Every time I listen to Carcass, they surprise me and that fact has held true for over thirty years now. I can't imagine that my seventeen year old self, listening to Reek of Putrefaction in my rural Yorkshire bedroom in 1988, would believe that the almost fifty year old me would find himself reviewing a new Carcass release on a different continent at the tail end of 2020. The goregrind genre that they created on that album blew me away and I probably played that album more than the first two Napalm Death releases, but it didn't seem like a genre that could last. But hey, what did I know?
Fast forward over three decades and Carcass have seriously evolved. They didn't just create goregrind, they also helped to create melodic death metal and the various band members have explored a broad swathe of the musical map with other bands and other projects. In turn, that's informed more change within Carcass's sound, enough that I had to stop this after the opening track, The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue, and start it again. This isn't patchwork music like Mr. Bungle, but there's a heck of a lot to unpack from this song.
It starts out as relatively standard melodic death, with gorgeous guitar tones and growling vocals. A couple of minutes in, it adds some serious urgency and pace. Another half a minute and those guitars are alternately launching into speed metal and stopping on a dime for an almost hard rock section. I recently described Dark Tranquillity as becoming the Eagles of melodic death metal, because the new album is so smooth. This refuses to be mainstream, even as it's channelling seventies hard rock.
Talking of hard rock, The Long and Winding Bier Road is a hard rock song in melodic death clothing, with a bouncy core riff that reminds as much of Thin Lizzy as it does extreme metal and slow and fluid harmonic solos that are like Dave Murray at half speed. Under the Scalpel Blade chugs along nicely in a fashion that sometimes feels like sped up doom. Daniel Wilding provides an oddly upbeat rhythm and the guitars play along with a perky sort of melancholy. I heard a lot of Cathedral on Slaughtered in Soho, merely with a very different vocal style.
All this feels inherently contradictory but it sounds damn good. It's commercial but it requires us to pay attention. It's doomy but it's upbeat. It's all over the place musically but it's incredibly tight. It's surprisingly slow except when it's goddamn fast. It's extreme metal but it's often just hard rock with a filter on it. And, while there are so many points that sound like this band or that band, the entirety is as unlike anything I've ever heard as Reek of Putrefaction was in 1987. I couldn't stop listening, to the point that I had difficulty doing anything else at the same time.
Carcass have a new album coming out in January, called Torn Arteries, their first since 2013's Surgical Steel and that came seventeen years after its predecessor, Swansong, in 1996, so they're hardly prolific. Then again, they did take an eleven year break. This four track EP may or may not be a taster for what we'll hear next month, because I believe that none of these songs will appear on it. They're clearly of sufficient quality, so are they stylistically different? I have no idea but I'm eager to find out. For now, this is fascinating stuff.