Death/grind legends Carcass return after 18 years with glorious ‘Surgical Steel’

CarcassWhen the new “Star Wars” trilogy came out, it was exciting but a little bit terrifying. We were talking a major risk at ruining something that was a major part of many people’s childhoods and lives, and there was a great chance that, if anything went awry, that whole magic could be ruined. As we all know, the whole thing went awfully badly, and many people don’t view the “Star Wars” franchise the way they once did.

Same thing can happen with our favorite bands. We develop relationships with them, they become a part of our lives, and they inform a lot of our experiences. But sometimes they go the wrong way and leave us alienated, often never to recover again. Which person who grew up loving and worshipping Metallica still feels the same way about them? I sure don’t. Slayer’s packed and on the road to doing the same exact thing. Iron Maiden and Judas Priest almost undid a part of their legacy and well being by replacing irreplaceable voices with dudes who certainly tried their hardest but just could not fill the enormous shoes.

Carcass - Surgical Steel - ArtworkWhen word came down that Carcass, the legendary pioneers of melodic death metal and medically gruesome grindcore, were going to try their hands at a new record (18 years after 1996’s “Swan Song”), my initial reaction was worry. They already had a great back catalog, and there had been times when the band said there would be no new Carcass music. I don’t think anyone would have been upset had they done their occasional tours and festival appearances and left their musical legacy in place. But that wasn’t their desire, and the Jeff Walker-led group decided they had more to say, more blood to draw, more flesh to carve. Yeah, it was pretty exciting on one hand to imagine new Carcass music, but would it ultimately prove a foolish move that would leave a dent in their legacy?

Well, simply answered, fuck no it didn’t hurt their legend. In fact, the unreal, savage, heavily spirited “Surgical Steel” is one of the year’s most pleasant surprises, and it definitely will end up on year-end lists everywhere and surely top some of them (ahem, Decibel). It’s arguably one of their best albums to date, and Carcass sound as channeled and furious as they ever have, and this is one hell of a fun, plasma-soaked romp that just grows you on every time you take it on. Ruin their legend? All they did was solidify their standing and prove they’re the masters of this and that everyone who followed them are still trying to catch up.

As noted, bassist/vocalist/all-around madman Walker remains at the head of this thing, and with him is longtime guitarist Bill Steer, whose work is a major reason this record is so good. His riffs are violent and thick, he still has a knack for deliriously catchy melodies, and he’s as important as Walker to making this thing work as well as it does all these years later. The new fellows in the band are guitarist Ben Ash (who has played with bands such as Pig Iron and Desolation), who didn’t actually play on the record, and drummer Daniel Wilding (The Order of Apollyon, Trigger the Bloodshed), whose playing holds up pretty damn well. Live, they are a formidable version of Carcass, and these songs should go over deliriously well with their fans.

It takes less than four minutes for the band to rip through their first two songs on “Surgical Steel,” though that isn’t because they’re back to their grind roots. Instead, “1985” is a brief instrumental opener awash in classic metal glory, and “Thrasher’s Abattoir” is a speedy dose of death that has Walker growling as maniacally as ever, teasing, “Time to die in pain.” Then the album really starts to set up on “Cadaver Pouch Conveyer System,” a track with great lead work, charismatic and catchy vocals, and razor-sharp playing that proves just how on top of their game these guys really are. “A Congealed Clot of Blood” may sound gross on the surface but wait until you cut underneath the crust and get bombarded by meaty thrashing and throaty barks that are commanding through and through, while “The Master Butcher’s Apron” is a cut that starts like relentless death, with Walker howling, “The sun never sets, the blood never dried.” Then once the devastating storming subsides, the song eases into a thrashy groove and starts mauling the world. This is the best cut on the first half of the record.

“Noncompliance to ASTM F 899-12 Standard” is one of many references to steel used to make surgical equipment, and its fluttery power metal style sounds more epic and magical than one might expect about sliced skin and sawed bones. You’re bound to like it if you dork out on stellar playing or if you want your metal blood-splattered. “The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills” opens with a sinister guitar line that seems to have nothing but evil in its sites, but when it fully develops, it becomes an explosive masher with one of the finest, most memorable choruses on the album that I’d expect people to shout back at the band. Not sure what the number sequence “6-0-2-6-9-6-1” stands for, but it sound potent as Walker howls each digit. “Unfit for Human Consumption has a tasty technicality to it, sort of like early ’90s Megadeth before they wimped out, and the shriek lines behind the main vocals make for a fun approach. “316 L Grade Surgical Steel” isn’t tough to decipher and is as chunky and gritty as it is melodic. “Captive Bolt Pistol” is pretty to the point and is one of the tracks most people have heard by now,” while closer “Mount of Execution” (8:24 long) begins with swampy acoustics before slipping into a pure thrash vein. It’s angry and mean but also very approachable. It’s probably the most digestible song on the record, with the slide guitar that keeps coming back, and honestly it’s the one song on here I’m still not overly excited about even after many listens. Maybe it’ll click for me eventually.

Admittedly it took me a little while to fully embrace “Surgical Steel” because of the overwhelming hype and praise most writers heaped upon this record. But once that subsided and I was able to really immerse myself in the music and understand it for what it is, I was thrilled with it and have played it on heavy rotation ever since. Carcass is one of the great metal bands of our time, a group that created new sounds, stretched the genre’s walls forever, and still are making incredible music today, and “Surgical Steel” is one of the best comeback albums in metal history. Hell, in music history. Yeah, this record has been praised and lauded to death, but it’s for damn good reason. Carcass are back, and they’re as bloody good and deadly as ever before.

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