CARCASS – Torn Arteries

CARCASS – Torn Arteries

I don’t care what they say: the British legend Carcass did not reunite just to cash in on the past as one of the most influential bands in death/grind and melodeath and the 2013 "Surgical Steel" proved it while the best track off of the triumphant comeback, "316 L Grade" provided an idea for my personal password for the next several years and not just because the founding vocalist/bassist Jeffrey Walker and I were both going through separations and divorces at the time which the song pertains to. The album was a tremendous return to form, which many felt they had lost on the appropriately and purposely named "Swansong" (1996) album. The last year’s EP "Despicable" only reinforced the fact that Carcass was stronger than ever, but it only hinted at what William Geoffrey "Bill" Steer (guitar, vocals), Walker, Daniel Wilding (drums) and Tom Draper (guitars) present on "Torn Arteries", easily their best album since the 1991 legendary landmark "Necrotiscism: Descanting The Insalubrious", with every aspect of their sound intact and reinforced while freely and comfortably incorporating elements of other, even seemingly incompatible, genres into what Carcass is all about, while simultaneously satisfying for fans of any era of their 24 year history.

This is the place where I usually briefly refer to the reviewed band’s history to set up a context for the latest release but, in Carcass’ case it is essential for another reason: the references to their past on "Torn Arteries" are all over the place. In fact, the very album title comes from the old demo created by the founding drummer, Kenneth Malcolm Owen, in the 80s and the opening title track on this, their 7th album, stylistically is very 80s sounding, one of the most vicious songs in their history, as if to match its origin. Following the demo, Carcass, at the time consisting of two more members, Walker and Steer, debuted with "Flesh Ripping Sonic Torment" demo (1987), which is almost verbatim the title of the longest track on "Torn Arteries", the progressive
"Flesh Ripping Sonic Torment LIMITED". The first two albums, "Reek Of Putrefaction" (1988) and "Symphonies Of Sickness" (1989) are considered classics of the death/grind genre and it is on the latter that Carcass started cautiously experimenting with melody which culminated on their arguably magnum opus, "Necrotiscism: Descanting The Insalubrious" (bolstered by the 1990 addition of the phenomenal guitarist Michael Ammot), heavily inspired by Death’s "Human" which I’d consider the first melodeath album were it not for the fact that it was also stupifyingly technical and brutal.

As for Carcass, they really surprised fans with a more polished and elegant but still fantastic "Heartwork" (1993) which later served as a starting point for brothers Amott’s (Michael and Chris) off-shoot Arch Enemy, Michael having departed from Carcass before anyone even started thinking about writing another album. With the benefit of hindsight we can surmise he had been advised of the drastic change of direction or perhaps he later departed because he wanted to pursue the melodeath path as evident on Arch Enemy’s debut album, "Black Earth" (1996). In any case, he was replaced by Michael Hickey with the latter addition of Carlo Regadas for the recording of the final Carcass album, "Swansong" which saw them experiment with heavy metal and hard rock with much less death metal. The album was a disappointment to many fans even though quality wise it was very good. Consequently, the band broke up, Walker and Regadas forming Blackstar (after one of the songs on "Swansong"), Steer later forming Firebird. It seemed Carcass was dead and gone but not before Earache Records released a compilation "Wake Up And Smell…The Carcass", which is, again, the title for one of the songs on "Torn Arteries", also much progressive "Wake Up And Smell The Carcass/Caveat Emptor" (the added part Latin for: let the buyer beware).

For the next 11 years there were, to use the Biblical veneer, wars and rumors of wars, kept a fresh by a compilation here and there then finally the band cautiously reunited for live performances as Walker, Steer, Amott (still in Arch Enemy) and Arch Enemy’s Daniel Erlandsson (still in Arch Enemy) on drums. Expectations were high with talks of a comeback album and then both Arch Enemy members left Carcass replaced by Benjamin James Ash on guitar and Daniel Wilding on drums just in time for the recording of "Surgical Steel". The album fully restored the band to fan grace, although, in my view, they had never recorded a bad album. Five years later Ash left and was permanently replaced by Pounder’s Tom Draper, and that lineup persists to date. Carcass was, however, not eager to record another album. Time post-reunion album was spent touring and releasing endless box sets and compilations while fan frustrations and fears were growing every year without new material. Finally, in 2019, the metal world heard the fantastic "Under The Scalpel Blade" single along with the promise of a new EP, "Despicable" on the way to a new album. The EP was simply breathtaking and really whetted appetites for the album.

Well, "Torn Arteries" was worth waiting 8 years for. As good as its predecessor was, something was missing from it and that something is here in spades. It could be the undeniable "Heartwork" charm of the pilot single or the Testamentian thrasher "The Devil Rides Out" with a tongue-in-cheek review of the Prince Of Darkness, or the astonishingly progressive over 9 minute "Flesh Ripping Sonic Torment Limited" with a palpable early Machine Headian groove, or the fact that 6/10 tracks easily deserve 6/6 score with the impossible task to pick a favorite among them. Perhaps the appeal can be found in the "Eleanor Rigor Mortis" stylings echoying "Carneous Cacoffiny" (from "Necrotiscism") or the fabulous "Heartwork" (again) transition in "In God We Trust" or its fantastic opening. Speaking of great openings, might we be hearing Slayer’s "Criminally Insane" in "Kelly’s Meat Emporium" which is littered with symphonic death metal leads done exclusively on guitar and a shocking clapping effect in a hooky transition, or is that Martin Adam Friedman (ex-Megadeth) guest soloing abundantly on the thrashy "Wake Up And Smell The…"? Perhaps it is also the fact that the groovy "Dance Of Ixtab (Psychopomp & Circumstance March No. 1 In B)" is simultaneously one of the most non-Carcass and most Carcass-typical songs on the album while wildly creative, or the undeniable spirit of Death’s Charles Michael Schuldiner, especially on "Eleanor…" or "The Scythe’s Remorseless Swing"? No, I think I got it. I mean, It’s all of the above but none more important than the fact that Carcass is never NOT catchy on "Torn Arteries", be it in the grinding death, thrash or progressive moments or when they open the closing "…Swing" with a riff shockingly akin to Collective Soul’s "Shine" and close it with a fantastic melodic chorus twice repeated and thrice effectively slowed down, "Torn Arteries" is like a musical quicksand that won’t let go of you until the final buzzing of the corpse flies.

With such magnifiscent display of creative ability on "Torn Arteries" should we be even talking about flaws? After all, since I place this album as second in their discography there has to be something that makes it inferior to "Necrotiscism". After thinking long and hard and with the benefit of four applications I have to say that one thing which strikes me the most is the clinical control excercised on this album akin to "Heartwork". At times, it seems as though different parts were carefully, meticulously put together instead of creatively exploding in magnifiscent succession of the 1991 masterpiece. Then there’s this 90s death climate that cannot be replicated. This could well be taken care of on the next album and (hopefully) subsequent releases but, for now, let these be our only gripes.

Coming from the complexity of "Necrotiscism" through catchiness of "Heartwork" and creativity of "Swansong" with a copious thoughtful dashes of their more ancient work, with a powerful and meaty, crystaline yet somewhat murky production a perfect mix, "Torn Arteries" is a near-masterpiece we’ve waited for over 30 years. Here’s to hope that all these throwbacks to the past are not indicative of the band’s intention to call it quits again because it is a very rare thing for a band to swing back the scythe with such force and creativity after so many years of inactivity or dormancy while technically active. I’m so glad it’ll effectively shut up those voices I was concerned about in the start of my review because "Torn Arteries" will definately find itself somewhere in the higher echelons of my end year’s best list and I am convinced, once you familiarize yourself with this material, you’ll enthusiastically concur.