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Carcass, the British band famous for having a profound influence on two distinct subgenres of extreme metal, reformed in 2008 for several successful reunion tours after calling it quits in 1996. The band’s tours went well enough to lead to the writing and recording of a new album featuring a lineup of original members Jeff Walker and Bill Steer along with new drummer Daniel Wilding. The album, titled Surgical Steel, is the first new material from Carcass since 1996’s Swansong, and stands as a worthy follow-up and an essential addition to the Carcass discography. Surgical Steel features surprisingly strong writing and an equally strong performance, and stands as one of the greatest reunion albums of all time.
Musically, Surgical Steel is much closer in style to Carcass’s 1993 classic, Heartwork, than to Swansong. In fact, Surgical Steel makes sense as the album’s logical follow-up. If this album had been released in 1996 it is doubtful Carcass would have received the backlash they did from a lot of their fans for adjusting their sound to a more death n’ roll influenced brand of extreme metal. On Surgical Steel, the death n’ roll influence is mostly absent, with Carcass favoring a more standard melodic death metal approach. Twin guitar harmonies abound, lengthy and impressive solos are included on nearly every track, and the guitar leads are generally very creative. Steer’s lead guitar playing does not come across as forced or melodic just for the sake of being melodic; instead the leads come across as portraying genuine emotion, adding a great deal of depth to the album. A clear album standout in regards to guitar performance is track six, “Noncompliance to ASTM F899-12 Standard”. The song begins with a clever descending guitar lead and a harmonized tremolo-picked segment and features two lengthy solos.
Admittedly, Surgical Steel does get off to a rough start. The album’s introduction track, “1985”, is as brief as it is pointless, consisting of a rather annoying guitar lead repeated over and over for the track’s duration. This introduction track also leads into what is by far the weakest track on the album, “Thrasher’s Abattoir”. Another brief piece, the song consists of lightning-paced tremolo picking underneath Jeff Walker’s vocal lines, which repeat a bunch of extreme rhyming words like “mutilation”, “amputation”, “dehumanization”, etc. The song breaks after a brief but impressive solo by Steer, and Walker changes his lines to repeat: “Die. Time to die. Die in pain.” After Walker’s excellent lyrical work on Heartwork and Swansong, the childish lyrics on this first piece serve as a major disappointment.
Luckily, as if “Thrasher’s Abattoir” was an intentional tease, the lyrics get better very quickly. Expanding on the political writing that began on Heartwork and improved on Swansong, a wide variety of topics is covered lyrically on Surgical Steel. “A Congealed Clot of Blood” attacks Muslim jihadist ideologies, while “The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills” serves as a scathing appraisal of the British industrial revolution. The latter is a clear album highlight, featuring excellent lyrics, an extremely catchy chorus, and fantastic melodic guitar leads. Not only is “The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills” the best song on Surgical Steel, it also stands alongside the best material Carcass in the band’s career, easily comparable to the best songs off of Heartwork. Another album highlight is the closing track “Mount of Execution”. It begins with an unexpected acoustic passage before unfolding into a lengthy, fast-paced metal piece that lasts around eight and a half minutes. The multiple solos featured on this piece give it a light, fun feeling, coming across as more of a jam song than a serious piece. Although this is in stark contrast to its rather severe lyrics, it serves as a fun and extremely effective way to end the album.
Addressing the vocal performance on the album, Jeff Walker really must be commended. Even though it has been almost twenty years since Carcass’s last studio album, Walker’s voice has not deteriorated even slightly, sounding just as powerful as he did in 1996. While his vocal performance on Surgical Steel is not incredibly varied, it is certainly a strong performance and suits the style of music very well. Walker’s vocals are aggressive but clear, and listeners should have no real difficulty in understanding the lyrics at most points of the album. It should also be noted that track eight, “Unfit for Human Consumption”, features guest backing vocals from original drummer Ken Owen. The guest vocals, making their appearance in the verse, fit the song very well and are a worthy addition to the song.
As for the drum performance, new drummer Daniel Wilding is true to Owen’s legacy, providing an excellent performance on Surgical Steel. The drumming is precise and varied, fitting in well with the other instrumentation. Wilding was certainly a good choice to take the place of Owen, and one hopes to hear more from him on future Carcass albums.
Surgical Steel is a must listen for any fan of Heartwork era Carcass. Everything on this record, excluding the first two tracks, is essential Carcass, with the band never coming across as putting out an album to simply cash in on a willing audience. Carcass deserves to be applauded for making such a powerful return. The album is a worthy addition to the Carcass discography and stands as one of the best releases of 2013.
Album Highlights: “The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills”, “Noncompliance to ASTM F899-12 Standard”, “Mount of Execution”
Carcass used to be legends. With each stroke of their musical brilliance they helped to formulate new subgenres of metal – from the gory, grinding early material to the precision of Necroticism and the slick, heavy as hell riffing of Heartwork, they blazed trails more often than not. With their modern resurgence Surgical Steel, they’ve pretty much just taken the same path every band coming back for a reunion does – they write decent enough songs that are entirely imitative of past genius, thus robbing the music of said genius and having an inverse effect to that of the material it’s aping. Like Black Sabbath, Gorguts, Megadeth and so many others, Carcass produce an entertaining enough album, but utterly without the kind of groundbreaking electric creativity that made their best work so addictive.
This is pretty much an adrenaline shot of chunky, thrashy riffing, groovy rhythms and shrieking vocals – it’s Heartwork without the memorable bits. The songs on this album are competently written if not engaging. On Heartwork they rolled out unforgettable riffs and even created some drama with slow to midpaced dirges in the middle of the machine-gun-like riffing and steamrolling rhythms. It was just an amazing album. This one keeps up the energy a fair bit, but lacks the hooks. All these songs sound alike. They try gamely with a lot of verve and punch to them, but the songwriting is pretty average. It’s weird because there’s nothing wrong with this. By all accounts, the classic style riffing and wild, shrieking vocals should produce something enjoyable, and it is for a while, but there isn’t much substance to keep you coming back. I can’t remember a single song off of this when it ends.
These reunions just play it too fucking safe. The whole concept is to recreate the kind of chemistry and sounds the bands played in their heyday, but they shoot themselves in the foot and do exactly the opposite of that by trying too hard to retain the surface aesthetics of their sound. It’s like they just deliberately misunderstand everything good about those albums in the first place: hint, it wasn’t just the fact that you had riffs and played fast. It was that sense of blazing, unrestrained ambition in the music. Black Sabbath trying to recreate War Pigs and their self-titled song eight times over is not a good reunion album, neither is Carcass playing second-rate versions of Heartwork tunes with less interesting riffs. The surface aesthetics was never all there was to these bands’ hallowed classic albums. I’m sure these guys are having fun and all – that’s fine. But I just wish they’d stop trying so hard to consciously sound like albums so far behind them, and simply play from their hearts and make something interesting. Maybe it wouldn’t be as well-loved, but it would at least stick to the bands’ actual ethos and ideologies.
Iron Maiden, though mileage may vary, are a prime example of an old band doing it right. They know their classic albums aren’t going to disappear. They don’t have to remake those albums every three to five years out of some misguided fear of becoming irrelevant – they know they have a place in metal and rock history already. Rather than trying to hold onto a fading glory by rehashing past material they’ll never be able to top, Maiden take the high road and actually try new things, going all the way with ideas they think are interesting and using the classic Maiden sound in new ways, contorting it and experimenting with it. Classic bands are already classic for a reason – they have nothing left to prove. So the fact that so many of them, a la Sabbath, Carcass, et. Al., continue to put out material that just blatantly flies in the face of their original innovations is just weak and pitiful to me. I really don’t see how people can listen to either of those bands’ reunion albums this year and think ‘yeah, that sounds as good as their old stuff.’
So… they are really back for good. Something, what at first seemed to be nothing more, but just a series of gigs turned into more serious thing and Carcass – with new line up – has recorded their first album since 1996. For sure it is a great event, even if you may not usually like such reunions… but this is Carcass – legend of grind / death metal! You cannot be unconcerned, when speaking about this band. Obviously many people will be very sceptical towards “Surgical Steel”; many will question the sense of doing this album and there will be also a group of people, who will always say that Carcass has done it just for money and the music sucks – and they will say so, even without listening to a single song off the album and without reading any interviews with Bill Steer or Jeff Walker. And sure, such worries can be explained, as you know… there was a reason why Carcass did split up back then. They simply lost interest in playing extreme music, in death metal… so why now? Personally I may have been also slightly sceptical if “Surgical Steel” will be least as good as “Heartwork” and definitely I hoped that Carcass will not do an album similar to “Swansong”, because that would have been a disaster… Luckily first listen of “Surgical Steel” erased all my worries and I greeted the return of the gods with joy and pleasure.
But speaking about Carcass isn’t easy. There’s always a problem of their past achievements and the legendary albums, which this band did 20 years ago or more. And one of the problems will be the fact that almost every album was different to the previous one and so there will be fans, who only like Carcass from their first two LPs and there will be those, who’re into “Necroticism” and some, who enjoyed the melody of “Heartwork” the most. So, nowadays it would be impossible for Carcass to pleasure everyone with “Surgical Steel”, because there are many fans and they all have different preferences… But let’s be honest – it would be also just stupid to expect that Steer and Walker will record an album similar to “Reek of Putrefaction”! Definitely though the expectations were high for “Surgical Steel” and it is only everyone’s taste if this new album will speak to him and please enough. So far I have read several reviews and they all have been very positive, so the more I was eager to hear “Surgical Steel” myself and give it an opinion. Once I got the LP, I started to listen to it… and yeah… this is it. For me this is classic Carcass, just as I remember this band from the 90’s and what I liked them for. It almost feels like the time has stopped and the band just toured for “Heartwork” and “Swansong” never happened, so “Surgical Steel” is the fifth album… you know, Walker’s vocals are unchanged – which is great, as I love his shrieking voice – and the music is very alike, with similar aggression, energy and melody. Personally I love all their early LPs, but “Necroticism” is my favourite, then I also worship the early period of Carcass, but I also really, really like “Heartwork”… and you know, “Surgical Steel” for me sounds like albums number three and four putted together… Sure, it is mainly similar to “Heartwork”, because of many melodic parts and almost lack of grinding speed, not to mention that “Surgical Steel” hasn’t got a trace of that harshness and dirt nor that sheer brutality, which you can find on the first three albums. Other than that there are many classic ingredients, which were always characteristic for Carcass and were always making their music sound special. I already mentioned these killer vocals of Jeff Walker, who still sounds incredibly angry and impressive. Even if I didn’t know it’s Carcass LP, I would instantly recognize not only his vocals, but also that trademark style of riffing, melodies, some excellent blasting parts or even dual vocals, which appear here and there. Some will moan that lack of Michael Amott is hearable – but that for me is bullshit, as Bill Steer recorded here some incredibly good guitar leads and melodies. OK, I won’t fool you – there are maybe two or three songs, like “The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills”, which I don’t like so much and I wouldn’t cry, if they were not on the album. At these moments Carcass sounds too much like Arch Enemy for me hehe. But at the same time there are such killer tracks as “Captive Bolt Pistol”, which was the first single, announcing “Surgical Steel”, and really blew my head off from the first listen. It is just as good as any old Carcass classic and I can put it next to “No Love Lost” or “Heartwork” (best Carcass song ever!). It has killer riffs and is so aggressive, so damn fast at places that it is just awesome. There are also such songs like “Cadaver Pouch Conveyor System”, “The Master Butcher’s Apron”, “316L Grade Surgical Steel” – and they all are just bloody good, in my opinion. For such tracks “Surgical Steel” is worthy to be listened to and they only prove that the return of Carcass is just truly welcome and the album is totally recommendable. “The Master Butcher’s Apron” is especially awesome, after “Captive Bolt Pistol” it is my favourite song, for the intensity, speed and great riffs. And that surgical precision of execution… spotless.
So yeah, there’s some good stuff on “Surgical Steel” and I really think that the fans of (90’s era) Carcass should all like it. Except couple of songs, the album is just really damn good and it sounds like a right continuation of “Heartwork”. Stop being sceptical then and enjoy this music! From my side I can only complain on one thing – I hate how Nuclear Blast has released the vinyl. And no, I don’t really care if they released 20 different colour versions of the LP, because I don’t think it is important – and more so, I definitely don’t care what colour my LP is and how limited it is. I just don’t like the idea that they decided to force this album into two LPs. Why the hell? It could easily have been squeezed into one LP and that would be better, at least the listen would be more comfortable and smooth. But NO; they decided to make a double LP edition… uurrrghhh… shit. Other than that, I had a great listen and can only welcome Carcass back, hopefully for good and not just for this one LP!
Standout tracks: “Captive Bolt Pistol”, “Cadaver Pouch Conveyor System”, “The Master Butcher’s Apron”, “316L Grade Surgical Steel”
Final rate: 73/100
No question about it, Carcass's return to active duty has been one of the biggest events in recent metal history. Starting with an unlikely reunion tour and expanding into an even unlikelier new album. Surgical Steel should be a big deal. And it is, in the sense that has generated a lot of hype, interest, sales, and reviews citing it as a pinnacle work from one of extreme metal's most interesting, polarizing, and important bands. Polarizing is the key word here. There isn't a single album in the Carcass discography that hasn't generated a substantial level of controversy, criticism, adulation, and adoration all at once -- reactions lasting far beyond the initial record's release time. Even now, twenty years later, people can't seem to agree on Heartwork, the album with which Surgical Steel shares the strongest affinities. Personally, I've enjoyed all of Carcass's varied output over the years but despite the best of efforts and intentions, I can't quite buy into Surgical Steel as anything more than a massively over-hyped record of borderline mediocre quality.
The short instrumental opener, "1985," is intriguing in its suggestion of having been written almost three decades ago and sounding far, far removed from anything Carcass was releasing at that time (under their previous nom de guerre, Disattack). This 75-second slice of NWOBHM melodicism is something I would've really liked to hear developed into a full song as it is a catchy slice of memorable guitar work that unfortunately transitions into an utterly mediocre and unmemorable tune, the cheesy 'Thrasher's Abbatoir." This track is bland with stupid lyrics (granted, Carcass's lyrics were always tongue-in-cheek but "Hipsters and posers I abhor / Welcome to the thrasher's abattoir," really?) and both it and follow-up "Cadaver Pouch Conveyor System" meaninglessly thrash-and-bash without producing a single memorable riff, solo, or lyrical passage. Basically, a souped-up Heartwork with a similarly glossy production that covers up a paucity of musical invention. And that goes to the heart of my beef with this record.
Every previous piece of the Carcass discography was a step-forward from sickening gore-grind to melodic death metal to bluesy death-n-roll, there was always some new twist, new nuance, something new to say. Not here. Surgical Steel is utterly bereft of that next evolutionary step, sounding more like a consolidation of everything Carcass nuts everywhere love about the band: Heartwork's melo-death sped up with more blast beats and medical song titles ala the gore-grind era with occasional bluesy solo work because you cannot deny Bill Steer his blues influence. It sounds cold, calculated, and cynical to my ears. And the music just can't hold the weight of previous accomplishments.
Not that its all bad. Carcass know how to write a good hook and there are several catchy tracks here. They are back-loaded and I find myself only listening to the latter half of this album after multiple initial spins of the whole thing. A particular favorite is "The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills," which has the balls to go straight Swansong and just rock the way this band has always wanted to. This track excels in its passion, its unadulterated swagger, and its memorable riffs and bizarre yet catchy numerical chorus. Not just churning out the blasts to please the purists gives Carcass their best track on the record. Another example is the closer, the epic and monolithic "Mount Of Execution" -- here is that evolutionary next step that I wish this entire record might have pursued, honestly, as it sounds like nothing Carcass has ever tried before. Clocking in at over eight minutes, it is a kind of complex epic more akin prog rock than melo-death and comes complete with clean acoustic passages, chugging riffage, layering leads of varying texture, and deep heartfelt themes (the only great lyrics on the album, imo).
There are a couple other small nuggets of decency on here, songs that I am somewhat keen on, but nothing that really overwhelms me like the best of their earlier records did. The band overall sounds tighter, cleaner, slicker, and more professional than ever but a lot has been lost in the update: Ken Owen's sloppier but more hearty drum work for starters; a sense of urgency, anger, and pain for another; jaw-dropping riffs most-of-all. In the end it is a record that I doubt will stand the trials of two decades plus as easy as the rest of their discography has.
Carcass are a band best known for having pioneered at least two genres, with their final studio album before their break-up arguably kick-starting a third genre by combining the melodic death metal side the band had showcased on Heartwork with more of a rock sound. Then, the band completely faded out of the public eye, disbanding and remaining dormant for many years. Until 2013. Rumors had been surfacing for many years that the band would return with another studio release, but it was not until Surgical Steel that these rumors proved to be true. It took until now for the band to put out another album, and what an album it proved to be.
Surgical Steel could best be perceived as the sum of its predecessors. For the most part, this is a spectacularly composed selection of melodic death metal songs, but it undeniably carries influences from their gore-grind earliest works as well as the occasional rock-influenced segment that came straight from Swansong. With so many wheels turning to create Surgical Steel, it should come as no surprise that this is a thrillingly varied work of art. This album leaps back and forth between slower, more deliberately paced numbers to the thrashing, lightning fast pieces that their earlier albums were ridden with. Not once on this album does it dip in quality either, from the sub-two minute song Thrasher's Abattoir to the epic lengthed closing song Mount Of Execution.
Whilst this album is missing the primary song writer of the Heartwork era, Carcass definitely have not forgotten how to write some absolutely brilliant melodic death metal works. The riffs are, as always with extreme music, the bread and butter of this release, and they may well be the best riffs found on any Carcass work to date. The aforementioned Thrasher's Abattoir picks up where an instrumental opener leaves off and thunders ahead at a furious pace, kicking off the album in magnificent fashion. Captive Bolt Pistol and The Master Butcher's Apron are two songs that capture the band at their absolute best riff-wise, with some of the most brilliant quick paced riffs found anywhere in death metal as well as some really sweet mid-paced guitar sections. These two songs show that the band are not slouching or pulling any punches at all on their latest work, and mean business with their comeback.
The rest of the instrumentation on this album could not for one second be referred to as mundane or dull. The drum patterns on this release are some of the most creative and varied found on any melodic death metal album, with the mid-paced beats consistently exciting the listener's ears whilst blast beats are the main course of certain tracks, used a little more than they were on Heartwork. Meanwhile, the bass work is consistently audible, nicely filling in the void between the drumming and the riff madness that is on display here. A personal favorite song for the bass work would be on The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills, a thrilling number which hits so hard you will be reeling for breath. The vocal work sticks to the raspy shriek that populated their last two albums for the most part, but occasionally dives into the lower range that made up their earliest works. The growls are not the deepest ever found, but they are certainly well performed and give off a lot of energy on this album.
Mount Of Execution is the main song that deserves to be singled out for praise on this album. This track closes the album off in a lengthy exercise of how to build up and absolutely crush a listener's ears with some of the most magnificent riffing ever found on a metal album, as well as some really neat soloing. The Master Butcher's Apron is another song that will remain in the head long after listening, containing some really memorable vocal work that is both catchy and absolutely chaotic, whilst the drumming remains as creative as ever. There is not one song on this release that ever threatens to knock it down a notch in terms of quality, and for this reason Surgical Steel stands out as arguably the definitive Carcass work. It contains elements of each of their releases, and is a magnificent album that deserves a listen from everyone.
Reviewing things isn't easy and reviewing music is worse. For me, simply giving something a score out of 100 can be agonisingly difficult. There’s so much criteria involved – the obvious ones being the song writing, the instrumentation, etc. – but what about the more subjective factors? The context of the release, the accessibility, or maybe your creepy Uncle Seamus touched you to the rhythm of 'Noncompliance To ASTM F 899-12 Standard'. Maybe. But even with all this mind I’m telling you that this IS a good album. If you like death metal then I really fail to see why you’d loathe this album. To me and, judging from the initial feedback, the vast majority of fans this is exceptional. This is not merely a new epoch for Carcass, but a continuation of the last.
It’s strange. Last time this band released an album I was barely 9 months old. The fact I’m excited about this album is a testament to Carcass. Perhaps if you were a cynic you’d mention the fact that the fanfare surrounding this album through various media outlets has been huge by metal standards. Carcass were one of those bands whose popularity increased mostly after they split up. Perhaps more surprising is that none of them had to died before this happened, although Ken’s brain haemorrhage (and subsequent miraculous recovery) leaves the Cobain effect mostly intact.
Jeff Walker, the silver-tongued bassist and vocalist of Carcass has been quoted as saying Surgical Steel is a little bit of all albums from Necroticism to Swansong. Essentially it ropes in the best of Carcass, masticates the grisly sinews and regurgitates the musical bolus onto a pallet fit for a butcher’s dog. The brutal yet intricate song writing of Necroticism, the melodic harmonies and solos of Heartwork, and the…er, well, not really Swansong. It’s a daunting mix of styles to comprehend at first but it ends up sounding natural – the next logical step in their evolution. Thrasher’s Abattoir is certainly not something I would expect on a Carcass album, but I wager its rambunctious riffage is probably the right antidote for the nostalgic and slightly out-of-place opening track ‘1985’, a short instrumental intro to the album featuring Bill Steer harmonising with himself. Dan Wilding, a relative unknown, promotes his credentials heroically with an impressive performance on the drums and is a good successor to Ken Owen in that he varies his drum beats often and successfully to prevent boredom. Incidentally, Ken contributes a few backing vocals on various tracks as does Bill, though not to the extent I was expecting. His voice features most prominently on ‘Wraith in the Apparatus’, though this was one of the 4 songs recorded that aren't on the vanilla version of Surgical Steel, but more on those later.
Bill Steer’s vocals may be absent as they have been for the best part of 20 years, but his trademark guitar is present and plays the protagonist throughout the album but it’s real monologue moment is the solos. They’re the clearly melodic sort that Kerry King can only dream of, though I’m disappointed the tradition of naming their solos hasn't lived on. Some songs such as ‘The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills’ (aka Heartwork 2.0) are clearly based more upon the melodic musings of Heartwork while others like ‘The Master Butcher’s Apron’ would be more at home on Necroticism or The Tools of the Trade EP. Luckily, this slight divide seems more like an attempt to incorporate the salient parts of both albums into one rather than a mild case of schizophrenia. The result is enjoyable; head banging riffs that usually hit the right medium between musically verbose and neolithic one-note chugging. Dare I say there is even a little groove in a few songs, notably the back end of ‘A Congealed Clot of Blood'.
Finally, we find ourselves at the vocals. I must admit, I did not expect too much from Jeff Walker though after the first listen I wondered why I ever thought that. Far from being dulled by time, the long-haired Liverpudlian is as sharp as a scalpel. The lyrics are mostly decipherable, though I armed myself with the lyric sheet regardless and was bemused and amused in equal wealth. They may sound like they've been written by Stephen Fry on a diet of thesauruses but they’re brimming with a grim facetious humour that is characteristic of the scouser. Topics like the conquistador’s brutal expeditions into Latin America (frankly, I did not expect the Spanish inquisition) and the dehumanising regimes of corrupt African warlords magnify and scrutinise issues more carefully than the wishy-washy social commentary of Swansong ever did. Several songs feature the trademark Carcass vernacular of dismemberment and exhumation, which must seem facile for Jeff after all this time, yet still yield a grimly humorous read. Believe me, if Kanye West had written some of these there’d be queue of people across the Atlantic begging to suck his dick. There’s even a pop at the misguided interpretations of the Qu’ran that the Jihad hold so dear; plenty for the inhabitants of the hotbed of modern philosophy and theology that is the Youtube comments section to get their teeth into. Joy…
But enough brown-nosing; no album is perfect and here are the criticisms. Bill Steer’s vocals are not as prominent as perhaps was implied pre-release, though it is a minor thing. More important is that while the bass is audible it often just follow Steer’s guitar like a loyal but decrepit dog trudging after its master. For me that is a crying shame because Swansong showed that Jeff has the ability to do more but I suppose that’s the price we pay for having a Carcass album in the more traditional death metal sense. Until now I have also failed to mention the 4 unreleased tracks, the UK version of which solely features ‘Intensive Battery Brooding’, which reminds me of Heartwork’s ‘This is your Life’ but with a better solo. I understand there is always leftovers but these songs are of a fairly high standard and though they’ll inevitably be added to Surgical Steel in some later digipak release or whatever money printing re-packaging the label boffins invent next. If I were you I’d download these region exclusive tracks from the internet if you find yourself wanting a bit more after the album has run its course. Frankly, 2 of these songs may have been preferable to the last song on the album, 'Mount of Execution'. It is actually a rather good track but for the last 2 minutes which seems bolted on rather clumsily after the song (and the album) reaches its natural denouement.
In the scheme of things though this is still an album that has surpassed nearly all expectations. Getting your hopes up for comeback albums is a dangerous thing indeed but it really is one of the standout releases of 2013 and a beacon of hope for death metal across the British Isles, a scene which has failed to produce any genuinely good albums for a number of years now.
The grindcore pioneers are back in the game, and one can only make wild, uneducated guesses as to what they may have cooked this time. Unlike their colleagues from Bolt Thrower and Napalm Death who never took very adventurous stylistic shifts, the Liverpool gang did quite a walk over the metal gamut back in the 90’s leaving the fan a bit bewildered, and probably not quite satisfied with their swansong (“Swansong”, that is) before the indefinite (now finite) hiatus.
With very fresh examples of total shameless flops (Morbid Angel’s “Illud Divinum Insanus” painfully comes to mind) the fanbase hardly holds any illusions about the recent reunion vogue in death metal, but Bill Steer, Jeff Walker and Co. beg to differ here. Confusion inevitably settles in with the beautiful melodic intro “1985” which is a direct reference, both title and music-wise, to the glorious period of metal (not quite death metal yet at that time); it’s a really stylish “wink” at Judas Priests’ “The Hellion” from ‘Screaming for Vengeance”, and before one hesitates whether to prepare, rather unwillingly, for some classic heavy metal fanfares to follow, starts the 2-min slashing death/thrashing madness “Thrasher’s Abattoir” which could throw the listener into other thoughts, that Carcass may have eventually decided to “court” thrash metal after unfairly ignoring it on ‘Swansong”...
But no; comes “Cadaver Pouch Conveyor System”, and death metal reigns supreme, the way we know it from “Heartwork” mostly, with the brilliant infectious melodies, the blazing solos, the semi-technical shreds, the abrupt tempo-changes, and all the rest. Some less bridled blast-beating sections incorporated later can be traced back even beyond “Necroticism” thus making a desirable coverage of all the staple “tools of the trade” of the band. “Swansong” hasn’t been completely forgotten, either, with a few more cheesy moments the majority captured by the monstrous closing 8.5-min opus “Mount of Execution”, an epic length Carcass having never tried previously, but succeeding in adding to the album’s already abundant melodic appeal. While some may complain about this composition being too long and not doing justice to the superior material encountered earlier, it’s still a fitting epitaph to a work which shows a band having not lost even a tad of their inimitable (albeit often imitated) style.
Jeff Walker snarls viciously in the same old scary way, and one can only wonder how come his aggressive, unmelodic “singing” style goes so well with the mellower parts, also being a major reason why “Swansong” couldn’t have possibly sucked back then. But it’s not only his characteristic delivery which makes one recognize Carcass almost instantly: the guys sound very true to themselves logically avoiding any experimental traps, the very modern production being the sole “innovation”, the latter making the guitars click and clock with a resounding echo recalling the sound of a scalpel touching a surgery table…
So our favourite “surgeons” have a done a marvellous job; really. Album of the year? By all means, if not for the whole world, at least for the medical students and the death metal fans. The best effort to come out of the UK recently? Sure thing, albeit wrapped in a winning arm wrestle with the grandfathers Black Sabbath (13” is the number… sorry, album). Compared to the more successful recent reunions in death metal (Pestilence, Atheist)? Definitely more consistent and compelling than “Resurrection Macabre”, and aaalmost as good as “Jupiter”.
So back to the surgery, everyone! It doesn’t look such a scary place anymore with the best practitioners of the trade back in business… Cut!
Heavy metal owes a huge debt to Carcass. From pioneering grindcore alongside bands like Napalm Death, of which guitarist Bill Steer was also a member, with their first two albums in the late 80’s when extreme metal was first finding it’s feet, to influencing legions of death metal acts with the pulverizing “Necroticism - Descanting the Insalubrious”, to contributing the essential template for melodic death metal with 1993’s “Heartwork”, Carcass have given more to the genre than most bands could ever hope to give. Understandable then, that the British masters of extremity are regarded as legends, and understandable that a new album coming seventeen years after their last, the maligned and often misunderstood “Swansong”, is going to be one of the most anticipated metal albums of recent times. Considering the route the band took in the dying days of their first period of activity, you could be forgiven for worrying about the quality of a new Carcass album. Have no fear however;”Surgical Steel” is a fucking monster.
Aesthetically, this album is largely a nod to past glories. The cover art for example is a new and improved version of 1992’s “Tools of the Trade” cover. Musically, it can be seen as a hybrid of the grisly, dark grooves of “Necroticism” and the towering melodies of “Heartwork”, but “Surgical Steel” is a lot more than that. This album takes everything that made Carcass such a spectacular band and melds it together into a crushing, blood-spattered behemoth of death metal supremacy.
Beginning with “1985”, an atmospheric intro track revolving around Bill Steer’s NWOBHM-esque harmonised guitar lead almost reminiscent of “The Hellion”, apparently from a 1985 demo recording from when Carcass were still known as Disattack. As any metal fan will know, “The Hellion” erupts straight into one of the most attention-grabbing and blistering metal songs ever, and as “1985” winds to its conclusion, the bloodshed truly begins. “Thrasher’s Abattoir” bursts forth from the speakers with the force of an infuriated rhino, less than two minutes of pure visceral, thrashing power. Immediately it’s clear that “Surgical Steel” is no half-arsed cash-in; it’s a flawless statement of intent from a veteran band determined to prove their relevance.
Incredibly, it gets even better as times goes on. “Cadaver Pouch Conveyor System” contains some of the most ridiculous catchy guitar leads ever found in death metal, as does the superb “The Dark Granulating Satanic Mills”, perhaps influenced by Bill Steer’s recent activity with NWOBHM icons Angel Witch. The songs on this album are multi-faceted, lurching back and forth from stomping grooves to soaring melodies to frantic velocity, like “The Master Butcher’s Apron” as it seamlessly lunges from visceral blastbeats into one of the most devastatingly heavy slow riffs of recent times, but the tracks are always completely cohesive, working perfectly as songs and just not collections of unrelated riffs. Bill Steer’s lead work is clearly a defining feature of this album, ranging from the infectious hooks of “Satanic Mills” and “Conveyor System” to more sinister, Slayer-esque leads which open up tracks like “A Congealed Clot of Blood”. Closer “Mount of Execution” meanwhile is one of the best songs you’ll hear this year, its acoustic guitar intro giving way to a gargantuan death metal monument of immense proportions. Almost progressive in nature, it shifts from section to section with outstanding conviction and savage beauty, all of which are convincing enough to warrant a song of their own being based upon them, let alone being merely a part of such a towering track. The song reaches a natural conclusion around 6 minutes in, lulling the listener into a false state of security, before bursting back into action with a mammoth groove powerful enough to shift continents.
Produced by Colin Richardson and mixed by Andy Sneap, two studio legends of metal, this album is sonically perfect. Bill Steer has to be one of the most ingenious guitarists in extreme metal today, his stunning melodies, blistering solos and ungodly good riffs really making these songs what they are. Drummer Dan Wilding proves himself as the absolute perfect replacement for former drummer Ken Owen, who suffered a debilitating brain hemorrhage in 1999 and thus could not join Carcass for their reunion. Wilding’s performance is absolutely flawless on this record, taking the music to new levels of intensity with his impeccable blasts, inventive rhythms, and exceptional fills. Owen meanwhile does make an appearance contributing backing vocals alongside Bill Steer, the first time these low growls have been used alongside frontman Jeff Walker’s bile-drenched rasp since “Necroticism”. Walker himself is on stunning form. His vocals are as grotesque and twisted as ever, and “Surgical Steel” is home to some of his finest lyrics yet, covering topics such as war, religion, the horrors of the meat industry, the graphic medical descriptions that were used to such great effect during Carcass’ grindcore days, the gloomy darkness of the Industrial Revolution, and even a scathing attack on the new breed of generic, uninspired extreme metal bands on “Noncompliance to ASTM F 899-12 Standard”, hilariously calling them “dearth metal”. He is a rare specimen in death metal, a frontman who comes across as having real personality and uniqueness, rather than just being another bog-standard growler.
"Surgical Steel" is both a state of the art modern metal record, and a throwback to days gone by, and does both perfectly. "Swansong" was certainly not the best way to end the stunning Carcass legacy, and with "Surgical Steel" they’ve made sure that that legacy is something that continues into the future. An absolute triumph for everything Carcass have ever stood for and expressed, it is quite possibly one of the greatest comeback albums of all time. They’ve inspired thousands of death and grindcore bands to pick up instruments and start writing their own grotesque saga; "Surgical Steel" seems poised to do the same for a whole new generation of extreme metal bands. The Carcass banner is now lodged firmly into the soil of the modern metal scene, proof that they are wholly relevant in 2013, and that they are going nowhere. After all, someone’s gotta show the new breed how it’s done.
I definitely did not expect the return of the legendary grind/melodic death metal band Carcass to really happen. After seventeen years after the release of Swansong, an album that seemed to end the grindcore side of the band, these veterans of extreme music unleash upon the human race another great masterpiece of pure grind/thrash/melodic death metal.
However, this time the sound of Carcass tends more to a thrash metal rhythm than in all the previous albums. Even the names of some songs make reference to it (listen to the second track, Thrasher's Abattoir). There are not the same nonsensical doses of grindcore as in the band's early albums, where the rawness of instruments and arrangements made the band sound almost inaudible, but, in fact, this is a positive point, as Surgical Steel can be interpreted as a successful continuation of Heartwork, the band’s masterpiece. Not even the absence of the legendary founding member Michael Amott seems to have affected the glorious result that appears in the almost 50 minutes of Surgical Steel.
The album begins with a rhythmic and melodic track with just the pair of guitars from Bill Steer. A peaceful and harmonious introduction to the carnage that begins thereafter. Ten tracks in which Carcass shows all the mastery and creativity that made them became world famous in the 90s. The medical issues are back in the lyrics (listen to Noncompliance to ASTM F899-12 Standard and Captive Bolt Pistol) and even on the album cover, which goes back to an old release from the band, the Tools of the Trade EP, from 1992. Individually, deserve mention the wonderful work of Jeff Walker on vocals, with constant power and aggressiveness throughout the whole album and the creative battery of Daniel Wilding, who gave a more technical and faster tone to the music, sounding far more accurate than its predecessor, Ken Owen.
Bill Steer also seems not to have slept in those seventeen years that Carcass remained in silence. In Surgical Steel there are riffs of all kinds, ranging from pure tremolo picking passages through more melodic and rhythmical riffs as in Cadaver Pouch Conveyor System to pure thrash savagery as in Captive Bolt Pistol. In most of the songs these three styles are fully merged, which makes the songs very heterogeneous (hear The Master Butcher's Apron).
Carcass hit on perfecting the Heartwork’s formula in this new release, becoming the band's sound more mature and consolidating its expertise in mixing thrash, death and a bit of grindcore in an unique and unmistakable melodic style. A return in style of one of the most popular names in the metal scene.
Originally wtritten for opusoculto.blogspot.com.br
Considering the depths one time member Mike Amott has fallen in recent times, and the downward decline in quality of their output in the 90s, it's no surprise that this recent Carcass album is a deplorable, artistically void album that reeks of commercial whoredom. Necroticism was boring, Heartwork was whoring, and Swansong was misdirected, genre confused hard rock, so what's left for Carcass to do? Mix everything that made their 90s output forgettable and further ruin their reputation. From the misguided fan-service lyrics to the rock harmony 101 Saturday morning cartoon theme song riffs that are the focus of these tracks, this album reeks of compromises and vacuity.
The lyrics are one of the worst things to this album. From the cover art to the song titles, this is very inappropriate subject matter for the music. Violent themes for happy muzak. It seems like Carcass are trying to cash in on what people "think" they know from Carcass, that being medical themes, but this whoring bunch of commercial Wacken metal probably would have benefited from the "emotional and personal" approach that was utilized on Heartwork and Swansong. Just by reading the song titles, it feels like something a focus group put together to make the album appeal to fans of vastly different eras of Carcass, but it fails, coming off as words thrown over muzak at the last minute.
Muzakly speaking, this is Heartwork-esque stadium rock mellow-deaf with butt rock solos that are so cheesy, it came as a surprise to find out Mike Amott had no part in this. There is more Wacken crowd pandering in here with the harmonized dual lead parts than anything attempted in the past, making a lot of the music here sound like nothing more than recent Arch Enemy with Jeff Walker vocals and some blast beats. The song structures are verse-chorus affairs, but then they throw in these "unexpected" extended bridges in there to appeal to the people that thought Necroticism's bloated and unnecessarily long songs were "unique", even if they don't correlate well with what preceded it, to make it seem like something "complex" had just occured in what was otherwise a simple song with a simple goal. It's fist in the air drunken stupidity, replete with down-picked power chord groove rock riffs aplenty, making this all feel like a more uptempo version of Swansong than the Necroticism meets Heartwork album the band promised. Occasionally, blasting over riffs like the one played on Heartwork's Carnal Forge make an appearance, but only as something that feels forced, as if checked off a list of things that must be included on the album so people think it's "death metal" and not stadium rock.
The poor quality of this album was to be expected considering this band had run out of usefulness after Symphonies of Sickness. This is really not much different from whatever Nuclear Blast would churn out on a regular basis since the late 90s, just with the Carcass brand name attached to it. Worse yet, while a lot of Heartwork and even Swansong had identifiable songs, this just seems like any ordinary mellow-deaf album with an overly sterile production with the only allusion to old Carcass being the hoarse rasping of Jeff Walker. If you want to listen to the same album Century Media and Nuclear Blast has been dumping out in different ways since figuring out stadium metal dressed up in death metal aesthetics for the sake of "rebellion" was a sales hit, by all means pick it up. If you enjoy Carcass, the unique entity who offered a new voice and perspective to underground metal, stick with their first couple albums.
Of the countless metal bands in recent years to have spun the reformation cycle, bringing their 80s and 90s material to younger generations, one name has always stood out against the rest: Carcass. Feted as goregrind, death metal and melodic death progenitors and immeasurably influential on thousands of bands there was an air of inevitability about their rebirth and subsequent new album, but knowing as we all do the sense of disappointment that tends to great new releases from old legends, who could've foreseen a release like "Surgical Steel" which has been gathering positive reviews like a rotting corpse does maggots?
Rather than simply striking lucky there are permeating reasons for why "Surgical Steel" stands up against the Carcass discography. Their genre-defining classics of "Necroticism" and "Heartwork" were not mere blasters as their ability to blend melody, groove and even humour into subject matters of the grotesque and ghastly has ensured the longevity of the name. In Bill Steer they possess one of the most inventive guitarists in death metal this side of Chuck Schuldiner, a man who has filled his Carcass downtime in a variety of blues rock bands and it takes just one listen to tracks like "Cadaver Pouch Conveyor System" and "Noncompliance to ASTM F 899-12 Standard" to notice what a difference his fluid style of playing brings against all the straight-up testosterone fueled bands of today. Steer is ably abetted by the skills of new sticksman Daniel Wilding, while in Jeff Walker, and more specifically his lyrics, here is a man who growls and spews out tales of death and decay with a knowing smile on his face and a rare sense of personality, as if only he knows this is a form of entertainment and not some sermon to be blindly endured and regurgitated.
Intro piece "1985" brings the first sign of dual guitar interplay (all courtesy of Steer) before "Thrasher's Abattoir" is harks back to the early days of the band, listing meticulous ways of passing through the void in a forceful two-minute blast. "Cadaver Pouch Conveyor System" throws some thrashy rhythm playing into the mix as we see Carcass settle into their more melodic groove for the first time, with the resulting solos in the song's latter half recalling the glory days of Megadeth's frequent lead battles. It is worth noting through into "A Congealed Clot of Blood" and "The Master Butcher's Apron" how each song sound different from one another - for all the countless Exhumed's and Impaled's out there thriving off the Carcass legacy they have never been able to inject such variety into their album as is heard here.
"Noncompliance..." - the winner of this year's 'Most specific song subject' award - flies off the line with some brilliant lead work and follows this up with a fine example of how to execute a drop in pace mid-way through without resorting to neanderthal, palm-muted chugging (all deathcore bands take note). Highlight track of the piece "The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills" is based around a riff as good as in "Keep On Rotting in the Free World", a track which more than any other in their back catalogue is responsible for the melodic death wave which followed while "Unfit for Human Consumption" and "316 L Grade Surgical Steel" follow suit earning the album's closing half the merit of bearing more classic material than earlier on. For what "Surgical Steel" may lack in the brutal directness, which makes "Necroticism" so essential to the genre, as an overall collection of songs this rivals the best these Liverpudlian legends have to offer. Should they never record another album "Surgical Steel" will sit much more comfortably as a closing chapter than "Swansong" has done for the past 17 years.
Originally written for www.Rockfreaks.net
Yes, quite a long break from the metal scene, however, Carcass is back! This one fits in the genre of not only melodic death, but actually death 'n roll. That doesn't necessarily make it "not" melodic, it's melodic as all hell. Plus Steer sounds like he's keeping the guitars tuning to B still, reliving the old tunes and turning the music into a pure melodic medley of tunes that are stifling, not to mention that they're still thick and heavy as all hell. Walker's vocals are pretty much the same as its previous outputs, reliving the spirit of the past and applying it to their newer sound fitting it rather well alongside the melodies fast paced tempos.
Commendable return although some have this contingency that it wasn't music they are adhering to, it's money. With that belief, the whole of the album tends to make it as worthy as nil. I appreciated the album immensely, not out of bias or disagreement with other people's views, but because I felt a good vibe when I heard this, and yes, it was like reliving the gift of melodic memories. I think that Steer made the music commendable here, despite the slighter change in songwriting structure, the melodicism of the music keep it for me interested because the emotion definitely comes out in the music.
I've never been a fan of Carcass' lyrical department, mainly just the music and vocals. On this one, I think that Steer's leads weren't as wicked on that of "Heartwork", but still was able to dish out some highly technical riffs, with a touch of rock and roll feel to it. I'm guessing that was the underlying style in the songwriting department, they wanted to bring themselves back into the world of emotion in music, even if it is heavy and the guitars thick. Actually, the guitars are to me the highlight of the album and the production quality was commendable. Walker sounds the same yes, but it truly does fit with Steer's musical compositions.
I didn't lose interest in any of the songs the whole way through. In fact, I felt it to be exuberant in feel, original in style, lucid in essence and wicked in spirit. These aspects made the album work and possibly one of the top albums of 2013. I'm not in agreement with others just for the sake of agreeing with them, I truly thought that this comeback leads to other bands comebacks in metal, not just them, but those who've disbanded in the past for whatever reason. So yes, the hallmark here are Steer's utter complexity in writing style, tremolo picking riffing abundant, a vibe that puts the sound in a world of its own among their discography.
The fact that this band made a hallmark comeback to the metal scene is quite admirable. Just not only that, but listening to 47+ minutes of pure and fresh melodic/death 'n roll. The music is captivating, the vocals so much like the past, the production quality like that of "Heartwork", and a drive for this band to really make its mark once again in approach to metal. I don't think that this album is them just selling out, I think that the memories of the past became relived and their adjunct to keeping themselves untouchable in this unique melodic form will turn new listeners into their vibe getting them interested in the older melodic days, not as much the way early grind ones. A monument.
Carcass is the band that interested me in the extreme side of heavy metal. Perhaps in the minority of Carcass fans, I enjoy all of their previous albums— yes, even Swansong (though I could not get into the risible Blackstar (aka Blackstar Rising) project). From their opaque grinding inception to their groovy death ‘n roll conclusion, I enjoy the varied musical offerings from Steer, Walker, and Owen. Memorable riffs (in many different styles) and interesting arrangements are the constants of quality for this ever-changing entity.
When I heard that Carcass would be releasing a new album, I was excited but wary, and when I read that the album was to be a mix of their previous styles—plus new stuff—my enthusiasm grew. The reported vocal presence of Bill Steer was also something to look forward to, but it’s been a long time away for these guys, and there was no way to know creatively where they were at. I was 23 the last time I heard a new Carcass album, and as a 40 year-old fan, my tastes have developed—I’ve written a lot of music and a ton of criticism and heard thousands and thousands of death metal songs.
So I am happy to report that Surgical Steel proves to be a respectable and triumphant return for Carcass. From the Hellion-inspired intro 1985 to the weighty closer, this is a good album, loaded with ideas. There’s a lot of talk as to which incarnation of Carcass this new effort most resembles, and the answer is obviously Heartwork. There are moments from other albums—the progressive arrangements and twin guitar circling of Mount of Execution recalls Necroticism and some of the overstuffed vocals in tunes like The Master Butcher’s Apron recall the force-feeding lyrical approach of the grind era—but essentially, Surgical Steel is Heartwork, Part II. Lots of catchy thrash riffs with palm-muted chugging that would fit comfortably on some of the better Megadeth albums (albeit with different tuning), lots of heavy metal twin guitar (with uglier harmonies), lots of time changes, and lots of interesting (but not too complex) arrangements comprise this release. So like Heartwork, Surgical Steel is an energetic album full of sterling hooks, cartwheeling solos, somber melody, left turns, and speed, but lacking the creepiness of their necrotic, sick and putrefactive days. In short: This album is not atmospheric at all, but rather exciting and catchy.
The main limitation here—and also on Heartwork and Swansong to a lesser degree—is Jeff Walker’s singing. I had hoped to hear 17 years of musical wisdom in his choices, but this performance is actually a step down from his lead singer approach on Heartwork. His singing is and has always been limited—it’s a pretty good spoken word snarl, but not much more—and whenever he tries to expand his rasp into contoured death metal crooning as he does a few times on this album (esp. Cadaver Pouch Conveyor System) and throughout Blackstar and often on Swansong, his singing makes me think of Krusty the Clown. Long held notes and melodic contour just don’t sound great in Walker’s clearly enunciated snarl. And when he leaps out to the front with playful ideas, it can get a little embarrassing— the singing at the end of the otherwise terrific 316L Surgical Grade Steel is pure St. Anger stuff and injures the song. So yeah, Walker does a specific thing pretty well (and on the best Satyricon albums, Satyr does the exact same kind of vocals much more tastefully), but the sheer quantity of the lyrics for some of these songs is just out of control—a “cramming in” approach to vocals that is the main relic of their grindcore days and out of place here. Proof: The best vocal chorus on the entire album is in The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills where Walker simply sings numbers for the major part of the section and leaves a lot of open space. Drier vocals and sparser singing suit him better than more emotive or playful stuff. The tiny, almost insignificant vocal contributions of Most Valuable Carcass, Bill Steer should have been greatly expanded (he used to have the far better voice), and Walker’s singing should’ve been cut down by 50% or more. And when Steer’s voice is present—I’m assuming that’s him in the chorus of Captive Bolt Pistol—his voice is way, way over processed and squandered. So Walker’s singing—the overwhelming amount of it, the timbre, and the pedestrian phrases he contrives—is the only reason that this album is a good album and not a great one.
Former drummer Ken Owen’s distinctive beats are missed in Carcass 2013, but as is usually the case with line up changes in successful bands, the new player is more technically proficient and less creatively compelling than his predecessor. This is not to chop on Dan Wilding’s playing—he is very good at rocking some of the weird left turns—but Ken Owen’s progressive playing in songs like Embodiment and Heartwork and his deep pocket groove in Rock the Vote evince a songwriter’s mentality (and on a personal level, incredibly inspiring—I used to practice to these three songs). Wilding’s drumming snaps into place and propels the action and grooves when needed, but lacks the singular musical voice of Ken Owen (who is a ride cymbal artist). I fully concede that the comparison is a bit unfair—there have been over two decades of extreme metal drumming since Symphonies & Necroticism and a lot of extreme drumming patterns and techniques have been cleaned up and standardized (for better and for worse).
Looking at the larger picture, the second half of the album is far stronger than the first, though all of it is good. From Noncompliance of ASTM F 899-12 Standard onward, Surgical Steel has my interest 100%. It’s at this point—track 6—that song structures get a lot more compelling and the riffs get more dynamic. Additionally, since there are more in the way of instrumental passages in the second half, the best element of Carcass music—the riffs and color changes and arrangements—aren’t as smothered by vocals. Steer’s solos are certainly sharp and exciting, mirroring the characteristics of the album as a whole. And the musical trepanation after Walker’s cry of “Trepanation!” in Captive Bolt Pistol is an excellent example of imagistic riffs and a tactile listening experience—that hook certainly bores into the brain.
Although Surgical Steel is hampered by some pedestrian singing, the album is a catchy, exciting, inspired, inspiring, and commendable continuation of the Carcass legacy. Unfit for Human Consumption, Mount of Execution, and Noncompliance of ASTM F 899-12 Standard are some of the best tunes in the band’s varied catalogue, right alongside Incarnated Solvent Abuse, Lavaging Expectorate of Lysergide Compostion, Forensic Clinicism, Embyrionic Necropsy and Devourment, Rock the Vote, Death Certificate, Heartwork, and Embodiment. That three songs on the first new Carcass album in 17 years match the very best songs they’ve ever recorded is a testament to their artistry, craft, and passion.
The return of British death metal/grindcore/melodeath titans Carcass is something that has everybody talking, and rightly so. I do not exaggerate when I say that 'Surgical Steel' is probably one of the strongest comeback albums I have ever heard, as well as one of, if not the best metal album of 2013. This album is jam-packed with great riffs, some of the most technically intense drumming Carcass has ever used (sorry Ken Owen) and probably what is the most clever, wit-filled lyrical assault Jeff Walker was capable of.
You've probably heard it said that this album is the 'missing bridge' between 'Heartwork' and 'Necroticism.' While I somewhat agree with this, I also think it is so much more than that. For one thing, it only takes the very best aspects from both albums (don't get me wrong I love both -- especially 'Necroticism'). The guys play with some Heartwork esque melodies and leads, especially on tracks like "316L Grade Surgical Steel" and "The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills." As well as some assorted mid-tempo Necroticism stuff thrown in for good measure here and there. For those of you who are cringing in elitism at the thought of "sell-out" aspects that reappear from Heartwork, your loss because this album an exceptionally exciting sonic journey that you will miss out on because of your prejudgement.
The album begins with a short instrumental track entitled "1985" and is apparently an old demo that Bill Steer dug up from (surprise) 1985. If those were the kinds of things they were writing in '85, it should have been clear what was about to be unleashed upon the musical world. It's a cool little melodic lead part where Mr. Steer essentially gets to singlehandedly set the mood for the album. This quickly leads into the less than two minute attack which is "Thrasher's Abbatoir." This song is a ripping return to form by the band to their older Symphonies/Necroticism days. The song takes no time in ripping your face off in its torrential riff and crazed drumming. The lyrics as well are indicitve of "the old Carcass" as they are sufficiently gory and violent to make Ken Owen proud. Speaking of the ex-Carcass drummer, Ken makes two guest appearances on this album, providing backing vocals; "Thrasher's Abbatoir" is the first instance of this. The third song "Cadaver Pouch Conveyor System" begins with Walker's maniacal rasp of "BLOODLUSTMORD!" Something I still have no idea the meaning of. This song is slightly more polished than the previous, employing the style of Heartwork, beginning with pummeling riffage before a brief melodic break. But fear not; for Surgical Steel's melodic breaks are usually brief and used extremely artfully and they add tremendously to the character of the album.
One of my personal favorite tracks from this album is "The Master Butcher's Apron." This track is both brutal (to use such a cliche term) and masterfully written, as well as having some of the most catchy lyrics on the whole album. Speaking of lyrics, the track"Noncompliance to ASTM F899-12 Standard" is notable because this entire song is a commentary by Walker & Co. on all of the so-called 'copy cat' bands which Carcass has influenced. Walker even goes so far as to call them 'Dearth Metal.' Is this a bit pompous on Carcass' part? You be the judge. "The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills" is also worth mentioning for being the most atmospheric song on this album. The song conjours images of industrial England, in all its gloomy, depressive majesty. The song also contains a hidden easter egg in the lyrics. The mysterious chants of "Six, zero, two, six, Nine, six, one” are actually not some hidden satanic message, but actually the SID (substance identification) for surgical grade stainless steel. Talk about fucking clever. “Unfit For Human Consumption” is a vicious rage of a song, both lyrically and musically, its unrelenting assault has earned it the spot as one of the best songs present.
I must now mention the track “316L Grade Surgical Steel,” the title track, if you will. This song is a more mellow (though still thoroughly aggressive) song whose lyrics are the real stars. The lyrics to this song are probably Jeff Walker's most complex, deep and thoughtful offering to date. I don't care who you are, they'll punch you in the feelings. And while you're recovering from the emotional shock, “Captive Bolt Pistol” will jump out to euthanize you before you know what's happening. Being the first leaked track, you can assume that this song is probably the most generic one on the whole album, and you'd be right. That doesn't mean it's mediocre though; quite the contrary. This song was what had me in fan girl squeels of anticipation for the rest of the album the moment I heard it. The final track “Mount of Execution” is a strange 8-ish minute prog offering from the band. It sort of feels tacked on and mildly kills the freight train momentum of the rest of the album. In any case, it's still a good listen.
All in all, Surgical Steel is an immense tour-de-force by Brit titans Carcass. It's sure to please new fans as well as even the most curmudgeony, elitist Reek of Putrefaction fans. It doesn't really come as any surprise that when a band like Carcass lies in wait for 17 years before an album release following a sub-par catastrophe like Swansong, the album they release is the product of all the pent up riffs, frustrations and rage of the past 17 years, and Steer, Walker & Co. were clearly bursting with all of these things when they set out to create Surgical Steel. Simply put: this album kicks ass. Carcass remind us all of why the old guys are still the best.
Yeah, that’s right, STEER! The man responsible for the success of this comeback album, THE comeback album of 2013 along with Satan’s awesome Life Sentence. But we’ll talk about him later. CARCASS is fuckin’ back! I mean, they reunited a good six years ago, but the possibility of new material was thin. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who thought they’d carry on living on their past glories, providing both their oldest and newest fans the experience of watching them live just like in their prime, in similar fashion to the reunited At the Gates. But oh no, thank Dio I was wrong! We have a brand new record by one of the most influential death metal bands ever! Brandishing another classy, iconic cover a la Heartwork, and propelled by the skin bashing of their latest drummer, Mr. Daniel Wilding. But, is it as good as it seems? Has the wait borne the expected rotten, tasty fruits? In the ears of this humble metal obsessed Mexican writing these very lines, the correct answer to that is: HELL YES!
I warn you, dear fellow metal brother or sister, I might be biased towards Surgical Steel, since Heartwork occupies such a special place in my heart and this present work’s like the twisted younger brother (or more likely, son) of that 1993 masterpiece. Stylistically, and I’m not the first nor will be the last to mention it, Carcass’ sixth long play sounds much like a mixture of Necroticism and the H. R. Giger artwork-graced melodic death metal’s progenitor that followed it. It combines some of the best features from both albums; the nastiness and vitriol of their 1991 death metal opus with the nifty melodies and scalpel sharp production values of their fourth release. I’m quite happy about this outcome, since those two records are my favorites by the band. Quite honestly, they’re also their most popular. A regression to their goregrind years was highly unlikely, their path of evolution being a straight line from brutal and chaotic sonic evisceration to a refined and coldly calculated pedigree butchery that perhaps went too simple and accessible for their fifth release, Swansong.
“1985” opens the surgical ceremony, an introductory instrumental that repeats a simple if compelling melodic theme, in similar fashion to Arch Enemy’s “Enter the Machine”. And that makes me remember that Michael Amott defected before the composing and launching of this new material… and nobody will miss him. At first listen one would think Carcass have chosen to pick up the style of their previous long play, but then “Thrasher’s Abattoir” hits you with all the strength of its anti-poser stance and melo-death-grind violence. Soon we realize this is going to be a varied onslaught, one that incorporates different aspects from the band’s career into an ass-kicking collection of bone-splintering tunes. Even during the course of a single track, we might have reckless blasting, then melodic breaks, and then some pulverizing grooves as well. But the songs are cohesive and memorable, boasting strong riffage and some of the finest soloing to be found in 21st Century melodeath. So don’t you dare call this progressive or technical, for fuck’s sake! It’s just that these guys have great taste and a knack for first class metal.
The lyrics vary, exposing a variety of themes the band has explored across their seminal discography. We’ve war and its atrocities covered by “Cadaver Pouch Conveyor System” and “The Master Butcher’s Apron”, fundamentalism and indoctrination in “A Congealed Clot of Blood”, humanity’s voracity and mistreatment of bovines in “Unfit for Human Consumption” (probably my favorite composition of the bunch) and even our own beloved war on drugs here in Mexico is addressed on the closing track, “Mount of Execution”. The lyrical style is a mixture of the more abstract approach found on Heartwork with the acrobatic use of vocabulary and indiscriminate employment of medical terminology akin to the first three records. And all that spewed forth by the necrotic pipes of Jeff Walker, who still has enough bile down his throat to flood a stadium teeming with Justin Bieber worshippers. His bass plucking is also spot on, but that’s the least impressive of the three basic instruments at play here.
Daniel WILDing’s drumming is terrific! He even sounds like Owen circa Necroticism, with precise blasting and fills up the wazoo. There are also more laid back, interesting slower beats from time to time, although he doesn’t surpasses Owen’s elegant, masterful performance on Heartwork. Nonetheless, a great deal of modern metal percussionists, particularly those automaton-like tech death drummers adhered to blast as much and as fast as possible, should take more than a few hints from Carcass’ current drum master. But the real star of this show is Bill Steer, a surgically precise axe overlord of almost unparalleled versatility in the death metal realm. Do you need thrashy breakneck speedy riffs? Done. Perhaps some NWOBHM-inspired snazzy solos and melodies? Sure. Head-bangeable, amusing groove? You got it. Sick shifts on the fretboard, never sounding pretentious and out of place? Fuck yeah! Steer’s in top form here, he brings back everything you love and crave from Carcass’ past catalog!
The production’s another resounding Andy Sneap victory, and suits the aesthetics of the record like the One Ring on Sauron’s hand. This new release conceals some of metal finest moments of 2013, but despite all my love and respect for these blokes and all the excitement that Surgical Steel has stirred in me, I can’t say it’s a perfect work nor the undisputed album of the year so far. There are some sections that drag on a bit or just aren’t that great, like the conclusion of “Mount of Execution”. A certain thing is, you can’t go wrong in BUYING this set of shiny, nasty, sharp tools and enjoy. A bit too bright and polished for those who prefer the rusted, jagged edge of old school death metal. But whatever your tastes, Carcass are back! Those in doubt should get their craniums punctured, penetrated, and mashed.
Originally written for Metal Recusants [metalrecusants.com]
There are basically two bands I hold above all others as far as my metalness goes. One should be obvious. The other one is Carcass. Heartwork was the first extreme metal album I heard, eventually launching my expanding metal brain off into fun places like the battlefields of Bolt Thrower, the Viking adventures of Amon Amarth, the sheer brutality of Napalm Death, and the techno-electro-metal-whatever of Fear Factory, to name a few. But I was always looking for another Carcass, and while some have come close, none have achieved equality.
Of course, this is me we're talking about. So, naturally, by the time I was full-bore into this whole death metal thing, Carcass decided, "eh, screw it." I was left with a varied catalog, which like any other band has stuff I can usually take or leave (the first two albums), and stuff permanently etched into my iPod (everything else). Fast forward a bunch of years, and we get to 2008. After constant wondering "what if", Carcass is back, at least touring! Off to NYC I went, watching most of the Necroticism lineup obliterate Times Square (minus Ken, who did show up for a drum solo - awesome!), and the merchandising tables obliterate my wallet. Having filled in that part of my universe, and then read various interviews along the lines of "no new album", I was then floored to hear about secret recording sessions for...a new Carcass album!
The live show proved that they still had the chops. But with Bill off doing non-Carcassy things in the post-Swansong years, and a new drummer required, what would the result be? Total back to the roots like Reek or Symphonies? A Swansong follow-on? On some level I didn't care, but on another level, well, I did start to worry...basically when another British band reunited for an album earlier this year, and the result was pretty much horrible. When Captive Bolt Pistol came out, things began to look up.
Boosting my expectations, Carcass alleged in an interview earlier this year that Surgical Steel is basically a cross between Necroticism and Heartwork. When I heard that, I was pretty damn excited. Necroticism is still my favorite Carcass album and the one I personally consider to be their "best", but blending that with the more refined production of Heartwork sounded like a great idea. Upon getting the album (Amazon Japan - it's awesome...release date there was 4 September) and finally breaking everything down by listening to it a million times, I get where he was coming from.
Surgical Steel isn't just a conglomeration of the Necroticism and Heartwork styles, however. There's also a bit of Swansong thrown in there, and for good measure, too. Yes, Swansong seems almost universally derided, but I actually like it more as a complete package than Heartwork if we're being honest. And the Swansong elements here are often a bit less musical and a bit more lyrical or topical. Swansong was always the most obvious of the Carcass albums in terms of the lyrics, without the requirement to own a dictionary or thesaurus to figure it out. Instead, it was a bit more in your face, with fun things like politics, George Orwell, and the collapse of society tossed around.
As for the Heartwork and Necroticism influences, frankly, they should be obvious. Back are the Necroticism-style technical lyrics in some places, and the song structures are often similar as well. A perfect example of both things is Noncompliance to ASTM F899-12 Standard. Listen to the way Noncompliance... is structured, and the lyrics, complete with backing vocals by Bill in places. Riffs, more riffs, a little lead break, and then at about 3:50, slow everything down and groove through a nice little bridge before pounding underneath two solos. Then speed back into the chorus and whatnot to finish things off. Seriously. Dirty up the production a bit, throw a BBC TV sample at either end, and you've got a Necroticism-style song in the vein of Corporal Jigsore Quandary, or if not one that'd fit there directly certainly one that would fit...drumroll...between Necroticism and Heartwork. OK, yeah, the actual music itself on the album is more often than not the Heartwork-style polished-to-a-shine melodic death metal. But while the Necroticism references might not be blisteringly obvious at first listen, they're there; often subtle, but they're there.
The songs themselves are pretty much full-on Carcass, done in a NecroHeartSong style. After opening with an awesome instrumental in 1985, ...wait, hold on. Listen to that again, and then listen to a really early Disattack demo. Thrasher's Abbatoir on the Disattack demo is basically 1985 here, albeit in simplified form (and exponentially better production). Thrasher's Abbatoir here...well, the title is the same, but that's it for the throwbacks. Thrasher's Abbatoir is pretty much "excuse us while we beat your head in" Carcass, violently getting your complete attention before the album starts to get very serious, and very, very good. And, uh, it might just be me, but this might be a message to all of the Carclones out there as well, and a sign that maybe these guys are sticking around for a little bit to demonstrate just how some things are done. I mean, come on, poserslaught? Hilarious.
From here on out things get progressively more impressive. Three solid, solid tracks in a row. The Master Butcher's Apron is particularly good, with a pounding, driving groove permeating under most of the track, with the two preceding tracks not too far behind in quality. After those three, the aforementioned Noncompliance..., and then BANG. Epic. Initially, I kept gravitating back to Noncompliance... and it's Necroticism undertones as my favorite track. However, the real standouts of the album are sitting here on the second half (OK, apart from the awesome 1985), starting with The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills. No, I have no real idea what the hell the numbers mean, except maybe that 6026961 is greater than 13, which...heh. Anyway, if someone asked who Carcass was these days, throw this on. You've got melody, aggression, and pointed lyrical commentary (yes, using big Carcass words at times, many of which made the lyrics entering thing here go spell-check retarded). Besides, who the hell else can throw John Lennon and William Blake into a coherent melodic death metal track, and have the result be this good?
The next three tracks are almost album filler compared to Granulating..., but after consideration definitely stand up individually. Unfit for Human Consumption has a chorus section that's extremely catchy both musically and lyrically, in 316L Grade Surgical Steel we have a sort of rehash of No Love Lost, with more Swansong-ish music in parts, and everyone's heard Captive Bolt Pistol by now, which shows off around the 2:12 mark: "Yeah, we're here, we got this."
The last track on the regular release, Mount of Execution, stands with Granulating... as one of the best compositions Carcass has ever released as far as I'm concerned; if I was making a top 10 list, both of them are in there. It's different, and as it will become apparent it's like the album as a whole in a way; you'll either love it or hate it. You'll either revel in trying to discern all of the hidden meaning in the lyrics (pay attention, this may or may not quite be what you think it is), or you'll hate it as it is definitely more along the Swansong lines. The only thing knocking it down underneath Granulating... slightly is that the ending bit might've been kicked off and used to formulate an outro instrumental track. Hell, they could've called it 2013! There's also the acoustic intro, but remember that acoustic guitars are something else that appeared briefly on Necroticism, leading into an extended intro section stylistically similar to what was found on Edge of Darkness: the buildup before the intensity kicks in.
Since I've got the Japanese import, what about the bonus tracks? A Wraith in the Apparatus is just, well, good. It's not HOLY CRAP, but it's not crap, either. Musically it sounds like it'd have fit well with Swansong, being a bit more simplistic and groovy. I will say that for whatever reason Bill's lines in the chorus are horribly infectious, and I have no idea why. Intensive Battery Brooding...this sounds like what might've happened had Carcass recorded another CD instead of Jeff, Ken and Carlo going off to do Blackstar. Mix Barbed Wire Soul with Swansong and this is what's coming out. However, don't let that deter you, get the digipak of Surgical Steel or get the track from iTunes or somewhere. This is downright hilarious, and in the way Carcass does it best. To really get the total impact you have to have some clue what the song is about, else you'll be sitting there reading the lyrics going "what the hell...?". Without giving the game away too directly (OK without having to explain the whole damn thing), put "blue peacock" and chicken into Google. Don't worry, it's totally safe for work. OK, provided you don't work for Greenpeace. Given that I do work related to more modern iterations of similar devices, this pretty much made my day.
If there's a flaw to the album, it's that you will hear other Carcass songs in various places. However, self-plagiarization isn't that uncommon (nor is it exactly a bad thing in a lot of cases), especially given that the songs you're hearing are ones they've been playing on tour since they reunited. Noncompliance...? Heartwork. Granulating...? Keep on Rotting in the Free World. Maybe it's overt? Who knows. Me, I don't really look at it as that much of a fault, given that they aren't so much completely ripping themselves off and reusing material blatantly as they are seemingly being influenced by the stuff they've been playing, and it came out in the new music. Besides, people always claim to want Band X to make another Album Y, so that sort of self-plaqiarization clearly has to be an accepted consequence. At any rate the only one I thought was overly obvious was in Granulating..., but again it's not a complete re-use but something similarly structured. And hey, it fits. The Heartwork reference in Noncompliance... is a lot less obvious, and really only counts if you want to say every set of tremolo-picked ascending riffs ever has to therefore be a ripoff of Heartwork. For that matter, I'm not sure if the following riff isn't actually more reminiscent of the verse riff from Incarnated Solvent Abuse.
Prodution-wise, Richardson and Sneap definitely delivered a polished album. I am certainly not one who wants my extreme music to sound muddy or poorly mixed; rather, I like being able to discern each individual element and appreciate both the parts and the whole. The production job here makes that an easy task, leading to a much greater personal enjoyment of the album. A lot of times people cite Heartwork as the best "sounding" CD, given the layered guitars and whatnot, but I think this might actually be better, as I always thought Heartwork sounded...off? Like a blank track was mixed in somehow? Everything is clean and balanced well, and it doesn't take much effort to pick out the bass lines either. Jeff Walker's vocals sound surprisingly good given that he's aged a bit, and Bill Steer hasn't lost anything from eschewing the metal scene for a while prior to the reunion. Dan Wilding does a solid job as well, the best compliment available being that he doesn't draw attention to the fact that this is Carcass sans Ken Owen...although lacking Ken behind the kit is, on one level, hilariously ironic.
Overall, the album as a whole flows nicely from instrumental beginning to excellent conclusion. That being said, it may well turn out to be pretty divisive. Fans of Heartwork should definitely find a lot to appreciate here, and if approached with a bit of an open mind fans of Necroticism should also find it worthwhile. If we accept that Carcass is the band that left off with Swansong, after growing up from grindcore and into the Necroticism-era band, then this is a definite return to form and an album that is unquestionably a solid addition to the Carcass discography.
The dissension is going to be among fans who only appreciate the first two albums. For them, there's nothing much to hear here; if they were really expecting Reek II they're going to be disappointed. The titles of the songs may provide a certain impression, along with the lyrics previously disclosed for Captive Bolt Pistol, but that impression will actually prove to be entirely misguided upon listening to the entire album and comprehending the lyrics, and seeing just how the "old-school" titles really do fit without necessarily being there for the same of being there. But, you can't please everyone. Those who seem to think metal fans have to be some weird sort of German and are self-qualified to judge whether we correspondingly appreciate what we appreciate with sincerity, will not enjoy Surgical Steel as it represents an amalgamation of Carcass's musical progression out of grindcore, progression being seen as the ultimate insult to the listener. And as for not being able to interrogate William Blake's influence in Granulating..., it's time to realize that others do not necessarily have to conform to your ideals, and maybe you don't understand them that much either...
95. Not only the best album I've heard all year, but honestly one of the best I've heard in a decade. And, yeah, by far the best British metal band's comeback album released by a band lacking its former drummer this year. Take it with a grain of salt, as this is coming from someone whose favorite album is Necroticism, but there you have it. If you want an example of how highly I hold the album right now, it's this: I've had it now for almost two weeks, and the other crapload of songs on my iPod are rarely getting any plays. For me, even a really good album begins to stale somewhat after around a week or so of constant attention, with only the highlights making their way into constant play thereafter. This time I've basically listened to Surgical Steel almost exclusively for a while, and I have no desire to stop anytime soon. Buy the album and experience just how it is a comeback is supposed to be done: with precision and execution rivaling and at times exceeding what you've accomplished in the past.
Now let's hope they stick around for another. Although if they don't, they went out on about as high a note as possible.
I think I can happily skip a lot of the pleasantries here, by now I think anyone reading should know who Carcass is. It's kind of bizarre listening to the finished product, as for a lot of people (myself included) Surgical Steel is something that didn't seem possible a few years back.
With the announcement of a new album, waves of questions were sent spiraling through any Carcass fan's mind: "Is this going to continue along the Swansong path? Are they going to incorporate any of their old grind? Can Bill, Jeff and the lads still cut it?" and so on so forth, although I think the most important question, and one I'll answer straight off the bat would be "will it be/is it any good?"
The answer is a big fat yes, and on many levels too, although it isn't as godly as some might want you to believe. As a "reunion" album this is about as good as it gets, Carcass pick up right where Heartwork left off and across the board Surgical Steel sounds like a Carcass album. It's all here: Jeff Walkers' snarls, Bill Steers' jaw-smashing riffs, Colin Richardson's superb production, and most impressively drummer Daniel Wilding's channeling of Ken Owens spirit. I've heard a lot of people describe Surgical Steel as a cross between Heartwork and Necroticism, which is something I want to address. I've been listening to the aforementioned releases in conjunction with Surgical Steel over the last few days, and I've got to say I just don't hear it; Heartwork, you fucking bet, Necroticism, nah. I will say there is a definite increase in blast beats when compared with Heartwork, although that's about as close as I feel they come to recapturing any semblance of the Necroticism sound; so seriously, don't go in expecting any of the riffing style, or atmosphere of said release. In fact I'd say there was more Swansong in here than Necroticism.
Getting back to the new album then, like I've said, it definitely takes a leaf out of the Heartwork book; in fact this could have easily been the album they released after it. The whole album follows the molds of tracks such as "This Mortal Coil" and "Embodiment" which I've found particularly evident in Surgical Steel tracks such as "A Congealed Clot Of Blood", "The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills", "Noncompliance to ASTM F899-12 Standard" and "Cadaver Pouch Conveyor System". Oh yeah, if you hadn't given a look over the track list by now you'll see it's Carcass through and through. In some parts I've come to be reminded of Arch Enemy, which might ruffle a few feathers, although it's merely an observation. I've found these aspects highlighted in some of the weaker portion of tracks such as "316L Grade Surgical Steel" or even the aforementioned "A Congealed Clot Of Blood". Kind of weird considering a certain Mr. Amott wasn't involved with the album, it makes me wonder how similar in style him and Bill really were.
Speaking of weaker moments, whilst Surgical Steel stands as an excellent return, it certainly isn't without its flaws. For one, I think some of the songwriting feels a little stuck on autopilot in certain places, especially around the middle of the album where some variation could have helped. I also feel that Jeff's vocals, whilst still sounding great, are slightly lacking in conviction; he doesn't sound as pissed off as he used to. Also, whilst the production itself is spot on, I think the mix is maybe a little too clean, wiping away some of that Carcass grime I was hoping to be covered in after my first listen.
I've ended up going on quite a bit, but to be fair, a new Carcass album is a fucking big deal, and there were certainly a few things I wanted to get across. When Surgical Steel is good it really kicks your teeth in, and even when it feels as though they're going through the motions the album never becomes trite or boring. Tracks such as "Thrasher's Abattoir", "Noncompliance to ASTM F899-12 Standard", "Captive Bolt Pistol" and the majestic "Mount Of Execution" are what I'd count amongst the highlights here, and prove Carcass still have the chops to be relevant over ten years after their last full-length. It's bloody great to have them back!
Originally written for http://www.metalcrypt.com