With a name like Carriage, you should have a pretty good idea what’s in store. After all, the word Carriage immediately conjures up imagery of the cover artwork from Abigail, and puts one in mind of Miriam Natias and Jonathan La Fey riding up the alley in the rain to a mansion in darkness. Song titles like “Primal Ritual,” “Drink the Blood,” and “Gypsy Woman” confirm that initial impression. Lest there be any lingering doubt, the CD traycard proudly proclaims, “Occult Heavy Metal Darkness.” So prepare yourself for a full, unadulterated dose of King Diamond-inspired spooky traditional heavy metal. Interestingly, Carriage features singer Robbie Rainey and guitarist Michael Martin, both of speed/thrash act Possessor, who released a damn good album called City Built with Skulls back in 2012. Carriage represents a pretty significant stylistic detour for these guys, but you’d never know it from listening to this debut album entitled Visions, freshly released via the ever-reliable Stormspell Records.
Truth be told, Visions is an entertaining and rewarding listen. Guitarists Martin and River Ashberry have compiled a slew of sturdy, bright, ‘80s-inspired riffs that explain the band bio’s references to the likes of Grim Reaper and Savatage (Sirens / Dungeons Are Calling era). Vocalist Rainey acquits himself well, convincingly channeling the spirit of Kim Bendix Petersen on both the falsetto screams and the vitally important midrange stuff. Lyrically, the material is suitably ghoulish, touching on such macabre topics as seeking revenge against sadistic nuns, spilling blood in the night, invading coffins by the light of the full moon, and so on. And the songs are largely convincing, particularly on tracks like “Medusa’s Stare,” which rides catchy melodies and haunting themes, before a brilliant extended instrumental break beginning at the 2:20 mark (punctuated by a few Oliva-style yelps) elevates the song to gold-plated status. Other standouts include the stellar “Primal Ritual,” which creates a creepy vibe between fits of galloping riffage; the energetic, straightahead “Hunting the Witch;” and “Drink the Blood,” which begins with a gently plucked intro that segues into a slow, grinding, sinister riff before picking up a full head of steam in a spine-tingling dual lead section. There’s even a nifty, effective instrumental entitled “The Owl” smack dab in the middle of the album, allowing each musician an opportunity to shine.
The Virginia-based quintet has done well here at capturing the classic King Diamond style, with an injection of their own identity in the form of those ‘80s trad metal riffs. If there’s a drawback to Visions, it’s that the Mercyful Fate/King Diamond space has been fairly exhaustively mined of late, with the likes of Attic, Them, Portrait, Trial, and In Solitude, among others, all having done a similar sort of thing in recent years. Carriage might be a bit late to this particular party. Is it necessary to have another band in this style? Well, no, probably not. Those who think this Abigail-type sound is played out, or who crave originality in their metal, should probably look elsewhere for their musical fix. That said, if (like me) your touchstone for new music is quality rather than innovation, then Visions is an album of many charms that comes easily recommended. Also, if you have the opportunity, be sure to catch Carriage live, as their stage show includes all manner of friendly evil fun, with everything from smoldering pulpits to corpses to full-on blood drinking. And who doesn’t like that sort of thing, right?
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~