Carcass "Surgical Steel" 7/10
A new Carcass album is not like a new Metallica album. I don't expect a new Metallica album to be good. I don't even expect a new Slayer album to be good (although with gary Holt in the band that might change). But Carcass, I expect ALOT from. That's because "Necroticism: Descanting the insalubrouse" is not just a Death Metal classic, but a serious piece of musical genius. Sure, I like the early grind stuff. And Heartwork was a damned solid, if more commercial sounding effort. But Necroticism was different. Very anal and single minded. A conceptual piece of art. Layer upon layer of melodic classic slow Slayer riffs, with a dark classical feeling - set to the scene of madness and butchery. Solos were also very advanced for a Death Metal band, and showed a high level of both skill and melodic understanding. Not just wank! "Necroticism" has it all...perfectly raw, thunderously heavy, chunky, shredding solos that never brighten things too much, sludging/pounding aggressive drums... I could go on and on about the perfectly psychotic vocals, brilliant lyrics...oh there is humor there. But it's very dark and not a happy type. More demented. Can you tell I like this album?
There is a certain "cult status" bands can obtain inadvertantly by merely disappearing. ANd while Carcass certainly was regarded as legendary pioneers of gore-grind before they broke up, the time spent away has somewhat erased the bitter taste of "Swansong." And while Death Metal as a genre has pretty much past its creative prime, it hasn't stopped countless bands from emulating Carcass or even trying (absurdly) to one up them. Thus, they have remained valid in the underground and have attained far more fans while gone and are now bigger than ever.
I have to admit, I pegged Mike Amott as the "aresehole making things all happy and commercial sounding" in Carcass. But this new album shows I was dead wrong, as Bill Steer is just guilty, if not even more guilty, of turning Carcass into a "guitar world magazine" band. There is alot of "wankety wank" on this new one. ANd while "Heartwork" had plenty of "wank" as well, there managed to be a disinct darkness to that album this one doesn't have. (not to mention the sound was just SO crushingly heavy on it) "Surgical" is a happy album for the most. And I think it was in the band's mind to have fun and pay massive 80s homage on this recording. Unforunately it gets a little rediculous when you can acually pick out bands and sections they are "resurrecting." Especially when it's recycled Carcass material! And that is a good example what is REALLY disappoining about this album.
Now let's not kid ourselves...the first couple Carcass albums, while "crust punk accepted" and such - were rather rediculous recordings. Amateur, but also brilliant and pioneering. It wasn't till "Necroticism" that they got WAY serious. And I think the new album is not just a rebellion against that, but a bit of an "F-U" to the elitist mentality that has come to surround them while they were absent. So for this, I have to respect that songs like "Thrasher's Abatoir" really are what they sound like. A sencere homage to their 80s Thrash influences. In fact, this whole album is more of a Thrash album with Death influences more than it is a Death Metal album,and this both intrigues and bugs the shit out of me at the same time. But it is funny how few people so far praising the album really seem to hear all the homage going on or commenting on it.
The "1985" intro is really quite silly, as it wreaked of Judas Priest "Hellion" mimickery. Not to mention it's similar to the "Heartwork" album intro. I kinda expected something with a little more thought put into it. It really seems lazy more than anything else. And LAZY is not something I expected from a band that farts brilliant riffs in their sleep!
Regarding the drums - well I used to think Ken Owen was the weak link in Carcass. Reason being, he always sounded like he was struggling to keep up and he caused the beats to drag a bit. But now that I hear this new guy (Ben Ash) well,he's so goddamned perfect and on the beat,I suddenly realized that Ken Owen's style really made the sound heavier! Kinda like Vinny Appice. He's not real fancy in Sabbath,but he's just got that heavy fucking feeling where he kinda demands the band to go at his speed. And that speed is headbang speed! It's one of those things you could really nerd out on (and I guess I have) so enough of that...point is, they lost alot of their sound with the loss of Ken.
That being said - we still have some legendary musicians at work. The brilliance is here, but it's so mixed up with average or otherwise overly commercial or happy sounding parts. So let's really break it down...
1985/Thrasher's Abattoir - VERY generic intro as I kinda stated already. But right into a somewhat generic but fairly ass kicking death/thrash number. I've spun this many times now, and it is not my imagination: this is a killer song, but man DO THEY HAVE BETTER. Also, the sound on this just isn't kicking me in the nuts the way Colin Richardson's recordings did. This is...good THRASH production. It's not that bloody dungeon Death metal sound I want from Carcass. This is a big part of what I think is missing on "Surgical Steel." Maybe they really are trying to connect with the younger "Warbringer" fan types?
Cadaver Pouch Conveyor System - this reminds me of some of the more hectic material on Heartwork and is one of the more solid numbers on here. MANY killer riffs and parts here, and Bill Steer really shows his 80s Death/Thrash chops - and man he's one of England's champion riffers - as this clearly attests. So when I criticise a song like this, I fully acknowledge that it still kicks ass on almost everything else. But again - this band wrote "Necroicism" so they are held to a higher standard. So overall, this tune is just way too busy throwing in 80s licks and fancy changes and manages to paint itself right out of the brutal room and right into forgettable "Hearwork" throwaway territory. The other, and very plausable theory, is that Carcass is again, trying to reach the younger Thrash audience. Which is really like Jeff Walker going to Hollywood for Steak at the Rainbow and a botox injecion for the weekend.
A Congealed Clot of Blood - Ok now this one pulls out a classic riff cruncher that only a gifted riff master such as Bill can come up with. Fuck, what a crusher! Sounds a bit like a Cannibal COrpse riff - but who knows, Corpse could very well have borrowed this style from Carcass first, as they did have the same producer back in the day. They probably heard "Heartwork" and went - "uh, we need their producer." Anyhow....this tune really brings back a little of the old "Necroticism" sound. Maybe more than the rest. The brilliant use of guitar layering mixed with grim key changes, heavily 80s influenced. Yeah, they hit the vibe right a few times here on this album.
The Master Butcher's Apron - Ok shit, now they really got the heavy guns out. What a classic brutal fucking riff! SOme very Carcassy song changes. Melodic shifts and riffs with that signature. It does unfortunately feel like light weight Wacken crowd pandering at points, but manages to shine at the same time.
Non compliance to ASTM F 899-12 Standard - Wow, well again, some really golden fuckin riffs in this one. Real old school classic Death Thrash riffs here! But do we need all these token twiddly Heartwork guitar wank noodles? I mean what is there to prove technically anymore? I dunno if they just were listening to WAY too much 80s metal when they wrote this, but it just comes off more as emulation rather than a fist full of Carcass. But perhaps I am simply at odds with the direction they took years ago! More Wacken crowd pandering again perhaps (this is a disurbing trend!)
the granulating dark satanic mills - ok guys, I know you gotta be king of the long rediuculous song tiles, but really??? ANyway - more Judas Priest by way of Slayer melodic intros - which do have the Carcass stamp. But come on man, this shit sounds like a song on Heartwork. But not quite as good! HOWEVER....the main riff during the vocals? Fuckin hell - that is CLASSIC fucking Carcass. But Jeff, WHY? Why in the hell the lame Dave Mustaine sounding chorus? I'm talking about the number chant thing he does. It really wreaks of catchy 80s audience chant part. I never wanna think of Megadeth when I hear Carcass. Maybe I'm nuts for making the connection, but maybe a copy of "So Far So good" was in Bill's car CD player when he wrote this. The truth will have to wait!
Unfit for Human consumption - Well I'll be damned if just after I questioned my own assessment of said "Megadeth influence" here we get a riff that really sounds a hell of alot like Holy Wars. ANd then the chorus sounds like fucking Rest in Peace Polaris. Jesus man, really? Carcass emulating 90s Megadeth on their big come back album? (and not sounding quite as good)
316L grade Surgical Steel - This is pure new generation Thrash fan pandering. It's solid as all hell - but there is just too much pre meditation here. I ain't buyin it.
Captive Bolt Pistol - I guess you could say this was the first "single" they released from SS. If you wanna call it that, it was distributed free, but that's another topic...this carefully balanced song both massages the buttocks of people like myself who want something like Necroticism and smooches the vagina of those younger fans just arriving to Carcass today from new school Thrash and Dragonforce type backgrounds. Too much fancy flibbety flabb, not enough genuine Carcass.
Mount of Execution - No, it's not the first time Carcass had acoustic guitar on a song, it's just that it didn't sound like a Bon Jovi ballad intro last time. It also wasn't followed by a catchy british traditional heavy metal riff, followed by a massive classic Metallica riff, followed by a really pointlessly pop 80s chorus...or something...man, this song's really got me confused!
Last word on the drums. Dude, the guy's got chops up the arse. I ain't saying he sucks. He's badass! But drummers like this are a dime a dozen. He does what's good for the song. But he doesn't bring that groove and character Ken Owen has. And I think it is an ignorant Carcass fan who doesn't hear it. You don't have to be able to articulate it to hear it. So if you agree this album is lacking a certain heaviness - I can almost guarantee it comes down to the drum sound/style here more than the happy arena death song parts. I know, I'm so hard on the guy. What a fukking shaxhole I am!
Overall, it is a solid album full of classic moments. But these classic moments are likely not the first priority. Rather, the quality of musicians involved canno help but fart gold here and there, if we shake the corpse enough. It has more than one wink towards the Arena/Festival touring circuit. ANd I hate to say it but this album really does sound kinda inspired by money or at least the sort of hype I kinda thought the band stood against for many years.