Cleaned up, grown up (sort of), and with a brand new record deal from metal mecca Roadrunner Records, CKY is back with their fourth studio album, Carver City, after a four-year layover.
The slick sound of the new album differs from their grungier efforts over a decade ago on the earlier CKY (“Camp Kill Yourself”) recordings. The band gained a cult following having been featured on drummer Jess Margera’s brother Bam’s series of skate-prank videos, the forerunner to Jackass. Carver City finds CKY miles away from the sophomoric sounds of their demos (with such gems as the oh-so-sensitively titled “Fat Fuck”, an ode to lactose intolerance), as well as that of their last disc, 2005’s An Answer Can Be Found.
CKY has always been hard to categorize, falling somewhere between “late-alternative” and “nu metal”, minus the whine-factor of either subgenre. While their last album suffered from too cohesive of a sound with most of the tracks sounding almost exactly the same, Carver City strikes the right mix of theme and variety while offering a much more polished version of the sound that brought them to the dance.
Having promised that this would “sound like a CKY record”, Carver City features much more experimentation with their trademark syncopated rhythms and, at times, feels like a throwback to grandiose ‘80s thrash- and power-metal with a modern sensibility. The dense, bottom-heavy sound on the album can be attributed to Matt Deis’ bass work enhanced by other band members playing additional bass tracks layered over the top. However, most responsible for the band’s now finely-tuned song is guitarist Chad Ginsburg, pulling a double duty as the band’s long-time producer.
It would only be logical that the band who, on previous albums, brought fans recurring songs depicting a terror-plagued town rampant with paranormal activity known as Hellview (inhabited by “96 Quite Bitter Beings”) would find themselves on holiday in an equally foreboding locale.
Described as a cape town that’s seen more than its share of dark dealings, the fictional Carver City is based upon lead singer Deron Miller’s recollections of a particularly memorable childhood vacation in Wildwood, NJ. Not far from CKY’s home stomping grounds of West Chester , PA , Wildwood is a magnet vacation spot for families from Philadelphia and its surrounding suburbs. The least pretentious and most family-oriented of a cluster of shore towns, Wildwood was the spot where Miller recalls a body being found under the Boardwalk while on a family outing, spawning the (aptly titled) track, “The Boardwalk Body”. (Hardly the sort of Jersey shore-themed tribute that Jerry Blavat would be into spinning.)
With the ominous incident of Miller’s childhood vay-cay serving as its impetus, Carver City turns into a loosely-strung concept album, with many of the songs’ lyrical content delving into unsettling territory. The aforementioned “The Boardwalk Body” is tied to one of the earlier tracks in terms of the disc’s chronology, “...And She Never Returned”. The latter, a third-person telling of a young woman “Last seen on Coyote Drive / From her a word wasn’t heard / ... and she never returned”. The grisly particulars of her murder aren’t stated, but her family’s futile search for the body is explored.
The track’s flipside, “The Boardwalk Body” is curiously melodic in its approach, told from vocalist Derron Miller’s point of view and taken from his own encounter with the nameless female the song is titled for.
Continuing to make good on the band’s promise for a true CKY album, “Hellions On Parade” resumes the Hellview saga. Stylistically hearkening back to their earlier sound, the band combines finely-tuned production and songwriting elements on this track chock full of chugging guitar riffs and… keyboard? Before you get your wallet chain all in a twist, the keyboards aren’t those of the pretentious Dream Theatre or ELP variety. Instead, they add to the eerie atmosphere and sound almost like a second guitar.
All in the span of one song, CKY switches gears and makes a break for unexpected rhythm and tonal shifts on parts that would normally be expected to be mere extensions of the verse’s melody. This tendency towards syncopated rhythm has always been the band’s stock in trade, but Carver City refines it.
Even with firmly re-established footing on their signature sound, CKY is hard to pin down to any one genre, nor do they find a singular, musical kindred spirit in any other rock band. While their previous album, An Answer Can Be Found was knee-deep in dull songs indistinguishable from one another, Carver City shows the band switching things up in terms of genre-bending.
On “Woe Is Me”, they proffer an angsty brand of emo, sounding something like fellow “nu metal” stalwarts, Slipknot. Miller gets a chance to strut his vocal chops on the reverb-laden chorus of the ripping “Rats in the Infirmary”, a throwback to ‘80s metal in the style of Iron Maiden and Megadeth. And the wickedly melodic “A#1 Roller Rager” is vaguely reminiscent of the Foo Fighters, while the whirring, synth-centric “Old Carver’s Bones” sounds like what would happen if Killroy-era Styx was hijacked by thrash metal.
Before the term “sell out” gets bandied about in regards to CKY tossing in a variety of components from across the metal spectrum, bear in mind that Carver City is a concept album and benefits greatly from this musical pastiche. The assortment of sounds and styles found on the album does nothing to remove them from the hard rock/metal category that they’ve always been entrenched in. Rather, it’s this variety that makes Carver City such an effective concept album. It ties in with the band-created Hellview mythos, while still giving a realistic feel of the quasi-fictitious Jersey shore retreat as seen through the eyes of a teen. Supernatural and real-life horror melds with familiar emotions of angst, isolation, and disenfranchisement.
Each song lends a piece to the album’s overall picture. While the outstanding “A#1 Roller Rager” is rampant with skate metaphors, giving the musical feel of aggressively speed-blading down the Boardwalk and the mellow “The Era of An End” could very well be the fatalistic, lone-wolf equivalent of “Summer Nights” from the musical Grease if it were sung by a mournful metalhead instead of Olivia Newton John, CKY still doesn’t beat fans over the head with the notion of “Hey! Look at us being all ambitious! Can you tell this is a concept album?”
No. Instead, CKY’s notion of a concept album stays true to its subject matter. Carver City as both an album and fictional vacation spot is more about “atmosphere” than “actuality.” Much like the shore town it’s representative of, a family vacation at a spot mere hours away from your hometown doesn’t really feel like a genuine getaway. It’s more about who you’re surrounded by and finding yourself among familiar people in an unfamiliar place, even under less than optimal circumstances. It’s about hitting your stride no matter where you find yourself. In a nutshell, that sums up the CKY of 2009 as presented in Carver City.
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// Notes from the Road
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