ALBUM REVIEW: Murky melodies and melancholic crooning on Carnage, the new release by Nick Cave & Warren Ellis

Samuel Hornsby reviews ‘Carnage’, the newest musical outing by Australian duo Nick Cave and Warren Ellis.

Warren Ellis and Nick Cave: Photo by Takahiro Kyono via. Creative Commons

The musical content of ‘Carnage’ swoops in and hovers calmly like a kestrel. It looms there in a desolate sky filled with the haunting sounds of gloomy hope and downcast romance. The album encourages you to gaze upon its twisted beauty, as do I.

It is the first non-soundtrack by the Australian duo Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, who had previously worked on the scores for several films together including the epic western ‘The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford’, the dystopian survivalist story ‘The Road’ and the gritty Aussie odyssey ‘The Proposition’.

Their first venture into an album of independent vision as a duo is a powerful piece filled with stunning melodies and carefully crafted lyrics. It is peppered throughout with some of the usual markings one may be accustomed to from Nick Cave releases but at the same time remains its own beast thanks to the help of experienced sideman Warren Ellis.

Ellis first began working with Cave in 1993 as a session musician for The Bad Seeds’ album ‘Let Love In’. Soon after he would become a permanent fixture and an integral collaborative force for Cave helping write songs for the band and co-founding the side group ‘Grinderman’.

At this point in time, they feel like equals at their craft. The duo fuse their expertise creating such a well-blended, inventive sound it can often feel like a ballroom dance in which you cannot tell which partner is leading.

The compositions the twosome have conceived are masterfully crafted with layers of dark and murky melodies placed neatly on top of a solid foundation of hypnotising, meditative electronic loops.

This style feels like a natural progression of the sound developed by Cave and Ellis on the previous Bad Seeds album ‘Ghosteen’. The sonic landscape is a clean and ethereal piece of chamber pop with splashes of ambience and the odd jolt of rock poking through in the form of quick snippets of distorted guitars.

As the album progresses, it leads you in to bathe in its placid aural waters, but if you are not careful it will pull you out to lonely depths. Luckily, Cave’s vocal prescience acts as a poetic anchor in the desolate ocean of minimalistic sound.

His voice drips with melancholy as he croons harrowing lines that paint lyrical stories about the touch of the hand of God, crazed men dancing on balconies and a masculinised version of Venus De Milo shooting people with a gun made of elephant tears.

Though often cryptic and surreal, Cave weaves in profound meaning and weight into the songs. He does this by lacing references to current day social issues such as the George Floyd murders which inevitably add a more serious and touching piece of emotion to his lyrical broth.

‘Carnage’ proves to be a triumph for both Cave and Ellis showing they still have the strength of their creativity and talent even as they descend into what one could consider the Autumn of their years. It also proves they can craft excellence as a pair without the direction of a film to guide the music or a wider band to flesh out and form it.