Release Date: Sep 17, 2013
Record label: Nuclear Blast
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Heavy Metal, Death Metal
As time passes by and popular trends cycle and mutate, the internal and external pressure pressed upon respected bands who begin to write music after lengthy sabbaticals increases significantly. This pressure piles up because the chance of a great “comeback” album is about as rare as catching a rational soundbite coming from the mouth of Dave Mustaine these day, and the fruit of the band’s labors usually highlights their middle-aged fallibility; consequentially the “comeback” album slots unremarkably behind the classics and in front of the glaring horrors of their discography. How bands handle this pressure when writing a “comeback” speaks a multitude about the intestinal fortitude of the musicians involved, and whether they cope with the pressure (not to mention whether their technical abilities still stand up) will ultimately inform the quality of the end result.
Assurance that death metal progenitors Carcass are back in full force on new record Surgical Steel starts with the packaging. The cover references their legendary Tools of the Trade EP. Deluxe editions come with an actual surgical kit. They have long hair again in pictures. The whole thing is so ….
Few bands ever took the term "death metal" as literally as Liverpool, England's Carcass. The band's penchant for crafting song titles that eschewed Satanic tropes in favor of gruesome medical terminology became as much a calling card as their neck-snapping blend of melodic thrash and punishing grindcore, and when they decided to call it quits in 1996 after the release of the relatively disjointed (by Carcass standards) Swansong, it left a fouler taste than usual in the mouths of their listeners. Seventeen years later, Surgical Steel, the group's sixth long-player, remedies all that with a decisive thrust of the scalpel, offering up an 11-track tour de force that's as visceral, inventive, and grotesque as Symphonies of Sickness, yet infused with the dense, machine-shop precision and chrome veneer of 21st century metalcore.
While their career initially went out with more of a fizzle than a bang, thanks to the aptly named Swansong (a great collection of rock-orientated songs, but not necessarily the right ones for the group’s playing style), Carcass have finally made their much-awaited return after a near two-decade wait. Having jettisoned half their line-up (original drummer due to medical reasons, while Mike Amott – now of Arch Enemy – simply appears not to have been invited back) and replaced them with somewhat younger models, founders Bill Steer and Jeff Walker have not wandered far from the mid-career template showcased on 1993’s Heartwork album. Wonderfully precise – almost clinical, which is apt given the often pathological overtones of the group – songwriting is balanced by a genuine need to rock out, Walker’s caustic yet decipherable vocals proving a far cry from the guttural noise he pioneered in his early days.
Swansong, the final LP of Carcass' initial run, wasn't much of one. That 1995 album-- on which the pioneering Liverpool band broke definitively with their grindcore roots, opting for a groovier, more hard-rock-oriented sound-- had its moments, but in retrospect, it plays like a period curiosity rather than a worthy cap to one of extreme metal's most impressive evolutions. The band members seem to agree.