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Carcass is a band that, to fans of the large umbrella known as "extreme metal", certainly needs no introduction. The band has been credited for starting at least one musical style (goregrind, via their debut, "Reek of Putrefaction"), and contributing heavily toward the start or refinement of at least 2 others (melodic death metal via "Heartwork" and the 'death and roll' style played on "Swansong"). Their 3rd record, "Necroticism - Descanting the Insalubrious", is often the subject of much praise and is generally lauded as their best, though my vote has always gone to "Heartwork" for that honor. So with all of those accolades and recognition, one Carcass album is often forgotten, or at the very least, not mentioned in the same breath with the rest. That's a shame, because "Symphonies of Sickness" is every bit as important as its brethren in the historical context of death metal, a style the band ultimately became synonymous with.
It seems to me that when it comes to early death metal, and the progenitors of the style, Carcass were among the most vicious-sounding and brutal of the lot. They weren't the fastest, nor did their riffs have the tightest attack. What they had, however, was a brilliant combination of heavy, muddy production, groove, riffing that could speed up or slow down to fit the mood being created, powerful drumming that alternated between creating cacophony and maintaining the aforementioned groove, and vocals that did more than just showcase some guy growling behind a microphone, but really set the bar for brutality and versatility within the style. Despite all of this, "Symphonies of Sickness" is often left out of the conversation when talking about ground breaking albums at the beginning of the death metal movement, and is not mentioned alongside other brilliant records like Death's "Scream Bloody Gore" or perhaps "Leprosy", Bolt Thrower's "Realm of Chaos", Morbid Angel's debut "Altars of Madness", Pestilence's "Consvming Impulse" or early works by Obituary, Autopsy, and labelmates Napalm Death. It should be, however; let me explain why.
In 1989, death metal was still a style in development. The rise of death metal was inevitable, as bands like Death, Celtic Frost, and Possession had been pushing the boundaries of thrash metal for a number of years in the underground, but most of what is considered the earliest death metal is still grounded very much in thrash, like Pestilence's "Malleus Maleficarum", Bolt Thrower's "In Death There Is No Law", or even Death's debut "Scream Bloody Gore". Many of the early records still had very much a thrash metal base, only taken to new extremes. It wasn't until the sound became less focused on super-fast playing and precision riffs that death metal began to really come into play as its own style. As vocals became more throat-ripping, guitars began to be tuned down, and tempos had a bit more leeway to speed up or slow down as necessary, death metal began to shed its thrash roots and become its own entity. This can be seen with an album like "Realm of Chaos", which is every bit as punishing as its thrashier predecessor, but begins to turn up the brutality past 11, and sounds distinctly different than what came before.
Carcass wasn't born of thrash metal, however, they were forged in the fiery pits of hardcore punk, and their take on grindcore was so massive and brutal that it would have been nigh impossible to follow it up with another record as blistering as "Reek of Putrefaction". Instead, they followed up that bullet train of an assault with something more akin to a fleet of Sherman tanks cruising down the road. Yeah, they can still go fast if need be, but they're far more menacing and imposing than the train is, because the tank can slow way down and target something specific, or stop altogether and bring a full-on assault. Such is the case with "Symphonies of Sickness", which takes the heavy nature of its predecessor and while turning down the speed knob, cranked the intensity and brutality knobs up to the max and broke them off in the process. What they developed by doing so is arguably the heaviest and most insane record of 1989.
Musically, "Symphonies" is a monster. I'm not sure how Bill Steer's guitar tone was so thick and chunky in 1989, but the band deserves some kudos for both their choice of equipment and their production technique (or perhaps lack thereof) in achieving the sound of this album. Bill's guitar has such a grind and grit to it, completely forsaking the razor-sharp sound that thrash metal bands aim for, instead, sinking into the murky depths of what became the signature of the death metal guitar sound throughout the Florida scene. Jeff's bass rumbles confidently alongside Bill's riffing, and often underneath his solos, giving the album a lot more weight than many of Carcass' contemporaries lacked until years later when they had bigger budgets and a producer like Scott Burns at the mixing board. Jeff's bass sounds truly menacing with that thick, dirty and distorted tone. Meanwhile behind the drums, Ken Owen sounds a whole lot more in control this time around. He still has a bit of fine tuning which will become evident across the rest of the band's discography, but compared to the hyper fast, barely-on-the-rails drumming of "Reek of Putrefaction", this is a lot more precise an attack, no doubt from the years of playing the "Reek" material and building up stamina, as well as a better handle on the timing needed to pull off this kind of material. And while dynamics aren't normally something you would think of when discussing death metal, when the music slows down to groove a bit or let the song catch a quick breath before ramping up again, Ken follows suit and the drumming matches what's going on elsewhere.
Vocally, this is some pretty raw and intense stuff. For death metal in the late 1980's, it was common for vocalists to employ a real throaty yell/scream or a mid-range growl, not unlike John Tardy of Obituary. So the dual vocal attack of Jeff Walker's high-pitched growl/shriek and the much lower-end growl of Bill Steer was both new and exciting at this stage of the game. Death Metal hadn't reached that stage where everyone was playing playing the vocal limbo, i.e. "how low can you go", so this kind of guttural sound was still relatively untapped, save for a handful of other bands. Personally, I think had the band employed only Jeff's higher pitched growls, while the album would have still been unique and innovative, it would have been less so, because this kind of vocal trade-off and layering didn't become a major component in the style until better, more experienced producers came along and added the layering/overdubs for maximum effect. Lyrically, this treads the same medical journal-infested waters as the band's debut, requiring medical textbooks and a thesaurus handy to understand all that's going on, but as most fans know, the early lyrics were all about bodily processes, such as rotting, intestinal disease & other ailments, and additional, similarly appetizing topics. Not the stuff of emotionally charged debate, but from their vegetarian perspective, pertinent, and certainly years head of its time, culturally speaking.
The album is not without its flaws, however. Being a self-produced album with such a dirty, grungy sound to it means that sometimes the clarity of the guitar is lost unless you're cranking it up to the max. As such, the complexity of the riffing can sometimes be muted a bit, and the songs are a bit less memorable when you don't have those key riffs playing in your head for hours after you've spun the album. "Symphonies" has less a problem than some of its contemporaries in this regard because it's not all about break-neck speed, so sometimes the groovier passages will stick with you a bit longer, but it's a valid concern. As with a lot of metal albums from this time as well, the drums should be more powerful and sound larger than they are, so obviously the band didn't spend as much time in post-production adjusting the volume on the drums to bring them up in the mix enough to give them a bit more weight. This is a minor complaint, as the drumming is generally always audible, but as compared to latter-day Carcass efforts, I'd like to be able to hear Ken more as he's pounding away. Also, while they all sound good, many of Bill's solos are still quite primitive and show that he hadn't yet come into his own in that area. All the solos here fit the songs and work well enough, but compared with what he provided over the course of the 2 albums that followed, his work here is a touch sloppy and almost apprehensive, as if he's afraid to cut loose too much. When he does, it sounds good, but you can tell that the precision he later achieved was still absent.
These minor complaints are spoken in hindsight, of course, as this whole release was completely ground breaking and unprecedented upon its release in 1989. Save for labelmates and countrymen Bolt Thrower and Napalm Death, arguably fellow European death metallers Pestilence, and quite possibly Florida's Morbid Angel, Carcass had a corner on the market in 1989 with "Symphonies of Sickness" in terms of sheer heaviness, as well as employing the unique dual vocalist approach, which gave them an element their peers lacked. The band modified this approach with their next album 2 years later, which propelled them into legendary status within the scene, but this album should have already cemented that place on its own merits. This is a landmark release that doesn't always get the credit it deserves in context with other albums of its time, and that's too bad, because it's a powerful statement from a group who showed the metal world that the best was yet to come, alongside a set of peers that never quite escaped the shadow of the albums they released the same year. Essential, if not for the music alone, for the historical significance.
Originally written for MetalFRO's Musings:
Some albums have very apt titles for the music they contain and Carcass's second full-length studio effort goes into this category: "Symphonies of Sickness" truly is a symphonic effort in over-the-top gore-related cheek. Liverpool's finest apply their six-string scalpel-n-scissors set to another unwilling cadaver and serve up ten tracks of dense grind / death metal battery that often goes all over the house in pace, melody and riffs for our degustation ... and the music at least is pretty tasty. The style and method of attack aren't far removed from the first album "I Reek of Putrefaction" but what's different here is that the music is more precise and the guys now have a better feel for one another's style so they're playing intuitively, able to anticipate who's going to do what and adjusting their own playing accordingly. As the speed on songs like "Exhume to Consume" can be hell-raising to say the least, Carcass's ability to present as one really tight unit is impressive. Yet for all their technical chops, the musicians still maintain a free-flowing energy through most songs and there's a definite mood of evil, deranged relish combined with aggression over the entire album.
At just under 44 minutes in length, the album is best heard in one sitting: it plays like one really long jam and the members' enthusiasm and slavering zest slide from one song to the next as though all ten tracks are linked by an invisible spinal cord. (Most likely the guys didn't record the entire thing in one hit but it sure seems as if they did. That might be the best thing about the disc.) Each succeeding song piles on the intensity and sends the cheekiness of the entire shebang to another level with Jeff Walker and Bill Steer's duelling / duetting vocals picking furiously over the corpse burst apart by decomposition in "Ruptured in Purulence" or the whole band charging furiously through a messy autopsy in "Empathological Necroticism", among other things. By "Slash Dementia" and "Crepitating Bowel Erosion", you'd think the guys must be jaded playing such dense and wild brutal music and with such a big pile-up of things to burn in the incinerator but, no, they go completely ... demented on "Slash Dementia" (well, what else?); on the last track when the, er, shit and more besides hit the fan, the boys are way beyond help, spiritual or otherwise, as they collapse in seas of viscera and stinking body fluids.
It's not just all guitars-n-drums barrage: synthesiser can be heard on a few pieces like "Exhume to Consume" and most songs boast smart, smooth groove rhythms which unfortunately don't last long or repeat only once in among a bewildering range of riffs and melodies in each and every track. It's as if Carcass approach song composition thinking each song they do is gonna be their last and their brains are just shit-full of ideas, musical motifs and crazy notions that they must offload all at once or their heads will end up in the same state as bodies do in their lyrics. Steer's guitar solos have improved technically over the spurts and splats of the first album but still retain their squealy electric-shock quality.
The lyrics describe either the decomposition process in its variations, unprofessionally performed autopsies or acts of cannibalism and auto-cannibalism in lurid and colourful detail. Whatever one imagines can be done to and with a human body, it's there.
The only thing that would be sicker and funnier than this symphonic grindcore / death metal effort would be a scenario in which Jeff Walker decides to turn the whole thing into a stage musical with full orchestra backing.
Carcass did something revolutionary back in 1989 when they released “Symphonies of Sickness”. What did they do that was so revolutionary? Oh nothing really, except create the genre known only as goregrind. This album basically set the foundation for every other band that attempts goregrind. If you can find a goregrind band that doesn’t name Carcass as their influence, they’re lying. Simple as that, this is and will always be the greatest goregrind album ever.
The production is a massive step up from their previous album. “Reek of Putrefaction” was by far one of the worst productions I’ve ever heard. “Symphonies of Sickness” just happens to be the exact opposite and is very well produced. The guitars are extremely heavy, just listen to “Ruptured in Purulence”; the bass is loud and backs up the guitar nicely but also has some stand outs, “Ruptured” and “Empathological Necroticism”. The drums are loud but the snare can get lost sometimes in the blast beats but not that big of a deal.
The riffs on this album are very technical compared to their debut. “Excoriating Abdominal Emanation” is a great example of these riffs being all over the place. “Ruptured in Purulence” has one of the heaviest riffs ever played in the intro and then explodes into the grind madness that Carcass is so good at. “Crepitating Bowel Erosion” also has an amazingly heavy intro. 2 of the songs on here seem more straight grindcore to me. “Cadaveric Incubator of Endo Parasites” and “Slash Dementia” are both extremely fast. They start with blast beats and continue through most of the song, so if you’re worried about a shortage of blast beats and grind, don’t worry about it.
Now the vocals. The trio of Bill Steer, Jeff Walker, and Ken Owen has got to be the greatest combination of vocals in the history of metal. Bill Steer and his extreme gutturals, Ken doing his pitch shifted sections perfectly, and Jeff Walker doing his high raspy screams and his vomit sounding vocals all work perfectly together. Jeff especially shines during the mid section of “Excoriating Abdominal Emanation” and the insane vocals on “Ruptured in Purulence”. There are plenty of random Jeff Walker noises that linger in the background that sound like he might be sick. All of this just adds to feel of the album that created goregrind.
The lyrics are the most disgusting lyrics ever. They are not like Cannibal Corpse gore lyrics because most of those are fantasy based. These are pathologic gore lyrics that can actually exist. Obviously, most morticians don’t go grave robbing and start eating rotting corpses but you get my drift. “Cadaveric Incubator of Endo Parasites” is about a corpse literally being eaten away by insects. I almost threw up the first time I read them. It is just flat out gross. “Embryonic Necropsy and Devourment” might be the most horrible song on here. Boiling fetuses to make a soup, who doesn’t like the sound of that?
In closing, this is the almighty goregrind album and might just be my favorite album of all time. Everything about this album is amazing. If you like “Heartwork” or “Swansong” you might have a hard time trying to stomach this rotting piece of grind, but if you’re willing to try it, I would recommend it. It is and will always be one word, amazing.
Best tracks – Every single track on here is amazing
It is a classic - so much so that it created problems later on. How much of a classic? Enough to have spawned an entire genre of death metal that (even though it's hideous in every aspect) I can actually tolerate for extended listens. This album is goregrind, and what it should sound like (though some people put too much on exaggeration on the 'grind' part nowadays) always. The problem? The band was never this kind of classic again. They moved on to other classic, and left this one (literally) to rot.
The production is perfect, especially for the '80s. Granted, the mucky mess of a first album had a sound that (although unintentional) fit the atmosphere much more than this album, but there was no way Carcass would have become as big as they are now without cleaning it up significantly.
The composition is very technical in comparison to the old songs - think the longest track (probably Pyosified) and increase the production/decrease the fact a teenager wrote it, and that would only barely cover the songs here. It is obvious they had gotten a more solid grip on playing their instruments, Ken Owen in particular brought in double bass. %90 of goregrind that followed couldn't even hold a torch to his groove-and-grind drumlines (if you know pathologist you'd probably understand the other %10) - sure, speed is one thing, but is it effective?
Vocals - Bill is lower, Jeff is more pronounced. They still maintain an obvious dual attack, unlike the following album "Necroticism – Descanting the Insalubrious"*, and it creates a lot of variety in their songs. Some of the lines are still barked out, skipping syllables, but that's technically grindcore anyway. The bass and guitar lines are more technical, branching out into slower and more chugging territory, but still keeping those recognisable riffs that would be plagiarised for decades to come. Lyrical content is more mature than on "Reek of Putrefaction" - it covers more 'exploding-corpses' and less 'vomiting-up-your-innards'. Jeff and Ken had been doing their homework. Even the artwork is mature - their bassist's veganism is reflected in the collage of rotting corpses and animal meat. Did it put you off? Can't say it put me off, I'm eating bacon later.
The glowing highlights - the whole damn thing. If you thought Reek was too immature, try this - it's perfect. Buy it, and buy the original uncensored version if possible. The best tracks for me would be "Reek of Putrefaction", "Ruptured in Purulence" and "Exhume to Consume", but I'll let you decide for yourself.
*from memory, bitches.
Despite the fact that I hold black metal in much higher regards than I do death metal, mainly for black metal's variation from band to band, and all of it's little sub-genres, there are an odd few death metal albums that I like quite a bit, and Symphonies of Sickness is one of those. It is the second album of one of UK's biggest extreme metal acts, Carcass, and, comparing this CD to their previous one, Reek of Putrefaction, I can say that rarely do I see a band expand and improve over the course of only one year. While Reek of Putrefaction is remembered (by me, at least) as a sloppy mess that, hearing it, reminds you of what a disemboweled and mutilated corpse would look like (you can barely make anything out and once you've experienced it you never want to be around it again), this one has a brutal and heavy sound, with deep guttural growls, harsh screams, and pig-like gurgling, lyrics that I sometimes need a dictionary to understand, and it's a hell of a lot more organized and interesting to listen to than that dèbut album.
The first song, innacurately titled 'Reek of Putrefaction' rather than 'Symphonies of Sickness', starts up with a symphony, and, following that, booming guitars, rattling, choked growls. Right from the get-go, Carcass has successfully set themself apart from their dèbut album without a hitch of inconsistency. The riffs are simple but, because of their B-tuning and the accompanying bass guitar (very high in the mix) pack a hell of a lot of punch. Quickly it has become one of my favorite death metal songs.
Now, another reason I don't tend to favour death metal albums or bands is this: the songs are quite like one-another. You can listen to one song independantly, but when I listen to an entire album at once, I tend to lose interest. Here, the band has remedied this with vocal variation, and tempo variation. Listening to the first 3 songs of the album will make this evident, and that's one of the bigger reasons that I like this Carcass album. It manages to avoid monotony for the most part, without needing to use any sort of interlude or instrumental for those fans that like it heavy without pause. As well as that, there are hints of melody here and there in the album, (though it's mostly reserved for the solos). Even the melodic parts sound
just as heavy as a death metal fan could want, so in this way the band is able to make an album more extreme metal fans can get into.
The best songs here are Reek of Putrefaction, Exhume To Consume, Embryonic Necropsy and Devourment, and Crepitating Bowel Erosion. Now, if you're like me and not a big death metal fan, this will take a little getting used to (it did for me), and while I said it does manage to avoid most monotony, it doesn't completely bypass that factor, (which is why this gets a 16/20) but it comes close enough for me. It probably wouldn't bother most death metal fans though, so if you're into death metal, seek out this album and get it. It may not be as well-known as a Cannible Corpse record, but in my own opinion it surpasses anything I've heard from Cannible Corpse.
I think the reason this album so much surpasses Reek of Putrefaction is that Carcass decided to be serious. In the last album, they really didn't overly care. It shows that they were just incompetent teens trying to be heavy with ugly, morbid lyrics and muddy production. They come off as much more proffesional in Symphonies, with better-constructed songs, hints of melody here and there, more cohesive production (that still keeps its brutal crunch) and just overall improved musicianship. In the end, 'Symphonies of Sickness' is one of my favorite death metal albums that I've heard so far, and if you've heard Carcass' debut album and hated it, this one will smell like a breath of fresh putrefaction in comparison.
Originally posted on spirit-of-metal.com under username InfinityZero.
Usually the terms “death-grind” and “symphonic” don’t exactly go hand in hand, but, surprisingly enough, the collocation makes plenty of sense as pertaining to the second full-length album by the British godfathers of gore-grind-death (yeah, whatever), the incomparable Carcass. I must admit I was initially quite wary of this record after listening to a couple of snippets off the band’s debut Reek of Putrefaction left me less than impressed – that blurry mishmash of indecipherable guitar chugging, completely unintelligible gargles and grunts and seemingly incessant blast beats, with the various ingredients almost impossible to tell apart thanks to the utterly amateurish production, just didn’t sound up to par for a band that would later go on to release one of THE greatest death metal classics of all time in the form of the seminal Necroticism. Sure, Reek of Putrefaction is itself a groundbreaking classic that helped spawn an entire genre, and maybe repeated exposure would sway me to a more favorable assessment, but what I had heard of it left me somewhat undecided as to whether its follow-up was really worth a try.
Well, obviously it’s time once again to help myself to an ample serving of humble pie, as Symphonies of Sickness is not only a quantum leap compared to the band’s debut but even comes surprisingly close in quality to its monolithic successor. Although this is not quite as refined and mature as Necroticism it is still far more musically proficient than one would expect, especially considering that the album was released just a little more than a year after Reek of Putrefaction. Whereas the latter seemed more like a random assortment of half-baked ideas and rushed outbursts of fury, Symphonies of Sickness, while retaining the raw visceral edge of its predecessor, is a collection of ten well thought-out compositions brimming with distinct guitar riffs, variable drumming, blistering solos and even some sparsely yet intelligently employed guitar leads that clearly hint at what the band would later become. There are even a few very discrete keyboard touches that further underline the overall atmosphere, like in the intro to the opening track or in “Swarming Vulgar Mass of Infected Virulency.” These obvious enhancements to the sound of the previous album manifest themselves in songs that are much more diversified than before, deftly alternating frantic blast-beat passages (which are still fairly dominant) with powerful mid-paced sections that are more riff-oriented and help create songs that are both longer (the length of the tracks ranges from a little over three to just under six minutes) and more memorable than before. As a whole this album definitely falls more under the death metal than the grindcore category – another marked departure from the debut, which was decidedly more grind than death.
Make no mistake, though – the gargles and grunts are still there, and they are almost as unintelligible as before, only that this time around the production brings out the best in the band’s patented blend of raspy snarls courtesy of Jeff Walker and Bill Steer’s ultra-deep bellows. Colin Richardson, death metal producer of choice in the nineties, did a truly masterful job here, endowing the band with a sound that’s at the same time primal and raw yet also differentiated enough to render every instrument clearly audible (even the bass has its moments in the spotlight, as in the beginning of “Ruptured in Purulence” or at the end of “Empathological Necroticism”), and it’s the combination of production, vocals and trademark medical-dictionary lyrics recounting tales of decomposition and gore that creates a pervading atmosphere of, for lack of a better term, sickness. Adding to this are the fleeting passages of subtle melody underneath the inferno of blast beats and ultra-heavily distorted guitars, like, for instance, the one which begins at 1:56 into the opener “Reek of Putrefaction” and, after a beautiful solo using the same theme, is repeated again at the 3:39 mark. It is these moments of haunting melody coupled with the intelligently structured songwriting that at times give this album a truly symphonic feel, despite the fact that the music itself remains inherently unmelodic in nature.
In terms of the musical performance on display, special mention has to go to drummer Ken Owen, whose play is both varied and individual – though he constantly pounds his drums like a maniac he never seems to miss a beat, all the while keeping things interesting by providing different textures and rather unique fills.
In all, though it doesn’t quite reach the dizzying heights of the band’s undisputed masterpiece Necroticism, Symphonies of Sickness is an amazing recording in its own right that is leaps and bounds above the efforts of many a lesser band from the death-grind genre. By the way, should you consider purchasing this record, try and get a hold of the reissue that features the original “gore” cover depicting an array of various body parts in varying stages of decomposition (“Pedigree Butchery”, if you will); yes, it’s actually pretty sick, meaning it just fits the music and lyrics a lot better than the medical drawings that adorned the cover of the older CD version. Oh, and for all you politically and ethically correct fellows out there who might feel offended by the lyrical and graphical subject matter: read through the words to some of the songs and maybe you’ll stumble across some subtle hints of humor indicating that the boys had their tongues placed firmly in cheek while writing this …
Choicest cuts: Reek of Putrefaction, Exhume to Consume, Ruptured in Purulence, Embryonic Necropsy and Devourment
This is it: the end all, be all Carcass release. In 1988 the band shat out that classic piece of filth, Reek of Putrefaction, but a year later the pathologists returned with some new tools in their belts.
From the get go, you'll realize something different from the predecessor; the production is brilliant. Guitars, percussion, and vocals are all audible and fantastic sounding.
The vocalists were in perfect stride here. Ken's pitchshifted sections are present, but not over used, Bill's ghoulish growns are just as effective as they were in the past, and Jeff vastly improved his highs.
All three members greatly improved instrumentally as well. The sloppiness of the depute is nowhere to be found, replaced with surgical precision. The guitar and bass work is much improved, but the most noticeable is Ken's drumming. He virtually reinvented his playing style this time around. The drums on Reek of Putrefaction were quite spastic and one dimensional, but Ken really got his technique down for this one. Variety is the operation here; we have slow grooves as well as fast but controlled blasts. Everybody really focused on the music here.
Bill's riffs here are the best of his career. All songs feel incredibly well crafted and full of ideas. Everything is in the right place and there for a reason. Nothing less than the best in the field.
This is undoubtedly my favorite album, undoubtedly the best goregrind album, and undoubtedly the best work of Carcass' masterful career.
I remember when this album came out and first hearing the intro of opener “Reek Of Putrefaction” oozing from the headphones at the local record shop where I was checking it out together with two friends of mine. I didn’t know what hit me. Previously the dirtiest metal I’ve heard was the Obituary debut album. But this!?! This was beyond everything else. Since that day I have considered Obituary choirboys when discussion really filthy death metal. "Reek Of Putrefaction" was so creepy, so disgusting yet so addictive.
There have been legions of bands that attempted to copy this album and only a few such as Haemorrhage partially succeeded once in a while. But they will always remains clones of course. This simply was a trendsetting release. Carcass had been influenced heavily of course by Repulsion, Master and the early British grindcore scene, but with “Reek Of Putrefaction” they did in fact set a new standard.
The production works perfectly. Even though it is horribly filthy one can still hear and follow all instruments. The three way vocals gave the songs an extra dimension and the songs themselves are a perfect blend between grindcore and death metal.
One can only worship the moshing midpaced riff in the middle of “Excoriating Abdominal Emanation”, the creepy riff on the chorus of “Swarming Vulgar Mass Of Infected Virulency”, the brilliant weird solo on “Cadaveric Incubator of Endoparasites” and the well worked out build-up of “Empathological Necroticism”. Everyhting falls into place and a lot of interesting things are happening on the album within this assault of goreness. Who needs Michael Amott anyway, right?
If you’re into filthy, dirty, original, trendsetting prehistoric death metal, you cannot do anything but own this album and play it regularly.
Carcass is a band that needs no introduction, but I'll give one anyway in case you somehow don't know. From their early pioneering days as a three-piece goregrind band to their groundbreaking experiments with technical, then melodic death metal toward the end of their career, few (if any) bands have influenced and inspired so many future musicians in so many different walks of metal. Simply put, Carcass is one of the best and most important extreme metal bands of all time, and when dealing with such a legendary act that walked so many different musical paths, one question always tends to pop up: what is their best album? For me, without a doubt, the answer is Symphonies of Sickness.
Everyone has their ideal Carcass era, but for me, the best days of the band's existence were back in the late 80's as a young three-piece, without the distracting mainstream tendencies Michael Amott would bring to the table or the emergeance of Jeff Walker's bloated (and destructive) ego. Despite their young age, one can immediately realize that Carcass needed neither of those things to make great music, although they still managed to do that even later on. Symphonies of Sickness is the best kind of sophmore release, building off of the foundations laid by the band's debut while growing and improving on it in every aspect. There's no doubt about it, Reek Of Putrefaction was a landmark album that paved the way for hundreds of aspiring acts and had the musical competance to back it up. However, Symphonies absolutely crushes that album in so many ways, from the production to the musicianship to the songs themselves, that its hard for me to even really listen to that album anymore without having the desire to throw this on instead.
The most obvious area of improvement from the debut is the production. ROP had, without question, one of the most crippling production jobs on the music at hand ever heard, before or since. It no doubt ruined the album for many people and even for those that can stomach the production (like myself) the music contained, while great in its own right, will always be tainted by that horribly muffled sound unless someone re-masters it. Symphonies's production, while still not perfect, is improved tenfold since the debut. The guitar and bass sound, the worse offence from Reek, is clear, loud, and devestatingly heavy this time around. Some of the riffs are still a little hard to make out at first, but the overall tone is excellent and would provide the blueprint for the hordes of immitators that would follow in Carcass's wake. The vocals of Steer and Walker, likewise, sound fantastic. Walkers's high-register vox are actually intelligable (occasionally), and Steer's brutal low delivery sounds suitably doomy and deranged. The only area where the production falters slightly is the drums, which are mixed a little too low. Its not a problem most of the time, but sometimes the immense guitar sound buries the snare, particularly during blasting parts. Not really a big deal though, as repeated listens will have you familiar with what is being played.
What IS a big deal is the suprisingly advanced and mature songwriting Carcass displays on this album. Considering this only came out a year after the debut, the leaps and bounds the band made in constructing their songs is amazing. All of the ten tracks presented here are all much longer than the band's earlier material, and the riffing and song structures are suitably more complex and technical, while still retaining the great sense of catchiness that set the band apart from many of their peers. All of the songs are simply filled with great hooks; from the eerie main riff and blasting intro of "Reek Of Putrefaction" to the sick breakdown that introduces "Ruptured In Purulence", these are songs that take a few listens to sink in, but once they do, become totally addicting. There's a subtle melodic tint to many of the passages that really gives depth to the compositions; see the bizaare melody that backs Walker's vicious vocal tyrade at the beginning of "Emaciating Abdominal Emanation" and the hauntingly catchy riff to the chorus of "Swarming Mass Of Infected Virulency." But Carcass is adept at balancing the more melodic segments with the brutal ones, and believe me when I say that this album practically seethes with agression and heaviness. The music, and the ridiculous lyrics that accompany it, create such a delightfully evil atmosphere that its hard not to crack a malicious grin when Walker snarls such wonderfully twisted poetry as "Vilely I deflile/Chastise, humiliate/Rithing agonised as I violate to impregnate!" All in all, Carcass pretty much hit the nail on the fucking head when it comes to composing compelling goregrind and death metal music, and the skillfull mix of technicality and melody with sheer unadulterated brutality strikes a perfect balance that few bands have ever achieved.
While the playing on the band's furture material (particulary their next album) would take a jump in technicality, the musicianship on Symphonies of Sickness is stellar nonetheless. Bill Steer's solos have progressed from the mindless noisy shrieking of the first album to skillfully composed, melodic leads that always stand out in the songs, and the riffing played by both axemen is diverse and intelligent. Ken Owen's drumming has also noticeably improved, particularly the new implementation of double bass drums that works effectively. But I'd have to say that my favorite area in terms of member performance would have to be the vocals. Guitarist Steer still had a large role vocally on this album, before being gradually nudged out in favor of the aforementioned Walker ego on future works, and the vocal tagteam of Jeff Walker's vicious high snarl and pitchshifted roar with Steer's unusual yet brilliant brutal death grunts makes for perhaps extreme metal's most successfull dual-vocal effort. Whether the pair is screaming and grunting in tandem for one of the album's fantastic chorus or alternating lyrical passages by themselves, the vocals on this album are not only outstanding in their own right, but would prove to be perhaps the most influential aspect of Carcass's sound, with literally hundreds off band's ripping off the group's trademark high/low approach. In fact, when you consider how complicated the lyrics are, and how technical the music at hand is, the fact that Carcass managed to sing these lyrics WHILE playing their instruments at the same time is pretty damn impressive, and makes you realize how deceptively demanding these songs are.
Basically, if you are a fan of death metal and grindcore and you don't own this album, you are missing out on what I would easily call one of the five most important releases in those fields. From the groundbreaking songwriting to the great production and awesome vocals, this is simply a mandatory own. While Carcass would tread an equally successfull path with their next album, the supreme pure death metal of Necroticism, and later melodic death with Heartwork, the definitive statement of Carcass as a band will, for me, always be Symphonies Of Sickness. A masterpiece that deserves nothing less than a perfect score.
This isn't just heavy for 1989. This is just plain heavy, period.
This album quickly became one of my all-time favorites. I have a tendency to buy a CD and listen to it complusively for a while, then put on the shelf and listen to it occasionally. This is not one of those albums.
It's as fast as anything that comes out nowadays in a lot of places, doomy as a bastard in others, but a headbanging good time throughout. These guys really got heavy down pat when they put this out. From the gruesome cover to the nasty lyrics to the grungy as hell music, this never disappoints.
The sound is amazing for an 80s death metal album. The guitars have plenty of crunch, the bass comes from the sewer, and the vocals are flat out nasty. The drumming is competent and solid as well. I never thought I'd hear anything this good for production from this era. I don't know if they had a few more dollars to work with, but Earache wasn't exactly the death metal juggernaut it became in later years. In my opinion this album hasn't lost a step. There are plenty of recordings from this era that seem to lose something over the years, but this one is uncompromising.
It's hard to name a real killing song on this one, but Ruptured in Purulence and Slash Dementia are a couple of my favorites. Don't expect any real "Heartwork" moments here, each song has moments of headbanging plodding and moments of searing death metal blasting. There are plenty of grindcore bands that try to capture this type of feeling nowadays, but with the gloss of modern studio techniques accessible to anyone with a computer and a copy of Pro-Tools, they just don't sound this evil and dirty.
I really like the later material like Neuroticism and Heartwork, but this will forever be my favorite Carcass album. I can't reccomend this any more highly to anyone that loves skull crushing metal.
Old School is a funny thing to me in that it is not clearly defined. It seems to me that the younger fans of Metal call the early albums by bands like Cannibal Corpse, Carcass, Deicide, Nuclear Death, and Exhumed Old School due to its raw sound production and pace, which in some cases is slower than what we hear in the present. But what I tend to think those fans are misunderstanding about Old School is that at the time there was nothing on the earth that sounded like Death, Grindcore, Goregrind, or Black Metal. Those genres were being created unto themselves and are responsible for a seemingly limitless assault of bands swimming in their perpetual wake. Now, I’m not trying to be nostalgic or say my era is better than the present. I’m merely offering the perspective that a lot of young fans born after 1984 don’t comprehend the importance of the music that was being created while they were little tikes running about with snot festering on their upper lip. By contrast I’m not sure they know that the fusion of rap and Metal also began in the late 80’s and early 90’s, but they sure seem to think it is unique to their generation (Rap-metal ain’t something I‘m proud to have associated with my time frame).
Let’s get in the ole time machine and go back to July 1st, 1989. I was two weeks from being 18, I thought I knew every goddamned thing, I had a hot 23 year old Filipino girlfriend who loved watching porn, and the new Carcass album Symphonies of Sickness hit the stores. Believe it or not I was able to buy this sick disc at Tower Records
with its original gore cover that was later banned. Today I still have the disc, but it has been played and scratched to the point where it needs to be resurfaced. Still, I know exactly how vile Carcass’ second release sounds.
I remember the first time I heard it played. My face contorted into frozen mask of fear and desire like the dead fuckers in the movies The Ring and The Ring 2. Then after each spin on my disc player I’d start it over again and let the “Symphonies of Sickness” overwhelm me. Then as now 2 things where evident with this release. First, as
compared to Reek of Putrefaction the production level on this disc is much clearer. Second, Jeff Walker, Bill Steer, and Ken Owen blended more variance in tempos between slow, mid, and fast. Then they injected lucid solos and more gruesome vocals into the mix that are enhanced a notch on the sickness belt by lyrics taken from the more disgusting finds in a medical textbook.
Essentially, what Carcass did on this album was grow as musicians. They took the rawness from their previous album and fused it into a progression that created a more modern form of Grindcore. In the process they found an identity and cast asunder the comparisons to Napalm Death. While the album does have much to do with the sound of Death Metal, it also is full of gurgling vocals, brutality in tempo ranges, and drumming filled with unexpected variation and disordered fills all amalgamated with blast beats.
What makes this album special is that it had an unmatched originality and progression. Nothing at the time sounded like this, although there where other bands that did have these elements in their music. In a sense Carcass with 1989’s “Symphonies of Sickness” were like Chuck Yeager pushing his tiny airplane past the fear of the unknown to see what would happen when the sound barrier was broken. It is Carcass’ unbridled efforts at pushing the Death Metal and Grindcore sound to new un-dared levels that makes this slab of vinyl unique and Old School.
If this had been Carcass' first release, this would have given them a better name. Everything about it is superior to their messy and sloppy debut--the production is much cleaner (relatively speaking) though thinner than following albums would become, the musicianship is much improved. Even Ken Owen, though he still comes unglued here and there, had become a much tighter drummer by the time this album came out.
Bill Steer had a much better command of his instrument by then as well, and actually plays solos, some of which are actually melodic as well as noisy. The vocals are the most obvious improvement--you can actually discern them from the rest of the music here, and the sickness really comes out and shines because of that. The lyrics are about what we came to expect from Carcass at that time, more medical terminology gone wild, and because you can understand the vocals a little better ("a little" being the key words there), they seem that much more disgusting for it.
The riffs are more the complicated and convoluted variety that they evolved into playing, showing off the fact that they improved so much so fast. They actually have dynamics and order on this album, and it's a welcome change from the debut. The riffs are actually well-arranged and something resembling, well...memorable. The introductory guitar riff on the second track still rings in my mind even years after the fact. Lots of blasting still on display, but tempered with slower parts and even some mid tempo thrash parts here and there. And the fact that Colin Richardson had upgraded his console as well as gotten some more experience producing and mixing by this time showed very well.
This is the album to get by Carcass, for my money. It has all the classic elements--crazy riffs, demented gurgle/rasp vocals, varied drumming, and sickening lyrics--on a much better display than they'd been before. It is also right before they went more melodic with "Necroticism", my favorite release of theirs, so it is a turning point for them as well. I highly suggest that you consider this the first proper Carcass release, in my opinion.
If you were a latecomer to Carcass, and think Heartwork was their crowning glory, then steer well clear of this. It will rip your face off, semi–digest and regurgitate the pieces, and then reassemble them in a magnificent unrecognisable mess.
And a magnificent mess this is, on the first listen. However, you will be drawn back to this album again and again out of sheer morbid curiosity, similar to rubbernecking at a serious motor accident. Later listens show beneath the white noise, Carcass created some incredibly catchy riffs. The gargled vocals are sublime– instantly recognisable and incoherent at the same time. And the lyrics? They are not for the weak stomached, as the graphic and detailed descriptions of all things sick and depraved, and downright unspeakable will have you retching.
The song titles are pure gore soaked genius in themselves. Cadaveric Incubator Of Endoparasites, Swarming Vulgar Mass Of Infected Virulency, Excoriating Abdominal Emanation, Exhume To Consume… The list goes on! Most of the lyrics seem to be taken straight from the pages of Gross Anatomy 101, and paint revolting mental images in blood, bile, and any other bodily fluid you could care to name.
There were few clues from this release Carcass would eventually go down the Heartwork/Swansong path. If you think Metallica's departure from their original sound is a huge jump, listen to this alongside Heartwork.
Whoever came up with the bright idea of taking away the collage of real–life gore from the cover art should have the Genital Grinder inflicted upon them! This is a symphony of sickness, pure and simple.
After Carcass' grind-filled debut, they managed to evolve their sound into more of a death metal feel and incorperated it into "Symphonies of Sickness".
The production is probably the most noticable different on a first listen, it is much more clear and effective for the genre than the debut. The "medical" song titles are still here, and the songs don't lose any of their brutality. The guitars grind out crushing riff after riff with an incredibly thick, low tone. Drums are not grindcore as much, and compliment the music very well, especially with the abunance of orgasmic blasts. Of course, the vocals are completely fucking killer and are such a refreshing change from typical death metal growl vocals (ie: Chris Barnes, Glen Benton). Another thing that I adore about this album is the amount of thrashy, headbangable parts. Just listen to "Reek of Putrefaction" at 2:05-2:16, then at that mark, the song kicks into an incredibly low and pounding riff. The whole album is filled with moments like this, and in my opinion, is a superior album to Heartwork. A definite keeper.
After a flawed, but classic, debut -resplendent with uber-muddy 'production' and songs that sound like a back alley lobotomy clinic- Carcass upped the Grind/Death/Gore Metal stakes by releasing this writhing ugly behemoth. So what had they changed? Two main things. First the production job is clearer on this album, but its still a long shot from the clear as distilled alcohol sound of Heartwork. Second death metal influences have seeped in here: clear solos, longer songs and more mid and slow tempo sections can be found here. This allows Carcass to really open up creatively, and they take full advantage of the opportunity.
The album kicks of with one of the most ominous riffs ever scratched onto a bit of plastic. Carcass return to similar slow tempo atmosphere laden riffs at strategic points throughout the album into to ensure that the ripping violent sections are given their proper counter point that keep them scary and exciting and stop them becoming boring (as an album of pure grindcore can tend to become, for this listener at any rate), see the inspired beginning to ruptured in purulence for another good example.
The vocals on this album are what really hit you when you first give it a spin. Now if you’re a squeamish listener there's good news and bad news. The good news is you can't here the medical textbook lyrics (subject matter: death, decay, corpses and the consumption there of). The bad news is that the incomprehensible vocals are even more gruesome and knicker-soilingly morbid than the lyrics. You've got the classic grindcore dichotomous vocals on this album: high-pitched fast paced shrieks and bowel scraping low belches. There's also some of the mid paced, mid ranged grunts that became prevalent in their later work. So there's nothing particularly unusual about the style of these vocals, they are just done exceptionally well, and with enough variation to keep you off your guard for the next barrage of inhuman vocal carnage.
The drumming on this album ahs moved on from the monotonous blast by numbers style that many grind acts use. We've got (superficially) disordered fills and pounded midpaced skin battery as well. If you concentrate on the drumming when you listen to the album the inverted sense of rhythm and sudden, unexpected variations are enough to make you feel nauseous. Presumably this was exactly the effect Ken Owen was looking for.
The riffing is, like all the other aspects of this album, more varied than on Carcass' previous effort. Melody is present on this album in a way it wasn't before. There is even an embryonic sense of necrotic triumphalism in some of the riffs which (unfortunately) seems to have evaporated by the time the later albums were written.
The ten songs on this album are hymns to the ugly, nigh on surreal, utterly brutal fact of human mortality. The gore splattered lyrics reflect this, but they also have an element of tongue in cheek over the topness that keeps the album from self destructing in a spiral of morose morbidity. Where other bands mimic the lyrical content and even the stylistic innovations of Carcass none have managed to carry of the concept quite so well. Symphonies of Sickness is just that, a musical masterpiece that reflects upon, investigates, jokes about, masticates and excretes the subject of death and what happens to our fragile corpses there after.