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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.