In a little under a decade, Carcass did almost everything a band could possibly do with death metal without having to stop calling it death metal. They did grindcore. They did deathgrind. They infused classic death metal with groove, melody and arena-sized ambition, and eventually alt-rock-leaning immediacy with 1996’s Swansong, just as the band came to a close for 11 years. The album seemed to close the group’s tenure on its shakiest ground—any band responsible for Heartwork, Necroticism and Symphonies of Sickness wouldn’t necessarily have to worry about their legacy, but neither fans nor the group found it a particularly satisfying end, Carcass guitarist Bill Steer later reflecting that it sounded like a “band on the decline.” Which made their eventual return on 2013’s Surgical Steel—the album Steer has also named his favorite in their catalog—an act of redemption, presenting an airtight reminder of the kind of death metal triumphs of which they’re capable when firing on all cylinders.
Carcass didn’t really have to prove anything to anyone with Surgical Steel, not really, but they did it anyway, and it remains one of metal’s peak moments in the past couple of decades. Eight years later, they definitely don’t have anything left to prove. Their place in the death metal pantheon is solidified and their grotesque album art, medical journal song titles and razor’s edge dual-lead guitar riffs are all fit to be cast in bronze. That they went ahead and recorded an album like Torn Arteries, an encore performance of hook-laden death metal mayhem arriving almost a decade later, almost feels a little like showing off.
It’s no slight to Carcass to say that few moments here will come as a dramatic surprise to listeners. No deep-purplish Opeth-style prog forays, no Cynic-like fusion freakouts, none of whatever Morbid Angel was doing on Illud Divinum Insanus. (Though there are some keyboards played by Candlemass’ Per Wiberg, so that part is a little surprising.) These are lean, streamlined acts of heavy metal rendered with precision and clarity, with dialed-in dynamics and airtight rhythms. And they sound incredible. The title track storms out of the gates with a cascade of Dan Wilding’s drum fills and surges into a Q*Bert pyramid of riffs, only to surge straightaway into the kind of gallop that remind you why listening to Carcass is so much damn fun in the first place.
Carcass aren’t so much playing the hits here as proving that few bands in death metal can write those hits like they can—and that they were the first band to actually make the idea of death metal “hits” sound not so absurd. The serpentine groove that drives “Dance of Ixtab” is as infectious as they get, employing swagger and restraint as much as they do full-frontal guitar assault. “Eleanor Rigor Mortis” is both a solid joke of a title and a choice moment in chug, while “The Devil Rides Out” invokes Heartwork‘s Maiden-like flair for both the dramatic and the melody-centric. That there’s actually a song here called “Wake Up and Smell the Carcass,” a phrase they also attached to their collection of non-album tracks, perhaps makes a stronger argument for Torn Arteries as a nostalgic encore, but at no point does it ever feel like the band is simply going through the motions. Perhaps they’re comfortable in the musical realm they’re already in rather than attempting to brave new worlds, but it sounds like they’re having a hell of a time doing it.
Torn Arteries is the first Carcass that doesn’t seem like a milestone of some sort—it’s merely an excellent Carcass album, and while that might dull the narrative, it also strips away a lot of unnecessary baggage. These are songs that simply rip for their own sake, a document of a band more than 30 years after their debut sounding as focused as ever without losing sight of the fact that what they do is really fun. They’ve reinvented themselves plenty of times; it’s good to hear them simply being a great death metal band.
Label: Nuclear Blast
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.