Carcass – ‘Surgical Steel’ Album Review


In 1985 a band formed that was to profoundly influence the course of extreme metal. One of the earliest voices in grindcore, a favourite band of the legendary John Peel and, in their later years,  one of the pioneers of melodic death metal, Carcass terrorised the airwaves between 1985 and 1995 before splitting in 1995, leaving in their wake five monumentally brutal studio albums that charted an interesting course form the former genre to the latter, influencing scores of younger bands in the process. That Carcass should prove so influential should hardly be surprising. Just one listen to the band’s second LP, the Colin Richardson produced ‘Symphonies of sickness’ was enough to persuade many that the band were not merely gore hands with a neat turn of phrase, but they had the power and precision to match their increasingly horrendous lyrics with similarly searing music. Whilst ‘symphonies…’ marked out Carcass as something special, for many it is the bold, experimental ‘heartwork’ that stands tall in the band’s canon and it influenced everyone from Arch Enemy to in Flames and Soilwork with its slick, melodic guitar work.

What was less obvious, initially at least, was that the band would return. A reunion in 2007 was received rapturously, however, and when the band announced that they would return to the fray with a new album pulses raised considerably. The resultant album, ‘surgical steel’, released via Nuclear Blast, is, arguably, one of the most anticipated metal events of the year. With teasers, video clips and artwork details seeping out, as the release date anticipation reached fever pitch. Could the band possibly live up to their own illustrious past, especially in the wake of so many young pretenders to the crown? The answer should have been obvious all along – Carcass return with a vengeance on ‘surgical steel’ and those who have held off buying a copy should head instantly to the nearest store and rectify their lack of faith immediately for ‘Surgical Steel’ is a proud contender for extreme metal album of the year.

Boasting twelve tracks (assuming you buy the nice, shiny digi-pack edition) the album starts strongly with an elegant ode to the year of the band’s formation. ‘1985’ is a stately, exquisitely played introduction to the album, with clean, harmonised guitars leading the listener towards the vicious assault of ‘thrashers abattoir’, a song that declares war on scenesters, hipsters and their ilk and immediately places Carcass lyrically in line with Darkthrone (who’s recent output has also had much to say about attention starved poseurs trying to hi-jack a metal scene they neither particularly like nor understand. It’s over in a heartbeat and before you know where you are the band are pounding your face in with the melodic might of ‘Cadaver pouch conveyor system’. A stunningly unpleasant wander through surgical realms replete with blistering solos and that all-important undercurrent of melody, it is not only a return to form for Carcass but perhaps even another step forward for a band long thought dead. ‘A congealed clot of blood’ casts scorn upon those who commit violence in the name of religion and as the guitars slam almost physically into you, you realise that few bands manage to sound quite so thrillingly vital as Carcass do here.  Incisive, lyrically intelligent and perfectly constructed it is a highlight of the album and demonstrates the band’s unerring ability to

Having locked into a monstrous groove, ‘the master butcher’s apron’  smashes the vibe to pieces with a hyper-speed blast of icy death metal recalling nothing so much as those old grindcore Peel Sessions where bands like Napalm Death used to regularly unleash their unhinged torrents of sonicabuse upon an unsuspecting public, whilst a neat tempo change half way through takes the track into slower, albeit darker, territory. ‘Noncompliance to ASTM 899-12 standard’, unwieldy title aside, is an exceedingly fast-paced blast of crushing death metal that sees  Jeff Walker’s guttural roar laden with spite and vitriol before entering a mid-section that sees Bill Steer demonstrating his considerable prowess via a stunning and lengthy solo. ‘The granulating dark satanic mills’ tears strips out of the modern class structure of the country, underscoring the plight of the working class with devastating accuracy whilst musically edging into slayer territory. ‘Unfit for human consumption’ swerves into unhinged medical territory, the lyrics a catalogue of terrible ailments and then the  brutal thrust and grind of ‘316L grade surgical steel’ rears its cataclysmic head, reclaiming the blueprint Carcass originally laid down for Arch Enemy and giving it a shot of adrenalin straight to the heart. By the end you’ll be in need of one too, so relentless is the album’s pace.

The final three tracks are led by ‘captive bolt pistol’ a doom laden and filthy trawl through the darkest catacombs of the mind that features some truly riveting guitar work. The standard edition’s final track, ‘mount of execution’ opens with some sedate acoustic work before slowly building to grand finale in exquisite melodic death metal style. It’s epic in scope, stylish in delivery and it sees Carcass instantly step to the head of a pack of bands whom have been relentlessly borrowing from Carcass’ blueprint in the years since their demise. The special edition offers up one further track, ‘intensive battery brooding’, which is more than worth the extra expenditure. A sludgy groove that comes across like Pantera covering Slayer, it has a devastating mid-pace tempo that simply lays waste to all before it. It’s a suitably ferocious end to an album that seems to have been ruthlessly pared back, with not a single song exceeding its welcome or appearing to have been added as filler.

Much was riding on ‘Surgical Steel’. With a name as legendary as Carcass, nothing less than the absolute best would sate the appetite of long-standing fans and ‘Surgical steel’ not only delivers the goods but makes it look easy. There was no need for Carcass to attempt to redefine their sound or push boundaries, rather Carcass have refined their sound, steadfastly refusing to clutter it with modern sonic trickery or flash. This approach has worked perfectly, and by delving back to their illustrious past Carcass have come up with an extreme metal album that is timeless in its appeal and devastating in its delivery. If you are a fan of extreme metal, then ‘surgical steel’ is an essential album to add to your collection. Ruthless, relentless and fiercely intelligent, Carcass have just delivered an album that not only sits comfortably amidst their back catalogue, but very possibly tops it.

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