Green Carnation: Acoustic Verses

An all-acoustic experiment by the progressive metal band turns out to be just as powerful as their amplified work.

Green Carnation

Acoustic Verses

Label: The End
US Release Date: 2006-01-24
UK Release Date: Available as import
iTunes affiliate
Amazon affiliate
Insound affiliate

The metal section has always been the most misunderstood of the various categories in your local record store. While everyone hangs around the new releases, the top sellers, and the large, all-inclusive “pop/rock” section, occasionally drifting towards the country, blues, folk, and jazz, there sit the metal shelves, ignored by most, save for the odd hardcore fan looking for the latest Scandinavian masterwork (only to scoff in disbelief when it’s not there), people in their thirties and forties looking for remastered reissues of the great bands of their teen past, or junior high kids flipping through the Mudvayne and Papa Roach selections. There seems to be an unspoken agreement between the metal crowd and the mainstream folks: don’t bother us, and we won’t bother you. Sadly, just as any narrow-minded metal kid would be missing out on something as cool as Dungen’s Ta Det Lugnt over in the pop/rock section, those who purposely avoid metal are in turn missing out on some music that they might find, to their amazement, is actually quite lovely.

Formed by lead guitarist Tchort in 1990, and resurrected in 1998 after his stint with black metal legends Emperor, Norway’s Green Carnation has provided audiences with the kind of ambitious, far-reaching music that prog fans crave, incorporating such sounds as doom, death, and power metal, yet at the same time, have shown tremendous skill at crafting memorable melodies that complement the overall scope of the music, without sounding either too forced or too pop-oriented. The 2005 album The Quiet Offspring was a rather underrated gem, lauded by critics, but largely ignored by many, an edgy, yet affable record that displayed the sextet’s great versatility, with melodic numbers sitting alongside more aggressive, epic fare. Never ones for wasting time, the band have now released their fifth album in five years, and not only does Acoustic Verses let us know right away what we should expect in its title alone, but it’s an experiment that turns out to be a resounding success.

All too often, especially in recent years, hard rock and metal bands taking the acoustic route is either a recipe for disaster or merely a source of turgid, lazily arranged songs that hide behind the all-too used descriptions of “stripped down” and “returning to their roots”, when in fact the simplified, unamplified arrangements often show us just how musically limited many guitar bands are (case in point: Godsmack’s well-meaning, but failed experiment The Other Side). For all the lame Jar of Flies imitations, though, there have been several acoustic departures by metal artists that renew our hope in the “unplugged” format. As for Green Carnation, Tchort doesn’t hide the fact that he had not touched an acoustic guitar in more than a dozen years prior to writing for Acoustic Verses, but as the album shows, he and his bandmates were more than up for the challenge.

Although the overall tone of the new album remains steeped in progressive metal, it’s tempting to call this folk music, its laid back, organic feel is a direct contradiction to the band’s normally ear-splitting sound. That said, the mood of the music remains the same, those dour doom elements creeping in, songs veering off onto serpentine, art rock tangents. “Sweet Leaf” might bear the same title as the Black Sabbath classic, but instead of being a lunkheaded tribute to weed, it takes a more metaphorical route, a thinly-veiled, yet touching dialogue from parent to child (“How can I be your guardian angel when you are away?”), with tenor-voiced lead singer Kjetil Nordhus and baritone-throated bassist Roger Sordal exchanging verses, underscored by layers of acoustic guitars, strings, Rhodes piano, and a stately marching beat by drummer Tommy Jackson. The Celtic-tinged “Alone” is based on the Poe poem of the same name, while the melancholy “The Burden is Mine…Alone”, with Nordhus’s genuinely affecting performance, achieves a Jeff Buckely-esque level of tender-voiced beauty. Although acoustic guitars dominate, it’s not a fully un-amplified record, as electric bass is present, and stylish electronic touches like mellotron, ebow, and theremin are all put to effective use.

The startling centerpiece “9-29-045” offers an inspired combination of the quieter acoustic sound with the band’s progressive tendencies; divided in three movements, the 15 minute suite veers from haunting melodies to moments of space rock that hint at Pink Floyd, as Sordal’s enigmatic lyrics hint at themes of domestic violence. It’s during this song that Green Carnation best display their skill; while many other bands would have taken a much more theatrical approach, the band shows incredible discipline. Instead of tidal waves of emotional outbursts, we get more effective squalls and undertows, saving the lengthy track from bombastic self-indulgence, making the song all the more convincing in the process.

Like Antimatter’s Planetary Confinement, Anathema’s A Natural Disaster, and Opeth’s Damnation, Acoustic Verses is yet another understated, cleaner-sounding record by a metal act that fully deserves to reach an audience much broader than just the band’s loyal fanbase. A couple steps across the aisle to the metal section is all it takes to be introduced to a side of modern metal that is not all power chords, blastbeats, and cookie monster vocals, one capable of genuine, aching beauty.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.