When I think of areas that are hotbeds for heavy metal, South Africa isn’t exactly the first place to come to mind. Nor is it the second, third or even fourth. This is rather unfair however, since there are some really killer bands operating out of South Africa right now. Wildernessking, Agro, Gates of Aaru, and of course, the topic of today’s article: Maximum Carnage. Let’s not mince words, you knew these guys were death metal the moment you saw the name and cover art. And a name like that doesn’t lend itself to any Opeth-ian artsy death metal, either. These guys play heavy and they play loud. With their genre and mission statement firmly established, the only remaining question is “are they any good?”
Fortunately, the answer is an easy one. Yes. Blackened Sun opens with the furious title track, and its slow, menacing buildup. The vocals are of the deep, caveman variety, and they suit the slow aggression of the instrumentation. Around a minute and a half in, however, the band abruptly kick things up to eleven and dive headfirst into death/thrash territory, knocking out some tasty riffs and blistering drums. While they don’t shy away from kicking up the speed, Maximum Carnage’s riffs never lose that gross crunch that is sure to please the most discerning of death metal fans.
Another thing I like about Blackened Sun are the solos. My favourite being the brief, yet ridiculously sinister sounding number on the album’s second track, “War,” though the the solo on “Endowment” comes damn close to toppling it. The solos rarely go faster than a crawl, but they’re dripping with malice and barely disguised sinister intent. My only real problem with them is that I’m left wanting more, but when your fans want more, that’s a damn good problem to have.
My biggest concern with Blackened Sun is that there’s not quite enough variation in the songwriting. Like I said, the band will occasionally dial up the speed, but these moments re too few and too far between to save the album from feeling entirely midpaced. Even just one or two more speedy tracks would have made a large difference and would serve the album well in making it a more robust listen. That said though, Maximum Carnage are playing to their strengths. They clearly know what they’re doing when it comes to laying waste to their surroundings with midpaced death metal meets swampy doom riffs, and though I’m left wishing for a bit more variety in the material, what the band has on offer is still of high quality.
At the end of the day, Blackened Sun is no grand triumph of intricate artistry, nor was it ever meant to be. It’s a destructive, monolithic slab of good ‘ol meat-n-potatoes death metal with riffs a-plenty and some seriously evil sounding vocals. You’ll bang your head, pump your fist, stomp your feet and enjoy the album while it lasts, though you’re not likely to return to it all that often. If and when Maximum Carnage release a follow-up, though, they’ve more than earned my ears and I look forward to hearing how they progress as a group. The foundation’s there, and they’ve got the tools. Next time I fully expect a grade-A death metal masterpiece.