Nick Cave and Warren Ellis – Carnage: One Year On Retrospective Review

For my original thoughts on Carnage, you can read my initial review here.

Longstanding collaborators Nick Cave and Warren Ellis fire on all cylinders with their offshoot of The Bad Seeds. Ellis and Cave may have worked together for decades, but Carnage marks their first album release as a duo, rather than as a group or as listed participants in a film score. Spurred on by the isolation of the coronavirus pandemic, where working in smaller groups was more suitable, the duo took to the studio and produced some of their finest work. A flagship for the year of music that was 2021, Carnage takes the brooding tones of Cave’s lyricisms, long-established in decades of work with The Bad Seeds or The Birthday Party, and connects them with a focus on the strings Ellis underscores these movements with.

Ellis has always done that, but to hear it highlighted, focused, like this, is a pleasure. It is not as if the duo is completely cut off from The Bad Seeds, with drummer Thomas Wydler heard throughout Old Time, freeing up Ellis’ duties at the drumkit so he can further explore the crunching whines of a violin that screams along with Cave. It has such an emotive presence to it, and much of that comes from the bombastic display that surrounds Cave’s writing. Sentimentality and reflection have been a key theme for Cave in his past twenty years, and although Skeleton Tree offered a tremendous and touching opportunity to connect with Cave, so too does Carnage. More than Skeleton Tree in parts.

Carnage is a deeply moving piece that gives Nick Cave yet more range when dealing with his doubts of faith and attention to spirituality. Opening track Hand of God makes that abundantly clear, but title track Carnage presents the literal looming doubts, the metamorphosis compelling Cave to attribute design and solidity to an idea. His representation comes through weather, the grey clouds circling overhead. He sings about it well, all underscored with a tremendously delicate array of instruments that neither steal the show nor go understated. That is the quality to be expected of musicians who know the ins and outs of one another. Whether it is the reserved build of Albuquerque or the familiar playing field of Shattered Ground, at this point, there is trust in Cave and Ellis to deliver on their haunted promises of quality.

Experimental at times, although that should be no surprise to those that have listened to The Bad Seeds’ Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus, a beautiful double album that can’t help but linger on as an influence behind Carnage. Carnage is determined to be explosive and intent on teasing its audiences with a Luis Almau arrangement on White Elephant that marks the track as one of the many grand explorations of music and what can be done between a duo that has innovated and adapted time and time again. Carnage is up there with some of the best of Cave and Ellis’ back catalogue, a refined expedition into simple loops expanded upon by poetic lyricism and a usual quality to be expected of the long-serving musicians. Hail it as one of their best, not the best, but closer to the top spot than one would expect of it.

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