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Once more unto the breach, dear friends - I promise after reviewing this, Carcass's swansong album called ... "Swansong", what a surprise! ... I won't be doing any more full-length Carcass studio album reviews. The band changed its style considerably after the "Heartwork" recording and what is on offer here is an almost poppy-sounding and quite accessible work with only Jeff Walker's hoarse vocals the only reminder of what the band had once been. The speed of most songs is surprisingly relaxed and stays that way throughout the tracks and the rhythm is usually bouncy. The general sound is steely and shows no indication of the huge twin-guitar monolith it had once been. Of all Carcass's albums, this is the one you'd recommend most to your non-metal friends: the metal is dominated by extended melodic lead guitar solo fretboarding that has none of the squealy and sometimes restless electric splats of early albums; and the lyrics contain much social, cultural and political criticism (which in hindsight seems odd as Walker was to spend several years working as a civil servant after giving up music). Had Carcass continued after this recording and made another studio album, then on the strength of the music here, I guess the band would pass into a post-metal, urban blues phase and comparisons with bands like Caina and Lifelover who among other things have dealt with struggling to find one's place and purpose in a post-industrial, urban nightmare might be possible.
"Keep on Rotting in the Free World" sets the tone for the rest of the album to follow with brisk, business-like riffs and rhythms, twin lead-guitar solos and the occasional distinctive bass melody; it's obvious that all members of the band have advanced a great deal in their musical skills to the extent that each can deviate slightly from the main rhythmic structures of the song and play solo if he wanted. "Tomorrow belongs to Nobody" has a slight blues touch in parts and I daresay there's a Judas Priest influence throughout the song. The only problem is that Walker's vocals are very restricted in range due in part to the lyrics which can be dense and to his style of half-chanting / half-speaking which limits emotional expression to disgust, exasperation or sarcasm. I know Walker meant well adopting a sardonic stance when he wrote the lyrics but on most songs he uses both first-person and second-person viewpoints and this in itself gives the songs the nature of a harangue or scolding; there's no sense that he as observer or narrator has a personal stake in the downfall of society, except when he takes on the role of a plutocrat rejoicing in manipulating a gullible public, or that he sympathises with people's problems.
As the album continues, the catchy tunes and riffs falter a bit, technical virtuosity starts filling in the potential void and the band's style starts to sound a bit generic. Some strong riffing is present in "Child's Play" and a bit of the old Carcass from previous albums creeps in at times with changes in pace throughout the song. "Firm Hand" has very urgent driving riffs and rhythms that push the song along and give it energy. "R**k the Vote" expresses cynicism about Western liberal democracies' commitment to freedom and individualism as values and how paying lip service to democracy masks a drive towards conformity and suppression of opinion.
The final track "Go to Hell" which ends Carcass's career in the studio has an ambiguous message which is either extremely pessimistic or actually liberating, depending on how you look at it: you can see it as resignation, wallowing in sin because redemption is impossible anyway; or rejecting conventional ideas about Heaven and Hell, turning them the two polarities into their direct opposites and going to Hell in as defiant a way as possible. Look at the problem this way: we're all going to die in the end so we may as well choose the mode of our death and if possible die spectacularly and take as many of the bastards oppressing us as possible (especially if they don't want to die).
While some songs are enjoyable and have very catchy rock'n'roll tunes and rhythms, these tend to be bunched up near the start of the album and as the album progresses, a jaded quality creeps in and there's a lack of spark in later tracks. The style can be brutal in parts but it needs aggression to back it up and Walker is too busy churning through the lyrics to give time and thought to injecting some real anger and outrage in his delivery. For an album so strongly critical of current Western society and the way it controls people's expression, the music lacks zest and quite a few songs come across as filler. (That could have been deliberate on the band's part but I don't know.) I rate "Swansong" the weakest of Carcass's albums but of course what is weak for these guys would be seismic for others.