Dust off your medical dictionaries and cadaverously incubate those endoparasites! Carcass, the gods of goregrind are back with their first album in 17 years!
The band had enjoyed quite a musical evolution before their prolonged hiatus; they began as pure grindcore way back in ’88 with ‘Reek of Putrefaction’ and the indispensable ‘Symphonies of Sickness’ before working much more melody, solos and technical sophistication into later albums such as ‘Heartwork’. Eventually they took their proverbial feet off the blastbeat accelerator completely and released their more groove/power metal orientated swansong…er ‘Swansong’ in 1996.
These kinds of extended breaks between albums can have very different effects on different bands. Of late, we as music fans have been rather blessed with the quality of “comeback” albums from rock & metal acts we’d thought were long defunct. So… does ‘Surgical Steel’ keep up with this pleasing trend?
You betcha. Kicking off with the oddly titled “1985”, a slower, percussion-less instrumental featuring the signature twin guitar leads the band favoured in their later years, you’d be forgiven for thinking this was going to be ‘Swansong’ mark II, but after a mere 1:16 of relative serenity, “Thrasher’s Abattoir” blasts to life, giving your eardrums a right royal kicking with pounding thrash beats, blasts aplenty, dizzying rifferama and a scorching solo right out of the epic solo textbook. After less than two minutes of intensity the track ends suddenly and “Cadaver Pouch Conveyor System” begins with the shrieked lyric “Bloodlustomord!!” (“Assassin’s Bloodlust” in German, Google Translate reliably informs me). And it’s another beauty! The violently frenetic beginning morphs slowly into more melodic territory as the band begin to really show their musical chops.
The whirlwind riffs are imaginative and don’t endlessly reproduce a tremolo picked blur. Many of the guitar parts are comprised of dual harmonies a-la Judas Priest et al, showing that the band are unafraid to bare their musical roots and the drumming of new addition Dan Wilding is just about perfect: Speed, groove, inventiveness, he’s got ’em.
The band are not the fastest nor the flashiest players around the extreme metal circuit, the likes of Nile and Cryptopsy etc probably outdo them in the brutality & pure speed stakes but these guys are pioneers and all those years of experience pay dividends when it comes to the key areas of melodic/harmonic progression, riff construction and musical narrative.
While the vocals are the dry shriek they’ve always been, there’s plenty of instrumental evolution, and changes of pace in the tracks which makes the album engaging and compelling from start to finish… and the same can’t be said about many an extreme metal act.
If one had to compare it to an earlier Carcass album, it would be ‘Heartwork’. It’s got a similar mix of melody and brutality, only on ‘Surgical Steel’ the playing is tighter and the production values much better. Produced by Andy Sneap, the album’s overall sound is an absolute world away from that of ‘Reek of Putrefaction’… mind you the intervening 25 years of audio technology evolution might have helped just a little… still, Kudos Mr. Sneap.
Standout tracks are the crushing brutality of “Thrasher’s Abattoir”, “Cadaverous Pouch Converter” and “The Master Butcher’s Apron”, the mid paced whirlwind rifferey of “Unfit for Human Consumption” and the sheer grinding power and instrumental prowess of “Captive Bolt Pistol”. All the aforementioned tracks still contain plenty of soloing action and musical changeups, it’s not all blastbeats this and evisceration that… It’s still extreme, don’t get me wrong, but the band never get stuck in a rut, which possibly hints at the build up of creativity over the last 17 years.
The only beefs I have with this record are the lack of deviation in the vocal delivery… (but hey, that’s their style) and the 8 minute epic closing track “Mount of Execution” (complete with acoustic guitar intro) which seems kinda out of place on an album this brutal. I for one could have done without it. Unfortunately the song titles and lyrics aren’t quite as laugh out loud absurd as they were in the early days either!
There’s one other extremely weird thing… maybe it’s just me, but one of the riffs in “Mount of Execution” sounds just like a distorted version of The White Stripes “Icky Thump”!! Not only that, but the main riff in “316L Grade Surgical Steel” sounds extremely akin to the chorus riff in Van Halen’s “Janie’s Cryin”!! I really had to do a double take on first listen… and nope, I’m not imagining it…bizarre.
Anyway, those minor whinges aside, this album is a remarkable comeback from the grindcore legends. It’s brutal, melodic, inventive, superbly executed and flawlessly produced. Well done lads.