CARBONSTONE – Album Review: “Dark Matter”

Carbonstone is an industrial alternative metal band from Baltimore, Maryland that I learned about a few weeks ago when their front man, songwriter and vocalist Corey James reached out to me about their latest album Dark Matter. Influenced by such acts as the Rolling Stones, Korn, Nine Inch Nails, Static-X, Linkin Park and Starset, among others, Carbonstone creates hard-hitting, yet incredibly melodic music fueled by powerful driving rhythms, explosive riffs and lush industrial soundscapes, and fortified by James’ exceptional vocals.

James originally formed the band in 2005 under the name ‘Unspoken’, but later briefly changed their name to ‘Carved in Stone’, until someone misheard him, thinking he said ‘Carbonstone’. In a conversation with bandmate Neely Johns I watched on YouTube, James humorously recalled the exchange he had with someone at a party: “Somebody asked me ‘So what’s the new band name?’, and I said ‘It’s Carved in Stone’. When you have about 15 beers in your system and try to say Carved in Stone, it slurs out a little bit. He repeated Carbonstone back to me, and I said ‘Holy shit, that’s now the band name!’

Carbonstone released three albums, Behind Closed Doors, Process of Elimination and What You’ve Become, as well as two EPs Unspoken and Strength in Silence, before life demands, the pressures of touring and burnout ultimately led the band to call it quits in 2014. Everyone went their separate ways, and James came very close to giving up on music altogether. But he could never fully let it go, and after a hiatus lasting more than five years, James once again felt the pull of music. In 2019, he decided to resurrect Carbonstone with former bandmate Neely Johns on guitar, along with new members Daniel Ryan on bass, Tony Correlli on synths and production, and TJ Darpino, who handles the extra live guitars and produces the band’s videos. Armed with three previously-written songs and several new ones he wrote during the first three months of 2021, James got together with his bandmates in April, and spent the next six months recording Dark Matter.

Released in late October 2021, Dark Matter is a gorgeous work, featuring 11 outstanding tracks plus a brief instrumental intro. The album was masterfully arranged and produced by band member and engineer Tony Correlli. As implied by its title, it’s a dark concept album inspired by some of the personal traumas James experienced in the years after Carbonstone’s breakup in 2014. He says the album contains some of the most personal songs he’s ever written, which take us on a journey from initial injury, as depicted on the opening instrumental track “Laceration” and following track “AM Trauma”, through the process of addressing personal demons and beginning the recovery from emotional trauma, as described by “Mend” midway through the album, to a state of well-being on the closing track, “Heal”.

The opening instrumental track “Laceration” establishes a moody tone with ominous atmospheric industrial synths, highlighted by darkly beautiful piano keys, before launching into the full-frontal assault that is “AM Trauma“. The guys layer an intense barrage of gnarly riffs over a chugging bassline and pounding drums, all of which explode into a raging torrent in the choruses. James has a beautiful, arresting vocal style that’s perfect for hard rock. His voice reminds me at times of Trent Reznor or Adam Gontier, effortlessly transitioning from seductive breathy croons to bone-chilling impassioned wails as he sings “Have you recovered. You won’t admit you never knew me, and you’ll pay for the way you deceived me. AM trauma, look at what you’ve done!/What have I become? All eyes on me, I am a catastrophe!

Hush” is a dramatic and melodically beautiful rock song with intricate guitars that run the gamut from shimmery to shredded, accompanied by swirling industrial synths and galloping percussion. The lyrics speak of being unable or unwilling to face one’s demons, choosing instead to suppress them in the mistaken belief they’ll just go away: “Ever feel like you’re always faking. It’s all in how you hold secrets left untold. You’d never know I’m suffocating.”

Bookended by rather spooky dulcet tones one would hear on a music box, “Phantoms” is a melodically complex tug of war between the calm of a lovely rock ballad and the explosive aggression of industrial metal. James plaintively laments of the demons – i.e. phantoms – that torment him: “I am forever haunted. These phantoms live beneath my skin. If I descend to madness, just look away and pray for me.” And on the heavy and dark “Mend“, he fears he’ll never experience happiness again: “I can never feel that way again. It’s so unreal the way I bend. Push and pull me closer to the edge. These open wounds will never mend.”

One of my favorite tracks on the album is “My Own Summer (Shove It)“, an excellent cover of the Deftones classic. Carbonstone does the song great justice, capturing the intense, eerie vibe of the original while making it their own, and James’ jaw-dropping vocal gymnastics are every bit as good as Deftones lead singer Chino Moreno’s. The title track “Dark Matter” is a powerful and stunning song with elements of Depeche Mode and Muse, only much more intense. James rails about the burdens he’s carried his entire life: “Cause I’ve carried the weight of the world, from the very day that I was born. Been buried underneath again, forever walking with the dead.”

The parade of excellent songs continues with “Pins & Needles“, featuring the dual vocal harmonies of James and his wife Chrystal, who’s the lead singer of metal rock band ANOXIA (of which James is also a member). Her beautiful vocals remind me a bit of Evanescence lead singer Amy Lee. The lyrics are a plea for help to escape from emotional torment: “I’m locked alone inside my head, it’s like a carnival. Somewhere between alive and dead, I’m just a tragedy. Rescue me from myself, the enemy.” “Vertigo” is a hard-driving banger addressing the negative impacts the cruel, hard ways of the world have on our souls: “It’s not your fault, the way you are. This fucked up world will leave you scarred. It tears you up and lets you down. This vertigo drives us underground.”

Another favorite of mine is “Kill the Dark (Astray)“, a stunning piano-driven ballad that’s the most melodic and beautiful song on the album. James’ breathy vocals are captivating as he sings of coming out of the dark and moving toward recovery: “Inside you scream, until it bleeds. Let’s kill the dark in you and me. Feel it all break, shattering away. Every move we make leads us more astray.” “Heal” closes the album on a high, albeit intense note, with a strong Nine Inch Nails vibe. James’ menacing vocals even sound like Trent Reznor’s as he passionately sings “The hardest part is letting go. It’s diving into the unknown. An empty space that you can feel. Sometimes the fall is how we heal. Do you feel better now?

Dark Matter is a phenomenal, beautifully-crafted album brimming with impactful songs dealing with emotional trauma and the self-realization required for eventual healing. Carbonstone should be very proud of what they’ve created here, and this album needs to be heard by as many ears as possible. They’ve got a fan in me, and I hope my readers will love this album as much as I do.

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