Review Summary: Swansong this is not.
When Carcass disbanded before releasing their ironically titled Swansong
in 1996, it left a flavour of polarizing sounds in many people’s ears. They were signed to heavy weight label Columbia and expectations were high, especially after coming off an album like Heartwork
which wasn’t just a huge seller for an underground death metal band - a low count of 80,000 units by Columbia’s standards - but was also a game changer as well. You see, what Heartwork
did for melodic death metal is what Death’s Human
did for more forward thinking death metal. It changed the face of how hooks and great production could be incorporated into death metal without ever losing sight on the blasting extremities that were now highlighted with a higher budget and a standard of expectations in keeping it relatively “safe”. In my mind, it was a mainstream label that did a great thing with a death metal band that growled about textbook medical terminology and the horrors of the operating room. With all this in mind, it’s easy to criticize a band like Carcass who wrote a death n’roll album – another spearheading album in this subgenre - as their final farewell to their fanbase. Seventeen years later, it would be announced that Carcass was finally ready to release an album with only half of their original line-up intact. Would this be a graceful return to their mid-era Heartwork roots and settle safely within the comfort zone the band's fanbase? Or would it be an album that would leave us puzzled as to how Carcass could expand further on their death n' roll affair?
The answer is a positive Heartwork
-era yes. If you had any doubts about a stripped down record or any anticipation of Carcass moving backwards into their old grinding ways, you can lay those thoughts to rest. Surgical Steel
is a full-fledged realization of the type of death metal Carcass excelled at and should have stuck with in the first place. It’s more than just a blatant excuse to get back in with the crowd that made good on their purchasing. Rather, it’s an album that makes good on where Heartwork
should have naturally gone next. Within the first strings plucked of the album, fans of Heartwork
should breathe a sigh of relieve with intro/ teaser “1985” as long-time guitarist Bill Steer and new blood Ben Ash serenade the listener with a beautifully spun harmonized lead that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Thin Lizzy album. What’s great about this leadoff track is where it goes next with “Thrasher’s Abattoir – a taut little number that frantically races forward in perfect death metal form. If these opening two tracks prove anything, it’s that Carcass are back in fine shape and giving a warm call-out to their fans by getting down to business within the first three minutes of Surgical Steel
. Following their sharp yet brief opening are a number of classic Carcass tracks, packed with an insane amount of dynamics and unmatched intensity within their thrashing melodic riffs that feel as fresh as discovering Heartwork
for the first time again. Jeff Walker hasn’t lost a beat either leading the charge with his signature raspy vocals that spit-out his typical vile lyrics giving these tunes a huge venomous punch to gut.
While the first half of the album feels familiar, it’s the openness to conformity on the last batch of songs that truly propels Carcass beyond most of these modern bands that have tried their hand at sturdy, melodic death metal. If it’s not the well crafted, intricate riffs that will get you, it’s their compromising stance of song-writing that feels like it’s more melodic than lead to believe. Carcass has taken the hooks of Heartwork
and magnified them to a precise point, concentrating on a memorable hook rather than allowing themselves to fall into a zone where extreme heaviness needs to be front and centre. For all intents and purposes, it works quite well and I will be the first to say the last half of the album will get stuck in your head for a very long time. It’s not as if Carcass have chosen to put melody in front of aggression because these songs still intensely rage hard. It’s almost as if some of these songs could have been written by Arch Enemy if they knew how to write interesting parts and didn’t leave such huge gaps in their song writing department (yes, I know Michael Amott did a great deal within Carcass’s melodic direction but what has he gone on to do that’s worthy of your time?). Listen to the song “316 L Grade Surgical Steel” and tell me you don’t hear a song that finds a perfect balance between lead guitar hero posturing and the sharp, galloping riffage of Iron Maiden a long time ago. There’s even a few mid-tempo parts that rock so damn hard throughout the last half of the album making for an even more interesting listen. Closer “Mount Of Execution” would be the best summation of the above mentioned traits to Surgical Steel
, quickly flashing between a folky acoustic intro, a sweet mid-tempo lead and an almost black metalish dirge without ever losing sight of what makes Carcass Gods amongst the table of well produced melodic death metal.
As well as Carcass’s sound has comfortably transitioned from their Heartwork
days, Surgical Steel
is a fresh listen from beginning to end. They never seem to try anything blatantly new in this arena of death metal. How they can restrain themselves when they’ve latched onto a special part of a song instead of an overbearing idea speaks miles about how far Carcass has come in seventeen years. Some fans of their early days will just write this off as another extension of “selling out” but what they’re missing is a band that did more game changing during their Heartwork
days than when they found more monotonous ways to grind faster than everyone else. Surgical Steel
is the most anticipated metal album of 2013 and it doesn’t disappoint!