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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!