As we all know, some bands release excellent albums, and some bands release excellent albums more than once. A select few bands release an album which starts, epitomises or defines an entire genre or style of music. But how many bands can claim to have done so more than once?
Carcass' first two full-length release, Reek of Putrefaction
and Symphonies of Sickness
, as well as being great albums (the former named Album of the Year by the mighty John Peel, in 1988), were also two of the defining early albums in grind, commonly quoted alongside Napalm Death's Scum
. The link between these two English bands went further that just the origin of a style; they shared members (Bill Steer, I think, left Napalm Death at some point to dedicate himself to Carcass). Following Symphonies
, a fourth member was brought into the band for the first time, in the shape of Michael Amott (who later went on to be a part of both Arch Enemy and Spiritual Beggars, having left Carcass, ironically because he thought they were getting too melodic). Amott's addition signaled a definite move away from grind, the result of which was 1991's Necrotism
: Descanting the Insalubrious, an absolute masterpiece of straight-up death metal.
Which brings us, then, to 1993, and the release of Heartwork
. Often quoted (with a frequency seemingly in direct proportion to how "mainstream" the source is) as Carcass' best album, it definitely marked a change in their style, and more or less started what we know (or should know) as melodic death metal. Yes, that just means death metal with more melody; but such had simply not been tried to such an extent before. It owes, to my mind anyway, at least as much to the 80s NWOBHM sound as it does to death metal; the characteristics of their death metal past are there (the harsh vocals, etc), but the influence of bands such as Iron Maiden can also be more clearly heard, in songwriting, and lead melodies, and so on.
In line with the continuing move away from grind, the songwriting takes a much more prominent place, and it's a more than successful transition; every song is memorable. The lyrics also are different; the medical dictionary style of earlier albums replaced by less easily definable themes. And if the songwriting is good, then the guitar play is incredible. Carcass, thanks in large part to Bill Steer, have always been a band more than able to push out excellent riff after excellent riff, and the addition of Amott doesn't hurt. Practically every riff is as memorable as the songs themselves are. The solos too are well done - they don't attempt to dominate or take over the song, establishing their own anarchistic communes within the song from whence they came, as some bands' seem to attempt. Rather, they are clearly part of the song, they (to use a cliche) "know when not to play", and they fit with the melody and riffs of the track.
The main criticism which is leveled at Heartwork
is actually that which should be seen as it's greatest strength; the introduction of more melody. Although you can see many lauding it, you can see just as many slagging it off as their "sellout" album. They introduced more melody to their music, they got rid of the gorey lyrics, the gorey cover art, they sold out, to make more money. I see this accusation as somewhat unfounded. Yeah, they abandoned the gore lyrics, but so what? After three albums and several EPs/demos, I would most likely have been bored of writing a dozen accounts of autopsies as lyrics for an album, too. The cover change just mirrored the change in lyrical themes, and the cover art, by the way, is pretty damn good; a sculpture by HR Giger, I believe, and a cool one at that. And yeah, they changed their music, but they'd always been changing. Despite the grind label, Reek of Putrefaction and Symphonies of Sickness
weren't carbon copies of each other, and Necroticism
just plain wasn't grind. The change on Heartwork
resulted in more easily accessible music, but it was also, as we've covered, a new style of music. Exploring somewhat uncharted (or at least less charted) territory can hardly be seen as selling out. Doesn't the general gist of selling out have something to do with conforming to something already successful, purely in order to make money?
Basically, this is one of those albums that a fan of metal should just own, but to say that Heartwork
is Carcass' masterpiece would be unfair; it's only one of them.
The title track is about as good a song as any for an introduction. If you're interested, Death Certificate seems to have a riff in it that Papa Roach "borrowed" for Last Resort.