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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.