Sophomore albums are tricky. The impact of “Black Shining Leather” could have sent CARPATHIAN FOREST into a mass production frenzy, but it didn’t. Rather than providing their victims with a second high the band hungered for fresh corpses. “Strange Old Brew” is not an exhibition pressing or a shot at outdoing their previous effort. The passages here offer deep darkness and common subject matter, which positions the band nicely for the evolution witnessed on subsequent publications.
A few peculiarities haunt this release and merit mention. The programmed drum loop, vampiric keyboards, and layers of whispers beneath the eerie (yet sleazy) saxophone on “House Of The Whipcord” comprise one of CARPATHIAN FOREST’s stranger offerings to date. The orchestral track “Theme From Nekromantikk” appears in the gore film “NEKRomantik,” which the band follows with a sampling of gags, moans, and splatters in “The Good Old Enema Treatment.” These fillers, however, have little to do with the genius of “Strange Old Brew.”
The riffs on this album are fantastic, simple, and captivating. Performed with a raw and honest feel that rings so true in Black Metal the inherent lack of precision means nothing. In fact, it adds to the integrity of each track. High-level gain permeates the release (even in slower parts) and gives the release a dark and frozen feel, especially under the atmospheric keyboards that highlight “Thanatology.” The clean bass lines add little more than low end to the guitar work, but they appear at such appropriate intervals that each movement would suffer in their absence. Although drenched in mid-range, CARPATHIAN FOREST have always had a knack for production. The sound of this release falls short of the clarity presented on “Sons Of Northern Darkness” but gives listeners plenty to appreciate when seeking something blacker to broaden their horizons.
Although “Strange Old Brew” falls short of other items in the CARPATHIAN catalog it represents an interesting phase for the band. The slower yet more driven compositions provide a unique balance to the recording that other albums lack. Those seeking the stealthier side of Black Metal will favor other offerings, but fans of earnest recordings that rot from the inside and spew into the ear can expect nothing grander from these legendary icons.
(Online September 26, 2007)