless that some of its most intriguing moments occur. The snatches of ritual bells, whispered mantras and deep modulating tones that are hidden in the shadows of “Ambersands” are compelling specifically because they suggest more than they establish, a hidden architecture that lies behind the clamor and chaos. On the monolithic title track, a rising wave of degraded timbres gives birth to waves of crashing noise, the glitchy melodies that manage to rise up from the fray recalling the power of the Gridlock at their grimiest, albeit only briefly as feedback washes it all away.
There’s a strange succor in the cycles of construction and self-destruction that Carnal progresses through, its relative brevity helping it to avoid becoming a turgid or desensitized listening experience. Despite the bleakness it employs and the blackened crush of its aesthetics, there’s a life and an animation at its core that belies its desolate atmosphere, thrashing and struggling under the constraints of its own gravity.