I should probably disclose this from the off: Green Carnation's 'Light of Day, Day of Darkness' is in my top twenty favourite albums of all time. It has been from the very first day I heard this epic beast of a record, upon its original release, back in 2001. Thus, when ‘Last Day of Darkness’ turned up for review, a concert film of the full album (comprised of one hour long track), performed in its entirety in the band’s Norwegian hometown of Kristiansand two years ago, together with a 35 minute documentary, I immediately experienced a sense of unmitigated euphoria for eventually being able to delve into this MUCH anticipated release. It also engendered a feeling of journalistic hesitation within me, as surely there's no possible way I'd be able to review this from an unbiased standpoint? However, I thought, what the hell - reviewing’s predominantly subjective in nature, anyway. After all, digesting music, like any art form, is, in essence, all about engaging your emotions as much as it is your psyche (with those two inextricably interlinked). So, with an unashamed bias and adoration of Green Carnation’s masterwork, although simultaneously judging this release on its own merits, here are my thoughts on ‘Last Day of Darkness’. And it’s just the concert film and documentary under scrutiny here, as the audio from the CD that’s included in this set hasn’t been made available for review. A little background first, though…
‘Light of Day, Day of Darkness’ was Green Carnation’s sophomore album; the follow-up to ‘Journey to the End of the Night’. With the Botteri brothers (In the Woods) now absent from the band, ex-Emperor bassist Tchort (moniker of Terje Vik Schei) solely picked up the compositional reins, after jointly composing the music for the debut, and writing all lyrics. This time around, composing, writing and arranging all the music and lyrics himself, it was an epic undertaking, and with emotionally epic results. He boldly states in liner notes for the original release, “This is my musical legacy”. And a very impressive legacy it is. Together with the incredible vocals of Kjetil Nordhus, bassist Stein Roger Sordal, guitarist Bjørn Harstad, sticksman Anders Kobro, and, of course, performing guitars, both electric and acoustic, himself, Tchort was able to bring his ambitious vision to life. And not forgetting the contributions from various other musicians, from sitar to sax players and strings; the wonderful vocals from Synne Soprana; growls by Carpathian Forest’s Roger Rasmussen; and the voice of Tchort’s very own son, Damien Aleksander, who partly inspired the whole record. Then there were the children’s and opera choirs.
Music like that on ‘Light of Day…’, that I've connected with in such an emotionally profound way, I always have that nagging, innate fear that I'll end up listening to it too much. I worry that, by spinning the disc too many times, it'll eventually start to lose its appeal; its sonic beauty will abate and the essence and power of its emotional core will fade with a sense of overfamiliarity. Not so with this masterpiece. In fact, quite the contrary: listening to the full sixty minutes of ‘Light of Day…’ is a journey I've found myself on often over the years, and one that brings both familiar and fresh delights on each occasion. It's an album that still has the power to surprise, astonish and move me, even after all these years, while the familiarity of it all brings with it a comforting sense of guaranteed catharsis, again and again, such is its emotional potency.
Following Green Carnation’s 2007 split, and Tchort’s statement of possibly continuing to make music in the future, autonomously, under the Green Carnation name, it was something of a pleasant surprise when they reformed in 2014. And then there was the even more welcome news that they’d be touring with their ‘Light of Day…’ show in 2016, to mark the 15th anniversary of the album’s release. For those of us who missed out on witnessing the sights and sounds of these events first-hand, ‘Last Day of Darkness’ is the next best thing. So, what of this live incarnation of the album in 2016?
The 60+ minute concert film commences with black and white footage of the band, arriving at the venue, to the accompaniment of acoustic guitars and atmospheric sounds and voices, of both melancholy of optimism. Various quotes appear onscreen… Tchort’s own words from November 2016: “Light of Day, Day of Darkness is emotions put into music… It is about sorrow, happiness, despair, hope, helplessness and a new beginning, all mixed together.” Further introspective ruminations follow, on the album’s genesis in how it was born from grief, sorrow, joy, guilt and other such ambivalence, following the death of his daughter and birth of his son. Without meaning to sound pedantic, a “meant” has slipped through quality control as “ment” in the captions… perhaps this will be corrected on the final, released version of ‘Last Day of Darkness’…
This all perfectly sets the scene and primes anticipation for the concert experience itself. A couple of minutes in, the ‘Light of Day…’ music starts. Shortly thereafter, clapping is introduced into the mix, as stage shots appear onscreen - initially, a backlit drummer and, then, other silhouetted musicians. Pure atmospheric and tension-building bliss. And, as the show starts good and proper, and the rather effective and atmospheric lighting kicks in, it becomes apparent that this took place in a big, all-seated, tiered theatre style venue, with a tall, deep and wide stage. The perfect setting for the performance of such a majestic masterpiece.
It must be said, Rikard Amodei, the director, has done a first-class job here, in the shoot itself and with editing all the footage into a constantly engaging montage. Green Carnation have been captured from multiple angles - up nice and close, mid-range and long shots – as well as panning shots and the occasional slow-motion insert for dramatic effect. He’s also managed to retain a sense of atmosphere through preserving the stage lighting (often taken for granted… but is not always that easy to shoot). Kudos to the lighting engineer, too, Bjørnar Skutlaberg. The band and their backdrop have been lit ever so effectively.
While the all-seated audience remain largely static (apart from a few waving arms, nodding heads and clap-alongs), they cheer loudly during some of the mellower segues between the song’s different passages. I can only imagine they were overwhelmed and/or absorbed by the emotions of it all. I guess I would’ve been, had I been there. Still, it’s all about the action up on the stage, which is as emotionally immense, intense, passionate and moving as live performances get.
Guitarist Michael S. Krumins and bassist Stein Roger Sordal are the two most animated musicians throughout the show, with both visibly getting into the groove of the song during its more up tempo moments. The latter is particularly bouncy! Green Carnation mainman, Tchort, nods and bangs his head a lot, while Kjetil has a commanding presence as a frontman, and a voice to which time has been kind, as he delivers incredibly moving vocals. Drummer Jonathan A. Perez, a newcomer to Green Carnation’s ranks, performs sticksman duties admirably, while the guy on the keys, Endre Kirkesola, who contributed a variety of instruments on the original album, and produced ‘Light of Day…’, delivers a great performance with his range of sounds. And, talking of original ‘Light of Day…’ players, guitarist Bjørn Harstad is also present, working his fretboard well, including some fine EBow work towards the song’s mid-section.
And it’s during the song’s mid-section where Green Carnation take a left-turn from the composition for a little bit of improv, with Krumins taking centre stage , widdling away on his bouzouki, over some resonant, low-frequency keyboard sounds, and distorted talk-box vocalising in what sounds like some kind of fucked up didgeridoo. Amazing! I guess this entire passage was incorporated to substitute the absence of the mid-section female vocals that appear on the album. Other musicians then appear back on the stage, and engage in what has an ephemeral jamming kind of vibe… before they return to the original composition itself.
‘Light of Day…’ has been brought to life with an emotionally fuelled performance that’s just… well, sheer bliss. It’s one that made me both smile and become just a tad teary… such is the emotional power of this music. An emotional power which has translated ever so fucking brilliantly to the stage. One can only imagine the lived experience of the here and now, for those who were lucky enough to witness this in person. Everything that made the song such a masterpiece on record works as brilliantly here - the build-ups; the seamless transitions through all of its different movements; the rich atmospheres; the emotional contrasts; the profound level of emotional expression throughout; the crescendos; the diminuendos; the forlorn-fuelled sense of melancholy; the gorgeous melodies; all the compositional twists and turns; the performances… etc… And it feels like one long piece of music, as intended, where everything belongs, rather than a load of random ideas stitched together. To sustain this throughout an hour long performance… well, what Green Carnation have achieved through this, and no doubt other, performances, should not be underestimated. Right up to the music box finale, this is a journey all of its own. A perfectly crafted one that’s been reified by some seriously talented folk.
And then there’s the thirty five minute documentary, which is an incredibly well made account of how ‘Light of Day…’ came to be, as well as tracing the band’s journey from their rehearsals for the fifteenth anniversary shows, right up to the Kristiansand gig. After some black and white, slow-motion footage from the show, it switches to a similar opening to that of the concert film itself, with band members arriving at the load-in area of the venue, and the camera following their passage through the many corridors, until they reach the stage. The footage is much more extensive here, and is accompanied by subtitled voice-overs from fans of different nationalities; people who originally experienced the record, who each briefly explain what it meant, and still means, to them. It nicely puts into context the globally affective power of emotionally sincere and profound music, and how it can move and inspire people in so many different ways.
Early on, Tchort talks about when he lost his first child in 1994, his daughter, and how “it took away all my energy and my inspiration to make music and I stayed that way for quite some years… five or six years.” He then says how he wasn’t ready to give up on music, so performed in other bands with their own songs - hence his stints in Emperor, Satyricon and Einherjer. It was then that Green Carnation was born which, when he wrote the first song for their debut, ‘My Dark Reflections of Life and Death’, claims that it, “opened a gate with all this inspiration and all these feelings and emotions coming out.” And, when he started working on ‘Light of Day…’, his son was born, which he was “overly thrilled and happy” about, but had “a conflict of feelings” of being “afraid to let her memory go”. He then talks about the “joy and happiness” of having his son, mixed with the “sadness and despair” of not having his daughter anymore; the contrasting emotions of which fed into ‘Light of Day…’. I’ll refrain from giving away any further info about the documentary, but will just say that it’s a thoroughly absorbing, well-edited piece of filmmaking. It includes eulogistic comments by the ProgPower USA and Blast Fest organisers; various interview clips (predominantly Tchort, but also other members, and sound engineer, Ruben Lervåg); fleeting footage from a pub with some drinking merriment; all mixed in with performance clips, etc.
Green Carnation have previously released a couple of rather tasty DVDs. Their first venture into live DVD territory - 2004’s 'Alive and Well… in Krakow' - was an amazing little package with all kinds of interesting bonus content and, for the main show, they performed the first half of ‘Light of Day…’… which was bliss back then… although I remember feeling short-changed that they didn’t tackle the track in its entirety in a live context. And their second DVD release, 2007’s ‘A Night Under the Dam’ was off-the-scale in terms of one-off special shows (albeit, it’s a night they repeated when they resumed activity as a band in 2014). Such a beautiful performance and show in a totally unique setting. Now, they have a third live DVD to their name, of which they can be truly proud.
‘Light of Day, Day of Darkness’ is, in my opinion, one of the most important, emotionally sincere and profound, musically accomplished masterpieces released in any genre, ever. Now, I can happily declare ‘Last Day of Darkness’ is one of the greatest ever live DVD releases. Absolutely fucking phenomenal. Release of the year, for me. I can’t see this being topped. And, after digesting this in its entirety, I’m left contemplating, why oh why did this tour not come over to the UK? Why did I not travel abroad for one of the ‘Light of Day…’ shows? That’s something I guess I’ll forever regret.
DVD + CD
LAST DAY OF DARKNESS
Review by Mark Holmes
61:48 & 34:32
24th August 2018
DVD: 'Last Day of Darkness' concert film + 35 minute documentary
CD: 'Last Day of Darkness' concert
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"‘Light of Day, Day of Darkness’ is, in my opinion, one of the most important, emotionally sincere and profound, musically accomplished masterpieces released in any genre, ever. Now, I can happily declare ‘Last Day of Darkness’ is one of the greatest ever live DVD releases."