Carcass, Surgical Steel: Meat Is Murder, And Vice Versa
Carcass are important because they’re smart. Oh, sure, back in the day the band created seemingly sophomoric tracks like “Vomit Anal Tract,” but all the while they were creating a then-unheard-of sound and reaching beyond simple gore concepts like slicing whores or beheading the Nazarene. By 1991’s monumental Necroticism: Descanting The Insalubrious, the band had refined their sound from slipshod grindcore to steel-toed death metal, and had gotten at the very soul of anatomy, the poetic meaning behind humanity’s meat suit; their anthems of jigsore puzzles and solvent abuse examined the many ways in which our garbage race could be disassembled. Heartwork took that sound in an introspective direction, adding huge doses of listenable melody while examining the repulsive sense of self-importance that the world had draped over the pathetic carnality at its core (and in all honesty, I’ve never listened to Swansong, so I won’t comment on it). The point is, Carcass were death metal at its most intelligent. When someone hates on you for listening to music that’s “just about monsters and killing girls,” you can cite Carcass, because they’re academic and self-aware while remaining brutal as fuck.
This is why Surgical Steel is such an event—seventeen years after the release of their last full-length album, after death metal has been reworked, reconsidered, dismissed, embraced, laughed at, faked, and brought back from the dead, the genre’s most legitimate band has returned with eleven new tracks. And thank the gods of gore, they’re fucking good. Though more influenced by Carcass’ later melodic years than their gutsfucks of old, the songs on Surgical Steel are infectious, dynamic, and just plain old awesome.
The first two songs are, to say the least, ballsy. Instrumental intro “1985,” named after the year of the band’s formation, seems to be a direct musical reference to “The Hellion,” which opens Judas Priest’s Screaming For Vengeance; this minute-long outpouring of guitar harmonies has a mix of grandeur and strain that encapsulates heavy metal’s dichotomized face in a little over a minute. Then kicks off “Thrasher’s Abattoir,” a just-under two-minute thrasher that wastes no time fucking about, including a chant of “TIME TO DIE/DIE IN PAIN” that would be corny from any other band or in any other song, but here feels appropriately simplistic from such often-polysyllabic lyricists: yes, this album is important and artistic, but it’s also death metal. Get into it. You gonna’ die, man.
“Cadaver Pouch Conveyor System” is a rousing jaunt, with layers of spirited snarls careening around maddened guitar leads, including a Bill Steer solo that’s exactly as bluesy as it should be. “A Congealed Clot of Blood” creeps to life and chugs along with its head banging hard in a steady gallop, giving Walker and Steer time to spit disgusted lines about “a new dark age” and the terror of “infinite human conflict” before launching into an ear-splitting scream that gives way to a scum-soaked breakdown. “The Master Butcher’s Apron” is heavy and dotted with blastbeats, driven by pneumatic if occasionally repetitive central riffs and making the listener wait for each chorus to culminate. “Noncompliance to ASTM F899-12 Standard” is frantic and meaty, showcasing some classic Carcass tremolo-picking and melodic ax-work. While it sometimes blends with the track before it, lyrics like “This is the way/Of all flesh that will decay” allow it to stand out.
While its title and themes of industry raping nature are obvious references to William Blake, the meaning of the numbers chanted in “The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills”—‘6-0-2-6-9-6-1’—remain a mystery to me, made all the more tantalizing by the fact that this groove-packed melodic death metal track absolutely rules. And though the band have lost guitarist Michael Amott, “Unfit for Human Consumption” sounds like the best Arch Enemy track ever laid down, both straight-for-the-throat and yet tasty as all Hell; this is the most listenable track on the record, shred though it does, and feels like the natural bait for younger fans who might not know Carcass’ legacy (lines like “Unfit for human consumption/Appetite for my destruction” and “After all, you are what you eat” might get laughs from the more traditional gore fiends, but fuck ‘em).
“316 L Grade Surgical Steel” is a cool mid-paced track with a creepy set of riffs, while the first single, “Captive Bolt Pistol”, sounds like traditional modern death metal all over the place, complete with gang vocals over a blastbeat-backed chorus and solos that alternate between wails and double-tapped flurries. It’s an interesting choice for a single—short and sweet, exemplary of the rest of the album, but nothing hugely special overall. And finally, to close, there is “Mount of Extinction”, an eight-minutes-and-change-long galloping groove track which includes riffs straight out of Stained Class and what can only be described as a bitchin’ Pantera breakdown at the very end. The album closes as it began—with an unexpected and ballsy song that pays homage to the classics.
If anyone was waiting for a new Reek of Putrefaction, they’ll be pretty nonplussed by Surgical Steel—this album is relatively devoid of traditional goregrind. But for those who have been waiting for a proper follow-up to the polished, self-aware death metal of Necroticism and Heartwork, rejoice, it has arrived. With Surgical Steel, Carcass have once again managed to open eyes and minds, but still had enough sense to do it with the bone saw.