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Metal/Prog Metal CD Reviews

Carcass

Surgical Steel

Review by Mike Korn

I can’t think of too many bands that had a hand in creating two different sub-genres of music, but England’s legendary Carcass is one. They plumbed depths of musical and lyrical revulsion few thought possible with their early albums Reek of Putrefaction and Symphonies of Sickness. With their super guttural vocals, total blur riffing and grotesque lyrics, those albums formed the genesis for the metal sub-genre known as “grindcore.” Many bands have been inspired by those albums, but starting with the album Necroticism: Descanting The Insalubrious, Carcass took a daring turn into a different direction, adding a lot of melody and a cleaner sound but still retaining heaviness and sickness. This was the beginning of the melodic death metal genre, which they continued to perfect with Heartwork. On their “final” album Swansong, the band had almost left their death and grind roots behind completely, opting for a more rock and roll feel. That was a period when extreme metal was on the ropes and Carcass called it a day in 1995.

Since then, their popularity has not waned a bit. The fans’ prayers have been answered almost 20 years after the release of Swansong, as Carcass has returned with Surgical Steel. This record ranks with the best “comebacks” ever in metal. It is an impeccably played and produced blast of ferocious melodic death metal and the natural successor to Necroticism. . ., which I consider the greatest death metal album ever recorded. Original singer/bassist Jeff Walker and original guitarist Bill Steer have returned, joined by new drummer Daniel Wilding and guitarist Ben Ash. Any concern about the new guys fitting will be obliterated after hearing this masterpiece. The aggression and sickness are still here, but the songwriting is almost progressive in scope and extremely challenging. Those who were hoping for the total grindcore of the first two albums may be disappointed, but I couldn’t see the band reverting to that direction with all the skill they possess.

I can’t praise this album enough. I don’t see how the band could have made a better return - unless this was a two-CD set! Fans of great extreme metal are commanded to obtain this record!

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2013  Volume 5 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
1985
This was the year of Carcass’ birth. This intro kicks in with majestic twin guitar melodies that are almost Queen-like, and some great rock-like soloing.
Thrasher’s Abattoir

This is where the raw red meat is found. It’s a brief tune but devastating and cyclonic. A compact explosion of grinding thrash, this finds Mr. Jeff Walker spitting out the lyrics with venom. I saw this performed live at Maryland Deathfest and it ignited a pit of titanic proportions.

Cadaver Pouch Conveyor System

Speed and heaviness continue here with more of that marvelous twin guitar work that Carcass is so brilliant at. This tune could have been right off the Necroticism. . . album. It is tight beyond belief and will snap necks!

A Congealed Clot of Blood

This lays off the gas a tad, but still is a nice morbid slice of sick clinical riffing. There’s a bit more catchiness and mid-tempo heft here, but it’s a powerful tune sure to induce headbanging. The slower solo break in the middle is so much like classic Carcass, it would bring tears to a mortician’s eye!

The Master Butcher’s Apron

A molten wave of metal engulfs you right from the start. As good as the album has been to this point, it gets kicked up another notch here.  This is just an awesome example of how to mix fast thrashing with brutal slower riffs to maximum effect.  These guys plan their songs like generals executing a great military campaign, with each piece placed perfectly.

Non-Compliance to ASTM F 899-12 Standard

A super cool double guitar arpeggio initiates this monster, and from there this develops into the most complex and progressive song on the album. Unbelievably, Carcass keeps upping the ante with each song. This has a real strong Necroticism. . . feel to it and would have nestled perfectly between the likes of “Inpropagation”  and “Corporeal Jigsore Quandary.” The soloing is a thing of beauty to hear.

The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills

This follows very much in the vein of the previous song but maybe with more emphasis on the twin guitar melodies and a bit more of the “rocking” feel that was found on the Heartwork album.  Whereas with most acts, a series of songs similar to each other would mean monotony, with Carcass it just means another excellent tune to enjoy and ponder.

Unfit For Human Consumption

A chugging thrasher with a galloping feel, this is a pretty sick little number due not only to the lyrics but the especially sinister vocal effects. The ease with which these guys mix extreme ripping metal, melody and even straight up hard rock is a marvel of the age. This one is neck and neck with “Non-Compliance…” as my favorite cut on the album.

316 L Grade Surgical Steel

Call me crazy, but the main riff under the verse reminds me of prime Judas Priest combined with Venom, but given the unmistakable Carcass treatment. It’s definitely one of the less complex tracks here but it rocks harder than hell and features some superb high speed thrashing to boot, with amazing drumming from new guy Daniel Wilding.

Captive Bolt Pistol

This is the first single from the album and it’s the most compact and concise tune here. By now, it treads very familiar territory, but in this case, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  This is another song that could have been an out-take from Necroticism. . .

Mount of Execution
The band decided to end the record with this ringer. This is definitely the tune that is markedly different from everything else here. It’s the longest and slowest, and begins with a very restrained, mellow and “mysterious” sound. This is the cut that most resembles the less extreme moments of Heartwork and Swansong. The metal is definitely still here, but I wouldn’t call it “death” anymore even though Walker’s vocals are still harsh. It’s an interesting cut but I might have positioned it in the middle of the album as a kind of break.
 
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