Carcass have been away a long time. I bought their debut from Groové Records when it came out a truly unfathomable 33 years ago, yet this is only their seventh. It arrived late last year when I was slammed with events, eight years after its immediate predecessor, Surgical Steel, and a quarter of a century on from the album before that, Swansong. No wonder their sound continues to evolve in these massive leaps between releases. They invented goregrind out of new cloth, helped to invent melodic death metal and helped pioneer what's become known as death 'n' roll. So what are they going to sound like on Torn Arteries?
I wondered that out loud when I reviewed Despicable, their highly varied EP from late 2020, with a view to figuring out how well a guide it would serve to this album. Only one of its songs reappears here, which is telling, and that's Under the Scalpel Blade, also released separately as a single. It's a heavy song, but not often a fast one. Daniel Wilding sets a slow groove on the drums, while Jeff Walker growls up a storm on vocals and Bill Steer plays along in Cathedral-esque fashion, a sort of energetic doom. It's certainly melodic death metal but it's also often clearly hard rock, which puts us right under that death 'n' roll label.
Now, death 'n' roll is one of those labels that isn't really a genre. Nobody seems to decide to form a death 'n' roll band so they can play death 'n' roll, even fewer than create djent bands so they can play djent. That's a technique incorporated into a wider sound. This is a direction, I think, taken by death metal bands who still like playing their particular brand of death metal but also wanting to bring more of a classic rock sound into that. I haven't seen anyone moving from hard rock to death as it's always the other way, but that direction is really at the core of this, I think.
Oddly, if this album is going to be remembered for pioneering anything, it's going to be the use of handclaps on the song In God We Trust, which are not remotely dominant and actually sound good but are completely unexpected on a Carcass album. Like many of the songs here, it starts out with a doomy intro, heavy but not fast, then picks up a gallop that's obviously metal but not something we'd call extreme until Walker's voice joins the fray. That's a death growl but an intelligible one, a deliverer of lyrics as much as a vocal instrument. Then, halfway, Steer solos in classic rock style, as those handclaps arrive to show their approval. I didn't join in, but I was there in spirit. Only a good deal later did I realise that they were hiding in plain sight during the intro to Dance of Ixtab too.
Naysayers crawled out of the woodwork after that, but there's no Reinheitsgebot to define what a death metal band can or can't include in their music and that sort of purity law is better left in the world of beer. More open minded listeners won't care. This is a good album and, like other Carcass albums, it's going to continually find itself reevaluated in light of what came next. I remember the general reaction to Reek of Putrefaction and to Heartwork, two now legendary albums that were unlike anything around them at the time, novelty that scares a lot of people.
So Carcass think the pacy death metal of Torn Arteries can coexist on an album with the handclaps of In God We Trust? I have no intention of arguing with them about that. What surprised me most here, especially after Despicable, was how consistent this seems. This isn't a band being torn in an array of directions by musicians who want to do different things. This is a band with common goals that happen to include the heavy riffing and galloping drums of Torn Arteries, the psychedelic '70s guitarwork in Dance of Ixtab, the thrashy intensity of Eleanor Rigor Mortis's bookends, a firm feel of lively doom underpinning Under the Scalpel Blade, the hard rock in the veins of The Devil Rides Out and so on.
I liked this on a first listen, but it felt a little awkward too. The more I listen, the better it gets and the more consistent it feels. These ingredients do go together, even if they initially seem jarring. I developed a taste for this recipe and wonder how well it'll travel. Carcass aren't inventing genres this time out, but they may be rejuvenating one and bringing it to a wider audience. How that will play out is back in the hands of time and we can only hazard a guess. For now, I'm thinking of Torn Arteries as a solid but far from groundbreaking death 'n' roll album. Let's see what I'll think of it a decade from now. I have a feeling I'll still be listening to it. I'm already wondering if I should up my 7/10 to an 8/10.