Recorded during lockdown, Carnage is, in the words of Cave, “a brutal but very beautiful record nested in a communal catastrophe.” Speaking to the difficulty of present times with a defiant sense of hope, it sometimes strikes a similarly meditative tone to last year’s Bad Seeds record, Ghosteen. At others, it’s more foreboding and fierce, pushing towards Cave’s gritty Grinderman albums of the ’00s.
Cave’s electrifying performances make arenas feel like living rooms, and each person inside an integral part of the unfolding story.
The album marks the first entire album of songs that Cave and Ellis have released together. Their creative chemistry is rooted in their long history of music-making, both as collaborators and as individual artists. They first crossed paths in 1993, when Ellis played violin on several songs for the Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds album, Let Love In, before going on to join the band as a full-time member. The two have also recorded in Grinderman, formed in 2006, and have worked together on numerous film and TV scores.
“Making Carnage was an accelerated process of intense creativity,” says Ellis. “The eight songs were there in one form or another within the first two and a half days.” The synergy between the pair is clear from the off, in trembling opus ‘Hand of God’. Like most of the album, the backdrop is minimalist, pretty much limited to swirling strings, sparse beats and an ethereal choir. On top, Cave’s lyrical theatricality shines as brightly as ever as he longs for the interventionist god that he rejected in 1997’s ‘Intro My Arms’. In this track and through the album, he uses overtly religious imagery in ways both subversive and devout, revering the “kingdom in the sky” but, in the context of the often bleak music, suggesting we are doomed never to find it.
Things get more sinister on album centrepiece ‘White Elephant’, with Cave serving up a Murder Ballads-leaning monologue that draws on the Black Lives Matter protests: “A protester kneels on the neck of a statue / The statue says, ‘I can’t breathe’ / The protester says now you know how it feels / And kicks it into the sea”. Starting off as a vicious and abstract dub-tinged track – one that sounds like you’re listening to Portishead through a wall – strings from Ellis elevate the atmosphere to foreboding new heights before suddenly, the sun parts the clouds. The song ends in an opulent gospel-rock singalong in which Cave proclaims “a time is nigh for the kingdom in the sky” (that line again); hope wins, albeit under very surreal circumstances.
As dramatic as this thing is on record, you just know the intensity will be multiplied on stage – the place where both artists belong. Cave’s electrifying performances make arenas feel like living rooms, and each person inside an integral part of the unfolding story. That story, so evolved now, is one we can’t wait to hear the latest chapter of at The Bridgewater Hall.