When I bought Carcass’ Swansong back in 1996 it was a strange period for the band and its fans. Major Label dalliances had ended badly, and it was less than enthusiastically received and widely acknowledged as the end of the road for the band. Whilst time and absence has softened, even changed the opinion of the British extreme metal’s pioneers troubled fifth album, there was definitely a sense of finality to the album and the idea that I would be talking about them some 25 years later in terms of new music would have seemed laughable.
That was laid to bed of course by the comeback Surgical Steel in 2013, a raging collection of eleven scalpel sharp tracks that revealed in the gore and Heartwork era glory days of the band, an album way better than they had any right to produce. After teasing their fanbase with Under The Scalpel Blade in 2019, the band would release the digital EP Despicable as a stop-gap to soften the blow of their seventh album Torn Arteries, named after a demo tape recorded by Ken Owen (founding member and now part time contributor) as a teenager, being put on hold due to the events of 2020.
Now, eight years since Surgical Steel it has finally arrived dripping with viscera and expectation. Straight out of the gate there has been a lot of talk in the build up to Torn Arteries about Carcass’ place in the metal landscape and this album being a drawing of the line on the old material and bringing the band into a new era. Surgical Steel, whilst being a welcome return to the ferocity of old was built largely on nostalgia, whereas Torn Arteries looks to establish the band as a continuing and relevant force in extreme music.
The title track starts off at 90mph with Daniel Wilding hammering the kit with rolling toms before the band unleash the trademark twin guitars and dirty sounding bass. Over the top Walker barks and snarls his vocals via lyrics that encompass the band’s signature mix of gore and humour. So far so Carcass. However, the band never settle for one minute on this album and the track evolves into a mixture of the classic thrashing style and a low-end groove laced chug. This dynamic tempo shift recalls the band at most terrifying, but also drops out into low key moments, seemingly to allow the listener to catch breath before setting off again with freefall savagery.
There is, among the signature sound, a definite Swansong vibe to many of the compositions. Jeff Walker has recently been quoted in the press as saying that he considers Carcass at least partly responsible for nu metal (in terms of the tuning, rather than DJs and rapping obviously) and whilst Swansong certainly had its detractors for the stripped down and more simplistic moments, here the band channel those same sonic events and twist them to augment the dualling guitar pyrotechnics, creating an ever evolving attack that can pull you in with hooks and then melt your face off with speed.
Torn Arteries looks to establish the band as a continuing and relevant force in extreme music…
If this is the new sound that the band have talked about, then it’s one that straddles the old and new worlds, updating their sound for a new audience and still satisfying the die hard’s. It doesn’t always work it should be said, epic length track Flesh Ripping Sonic Torment Limited almost contains too many ideas for it to be successful as the acoustic intro and the awesome solo are high points but gets a little lost somewhere in the middle.
Elsewhere though Dance Of Ixtab (Psychopomp & Circumstance March No. 1) uses that nu metal motif to fill out the track with chunkier riffs, a slower grooving stomp but then sets the whole thing alight with more incendiary lead work. In God We Trust directly calls back to the much maligned Keep On Rotting In The Free World with the humour in the lyrics and robust structure, but add in hand claps that surprisingly do not detract from the overall feel.
The new sound has not only propelled the band forward out of the rose tinted past, but it also truly embraces all of the past eras of Carcass and smashes them headlong into each other with venomous glee. Under The Scalpel Blade grinds and shrieks, whilst Eleanor Rigour Mortis is a short, feral shock of death metal that varies from breakneck, to mid paced with furious harmonies, all the while drenched in trademark Bill Steer fretwork. Kelly’s Meat Emporium and The Devil Rides Out are amped up death ‘n’ roll, as catchy as they are brutal.
Surgical Steel was a fantastic comeback album, one that reignited interest in the band after such an ignominious exit; delivering everything that fans of the band wanted, whilst showing whippersnappers that Carcass could still kill the old way, standing toe to toe with some of the heaviest bands around. Torn Arteries is a far more compelling proposition.
It’s an album that shows the band not content, after all these decades, to rest on their laurels or re-tread past glories as they’ve created something new and vital. Even the lyrics, still obsessed with the humour and gore of the past have a twist, a reborn life that has been cryptically broken up and placed out of context asking you to invest in this new era.
Carcass’ seventh album is already being declared their best since Heartwork and on the face of it, that is not a stretch of the imagination.
Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden