What time is it? It’s motherfucking Carcass time, people. If you’re anything like me, you felt cheated by their “final” album Swansong back in ’96, and the legions of Heartwork-inspired posers failed miserably to fill the void. You may have given up hope on any kind of closure, until the band’s return to live work in 2007. Since then, it’s been a waiting game, a simple “will they or won’t they” concerning new music. And now, after a 17-year wait, the answer comes in the form of the brilliantly-titled Surgical Steel, one of the most impressive comeback records in metal history.
After the classic-metal intro “1985,” Carcass immediately begin kicking you in the gonads with the self-explanatory “Thrasher’s Abbatoir.” Then, on “Cadaver Pouch Conveyer System,” everything finally comes together — the harmony guitars, the blast beats, the ridiculously academic lyrics. It’s the first true “fuck yeah” moment from an album that has an absurdly high concentration of them.
If the song titles are any indication, vocalist Jeff Walker has avoided the band’s legendary medically-inspired lyrics, writing instead about animal rights issues with an approach that is every bit as technical, disconnected, and gory. Carcass always had a subtle pro-animal/vegetarian slant, but a song titled “Captive Bolt Pistol” leaves little room for interpretation (Google it). Cattle Decapitation, eat your heart out. Original drummer Ken Owen may be sidelined, but new guy Dan Wilding does a fantastic job behind the kit. He is able to channel the key elements of his predecessor’s style, although with a slightly more technical approach at times (see: “The Master Butcher’s Apron”). And for what it’s worth, Owen himself makes a guest appearance on vocals. A nice touch.
I’d also like to say a few words about one of my favorite human beings: the prettiest man in death metal, Mr. William G. Steer. Everything great about Carcass‘ guitar style is taken to a whole new level here — the first 60 seconds of “Non Compliance to ASTM F 899-12 Standard,” for instance, contain several of the coolest things they’ve ever done. The riffs that anchor these songs are both catchy and vicious, and Steer’s lead work is even tastier than it was back in the ’90s. Even when he busts out the acoustic guitar for epic closer “Mount of Execution,” it doesn’t seem ballady or out of place. This record is a concentrated dose of everything that makes Bill Steer awesome, and listening to it will ruin you for other metal guitarists forever. If you were concerned that he lost his edge, or that Mike Amott was necessary to the equation in any way, rest assured that this is not the case. (And yes, Steer does handle some vocals as well. Kick ass.)
Against impossible odds, Surgical Steel is somehow about as good as Heartwork or Necroticism. It kicks the living shit out of 1996’s Swansong and it makes the last 15 years of imitators laughably obsolete. Fans of Carcass‘ earlier, grindier years will find little to enjoy here, but they can fuck off (or listen to General Surgery). I typically have little faith in “comeback” albums, and I was fully prepared for this album to take a hot steamy dump all over the legacy of one of my favorite bands. But somehow, Surgical Steel capably channels the classic Carcass sound and upgrades it for modern-day warfare. Walker and Steer have mentioned in recent interviews that their only goals were to match previous career highs Necroticism and Heartwork, and to reclaim their sound from their many imitators. Mission fucking accomplished, gentlemen.