Review Summary: Carcass hit hard with some fantastic extreme rock music, but filler absolutely plagues this release.
The idea of an old-school hard rock-sounding album akin to a Van Halen outing with a death metal vocalist and a heavier guitar tone may sound a little odd to some, but it is an idea that has been around for many years now. Bands such as Six Feet Under have done this to such an extent that they have developed their own supposed "sub-genre" often referred to as Death N Roll. Whilst that particular band may not have had much of an impact in terms of overall quality of their albums aside from one or two diamonds in the rough (particularly 2012's Undead), but the first album to really utilize this style of music WAS rather solid. The album I refer to is entitled Swansong.
Swansong is the 1995 major label debut from infamous death metal act Carcass. This band had previously helped to pioneer both the goregrind genre with their earliest works and the melodic death metal genre with their Heartwork album, and now they were working on yet another style of music. The band are renowned for their versatility, and Swansong could really be seen as the culmination of years of experimentation. This was yet another outside the box idea from the band, clocking in at fifty two minutes and in this time it takes the listener on such a ride that they will be amazed. Seventeen songs were initially written for this, and despite Michael Amott's post-release claims that the album would have been better suited had all the songs made it to the final pressing, the twelve track version that eventually was released stands out on its own.
This album is likely to remind many of the late 1970's and 1980's rock bands that were springing up, from Van Halen to Aerosmith, although with a considerably darker and more murky sound to it. The drum beats are far more down-tempo than they previously were, and the post-solo section to Black Star should give a good indication as to how the guitars sound here. This album is a lot catchier and more melodic than anything the band has done and every track has a good solid groove to it and is a great tribute to the hard rock acts that influenced them. The influences are not limited to the hard and glam-rock bands that sprung up in the aforementioned time period, however, as there are also numerous instances of Iron Maiden-sounding guitar harmonies as well, such as during the chorus of the opening track.
The vocal performance here is essentially the same as it was on Heartwork. The deeper growls of their earlier works are completely missing and in their place is a raspy higher pitched shriek that many bands in the melodic death metal genre use. It is surprising how well Jeff Walker ties in with the even more melodic instrumental work than anything they had done before, and this is exactly where bands such as Six Feet Under go wrong. The balance in the vocals between brutality and catchiness is perfectly realized here, and the vocal patterns perfectly compliment the instrumentals. Whilst you are nodding your head along to songs such as Cross The Line, with its Thin Lizzy sounding riff, you will be roaring along to the chorus and the "come on" which will leave many people in their late 30's reminiscing back to their youth, to the days when AC/DC refrained from making songs that sound the exact same.
The main problem with this release is the fact that it is ridden with filler which really drags down the overall score. Aside from some neat use of pinched harmonics in Child's Play, that song could easily have been cut alongside a few of the later tracks. Of the final three songs, the only one that is even worth your time is Go To Hell, as the other two sound too similar to each other and are just flat out dull. In many ways it is perhaps glad that Carcass went their separate ways until their recent reunion, as it was clear that they were running out of ideas toward the tail end of this release. Tomorrow Belongs To Nobody was also a rather boring song as the riffs sound straight out of a later AC/DC song and even the bass line was a little dull, and it just seems such a poor choice of a track to follow on from the marvelous opening.
Swansong is a mixed bag of an album to say the least. Where the songs here work, they are absolutely fantastic and it is hard to imagine a better combination of styles even in your wildest dreams. Sadly, Swansong proves that filler is the bane of even the most consistent of bands, and it really drags this release down.