Warren Ellis and Nick Cave Credit: Joel Ryan

In 2018 Nick Cave opened a new portal into his world with a question-and-answer newsletter titled the Red Hand Files. As queries from fans flooded in, Cave dutifully replied with poetic meditations, splashy Polaroids of his opulent Brighton home, and the occasional errant one-liner that shed new light on the mystique that he’s meticulously cultivated for 40-plus years. On February 25, Cave revealed one of the most momentous installments of the Red Hand Files: the surprise release of Carnage, a collaborative album with longtime cohort Warren Ellis that he describes as “a brutal but very beautiful record nested in a communal catastrophe.” Though Cave and Ellis have worked together in various capacities since the mid-90s, including the Bad Seeds and Grinderman, Carnage is their first pure duo release outside the soundtrack realm. The Bad Seeds’ most recent albums, 2016’s Skeleton Tree and 2019’s Ghosteen, took shape in the shadow of the accidental death of Cave’s teenage son, Arthur, in 2015, and they’re devastating. On Carnage, though, Cave ruminates on a different sort of death: the implosion of a world that once seemed laid out at our feet, and our collective mourning of all we’ve lost. The album pulls from a thematic palette similar to that of the Bad Seeds’ past decade—grief, devotion, yearning—and Ellis sows an even more bountiful crop of piano, synthesizer, and percussion. On album opener “Hand of God” Cave delves into the fire-and-brimstone vocals of this early Bad Seeds years, lent extra menace by a chanting choir. Any sense of danger quickly dissipates, though, thanks to the Alan Vega-esque throbs and jolting piano of “Old Time” and the lounge-lizard melodrama of the title track. As he’s aged, Cave has increasingly melded his favored Biblical themes with cheeky romanticism: naked women in water, naked women in beds, hotel-room walls adorned with the images of naked women. It’s at once poetic, comical, and smutty—and on Carnage it eases the album’s existential weight. Even in the most trying of times, Cave finds ways to summon his characteristic roughshod glamour, injecting vivid depictions of his “lap-dancing shoes” (“Balcony Man”) and a “Botticelli Venus with a penis” (“White Elephant”). Carnage also showcases Ellis’s abilities as a musical architect, as he erects sonic tabernacles from which Cave can praise or condemn at will. The album does best when it celebrates the Cave-Ellis dyad at its most uninhibited, prioritizing boldness above overall cohesion. That’s not to say lack of coherence is a weakness; when describing how to build a perfect house of worship in The Cathedral Is Dying, sculptor Auguste Rodin wrote, “There is no beginning. Start where you arrive.” With Carnage, Cave and Ellis invite listeners to simply exist in the moment, and in a time where so many are preoccupied with the past or the future, that feels like a gift.   v