Carcass – Torn Arteries


Few bands have the distinction of inventing two sub-genres of metal, but gore-grind and melodic death metal owe their origins to the pioneering sounds of Carcass. The legendary debut from the Merseyside metal gods is a “musical abortion” (to quote vocalist and bassist, Jeff Walker) and their 1989 follow-up, Symphonies of Sickness, still has imitators to this day in Europe. 1991’s Necroticism won the most important album of the 1990s survey by Terrorizer magazine, and we all know what happened when the band released their 1993 masterpiece, Heartwork – or at least every metal musician in Scandinavia does. Feelings were trepidatious when they returned with 2013’s Surgical Steel, but they exceeded expectations and gave the fanbase Heartwork, Part II. Every important magazine and institution had it in their albums of the decade for the 2010s. Now, eight years later, the boys are ready with opus number seven, and a whole new generation of Metallica fans are waiting to discover them. But what about the fanbase that yearn for the early days when Carcass were the most extreme band in the world?

Album opener, ‘Torn Arteries’, should go a long way to appease all sections of the fanbase (except those lunatics that only like 1987’s Reek of Putrefaction) with its masterful execution of technical death-thrash and some of the most gruesome growls from Jeff Walker since Symphonies of Sickness. Listen to the rapid four-minute panzer attack for a second time, and you’ll admire how Dan Wilding switches between thrash skank beats and brief grindcore blasting. Everything you want from a post-1991 Carcass song is here – the scale-shredding riffs, the vintage pentatonic soloing, the fast palm-muting technique. You can even hear Walker’s bass in the mix. Kreator were doing this back in 1990 with their Coma of Souls LP, but it’s a sound we know and identify with the Liverpudlians.

They might have started as a band that eschewed metal cliches, but the Manowar drum beat at the beginning of ‘Dance of Ixtab’ will alarm some. Have Carcass turned into a stadium death metal act? Only the exquisite guitar solo and Jeff’s macabre vocals keep this in the death metal camp, while ‘Eleanor Rigor Mortis’ is a thrash metal number that references their Liverpool roots with a nod to the more famous song from The Beatles (‘Eleanor Rigby’). It’s the first chugging mid-tempo number and one that will delight a live audience. We can get a feel for the album at this point, and one observation becomes apparent – this is not Surgical Steel. The guitar tone is sludgy and the mix a lot rougher than its predecessor album.

The best way to assess Torn Arteries is to ask the question, “Does this LP become tedious at any point?” Your answer should be “no”. ‘Under the Scalpel Blade’ has been doing the rounds for two years and appeared on 2020’s Despicable EP. Here it stands out as a technical masterpiece that incorporates all eras of the band and still sounds as terrifying as it did when Decibel magazine premiered it in 2019. ‘The Devil Rides Out’ is Carcass indulging the same passion for classic rock as Megadeth and comes with sinister backing vocals to satisfy the morbid listener’s savage tastes. Bill Steer’s magnificent guitar work makes him the most mesmerising performer in the industry – he’s that good.

As a group that enjoy taking risks, Carcass are subtle here with their creative-destructive tendencies. Only the nine-minute prog-metal of ‘Flesh Ripping Sonic Torment Limited’ leaves you scratching your head, and that’s because it starts with nimble folk guitars and races through four colossal riffs before we even reach the three-minute mark. The bizarre shred pattern buried among the carnage is like a Yngwie Malmsteen version of the guitar harmony from Thin Lizzy’s ‘Whiskey in the Jar’. After two more detours via death-doom and a slow passage of Pink Floyd soloing, they end it with a Black Sabbath interpretation of death metal and a warning that “The circus of death is approaching…” It needed to be a special song to justify its running time, and it delivers.

In fact, the question of whether Carcass have turned into a prog metal band is as urgent as the consideration that they may be aiming for stadium death metal status on Torn Arteries. ‘Wake Up and Smell the Carcass/ Caveat Emptor’ is a shameless – but exhilarating – attempt to rouse a Wacken crowd into a chant of the song title with a Led Zeppelin hook soaked in sludge and primed for the thrash frenzy that follows. It will surprise you as much as the Dream Theater melody and solo looming through ‘In God We Trust’, not to mention the tambourine. Er… What the fuck? Maybe they’re now a progressive death metal band, if we’re to use the 1970s understanding of progressive. Edge of Sanity and Opeth fans will lap it up.

There’s no doubt Carcass are peerless in the death metal genre, but they’re also in danger of losing touch with it as they move towards a mainstream heavy metal sound that nobody could have foreseen in 1991. Torn Arteries is a guitar masterpiece, but you’ll hear few artists copy this chapter of the band’s discography in the years to come when they have the first four albums to feast on. Yet, like the new Gojira record, you’ll find little to dislike and plenty to feast on. The more you spin it, the more satisfaction it brings.

Let nobody tell you this is a safe record – it’s another attempt to evolve and deserves our respect, even if it misses the stupendous brilliance of their earlier LPs by a whisker. Most artists would be honoured to have a record like this in their repertoire, but Carcass are not most bands.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 17/09/2021

Record Label: Nuclear Blast

Standout tracks: Torn Arteries, Under the Scalpel Blade, Flesh Ripping Sonic Torment Limited

Suggested Further Listening: Voidgazer – Dance of the Undesirables (2021), Entombed – Wolverine Blues (1993), Edge of Sanity – Crimson (1996)