16 September 2013
by Rob McAuslan
This is what you call A Really Big Deal. The last couple of years have seen a rash of reformations, with the overwhelming majority of them ending in disappoint and woeful live appearances. Of the ones that have even got as far as producing new music, barely any have been worth the time to listen to (how are you all getting on with 13, by the way?) So, a new Carcass album after 17 years can’t be a good thing, right?
The last time Carcass returned to play some shows in 2008, there was no new music to be heard. Interviews with Bill Steer at the time revealed that he was always in doubt over whether to even reform the band. Fans already knew that we’d never get the full deal – Ken Owen sadly probably won’t ever be the band’s full-time drummer again (although he does show up here with some backing vocals). Michael Amott was “too busy”, so a Necroticism/Heartwork line-up is a definite no-go. What we get on this album is Steer, Jeff Walker and ex-Killing Mode/Aborted drummer Dan Wilding (also of Trigger The Bloodshed, The Soulless and Heaven Shall Burn – busy boy!)
The main concern was with one of the founding members gone, Carcass in 2013 would sound very different to how we remember them. Well, there’s no need to worry on the drumming front, with Wilding effecting a respectful enough tribute to Owen’s style that those oh-so-familiar offbeats fall exactly where you’d expect. The blasts retain that slightly wonky, breathless character, and the driving, swinging groove remains practically identical, but injects enough of his own personality and energy that this feels like anything but a lazy cashgrab – they’re every bit the deadly serious band they ever were.
Listen t0 ‘Captive Bolt Pistol’ by Carcass:
With the new blood so ideally matched, it’s how that Steer/Walker partnership works that counts. Whilst Walker has been fairly quiet for much of the last two decades, Steer has been all over the place with Firebird, Angel Witch and Gentlemans Pistols. Neither of them have done anything that sounds like Carcass, so does Surgical Steel stack up?
Leadoff instrumental ‘1985’ and the grinding rush of ‘Thrasher’s Abbatoir’ actually appeared as a pairing in their primitive form on an infamous rehearsal tape from that very year. It’s a huge statement, and anyone that loves this band enough to recognise them will know exactly what it means – this is a proper Carcass album, one that’s very aware of its legacy and expectations, and one that intends to deliver. With enough flashes of the early raw aggression showing through, and an assuredly slick Colin Richardson production carving a line straight back to their roots, Surgical Steel attempts to merge all that made Carcass so great. The diehards who only listen as far as the Tools Of The Trade EP because “Heartwork was way too commercial” (a genuine quote from a wally, there) still won’t like it much though…
Watch the album trailer (sigh) for Surgical Steel:
Although there are more blastbeats in evidence on this than the last two Carcass albums put together, it feels like the record that most people wanted Swansong to be. There’s the melodic suss that’s characterised their work since Necroticism set the standard back in 1991, with the morose bounce and classic rock harmonies of Swansong, all tied together with the classy, weighty crunch of Heartwork. The fact is this – with songs like ‘316L Surgical Steel’, ‘Mount Of Execution’ and ‘The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills’, Surgical Steel doesn’t need to make any apologies or excuses for itself. The writing and arrangements are the tightest they’ve ever been, the riffs are glorious and packed with all the Napalm Death-meets-Thin Lizzy you’d expect, and – perhaps most crucially – Steer and Walker sound like they’re having an absolute ball. Lyrically, there’s a partial return to their old gory witticism to go with the more personal and political slants that arrived with Heartwork, with swallowed-a-medical-dictionary verses sprinkled throughout and occasionally-cheap puns bringing some light relief to what is overall a very dark and heavy set of songs.
There will be dissenting voices, I’m sure, but they’ll be few and far-between – Surgical Steel is way more than just the album we wanted. It’s the album that Carcass needed to make – it doesn’t just maintain their legacy, but enhances it with a competence, passion and honesty that’s lacking from so many “comeback” albums.
Sounds Like: Most other melodic death metal bands resignedly trudging back to their rehearsal rooms.
Standout Tracks: Non Compliance To ASTM F899-12 Standard, The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills, Mount Of Execution