Review Summary: The album that created its genre, this really is an amazing album with killer guitar harmonies and vocals that could knock Satan out his tree
In 1993 if you were a fan of extreme metal then you may have been more than a little confused by the latest Carcass release, entitled Heartwork. The Liverpudlian band had previously innovated grindcore and goregrind, before shifting to a more straightforward sound for their third album. However, they completely abandoned both of these styles and started treading into more uncharted waters, this time fusing the NWOBHM guitar harmonies with the crushing brutality found in death metal. The result was Heartwork, a collection of ten songs clocking in at just under forty two minutes and is often considered Carcass' best, as well as one of the finest albums of the Melodic Death Metal genre that it nearly single-handedly created. The guilty party responsible for Heartwork was the guitar duo of Bill Steer and Michael Amott, who wrote this incredible collection of songs. On drums is Ken Owen and Jeff Walker completes the band by providing vocals and playing the bass guitar.
The guitar work is what makes this stand out the most from more "traditional" death metal releases including even the previous album from this band. In place of the frenzy of tremolo picked riffs and umpteen notes per second solos, we have a true sense of passion behind the guitar work. On this release Carcass focused not on playing as fast as humanly possible but instead took the melodic and beautiful riffing of bands such as Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, added their own twist, down tuned the guitars and then recorded it. The opening seconds of the album on the song Buried Dreams speak volumes about this album. Opening with some skull-crushingly heavy chords from Michael Amott, Bill then proceeds to weave some slow, dark, haunting and beautiful lead playing around his band-mates work effortlessly. Embodiment is another cool example of how well the guitar work is written and performed on this album. Whilst the song is consistently as heavy as can be throughout, it still balances the heaviness off against attempting to make something that sounds emotional and catchy. For those wanting something a little faster and even heavier from the band though they have also provided this in the title track that sounds somewhat akin to their previous album although with a little more melody added to it. The soloing off both guitarists on this album is amazing as well. Since the band has no real designated lead player and rhythm guitarist the band is free from the constraints of a normal band hierarchy and, as such, both guitarists throw solos in like the world is about to end. However, whereas many extreme metal bands would have you believe that soloing merely involves playing as fast as possible on the bottom three strings, Carcass' solos bring a little more to the table than that. Take Embodiment for example. Both guitarists solo on that song and neither of them focus on playing as fast as they can, but instead each solo feels well structured, well written and absolutely beautiful to listen to.
The drumming on this album is absolutely ludicrous. Ken Owen is one of the most underrated drummers in extreme metal and this album shows why. Unlike many death metal drummers this album does not utilize blast beats at every turn as the added melody renders them useless. Instead, Ken plays some amazing beats that are always memorable and each one stands out from the others unlike the monotonous standards found in extreme metal. He usually sticks to the middling tempo of the rest of the album but when it is required, he is more than capable of speeding it up a little. No Love Lost sticks out as his best performance on the album, with a couple of nice fills thrown in and a solid beat kept throughout the song that nobody could realistically turn their nose up at. Doctrinal Expletives also shows that he can keep up when the band decides to play a little faster as he keeps a consistent beat going with his double bass pedal. Completing the band is the bass and vocal work from Jeff and whilst the bass is not very audible throughout but is still there at a listenable level and it is decent enough. His vocal work sticks mainly to a middling register of growls and screams, never going too low but always keeping a consistently intense feel to the album. He spits absolute bile on every single song on here with some roars that would make Satan shake. Heartwork provided Jeff a vocal performance to be proud of and stands out as his crowning achievement. Each band member provides a tight performance that never lets up in sounding both intense and beautiful simultaneously and the razor sharp production only highlights this. The guitar tone achieved is really nice and the drums do not sound remotely flat, with the bass being audible if you strain to listen to it.
The songs themselves are of a high standard of quality that one would expect from an album deemed to be one of the best in its genre. The guitar work on the album closer Death Certificate stands out as one of the best things about this album but the whole song is great. Embodiment is the finest song on here, opening with its crushing and yet beautiful riffing and maintaining a huge degree of heaviness and a huge amount of melody. The only song on here that can be considered a bad song is This Mortal Coil, which opens up promisingly with a much faster pace than much of the album but ends up sounding boring with its galloping riffs that just feel a little out of place on this album. Also, the lyricism to this album is not of a very high standard and at times sounds either a little juvenile or just overly repetitive. Despite that, this album still remains one of the best, if not THE best melodic death metal releases of all time, perhaps only topped by The Gallery and Slaughter Of The Soul. If you are looking to get into the melodic death metal genre then this is the album to start with. If you are already a melo-death listener and have not heard Heartwork, you either have no soul or clearly are NOT a melo-death listener. No matter which camp you fall under, or if you are not a part of either and just like metal in general, this album is one I highly recommend.