Reviewed on this page:
Reek Of Putrefaction - Symphonies Of Sickness - Necroticism: Descanting The Insalubrious - Heartwork - Swansong - Wake Up And Smell The... Carcass - Barbed Wire Soul - Surgical Steel
Liverpool, birthplace of the world's most beloved rock and roll band... Carcass??? That's right: about twenty-five years after that other group broke through, along came a death metal outfit dedicated to brutal riffage, abrupt tempo shifts, grunted vocals, and lyrics - mostly by bassist Jeff Walker - cribbed from medical textbooks ("Mucopurulence Excretor"). All this can be very silly or hard to stomach, depending on how seriously you take it, but - like fellow genre pioneers Death - they eventually embraced compositional complexity and top-notch musicianship while keeping their focus where it belongs: on carnage and mayhem.
The members went separate ways after breaking up in 1996, but came together in 2008 for a reunion tour with Daniel Erlandsson replacing Ken Owen, and an album in 2013.
Bill Steer, guitar, vocals; Jeffrey Walker, bass, vocals; Ken Owen, drums, vocals. Michael Amott joined, 1990. Amott left, 1993, replaced by Carlo Regadas. Group disbanded, 1996.
Reek Of Putrefaction (1988)
Cut in just four days, and you can really tell: it sounds like it was recorded inside a garbage can.
Most of the tracks clock in at under two minutes ("Festerday" is just twenty-two seconds)... I hesitate to call them "songs" because they have no evident structure, just menacing rhythm guitar, stuttering drums and lots of throat-clearing vocal emanations ("Carbonized Eye Sockets"). There are a couple of lead solos, on "Pungent Excruciation" and "Vomited Anal Tract," but they're rudimentary. So only a couple of cuts build up any momentum ("Fermenting Innards"; "Suppuration"), and the record is a good introduction to the early days of the genre but I sure don't recommend you actually listen to it. It's worth pointing out that they're one of the only death metal acts I've heard that has multiple vocalists, so at times they're grunting in harmony, sort of ("Feast On Dismembered Carnage").
Produced by the band and Paul Tabot.
Symphonies Of Sickness (1989)
This time the recording is clean enough that you can actually hear what's going on most of the time (the groovy "Ruptured In Purulence"; "Empathological Necroticism" is close to the bass-heavy vamps Sepultura later perfected).
The songs are still haphazard collections of licks, many of them lame ("Excoriating Abdominal Emanation"), but at least the tunes aren't over before they've begun ("Exhume To Consume").
Scarier still are the vocals, which make devastating use of high and low voices at the same time to create an atmosphere that's absolutely otherworldly and terrifying ("Crepitating Bowel Erosion").
And the first track shares its title with the previous album, scoring an "If You Want Blood You've Got It" point.
Produced with Colin Richardson.
Necroticism: Descanting The Insalubrious (1991)
New guitarist Michael Amott adds a range of new textures, adding elegant solos and fills that contrast compellingly with Steer's bashing.
The running times increase commensurately - only one track is under five minutes - which is good for some tunes ("Incarnated Solvent Abuse"), not so good for others (the seven-minute opener "Inpropagation").
The sections often aresn't assembled in a coherent manner ("Pedigree Butchery"), but wonderful moments like the slow interlude in "Corporal Jigsore Quandary" and the chugging middle of "Lavaging Expectorate of Lysergide Composition" point the way toward the next album's triumphs.
The vocals take a step backwards, though: the dual singing is mostly gone, the Cookie Monster impression never varies, and the growling becomes easy to dismiss rather than truly disconcerting.
Produced by Richardson.
Tools Of The Trade (1992)
A four-song EP, including "Incarnated Solvent Abuse" from the previous LP and remakes of a couple of earlier tunes.
By now the rhythm guitar lines are clearly articulated and melodic ("Buried Dreams"), and the songs often approximate verse-chorus-bridge norms, so much so that the band's goregrind past is left behind. There's rapid alternation between slow and fast sections, but unlike the earlier records here it makes musical sense ("Carnal Forge").
Even the song titles drop the fascination with medical nomenclature, though the preoccupation with death and decay continues ("This Mortal Coil").
As a result, the record stands as one of the earliest examples of melodic death metal, and to this day remains one of the best. The vamping and drumming are as menacing as the vocalizing (the stunning "No Love Lost"), and every tune is so solid it's hard to pick out favorites: I may be underrating this one.
After the success of the previous disc, the band got a major label deal, but ran into so many problems they were dropped before releasing anything, and decided to make this record their last.
Somewhere during that process Amott had quit to form Arch Enemy, and was replaced by Carlo Regadas.
The songs are shorter and snappier than before ("Black Star"), and apart from Steer's growled vocals they could practically be Judas Priest: the riffs are generally solid - "Childs Play"; "Room 101" - but uniformly unsurprising ("Firm Hand"). Also, at this point Steer's half-gasped vocals sound like Dave Mustaine's, which is not a step in the right direction.
The lyrics poke fun at their earlier proclivities ("Keep On Rotting In The Free World") - at least I think they're poking fun.
Wake Up And Smell The... Carcass (1996)
A generous odds 'n sods compilation, including a live BBC set featuring interim guitarist Mike Hickey ("Buried Dreams"), EP tracks and B-sides.
Five Swansong outtakes - "Ever Increasing Circles" - are more sinister than anything that ended up on Swansong - that wasn't Columbia's doing as that record ultimately came out on Earache, so I can't explain why that is. (Though the Columbia experience may have inspired the throbbing "I Told You So (Corporate Rock Really Does Suck).")
There's some redundancy - two each of "Edge Of Darkness" (the studio take is good, but the BBC version's astounding), "Rot N Roll" and "Hepatic Tissue Fermentation" - but that's inevitable in such a comprehensive collection.
Barbed Wire Soul (Blackstar: 1997)
Basically this is Carcass without Steer: Walker, Owen and Regadas, plus their former roadie Mark Griffiths on guitar. Strangely, though, the approach is blues-metal, more or less like Load-era Metallica ("Rock & Roll Circus"), without any of the growling, multi-part structure, or splatter themes of their previous band. It ends up sounding oddly like Amott's side project Spiritual Beggars, only even less interesting ("Game Over") and with weaker lyrics ("Better The Devil"). "New Song" is fun, though, standard Scorpions-style heavy metal with vituperative post-punk vocals. A horn section blows on "Waste Of Space" in such a clichéd arrangement it sounds like a parody. Wait, maybe the whole record's a parody.
Let me get back to you about this.
Firebird (Firebird: 2000)
Steer shifted gears as well, forming a Cream-y blues-rock trio with bassist Leo Smee and Spiritual Beggars drummer Ludwig Witt. It's well done - most tunes are built on solid licks ("Torn Down"), the jamming doesn't get out of control, and the players are spot-on - but the territory is so well covered I don't recommending searching it out, apart from the lovely closer "Through The Fields."
Deluxe (Firebird: 2001)
No. 3 (Firebird: 2003)
At this point Smee and Witt were replaced by Roger Nilsson (also from Spiritual Beggars) and George Atlagic. (DBW)
Hot Wings (Firebird: 2006)
Witt returned; Nilsson was replaced by Harry Armstrong. (DBW)
Grand Union (Firebird: 2009)
Includes covers of James Taylor and Humble Pie tunes. (DBW)
Double Diamond (Firebird: 2010)
Surgical Steel (2013)
A reunion record, minus Amott (who had returned for the 2008 tour) and Erlandsson, plus drummer Daniel Wilding. (New guitarist Ben Ash joined after recording was completed.) Putting a band back together after such a long layoff, particularly when they haven't made much impact in interim endeavors, is usually a recipe for mediocrity if not disaster, so it's a welcome surprise that the compositions and performances are right near their early 90s peak ("316L Grade Surgical Steel") - both tunefulness and aggression are cranked way up, which is precisely what I love about melodic death metal.
Steer has no trouble handling all the guitar parts, from winding harmonies ("The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills") and mellow interludes ("Mount Of Execution") to crunching riffs ("The Master Butcher's Apron"; "A Congealed Clot Of Blood") and high-flying solos ("Unfit For Human Consumption"). The one weak link is "Captive Bolt Pistol," which borrows excessively from "Auld Lang Syne."
Produced by Richardson; some versions of the album have a bonus track - "Intensive Battery Brooding" - which I haven't heard.
Wilson & Alroy descant the insalubrious. Seriously. Look it up.