Why two lineages of heavy metal acts have misinterpreted Carcass' lessons | Music Feature | Indy Week
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Why two lineages of heavy metal acts have misinterpreted Carcass' lessons 

Your autopsy awaits: Carcass

Photo by Adrian Erlandsson

Your autopsy awaits: Carcass

Oh, the woe of influencing anyone else. To look out at the world, to listen and hear that the music you've made has inspired someone should be beautiful and affirming, a sign that you created a new avenue of expression, right?

But most bands consist of derivative bores and slavish sycophants, and for all of its tough-ass talk, heavy metal is no exception to that rule. This is the cursed blessing that haunts British death metal heroes Carcass.

Understanding the Carcass conundrum means first comprehending their timeline: Their late '80s origins, the albums Reek of Putrefaction and Symphonies of Sickness, consist of sloppy rumblings and bloody, chunky word salads. (There's definitely an eye in that Caesar.) Live, they still acknowledge that material, but they've grown more obsessed with precision and sheen. By 1991's Necroticism - Descanting the Insalubrious, they had matured into something sharper and more agile, thanks to the help of new lead guitarist Michael Amott. With that album and 1993's Heartwork, generally considered their best work, Carcass helped usher in melodic death metal by stitching the two fixtures of their youth—Iron Maiden and grindcore—into one mean beast.

Heartwork showed more emotional and lyrical diversity, too, demonstrating that death metal fans could be romantics, thanks to "No Love Lost," and "Buried Dreams," which they often use to open shows. That material speaks more to the existential dread of life that death alleviates, not some sweet, poetic release romanticized by their peers. Carcass hinted at this piss-take on life with Putrefaction and Sickness; as they aged, the perspective became clearer and, like their music itself, more defined.

Carcass remained inactive between 1995 and 2007, due in part to the lackluster reception of Swansong. That record aimed a little too squarely for commercial acceptance while hedging its cred with strong political anthems like "Keep On Rotting in the Free World" and "R**k the Vote." And then, in 1999, original drummer Ken Owen suffered a stroke and was left unable to play drums.

When Carcass reconvened almost a decade later, they did so only with Owen's blessing. He even added backing vocals to "Thrasher's Abattoir" and "Unfit for Human Consumption," songs from last year's comeback, Surgical Steel.

That album followed largely in the path of Carcass' '90s albums, gleaning the medical fascination of Necroticism and the melodic angle of Heartwork. More important, it proved the band still had vitality and were actually worth having around again.

The reminder was welcome, too, because Carcass have inspired an inordinate amount of dreck, and the noise had started to overwhelm the original signal. Carcass have been immensely important to two different sets of bands, united by just how much they both missed the mark.

First, you have legions of goregrind bands that stole wholesale from those earliest albums. There is charm to those records, but their continued relevance draws in part from the fact that Carcass got there first by fumbling and morbid curiosity.

Most gorehounds now focus on being as tastelessly "shocking" as possible or getting baked while watching the same horror flicks on repeat. While Carcass made zero reservations for over-the-top imagery on their first two albums, their rhetoric also depended in part on the ideologies of vocalist/bassist Jeff Walker and guitarist Bill Steer, both vegetarians. Sorry, overgrown grindcore kids: Formless playing is pretty easy and often fun to replicate, convictions not as much.

The smarter, melodic side of Carcass also birthed more than its share of also-rans. Though Carcass weren't Swedish, they sounded a lot like the Swedes of At The Gates and In Flames. All told, those acts helped power the metalcore craze that defined popular American metal during the mid-to-late '00s, for better and (mostly) worse. That stuff became fodder for cable heavy metal video shows and tours propped up by energy drinks.

Though the likes of Shadows Fall and Darkest Hour may be why a new generation cares about Carcass in 2014, they missed the big picture. Sure, those bands had the guitar parts down, but Carcass' sense of humor, ear for catchiness and lyrical diversity were either lost in translation or too complex for those dullards to handle.

One member of this wretched progeny, The Black Dahlia Murder, opened for Carcass on this year's Decibel-sponsored tour with Gorguts and Noisem. They were meant to bring the kids out, I suppose, and it worked to Carcass' end by driving sales to shows. But, I wonder, were Walker and Steer really feeling them? Not only had they done this stuff better. They wrote the manual on how to do it.

Do you ever wonder why death metal fans love zombie movies so much? I think it's because so few of us know when to let things die a proper death, and I blame the bands for part of that. We crave for them to reanimate themselves to play festivals and fruitless reunion tours, and we buy the second-rate albums and see the third-run shows.

For every Carcass, which took the break it needed, there are two Broken Hopes, acts who wheel themselves out to play half-hearted sets, too dumb to realize they should try to do something different or at least lead a peaceful afterlife. Slayer's mere existence is controversial because Jeff Hanneman and Dave Lombardo are gone—one by death, the other by financial disputes.

At least Carcass understands that sometimes you have to let things go before you become zombies, too. Now, if only other bands would do the same with the carcass of Carcass' catalog.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Human waste"

  • What hath Carcass wrought?

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