Carnival of Shadows - Carousel (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Carnival of Shadows

Carousel (2015)


It's said that the Ramones wrote the same song over and over, but then that's not really a criticism as much as a feature of their music: it may have been the same two minute song over and over but it was a great song (and of course but there were outliers from "Here Today, Gone Tomorrow" but that's getting off course). Carnival of Shadows write the same song over and over too but it's kind of a mediocre song: it's an aggressive folk-punk barnstomper with minimal augmentation, just percussion, acoustic guitar, and limited nasal vocals a la Greg Graffin. And that's it! That's all the band can offer us, over 13 times. Save for the fairly creative "Intro" imploring us carnie barker style to come into the carnival, this is just not a really innovative or interesting folk-punk record. The Carnival of Shadows doesn't even seem like it's having much fun which makes it worse.

And it's not like the ingredients here are really a bad combination: anarcho-rage, fiercely strummed folk anthems, sing-along choruses? Pre-Fat Wreck Chords Against Me! and Mischief Brew have made some vital and badass punk rock from this and so have dozens of others. For one though unlike those other bands these songs have no other orchestration other than drums and guitar, which makes all the songs sound numbingly repetitive. This probably comes from budgetary limitations so I'm not begrudging the band that, but it weakens the hell out of the album, especially when the songs are using the same structures and sound with no change (give me a ballad or something slow!!)

And it'd be better if the songs were better and more enjoyable but they range between bleak cynicism("Murderer" is about how everybody's capable of murder) and angry anthems about oil and the justice system we've kinda heard before, with no ambivalence or ambiguity to spice things up. I appreciate the sincerity and lack of irony but I also like complexity and change-ups in sound - "Carnival's Out of Control" and "Carnival Requiem" mix it up just a little (and the carnival concept is pretty smart) but it's too little too late.

To be clear the band seem like intelligent guys based on their dense, fairly literate lyrics and their politics but it doesn't make up for how short Carousel falls. The music just needed to aim higher and didn't; I admire their passion, but this album didn't translate that into good music. For now the carnival's closed and it didn't live up to the ringmaster's hype.