Review Summary: There's no such thing as playing it safe in this operating room, and we'd all better start dealing with it.
Since Black Sabbath laid the foundations of the genre forty years ago, a plethora of bands and sub-genres emerged that have been solidifying heavy metal as one of the most imposing buildings in contemporary music. However, from this myriad of bands, only a handful manage to make a lasting impression, either for their artistic relevance or commercial success. British pathologists Carcass are part of this narrow niche for the former reason. Not only were they one of the pioneers of the grindcore genre alongside their fellow countrymen Napalm Death (coining the term goregrind in the process), but they also subsequently played a key role in the emergence of melodic death metal in the mid-nineties through their 1993 release - Heartwork
. Personally, despite loving both sides of the band, I've always felt more drawn to their heavier stuff, namely Symphonies of Sickness
and Necroticism: Descanting the Insalubrious
, two iconic releases within the genre.
Personal tastes aside, it is indisputable that Carcass will go down in history as one of the most influential extreme metal collectives of the 20th century, on par with legends like Death, Morbid Angel or Bathory, just to name a few; being equally undeniable that the reason behind their success story was the strong chemistry between the clinical trio Jeff Walker, Ken Owen, and former Napalm Death Bill Steer, with the latter being responsible for some of extreme metal's most iconic post-mortem riffs. Without belittling Michael Amott, who would prove to be instrumental in the band's turn towards more melodic territories, the synergy present in the original triumvirate has always been the gravitational center of Carcass' music between 1986 and 1996, and its driving force; and were it not for Ken's cerebral hemorrhage in 1999 (which left him in a coma for several months, subsequently making it impossible for him to play drums at the highest level), the trio would still be intact on 2013's long-awaited return to the operating table - Surgical Steel
Keeping the same backbone, which includes drummer Daniel Wilding, but recording as a quartet with the addition of guitarist Tom Draper, Carcass are back in business under an album title taken from an eighties Ken Owen demo - Torn Arteries
. Originally slated to come out in 2020, being postponed due to the pandemic, the lads' seventh full-length release promises to be polarizing both aesthetically and musically. Something that is hardly new in the band's stylistic journey as they have never released the same album twice, each one being a product of its time (for better or worse). But in this particular case, the unexpected yet unintentional vegan artwork coupled with a rather different musical direction from Surgical Steel
is sure to spark a perfect storm among the hardcore fanbase, a bit like Swansong
in the nineties. It took me a couple of extra spins myself to digest Torn Arteries
accordingly; not because of its complexity or originality, but for being different from what I expected. Songs like 'The Devil Rides Out', 'Flesh Ripping Torment Limited' or even 'In God We Trust' step out of the band's template, or at least deviate from the formula I would expect to hear. And I loved it. I admire an artist who doesn't play it safe, who isn't afraid to explore new territory instead of going around in circles, like most veteran heavy metal bands. The Gojira-esque groovy moments on 'In God We Trust' and 'Flesh Ripping Torment Limited' or the latter's ballad-ish solo, which wouldn't seem out of place on a Thin Lizzy album, are something of a breath of fresh air; as is the super catchy 'The Devil Rides Out' which, in addition to presenting a remarkable fluidity, features the most inspired guitars on the album.
These elements of surprise caught me off guard. I was expecting ‘Surgical Steel 2.0’ or something like that; but instead, the British pathologists decided to shift down a gear and deliver a more mature work, much like a team of experienced surgeons. The title track, 'Eleanor Rigor Mortis', and 'Dance of IXTAB' mirror some of that creative maturity, as opposed to the old acquaintance 'Under the Scalpel Blade' or 'Kelly's Meat Emporium' which are closer to Carcass’ trademark sound. However, despite this apparent dichotomy, the band's DNA is omnipresent, whether in the groove that sprouts everywhere or in the blasty segments that evoke the band's most irreverent era.
Except for the last two somewhat average songs, this is an accomplished work that defies canons without ever truly dazzling. It is also clear that the synergy between Daniel and the two renowned surgeons has been growing exponentially, as is evident in a song such as 'Dance of IXTAB' which orbits around Daniel's drumming. Something that should not only make Ken Owen proud, but also bodes well for the band's imminent future. The lads should see this newfound stability and group dynamics as a unique opportunity to revitalize a career that is inevitably approaching well-deserved retirement. The clock is ticking, let's not waste time in yet another long hibernation, okay, guys?
Despite multiple listens, I still don't know if Torn Arteries
fully meets my expectations, and to be honest, I'm not quite sure what I was expecting either. Hoping for some kind of 'Surgical Steel 2.0' is just too lazy, isn't it? There’s no such thing as playing it safe in this OR, and we'd all better start dealing with it. One thing I do know - this veggie heart has enough flavor to satisfy my carnivorous diet for now. Next time, I'll be waiting for something meatier.