Carcass, ‘Surgical Steel’ – Album Review
Following a decade of inactivity, Carcass re-united in 2007 to bring their highly influential and pioneering extreme metal back to the stage. Naturally, when a classic band re-forms, fans are either eager or terrified that the band will release new music and risk tarnishing their legacy. Carcass didn’t exactly go out on a high note with ‘Swansong’ and felt the time was right to release an album their fans wanted and expected. With guitarist Michael Amott out of the picture, Jeff Walker and Bill Steer began writing what became ‘Surgical Steel.’
The band has called this album the missing link between the seminal ‘Nectroticism- Descanting the Insalubrious’ and the melody-driven ‘Heartwork.’ For the most part, this sentiment is accurate. ‘Surgical Steel’ spends a lot of its time bouncing around between some of the edgier songs that beckon the earlier days, while others lean heavily towards the styles laid down on ‘Heartwork’ and even the brighter moments off ‘Swansong.’ Despite the difference in styles, Carcass stitch them together rather well at times.
‘Cadaver Pouch Conveyor System’ is the epitome of the missing link tag, sporting infectious melodies and gritty rhythm work. It is no doubt that Steer’s time spent playing live with the cult NWOBHM act Angel Witch has influenced his writing for the better. The melodies here and especially on ‘The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills,’ which opens with a Slayer-esque riff, sound like they easily could have been on an Iron Maiden record in 1983. The leads are playful, yet retain just enough of that Carcass bite as to not egregiously stand out, to whom drummer Daniel Wilding can be given the credit for.
The front portion of the disc is loaded with the heaviest aspects of the album, like the aforementioned ‘Cadaver Pouch Conveyor System,’ along with two of the most visceral cuts on ‘Surgical Steel’ -- ‘A Congealed Clot of Blood’ and ‘The Master Butcher’s Apron.’ Both of these songs sound like they could have been off ‘Necroticism’ with those hulking mid-tempo riffs that weave their way into your ears and can cause violent physical reactions. Towards the end of the album, we are treated to another one of the heavier, albeit straightforward, songs ‘Captive Bolt Pistol.’ This track has some fluttering palm-muted fret-frenzy after another spectacular solo section, which is certainly a highlight.
The second half of the comeback record is dominated by melody, which should come as no surprise given the band’s landmark release ‘Heartwork.’ Also on display, is the head-on traditional metal rhythm riffing that is heard on the maligned ‘Swansong.’ The track ‘Noncompliance to ASTM F 899-12 Standard’ opens with a lead that could have been off the band’s original farewell record, but soon breaks free into a heavier lead, which is then usurped in favor of fairy generic rhythm riffing. This disjointed nature is what plagues a good deal of this album, though it comes together in some songs more than others.
Things are capped off with the eight-and-a-half-minute ‘Mount of Execution,’ a song that borrows a tad from Megadeth’s early ‘90s rhythm riffing faire. This song sounds like a traditional metal song with Walker’s ever-vicious snarl giving it some menace. The song seemingly ends and on a nice bit, but a drum fill interrupts the momentary silence for a melodic groove that goes on for two minutes, and two minutes too long.
‘Surgical Steel’ is an album of ups and down, with the ups being far higher than the lows of the downs. Bill Steer’s signature guitar tone utilizes punch and clarity without sacrificing any heaviness and crunch. In an age where extreme metal albums are overproduced by the truckload, producer Andy Sneap captured the essence of Carcass masterfully as the band paid tribute to two radically different writing styles that they’ve pioneered since forming the band in 1985. ‘Surgical Steel’ has something for almost every Carcass fan, seeing those on team ‘Necroticism’ and those on team ‘Heartwork’ meet at a crossroad.