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I'm slightly shocked by the relatively low number of reviews 'Heartwork' has attracted on the Metal Archives. Bearing in mind that At the Gates' 'Slaughter of the Soul' has attracted more than 20 and In Flames ' The Jester Race' is breathing down the neck of the same figure, why have these guys not seen quite the same level of scrutiny? Sure, 'Reek of Putrefaction' might have been slightly more significant in changing the playing field for extreme metal via the birth of goregrind, but Carcass precede At the Gates reaching the same stylistic plateau by a good couple of years. I'm not going to go into that debate of "who started melodic death metal", but these guys are often forgotten, perhaps because the Liverpudlians were so far from the epicentre in Sweden.
What I do think is more important is the way that Carcass didn't seem to conform to any of the cliches of melodeath. There are some bands who, even on first listen, sound intensely familiar and almost hackneyed in their repetition of the genre's tropes. Usually it isn't the first wave of bands who are guilty of this, but if I think about how many times I've been reminded of In Flames when listening to a late-90s Scandinavian release, it makes me very glad that 'Heartwork' hasn't been ripped off nearly so much. The style here is quite distinctly rooted in death metal and goes far beyond the vocals to the churning thrash riffs, double bass pummelling, and aura of sickness that I don't often hear coming from Sweden. The pace is faster and less bouncy than most melodeath, though that isn't to say that a song like 'Blind Bleeding the Blind' doesn't have groove or hooks, because those elements are certainly present too. I get more of a feeling that something has been transmitted directly from Death to Carcass, rather than feeling that certain tropes of the deathly sound have been chosen to augment melodic heavy metal. The drumming and pace of the riffs is about 70% brutal, but often alternates with more spacious parts that never make the album feel too crowded, simply more exciting and varied. The leads, of course, display much more melody and change the feel of these songs from oppressive to uplifting.
The basic parts of the band all work well, which is important. I think that the flatter, more steel-edged guitar tone suits this music well and the alternation between heads down riffing and melodic breaks maintains interest, even if the transitions are occasionally a little too frequent. Michael Amott turns out more interesting riffs here than he did with Arch Enemy and naturally his solos sound great, preserving just enough technicality and histrionic shredding to steer clear of dampening the heaviness. Bill Steer is important as well, because he always plays his bass like a death metal instrument, thickening the assault of both strings and percussion, so that we can hear both the crispness of the riffs and the bludgeoning of the drums clearly, while allowing him to make his own impression on occasion. His voice is also a big factor in this album's success, because - even though he doesn't vary his tone much - his dry bark is capable of a large range of expression and can add intensity to the faster sections, also relaxing when needed. The drums aren't very crisp, but have a lot of attack to them: the blastbeats are on point, while the slower sections have a steadiness and weight to them that can be even more satisfying, like in the mid-paced 'Embodiment', which remains consistently interesting for 5 minutes.
When examining the songs closely, I don't get the same feeling as I do with 'Slaughter of the Soul', where I could probably mention something about every track, yet that album has been described as catchy and accessible to a fault. The more memorable songs here tend to have slower sections or more pronounced solos: 'Embodiment' stands out as the most intricate in its continued progression, while 'No Love Lost' prefigures the more groovy death and roll that Carcass would explore on 'Swansong'. 'Arbeit Macht Fleish' might be the heaviest and nastiest, certainly if one judges from the lyrics, which are the poetic equivalent of a torn and oil-spattered corpse; this song contains some of the best all-out riffing of the album. A few songs blend together a little and lose some impact, though none are especially disappointing, usually pulling a nice solo out if the riffs are mediocre or some smart vocal work if the music takes a back seat.
In fact, having come to the end of this review, I feel like I've answered my own question about why there are fewer reviews of 'Heartwork' than other melodeath staples. There's something that separates these guys from the Swedes - more than just nationality - and they are simply satisfactory to listen to, rather than splitting opinion. Don't get me wrong, I like 'Heartwork'; I just don't like it passionately, nor do I think I could ever despise it.
Among many other things I have recently been recommended to listen to, Heartwork by Carcass was the one that I felt the biggest pull towards. Despite the fact that Carcass is known as a grindcore band, I was assured that this album was melodic death metal, and one of the best melodeath albums at that. Many people have claimed it to be a classic, so that should be as good a reason as any to check it out.
Since the lead guitarist is Michael Amott, I was fairly certain that there'd be some interesting guitar sections on Heartwork. That part doesn't disappoint, and there are plenty of enjoyable moments. Sometimes it feels like they're a bit too far apart though, and I kind of wish there were more melodic hooks finding their way through the thick riffs that play across most of the album. There are also a lot of time where the leads lack any real feeling and it doesn't have any effect on me.
I also find the vocals to be poor. They're just not very nice to listen to, a weak snarl that doesn't fit in with the riffs pouring out of the guitars. They detract a great amount from everything else, because while they might fit with a band like Kalmah, for Carcass they simply don't work. At least the drumming never has any bad moments, everything that Ken Owen does is very solid and enjoyable. He never does anything that sounds out of place either, never just tries to show off. He stays within the bounds of the music and delivers a very good performance.
Other people have mentioned it, and I'm going to have to say that the further on this album goes the more samey it begins to sound. As a result everything drags on forever and by the end you're left thinking that you're listening to Grieving Age (ie. every song feels like it lasts forever). There are good things about the songs that come later on too, but they're more limited and it begins to feel really boring.
By the time that the album was actually done, I was breathing a sigh of relief. Good moments are hidden within this record, but after forty minutes that feel more along the lines of an hour and a half I'm really pretty stumped to name what's good and what's bad. Too many songs feature the same riffs and the vocals never have any kind of unique identification, and the good things get lost inside that.
It's quite obvious why this would be an influential piece of music at its time of release, but there are many far more interesting records than this if you're seeking something of interest. There are some good tracks like the title track, and actually the first half of the album is fairly enjoyable, but by the end the ideas and the songwriting are tired are I find myself looking for something more interesting to listen to.
This is a fairly well-known album by extreme metal standards. The reason being is likely that Melodic Death Metal is probably the least extreme of this category. For another, Carcass already had something of a reputation, so their next release could build off what came prior. This all sounds cynical, but as evidenced by my score I do enjoy this album. This is the last great thing Carcass ever did. Swansong was a good notch below this and their reunion somewhere in-between. There is no song on this album that is worse than above average. It only gets an 88 because of the way I feel from the track listing.
The vocals have been reduced to one, it's just Walker from here on out. I can't say I miss Owen's bizarre, electronic lines. Steer is a different matter, as I enjoy his vocals as much as Walker's. I also feel that this diminishes the unpredictable aspect of the band, though that may have been the thought process. For that matter as well, Walker's vocals are a good deal different. He no longer uses his vomit-style vocals, and his rasp is toned down. Having said all this, I do still like Walker's vocals. Even weakened he's better than any of the other melodeath vocalists I've heard. It's hard to describe his vocals on here other than to say he sounds ill. He sounds like he's battling some lung disease and is choking on his own blood with every word. It adds to the poignancy of some of the lyrics, but I still miss the older vocals.
Walker is also writing different lyrics. The gory lyrics have been replaced by ones talking about....I really don't know what half the time. They seem pretty random to me. There are still a ton of big words, but now they seem like that kid in class who used the Thesaurus to help him write a paper. The only pattern I see to them is that they're corny. Their turn away from gore was so they could write songs about nothing more intelligible but with phrases that are easier to grab hold of. They're pretty catchy, so I can't complain too much, but those who don't like gore should note what bands turn to otherwise. For many, this represents a change away from their roots, and they reject it. I would say that this is nonsensical. For one, Carcass changed sounds every album, so they didn't really have normal roots. Second, the music here is still largely good. If you're just into extreme metal, this could be a problem, but it's very listenable otherwise.
The guitars on this album are a departure from Necroticism in two ways. The first is the obvious, that it's more melodic. I chalk this up to Amott, though not really critically. The rest of the band would have known where Amott's interests were, and they were probably wanting to go here anyways. The second is the way the guitars come together during the riffing, it's very dense. The guitars on Necroticism were somewhat more separated and angular. This is very reminiscent to me of Carnage's debut, and I find it very interesting that shades from Amott's previous band would manifest on his second outing with them rather than his first. As for their quality, they're very enjoyable. The riffing has a good oomph, and the soloing is very thoughtful. As odd as "thoughtful" might sound, most of the memorable leads aren't blazing. Amott's solos are often sadder than the music around him, and he's guaranteed to bring down whatever intensity was being built. People often compare Amott to Maiden, but Adrian and Dave were never this depressing. I'd actually liken Amott's solos to the kind you'd hear on an old acoustic song but on electric instead. I'm not complaining however, as I find that his solos keep a very heavy feel throughout the album.
The drumming is not bad, but it isn't excellent either. It lacks the speed and aggression of his previous outings, but he gains very little groove out of it. He still tosses in some fills here and there, so not everything is lost, but I'd take his previous two outings over this. The bass is really not doing anything special. I don't count this as a negative, but it does seem odd to me that with slowed down music and better production, that Walker wouldn't have spent a little more time giving himself little fills.
My comment on the track listing is that it gives an odd decline to the songs. If I listen to this all the way through, the quality declines every few songs. The first four equal great, the next three equal very good, and the last three equaling above-average. Isolating individual songs gives me a similar sense, but not to the same extent. A previous reviewer mentioned this as an "endurance test." I don't totally agree with this, but I do feel some of this is at play. The pacing and song length is quite similar from track to track, so there is probably a sort of slight monotony building as you get further along. People often say that this is simpler than Necroticism, and it is, but it also seems simpler than Symphonies. That album had a greater amount of tempo changes within tracks, and the extremes were far greater. Also, there's nothing here that seems more accomplished other than the soloing, with most everything else being lesser.
As far as its impact on metal, it is one of the earliest melodic death metal albums. Admittedly, this isn't a style I care much for, but keeping that in mind, I feel that says something if I'm still giving this album a high score. The vocals, though neutered, contain a character to them, and Walker's choking on blood definitely adds some fire. The lyrics and vocal lines have an infectious nature to them in spite of their incoherence. As for the guitars, you have two of the greatest metal guitarists of all time. Amott managed to get his next band going by simply watering down this album multiple times under the Arch Enemy name; the first few of theirs really do sound like a poor man's version of what you have in front of you. If you like thrash, melodeath, swededeath, or even just heavy metal, then you should enjoy this.
You would be hard pressed to find a person with an interest in metal who hasn't listened to 'Heartwork' and doesn't immediately reply with "It's a classic!”. Its influence on the burgeoning melodic death metal scene and the rest of metal for the next decade cannot be understated. The fusion of thrash-inflected traditional heavy metal riffs with death metal tendencies and extended, pentatonic lead work showed that what was once old could be cobbled into something new again.
Even as the years passed 'Heartwork' remained as that pivotal, developmental step and to join in the ritualistic chant of "It's a classic!" felt right. With the announcement that Carcass had released a new album this year, it was hard to fight the urge to spin 'Heartwork' for old time sake and bask in a "classic". The thick layer of dust surrounding its memory was quickly swept away in a tide of familiar notes and Walker's signature vocals, but with every passing minute something felt amiss as the initial excitement and interest waned. It was somewhere around "Blind Leading the Blind" that the feeling of disinterest and unease finally coalesced into a single, succinct thought:
"This is mediocre"
'Heartwork' is far from being a bad album; it is well written and the musicians perform with a surgical precision. It is difficult to not feel that the album is well calculated, that it reeks of obsessive tinkering and meticulous planning. Observing 'Heartwork' as a machine performing cyclic tasks is the one perspective in which it is completely enthralling; it's really adept at doing what it was programmed to do! Dissecting each process is not difficult either, with such an immaculately clean and carefully constructed machine; to the technically inclined there is a lot to learn and absorb from 'Heartwork'.
Unfortunately there's nothing else to take away from it; devoid of any soul, it is all surface with no discernible depth to submerge yourself completely. "Carnal Forge", "Arbeit Macht Fleisch" and the title track all come close to breaking free from the mould so adamantly adhered to elsewhere, but inevitably they rein in what control they lost and segue into pleasant but vacant lead work. Appropriately enough with such an environment the drumming is an admirable mix of powerful and subtle; Ken Owen does a magnificent job of playing effectively within the bounds of the music. To the trained ear he's probably doing nothing special but to the layman, noticing those tom fills, hi-hat accents and the pacing of his double bass patterns gives the often dull music a touch of intrigue. At least one band member was making the most of his time.
If you have fond memories of 'Heartwork' it would be prudent to keep them that way; you may not realise it but you've already picked the carcass clean, and to return will only reward you with disappointment and a stomach as hollow as this album.
I remember getting an Earache/Columbia promotional cassette in the mail a few weeks before Heartwork was released to the masses in late '93. I had never heard Carcass before and was summarily impressed by their first single, "No Love Lost," a snarling beast of a murder ballad filtered through a prismatically melodic death metal approach. It was dark, mysterious, foreboding but also catchy, enmeshing itself in my head for weeks. I immediately went out and bought Heartwork upon release and soaked in its harshly distorted mindset and eminently listenable death metal hooks. Imagine my surprise then at how divisive this record became. I had friends who hated it, friends who loved it, friends who were indifferent to it -- the overall consensus though (in print and on the street) was that Carcass had sold-out with a catchy album of melodic death metal available through a major label. Even the people who dug the record were cynical enough to feel that way. Now I was a naive teenage unexposed to Carcass's past so for me Heartwork was it: the be-all and end-all of my exposure to them and I thought it was a seminal record that greatly expanded my understanding of the possibilities inherent in extreme musics. I still feel that way, even if I no longer think it to be the front-to-back classic I did then.
Heartwork did (and still does) make me think that metal can be beautiful. "Buried Dreams" is beautiful in its soaring melodic leads and magisterial riffage, even Jeff Walker's sarcastic snarling rasp adds to the pummeling beauty, a contemptuous display of power, talent, and command. "Carnal Forge" is just that, a forge on which Carcass's extreme vision of vitriol is tempered and hammered into fitful submission. This track flays with speed and hostility, reminding listeners that Carcass's expanded, more melodic vision still has a strong component of blasting ruthlessness. Everything comes together on the title track, a fusion of grandiose guitar gestures, sweeping melodic leads, and absolute thrashing depravity. Along with the initial single, this first half of the record is densely packed with some of the most memorable metal ever.
Sadly, the second half is an entirely different animal. "Embodiment" is a sluggish affair of enervating riffs and tired vocals that sound like the band barely lifted a finger to write it. Every time I look at the track list (and this is going on 20 years), I can't quite remember how it goes and when it starts I tend to skip it. "Blind Bleeding The Blind" too is just dull, dull, dull. There's a very monotonous start-stop riff (too blatantly Helmet-ish) that just doesn't work in the context of traditional Carcass architecture. "Doctrinal Expletives" too is a sluggish, start-stop affair slightly buoyed by some nice soloing. Not altogether bad, these tracks still leave the feeling that Carcass can write better riffs than this (as the earlier portion of the record easily proves).
Thankfully, there are some monster songs on side two, particularly the closer "Death Certificate," an outright death metal masterpiece of extremely intricate and precise riffage with a wonderful galloping pull to the beat. I also dig the sheer heaviness of "This Mortal Coil" and the tension and release grind of "Arbeit Macht Fleisch." These tracks salvage an album trending towards average and notch the rating back up a bit.
The production helps too, masking some of the album flaws with stellar sound: bright, tight, harsh, and intense layering of guitar, bass, drums and vocals. In many ways, it is a perfect recording, another Colin Richardson masterpiece and Carcass has the chops to pull it off, unafraid to hide in the murk that swamps so many other death metal recordings. You can hear every note of the dueling guitar harmonies, the bass buzzes harsh beneath, the drums are finely tuned, and Jeff Walker's rasping sneer is right where it should be. Overall, a perfect production job.
History tells us Heartwork was an important record, and clearly its influence shows that it was. Divisive at the time, in many quarters it still is, which is a testament to sub-cultural endurance in an era of ever-shortening attention spans. Heralded as a classic, it is in the above context, but as a front-to-back listening experience, I find enough apparent flaws to keep it from the rarefied air of absolute metal masterpieces. Still, a great record and one I still listen to twenty-years on.
In 1993, if you were a fan of extreme metal then you may have been more than a little confused by the latest Carcass release, entitled Heartwork. The Liverpudlian band had previously innovated grindcore and goregrind, before shifting to a more straightforward sound for their third album. However, they completely abandoned both of these styles and started treading into more uncharted waters, this time fusing the NWOBHM guitar harmonies with the crushing brutality found in death metal. The result was Heartwork, a collection of ten songs clocking in at just under forty two minutes and is often considered Carcass' best, as well as one of the finest albums of the Melodic Death Metal genre that it nearly single-handedly created. The guilty party responsible for Heartwork was the guitar duo of Bill Steer and Michael Amott, who wrote this incredible collection of songs. On drums is Ken Owen and Jeff Walker completes the band by providing vocals and playing the bass guitar.
The guitar work is what makes this stand out the most from more "traditional" death metal releases including even the previous album from this band. In place of the frenzy of tremolo picked riffs and umpteen notes per second solos, we have a true sense of passion behind the guitar work. On this release Carcass focused not on playing as fast as humanly possible but instead took the melodic and beautiful riffing of bands such as Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, added their own twist, down tuned the guitars and then recorded it. The opening seconds of the album on the song Buried Dreams speak volumes about this album. Opening with some skull-crushingly heavy chords from Michael Amott, Bill then proceeds to weave some slow, dark, haunting and beautiful lead playing around his band-mates work effortlessly. Embodiment is another cool example of how well the guitar work is written and performed on this album. Whilst the song is consistently as heavy as can be throughout, it still balances the heaviness off against attempting to make something that sounds emotional and catchy. For those wanting something a little faster and even heavier from the band though they have also provided this in the title track that sounds somewhat akin to their previous album although with a little more melody added to it. The soloing off both guitarists on this album is amazing as well. Since the band has no real designated lead player and rhythm guitarist the band is free from the constraints of a normal band hierarchy and, as such, both guitarists throw solos in like the world is about to end. However, whereas many extreme metal bands would have you believe that soloing merely involves playing as fast as possible on the bottom three strings, Carcass' solos bring a little more to the table than that. Take Embodiment for example. Both guitarists solo on that song and neither of them focus on playing as fast as they can, but instead each solo feels well structured, well written and absolutely beautiful to listen to.
The drumming on this album is absolutely ludicrous. Ken Owen is one of the most underrated drummers in extreme metal and this album shows why. Unlike many death metal drummers this album does not utilize blast beats at every turn as the added melody renders them useless. Instead, Ken plays some amazing beats that are always memorable and each one stands out from the others unlike the monotonous standards found in extreme metal. He usually sticks to the middling tempo of the rest of the album but when it is required, he is more than capable of speeding it up a little. No Love Lost sticks out as his best performance on the album, with a couple of nice fills thrown in and a solid beat kept throughout the song that nobody could realistically turn their nose up at. Doctrinal Expletives also shows that he can keep up when the band decides to play a little faster as he keeps a consistent beat going with his double bass pedal. Completing the band is the bass and vocal work from Jeff and whilst the bass is not very audible throughout but is still there at a listenable level and it is decent enough. His vocal work sticks mainly to a middling register of growls and screams, never going too low but always keeping a consistently intense feel to the album. He spits absolute bile on every single song on here with some roars that would make Satan shake. Heartwork provided Jeff a vocal performance to be proud of and stands out as his crowning achievement. Each band member provides a tight performance that never lets up in sounding both intense and beautiful simultaneously and the razor sharp production only highlights this. The guitar tone achieved is really nice and the drums do not sound remotely flat, with the bass being audible if you strain to listen to it.
The songs themselves are of a high standard of quality that one would expect from an album deemed to be one of the best in its genre. The guitar work on the album closer Death Certificate stands out as one of the best things about this album but the whole song is great. Embodiment is the finest song on here, opening with its crushing and yet beautiful riffing and maintaining a huge degree of heaviness and a huge amount of melody. The only song on here that can be considered a bad song is This Mortal Coil, which opens up promisingly with a much faster pace than much of the album but ends up sounding boring with its galloping riffs that just feel a little out of place on this album. Also, the lyricism to this album is not of a very high standard and at times sounds either a little juvenile or just overly repetitive. Despite that, this album still remains one of the best, if not THE best melodic death metal releases of all time, perhaps only topped by The Gallery and Slaughter Of The Soul. If you are looking to get into the melodic death metal genre then this is the album to start with. If you are already a melo-death listener and have not heard Heartwork, you either have no soul or clearly are NOT a melo-death listener. No matter which camp you fall under, or if you are not a part of either and just like metal in general, this album is one I highly recommend.
Compared to the predecessor which were much more dark and creepy, Heartwork punches you in the face in a much more straight forward style.
When you think melodic death metal, names like Children of Bodom and Arch Enemy will probably pop into your mind. And the idea of death metal blended with clean vocals and keyboards. Wipe out those thoughts, because Heartwork is the album that shows how melodic death metal should be done. With hair on the chest and a firm grip around the balls and of course the snarling vocals of Jeff Walker. Many Carcass fans hates this album and the following album Swansong that got released in '96, and that is a damn shame because this album is the bands best effort next to Necroticism: Descanting the Insalubrious. I have heard this album being called "a blueprint for selling out". It's more like a blueprint and a showcase of how melodic death metal should be played. Packed with aggression from the guitars, and the melodic solos of Amott fits well into the songs and so does Dr. Steers more aggressive solos. Ken Owen steps up yet again and after listening to the album a couple of times and learning the tracks so you know when he hits the crashes, it is just a fucking awesome feeling to smack the air at the same time! Or... your drums, if you're a drummer.
Lyrically the album is not as much about carving up stuff as it used to be. The album still got some really good song writing and a song that really struck me was 'Arbeit Macht Fleisch'. First of all I was wondering why Carcass was doing a song with a German title, but after talking about it with my friend we remembered that the Nazis used the term 'Arbeit Macht Frei', that term is also mentioned in the song. Speculations is that the lyrics of the songs are comparing modern society to a death camp. I don't know what to think myself, which leaves a great mystery about the song, and you can form your very own opinion. Besides 'Arbeit Macht Fleisch' this album is just filled with tracks you can listen to again and again. I would suggest Blind Bleeding the Blind, Embodiment and Doctrinal Expletives. But if you're not too lazy, it would be a better idea to listen to the whole album!
Some may think it is just filling for a review... But I always enjoy a good cover, and I like to talk about it, also when it is bad. I must admit that Carcass is not the band that I would mention first when I think about a band that got a line of awesome covers on the shelf. Heartwork is not really an exception. Even though it is not as horrible as the grindcore covers and Swansong. It still just strikes me as an odd cover to choose. The cover, or at least the sculpture on the cover was created by Hans Rudolf Giger, more commonly known as H. R. Giger. He also created works for bands like Celtic Frost, Danzig, Edge of Sanity and Triptykon.
Heartwork is a truly unique album. Even if you got the opinion that this album led to a sell out for Carcass this album clarified the bands legacy as legends. Pioneering grindcore and melodic death metal, now that is an achievement. With the rumours of a new Carcass record I really hope it will contain some elements from Heartwork. Now that Michael Amott and Daniel Erlandsson is not in the band any more, Carcass could return to their harder roots and mix it up with a bit of Necroticism.
But if you enjoy snarling vocals, and a fast assault with melodic elements you should definitely try out the album, and even if you don't know this band, give it a shot anyway! Maybe you have stayed away from Heartwork because of the negative feelings there is regarding melodic death metal, maybe you should think again and give it a chance...
Let's face it, Carcass's original reason for being was a one-trick pony that would wear out its welcome after two or three albums and sooner rather than later the musicians would have had to rethink their direction if the band were to survive another few years. At least nearly 20 years after they downed surgical tools and left the operating theatre, we can look back and say that every studio album the band ever released was different from the one before and how many bands with a legacy of four or five studio albums in a genre that initially looks limited in subject scope and musical style can we say that of ? Carcass managed to wring a surprising amount of variety in their music; perhaps lyrically not so much so but towards the end of their original career together they were working towards a more socially conscious and universal outlook. "Heartwork" represents a transition away from the old gleeful Carcass having fun with over-the-top gory lyrics and suffocating grindcore with the occasional improvisatory lead guitar towards a more mature band that emphasised solid rhythm attack, hard and brutal riffs, melodic guitar work and socially aware lyrics and subject matter.
Generally the album's music is very dense and technically precise with the band presenting a very tight and united front of twin-guitar battery and militant drumming. There is only one vocalist (Jeff Walker) and his gruff death-metal singing is business-like and brusque: this might be disappointing to some Carcass fans who miss the deranged relish he exhibited on earlier albums, not to mention Bill Steer's gruff if rather stoic counterpoint swamp-monster bass vocal. Familiar elements include the lightning switch from one set of riffs and the pace associated with it to another lot of riffs set at a different speed and back again in a split second, and splats of shrill lead guitar solo from Steer. The main difference between "Heartwork" and earlier full-length recordings is that much of the exuberance and cheeky spirit of previous work has gone and "Heartwork" now sounds like terribly earnest hard work. Of course I know there wasn't anything here the musicians couldn't have tackled but it's hard to shake off the feeling that here they were making mountains of near-Alpine stature out of molehills and ploughing tunnels through them to boot.
The standard of playing is excellent and there are no filler tracks but at the same time no one song really stands out for inspiration or catchy tunes or clever rhymes. Even on paper the lyrics look bland and have a sense of tired deja vu. As the album proceeds, the guys dutifully hold up technically but each succeeding song feels like more and more of an endurance test and the old zest is tiring and falling away rapidly. Some early tracks here have a good rhythm groove but later tracks aren't quite so memorable in that sense. After a few repeat hearings, the album sounds like ten variations on a not very interesting musical theme and when the final song is over and done with, all I feel is enormous relief that the album is over and that the Carcass men can finally hang up their guitars. This is not good.
This, my dear metal brothers and sisters, is ONE OF THE BEST METAL ALBUMS EVER, and really that’s the only thing this review should say. Just kidding... but only in the last part. Cos’ this is undoubtedly a legendary album, a metal masterpiece, plagued by the misconception that is the sold-out album by the band in question, in which they abandoned their hard-hitting death metal sound and gave up their underground status in exchange for mainstream recognition. This line of thought, my metal brothers, couldn’t be more shortsighted.
The bands that reach the heights of metal legends rarely release just an obscure demo and instantly reach cult status. Some of them might earn it with their first proper album (Black Sabbath, Exodus, Suffocation). But, most of them grow, evolve, improve, refine their abilities and sound and eventually release their masterpiece, a record that will become embedded in the hearts and minds of metalheads of all places and ages. We’re talking about those Powerslaves, Painkillers, Crimson Idols, Transylvanian Hungers, Masters of Puppets, Imaginations from the Other Side… you get the picture. Carcass is one of those bands.
Since their inception, the Carcass boys started to evolve and with each album they took a step closer to perfection. Death metal purists may argue that they reached that point with their second or third release. But I strongly disagree. Those albums, though clearly great death metal offerings, are not the best in their genre. When naming the best death metal albums of all time, masterpieces like “Scream Bloody Gore”, “Pierced From Within” or “Realm of Chaos” would certainly be named first. But when asking for la crème de la crème of melodic death metal, or in my opinion, melodic extreme metal of any kind, Carcass’ Heartwork is the expected answer.
What makes this album that perfect is… well, just about everything about it, starting with the timeless, iconic cover, an installation by swiss dark surrealism master H.R. Giger. It perfectly mimics and represents the music of this album; a strikingly elegant masterpiece that conceals an aura of sickness. Actually, Giger’s installation predates the creation of this release, but to suggest a choicest artwork for Heartwork is practically impossible.
The production… damn. This has to be one of better-produced albums ever. It’s sharp, crisp, yet organic and rich. You can almost hear the band member’s thoughts! Well, perhaps not, but I mean, you can perfectly picture all components of Ken Owen’s drumkit in your mind from the sound of this record. The cymbals, in particular, each has its specific timbre, and they sound so powerful and perfect, and I can’t name another album in which I enjoy more the way the plates sound. High quality definition doesn’t even come close. The guitars are beyond perfection as well, and it couldn’t be otherwise since this album is pretty much guitar-oriented. The bass gets a bit buried in the mix, but it’s fairly audible. And Jeff Walker’s vocals sound so sick… “harsh” is an understatement.
As for the performance, well, it’s just utterly mind-blowing. With this album Bill Steer and Michael Amott finished to establish themselves as one of the most complete, dexterous and outstanding pair of axe-men in all of metal’s realms, in league with Tipton and Downing, Smith and Murray, Mustaine and Friedman, and few others. The riffs are catchy, creative, extremely head-bangeable, and they vary from slow and moody, as in the magnificent opener, “Buried Dreams”, to fast as a shark on steroids as shown right at the beginning of the title-track itself. The solos are a delight, a true delicacy, perfectly crafted jewels of the highest quality. Yet they’re dynamically violent as they explode with melodic bursts and raze everything in their path like a volcano’s pyroclasm.
The rhythmic section always provides interesting shifts in tempo, and shines on its own, especially Owen, a master of the skins. His cymbal attack is so colorful and vivid, it hits everything at the perfect time. Ken’s speed and accuracy is machine-like, and here he proves his versatility all the time, appropriately discarding the older blast-everything approach. Damn, I just love to air-drum to this album, it’s amazing. So unfortunately what happened to him a few years after this release.
As for Walker, he does ok hitting the four strings, but is his voice here that becomes the focal point in most songs, competing with the guitars for the top spot. Enhanced by the production, he reaches a sickening rasp growling nirvana that few other melodeath vocalist have been close to emulate. I’ve always thought that this vocal approach is more aggressive, yet less brutal, than the possessed neanderthal ultra-deep grunts of traditional death metal.
So what about the songs? Well, they all equally are fundamental referents of how to do perfect melodeath and for what I’ve red, every reviewer here (among the ones defending the legendary status this cornerstone of an album deserves) have a particular favorite. For me, that would undoubtedly be Heartwork itself, the title-track. Its melodic leads just kills me every-time I listen to it, its elegant lyrics like a mantra to me, both a metalhead and an artist/illustrator. It’s a song I always put during my parties, a song I’ll never grow tired of, a song I’ll always listen to. But they’re all really good. From the hate-inducing opener, to the Maiden-like galloping of “This Mortal Coil”, to the menacing and twisted riffs of the closer “Death Certificate, indeed, each and every track here certifies the excellence of this melodeath non-plus-ultra masterpiece.
This is ESSENTIAL to metalheads that even remotely enjoy melodic extreme metal of any type. GET IT NOW!
By far the greatest melodic death metal album to grace this earth we walk on, and arguably one of the finest releases the death metal genre has seen in general. Carcass can never be accused of following suit, as you can tell flicking through their back catalogue. As much as I enjoy Symphonies of Sickness, and Necroticism I found Heartwork to be the strongest of the Carcass catalogue. When reviewing an album as magnificent as this, it really can be difficult to put into words how you feel. I mean come on, this album is pretty much responsible for the spawning of the melodic death metal scene (much to the dismay of some of the old guard.) It's a rarity for a band to hit things this spot on but Carcass fly through, destroying anything in their path. Heartwork is heavy, and I mean really heavy, filthy down-tuned guitars coupled with Jeff Ward's thunderous bass and sickening scream and of course the mind-blowing drum work of Ken Owen.
Strangely enough we start with probably the weakest track on album, however this track only seems weak compared to what else is on offer. To be fair "Buried Dreams" alone slays most of the competition, ripping them limb from limb. "Carnal Forge" is where the shit gets real, featuring the music writing dream team of Bill Steer and Michael Amott. This album is riff-tastic; every song boasts amazing guitar work and some of the riffs outright destroy you. The lead work is, again, a massive high point – the stuff Bill and Michael were doing here is a league of its own, and never again would this magic be heard (Arch Enemy came close enough). The title track stands as my first introduction to Carcass, heard on the all too familiar VH1 rock show back in the day, and it kicks just as much ass as it did back then, from the melodic intro to the punishing-beyond-belief verse riff. Heartwork stands as a timeless album to me, I mean I've listened to this well over a hundred times this year and it's still just as visceral as the first time I heard it. As a musician myself this album stands as one of the most inspiring, it's rare I listen to Heartwork without picking my guitar up straight after, and obviously it's not hard to see how influential this really is. The latter half of the album is where all my personal highlights sit, from "Embodiment" onwards things get very intense. "This Mortal Coil" is my personal favorite, the main riff is beyond heavy, it probably stands as one of the heaviest riffs I've ever heard and when they launch into that Iron Maiden style harmony I get that really geeky "I'm not worthy" feeling. Another personal highlight is "Doctrinal Expletives" launching with a mammoth riff, although where this song really excels is in the guitar work, especially that riff after and during the first solo – how often do you hear stuff like that in death metal?
Heartwork is beyond superlatives really, an album guaranteed in my top 10 of all time. If you haven't heard this you probably don't like metal it's simple as that. This is essential for any metalhead's collection, and I mean any. If ever there was an album to get out and headbang to from start to finish this would be it, I know I've had many a sore neck due to this album. A classic of the genre if there ever was one, if you don't own this buy it – it should be the law. Absolutely essential.
Originally written for www.metalcrypt.com
'Symphony of Sickness' and 'Necroticism' provided successive evidence that Carcass were moving away from their pure goregrind roots into a structured and accessible medium of big riffs with catchy hooks. That said, I wasn't quite prepared for 'Heartwork', an album which remains today one of death metal's most memorable offerings and an example of a band's evolution gone proper. Upon first listening to this I had to remove my jaw from the floor and swab up all my wandering saliva. The album flawlessly combines brutality, groove, depth and proficient metal musicianship into a set of highly memorable tracks, and lyrically the band had all but abandoned their pure medical gore diatribe and not quite subtle attempts to steer you into vegetarianism (see what I did there?)
"Buried Dreams" inaugurates the album with creepy leads and a big verse melody which alternates with crunchy, simple thrash. "Carnal Forge" is one of the amazing, faster tracks of the album where the vocals start to take off, Walker's sneers at their all time high. The song has some excellent bridge riffs where catchy rhythms accent potent leadwork, all collapsing back a labyrinth of chunky winding riffs. "No Love Lost" hits straight to the gut with a wall of groove, subtly morphing into the song's verse and emo-crusher chorus:
"The low cost of loving
Human frailties and weakness are easy prey
How your poor heart will bleed"
"Heartwork" follows with an excellent, speedy intro riff before an amazing melodic lead and a thrusting, thrashing verse rhythm. "Embodiment" is a slower track with a series of excellent melodies before its slow paced moshing. "This Mortal Coil" quickens the pace once, yet more intense melodies, though the real power here is the Maiden-esque melodic gallup of the bridge. This leads to what I'd consider the best song of Carcass' career, standing out amongst even its excellent peers on this disc. "Arbeit Macht Fleisch" features some of the best riffs I have ever heard in my life. A perfect, grooving verse leads into that amazing thrash part at :52 and then the song proceeds to batter you with its brilliant selection of notes and intensity. GRIND.
Superb lyrics capture the futility of modern, repetetive lives of unhappiness through potent, nihilistic imagery. "Blind Bleeding the Blind" follows, another faster phrase with some groovy breaks and blues solos. "Doctrinal Expletives" has some more bludgeoning breakdowns amidst its steady steamroller fervor, however this is probably the weakest track on the album and partly responsible for the only 1/4 point I could ever dock it (a few of the earlier tracks get dull after time too). "Death Certificate" ends the album on a high note with some vibrant and catchy melodic riffing, though if you've got the bonus track "This is Your Life", it's also quite good and sets up the further death & roll direction the band would be taking with their next and last album, Swansong.
In addition to being a key evolutionary piece in the career of this band, Heartwork stands alongside the later 'Slaughter of the Soul' as one of the albums to hugely influence the style we know today as melodic death metal or 'melodeath'. It seamlessly incorporates heavy metal leadwork and catchier riff structures yet remains totally brutal. The latter aspect is aided by the absolutely crushing mix here, it still sounds better than most albums released today. The leadwork courtesy of Michael Amott is extremely well constructed, and the lyrics are almost uniformly perfect.
'Heartwork' was, and is, a monument to quality. During that early to mid 90s period in which metal was starting to sink, this was one of the exceptions. It deserved all the accolades rained upon it and the wider distribution it had with the Columbia/Earache deal upon its release. Also: H.R. Giger sculpture on your cover makes you cool.
Without a doubt, Carcass has influenced and been responsible for much of the melodic death metal scene. With killer riffage, the inspired vocals and lyrics of murder and gore, as well as melody balanced with brutality, there is no way one can deny the influence this band had on the ones that would follow. While they started out as grindcore pioneers along with Napalm Death, the band transmogrified their sound over their existence until they hit upon something that would become the basis for the melodic death metal that would follow. Just as Heartwork was released, In Flames, Dark Tranquility, At the Gates, Edge of Sanity and Hypocrisy were beginning to breakthrough. Slaughter of the Soul and The Jester Race were right around the corner. This album without a doubt culminated everything that Carcass was capable of.
Starting off with 'Buried Dreams', they give us a shot of Jeff Walker’s gravely vocals and the first real doses of metallic song structure and melody on a Carcass album. While the band eventually disbanded because they thought that they had strayed from their original view, I would take this album over any of the grind they released earlier. There is something about a Michael Amott solo that I like a lot more than 'Genital Grinder'. Amott is also one of the keys to this album. You can clearly tell that this band was the precursor to Arch Enemy. So much of the music sounds like early demos for what would become Stigmata and Black Earth. On the title track, for example, we hear an up-tempo riff with dual guitar battling and the, in my opinion, perfect vocals for this kind of music. Walker, Steer and drummer Ken Owen really understood that adding Amott to the band would be a vital asset and help their music advance to the next level. His musical style was vastly different from grind, and it is he who probably improved the music by using conventional song structure on this album.
One of my favorite tracks has to be 'This Mortal Coil' in which we get a nice helping of blast beats and mind-twisting breakneck guitar shredding. Walker again suits his vocals to each turn the music takes. The next track “Arbeit Macht Fleisch” is a shredder from start to finish that clearly has Amott’s name spray painted all over it. Each aspect of this complex melody shows some homology to work he has done later on in his career. The final track also even incorporates a little of the folk influences that seem all too common in metal today. It is good to see this influence but in a subtler role than it is featured today. You almost have to define your sound with folk influence if your band hopes to advance in certain aspects of the scene now. Carcass shows how it can be evenly balanced with a full-on metal attack.
The gore themes have been dialed down a notch from previous Carcass releases. Instead of over the top almost parodical nonsense lyrics, it seems as though the band focused on the real message behind the senseless vulgarity and created something more spine tingling and creepy. Instead of another 'Embryonic Necropsy and Devourment' we get 'No Love Lost'. This refinement in terms truly elevated Carcass above anything they had ever done before. The album artwork by famed Swiss Sci-Fi artist H.R. Giger is also a step above their previous artistic themes.
Outstanding Songs: Buried Dreams, No Love Lost, Heartwork, This Mortal Coil, Death Certificate
You want a blow-by-blow guide to selling out by the numbers? Well then, Heartwork is the model for you. Start with a band with artistic credibility (say, one that had released two of the most influential and widely praised grindcore albums of all time). Remove every violent, feral and interesting element from the band's classic sound, and replace them with banal borrowings from mainstream bestsellers. Rinse, wash, repeat.
The initial impression (and, as it turns out, the correct impression) of Heartwork is one of overwhelming sterility: from the riffs to the production to the album packaging (with its mechanically dull Giger museum installation and pristinely readable logo), Heartwork screams (or is that mutters?) 'bland.'
For the most part, the album is content to bounce along at a comfortably rockin' groove, venturing out of the mid-paced rut only to make occasional gestures in the direction of Mike Amott's Stockholm past. In fact, much of the riffing more reminiscent of Countdown to Extinction/Youthenasia-era Megadeth than any of the band's previous work, and the production values evoke similar comparisons, straddling as they do Bob Rock's work with Metallica and the hollow, scooped out guitar tone of Pantera. Phrasing is depressingly short, and, despite the 'melodic death metal' tag often applied to this album, the emphasis is definitely on rhythmic resolution rather than on the construction of melody (not to mention liberal politics rather than death). What emerges is death metal/rock hybrid that might be best understood as an attempt to position Carcass as an 'underground' alternative to early/mid 90s MTV metal.
Heartwork's lead work is pure rock 'n roll cheese, as is the percussion. The solos are technically impressive, but their combination of been-there-done-that pentatonic scale fragments and open, consonant harmonizing is both painfully corny and an obvious pander. Drums follow the tried-and-true path of a simple back beat ornamented with unnecessarily showy fills. Vocals seem patterned on mid-period Death, barking out unremarkable social commentary in simple, sing-song cadences. Pedestrian, unremarkable, inoffensive...BORING.
While none of the individual elements in and of itself could be called 'bad,' when taken as a whole Heartwork is a dismal failure. The underlying weakness of the album is a lack of any unifying ideal. Instead, Carcass offer an ill-fitting array of ideas scavenged from other bands, flavored with the fetid spice of underconfidence and artistic compromise. As a result, Heartwork sounds more like the product of some focus group sitting around eating Big Macs under the fluorescent glare of an airless corporate boardroom than the work of the band who gave the world The Reek of Putrefaction and Symphonies of Sickness, and more like Muzak than grind or death metal. Avoid.