Wednesday 9 October 2013

ALBUM REVIEW: Carcass - "Surgical Steel"

By: Richard Maw

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 13/9/2013
Label: Nuclear Blast

“Surgical Steel” CD//DD//LP track listing:
1). 1985 (1:15)
2). Thrasher's Abattoir (1:50)
3). Cadaver Pouch Conveyor System (4:020
4). A Congealed Clot Of Blood (4:13)
5). The Master Butcher's Apron (4:00)
6). Noncompliance to ASTM F 899-12 Standard (6:06)
7). The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills (4:10)
8). Unfit For Human Consumption (4:24)
9). 316 L Grade Surgical Steel (5:20)
10). Captive Bolt Pistol (3:16)
11). Mount Of Execution (8:25)

The Review:

Carcass returned to the stage over half a decade ago now, but this album is the first of their studio efforts since Messrs Steer and Walker were musically reunited. The last record that Carcass (with original drummer Ken Owen) put out was” Swansong” way back in the mid 90's. I remember being distinctly underwhelmed by it at the time and the benefit of distance has not really improved it. What preceded it, though, were two of the finest albums in metal's history. Both “Heartwork” and “Necroticism...” were bona fide classics.

I had a copied tape of “Heartwork” shortly after its release in 1993, probably the first extreme metal album I ever heard- unless you count “Chaos AD”- and was blown away. In many ways, it can actually be said to have changed my life. Never before had I heard vocals that harsh or beats that fast. Naturally, I heard their earlier works in the months and years that followed and although I enjoyed “Necroticism...” hugely and “Reek...” and “Symphonies...” to a lesser extent, they never truly compared to “Heartwork.” (For me, I know others would disagree). That album was, and is, a monument to power, huge sounds, harsh vocals... and melody. Indeed, while there were progressive bands around in the death metal genre at the time (Death! Cynic! and, er, other lesser known bands) melodic refrains would not really come to the fore until maybe “Slaughter of The Soul” a couple of years later.

The point of this lengthy introduction is to state that Carcass are one of the most influential death metal bands of all time due to their pushing the boundaries of the genre in several ways: more melodic, more brutal, better songs, superb production and so on. The question is, then, does this album cut it? The answer is a resounding yes. For that we can all breathe a sigh of relief; too many times “reunion” records have been abysmal failures/boring re-treads. We get Colin Richardson producing again and he does a sterling job. Crystal clear sounds; no click tracks no “computers playing what the musicians cannot” that creep into a LOT of death metal and deathcore these days. The band themselves were explicit about this, apparently, and it shows as the playing is sublime and precise yet organic at the same time.

Those worried about Steer having played in the southern fried Firebird for the last few years need not worry; this is very much Steer's album and he absolutely excels himself. The leads are melodic and shredding by turns, the riffs are both bludgeoning and razor sharp. The fire he displays here is just awe inspiring. A legend living up to the legend. A rare thing indeed. Walker delivers his vocals with genuine rasp and venom, the bass underpins the more elaborate pyrotechnics of Steer and new drummer Dan Wilding- who is a more than able replacement for Owen; he plays a blinder.

“1985” opens proceedings with a wistful instrumental guitar piece before “Thrasher's Abattoir” kicks things into top gear and rips open your ears. “Cadaver Pouch Conveyor System2 follows with more brutality; “A Congealed Clot of Blood” carries on the trend and is then followed by the complex and catchy (!) “The Master Butcher's Apron”. The halfway point of “Non Compliance to ASTM F 899-12 Standard” keeps incomprehensible song titles alive while the tempos shift and melodic leads abound. It is easy to see that the album is indeed one of two halves; an opening shock and awe and then a search and destroy mission, if you like or brutality followed by more measured material, if you prefer.

“The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills” is a towering Walker contribution. The riffs snake and twist, while the song has room to breathe and stick in your head. All of Carcass' strengths are on display here; complexity and melody, brutality and a light touch (the blast sections are heavy but never laboured; the band are blessed with a light touch that you wont find on a Cannibal Corpse record).

"Unfit for Human Consumption" has riffs to burn and brings in rhythms definitely harking back to those halcyon days of the early 90's; atrabilious chimneys, anyone?! The fret work is brilliant here; complex but not cluttered, the time changes unpredictable, the leads soaring. “3161 Grade Surgical Steel” provides a title track of sorts and doesn't disappoint. The rhythms are unusual, the vocals oddly catchy and the whole effect is heavy but with a sense of light and shade... oh Carcass, how we have missed thee.
“Captive Bolt Pistol” (released prior to the rest of the album) fires out of the chamber with thrash pacing that gives way to grinding blasts and switches back and forth. As a straightforward representation of what Carcass do it works very well indeed. Great bass drum work (particularly as no click is being used).

“Mount of Execution” is the last official album track (the special edition features one more) and starts with acoustic guitars and then an intro of wistful sounds. The main refrain is strong too; melodic and half stepping like Zeppelin or Metallica (first four).

For people who want more pick up the special edition as you get the bonus “Intensive Battery Brooding”. It is of no lesser quality than the rest of the album but is slightly different in tempos and approach (even the vocal line is a little different). In this regard you can see/hear why it is not part of the album proper. I view this as a nice collectible that is well worth having. Two decades have passed since the last worthwhile Carcass album; why not spend an extra pound or two for a snazzy digipack and an extra track?

Speaking of which, it is interesting that the band thank “anyone who bought a physical copy” of the album. I am one of those dinosaurs; buying it at an ACTUAL SHOP, no less, and forking out the extra £1 for the special edition. The artwork is excellent, harking back to the 1992 (I think) “Tools of The Trade2 EP. Like the music contained herein the sleeve is shiny, sinister and thoroughly modern looking... or should I say classic?!

Overall, I could not have expected any more from this record: it combines what I love about “Heartwork” and “Necroticism...” in particular. The song writing, musicianship and production are all there. I should mention here that on reading the liner notes I see that the record was engineered by a certain Carl Bown at Treehouse Studios, Derbyshire. I played in a death metal band with Carl back in the mid to late 90's in Humberside. I have not seen Carl since 1997 (!) but were I to run into him tomorrow I would ask him about this record, as I would love to hear about the process of making it. All of us in the band were Carcass fans and the fact that all those involved are still involved in music in one way or another speaks volumes about the quality of our inspirations.

Only the greatest of bands inspire others to pick up instruments and start making music and playing gigs. In this regard, Carcass are death metal royalty. A British band that transcended a DIY scene to inspire musicians around the world with a unique progression of their chosen genre. Peerless then, peerless now.

“Surgical Steel” is available to buy here

Band info: facebook