Review Summary: Just like the glory days.
Comeback albums present some of the trickiest decisions in a band or solo artist's career, primarily because it opens the door for so many questions based on previous efforts. Will the artist present a new sound? Or will the artist try to go back to an old sound to experiment with it some more? What was their original fanbase like, as opposed to now? Stuff like this is suddenly put into question, and Carcass are at an even bigger disadvantage because it's been a whopping seventeen years since their last album Swansong. Even worse, that album put a sour taste in peoples' mouths after expectations set by the previous album and melodic death metal classic Heartwork. Just like fellow longtime metal legends Atheist and Cynic, Carcass decided that it was the time to set things right and release their comeback album Surgical Steel...
...and damn, what a return it is! This is the sound of a band injected with new life and playing just like they were still in the Heartwork era. Speaking of which, Heartwork's sound is definitely the one they're going for here, trading in Swansong's borderline-death 'n' roll sound for a more extreme and yet more focused "melodeath" sound featured in the former. Guitarist Bill Steer's multi-tracked guitar harmonies run rampant as fast, thrashy rhythms trail behind them. Jeff Walker, along with offering some pretty complex (albeit in a subtle way, as the guitar work's more audible in the production) bass lines, is able to spit his lyrics out with the same passion and aggression as back in the band's heyday; the lyrics are still littered with medical terminology, political implications, and intense violence, but nothing too over the top. If there's anything this record is especially good at, however, it's the consistency of the songwriting.
The band rarely leave their comfort zone on Surgical Steel, but as long as the songwriting's still of a high quality, they don't really need to. In any case, if the vicious one-two punch of Queen-like harmonized opener "1985" and the blazing two-minute thrasher appropriately named "Thrasher's Abattoir" don't show you that Carcass are back in action, not much else will. Not only do they revisit much of what made Heartwork so acclaimed, but they even add a lot of the complex/"brutal" death metal that was featured the revered Necroticism. Many moments, such as the blast beat-ridden intro (after a short melodic intro, of course) to "Noncompliance to ASTM F 899-12 Standard," as well as the fast fills and varying tempos characterizing "Cadaver Pouch Conveyor System" add a more technical and calculated sound into the fray. Then there's "Captive Bolt Pistol," which plays with some fast dissonant guitar work during the energetic chorus. Of course, all of this also paves the way for the band's first epic since Necroticism's longer efforts, "Mount of Execution." From the beautiful folky acoustic guitar intro to the pummeling last two minutes of riffing and creatively soloing, no second of the 8:25 running time is wasted. Either way, the melodic sound still shines through regardless; the band never let go of the vision they had for this album's sound. It's clear that they were looking to make something akin to Heartwork, with perhaps elements of Necroticism thrown in.
In any case, the album is absolutely superb. In fact, I'd venture to say that it rivals Heartwork and is slightly better than Necroticism. The only complaint I can think of is that, again, the band don't leave their comfort zone all that much; however, you can count on the album being consistent thematically and musically. Supposedly their next album is going to be more like Necroticism, and I'm really excited to hear what they're going to do with that. Either way, this is a serious contender for being the album of the year.