CARCASS – Torn Arteries (2021)REVIEW

The first and most vital observation one should make in view of the invention and definition of extreme metal in the mid-to-late 1980’s is that very little of it were created by formula or force, the troupes of young kids tearing up clubs the world over had no certain leadership or templated guideposts to swing from, they offered themselves as an exciting blend of competition, community and above all else, goddamned commotion. The few bands that’d break above the underground by the early 90’s often arrived there naïve and without much of a plan only to be exploited, coddled into heavy rock trend-makers, and chucked out of the grinder once the commercial death metal angle had clogged the pipeline to shit. More importantly, most of these bands navigated their way forward into reputable legacy by way hard work and with a strong drive to stand out, a need to set themselves apart and become anything but the cynical trash they’d been rebelling against in the first place. Liverpool-borne death metal/grindcore quartet Carcass are a vital part of this era specific narrative, earning their own ‘legacy’ status in midst of hardcore punk’s nuclear underground mutation in the mid-80’s by shaping this fresh and amorphous artform to their own outlandish, truly extreme ideals.

Grotesque cassette campaigns and a trio of classic gore-grinding death metal releases soon spread influence to every corner of the planet and with the hindsight of internet-assisted clarity, we now see Carcass‘ imprint upon every generation of grindcore, death metal, and extreme punk music created beyond that point. Their technique, timbre, and shocking (to some) aesthetics still speak their same simple truths of spectacular splatter, post-industrialist dystopia, and eh cheeky subversion. That said, you don’t likely recognize, know and perhaps love Carcass today because they showed you your first dead body, thrilled you with medical terminology word collages, sold a million records, or whatever else we could tout these fellowes for — You know ’em because they turned around mid-career and re-sold classic heavy metal songcraft to the public just as the original wave of underground death metal music had failed to produce any sort of catchy, memorable musicality. Of course I am largely referring to the iconic ‘Heartwork’ (1993) era, a best-selling stadium sized “heavy metal” response to the breakthrough of ‘Necroticism: Descanting the Insalubrious’ (1991). Punks in their mid 20’s whipping out god-sized guitar tone, uniquely set grooves, and fiery rock guitar solos all the while blasting and growling like they’d always done, this wasn’t the first melodic death metal action ever put to tape but certainly the best remembered nuke upon the nascent sub-genre. I still love it, they’re still doing it beyond their reformation in 2007, and you’re getting nothing less than fan service here on their seventh full-length, ‘Torn Arteries‘. Is that all there is to it, then? No, but yeah, but no.

There is no getting around my own nostalgic bias here and that may, in fact, be the point to some degree. ‘Heartwork’ (along with ‘Enemy of the Sun’) was key inspiration for my initial break out of “scene” tunnel vision in the mid 90’s, inspiring exploratory taste rather than attempting to define my ‘self’ via tirades and deep dives into hyper-specific interests which I’d previously seen as incompatible realities. The revelation itself had more to do with remaining flexibly angled towards all interests and artforms and not defined by them, but you get the idea that a general paradigm shift came alongside the emergence of melodic death metal. In practicum, I sat with that damn CD for at least four hours a day throughout the summer of 1994 and committed it to memory. The main riff to “Buried Dreams” was the first thing I hit when bought a seven string guitar a few years later, finally able to baritone tune and chunk it out. There is nothing I could do short of a lobotomy to erase the imprint upon my mind, not only the indoctrination but later the recognition that these were fun and emboldening tones to work with in hand. I’m not alone in this nostalgia, of course, but why all of the ‘Heartwork’ talk up front? As I’d suggested in a short review of their 2020 EP, ‘Despicable‘, Carcass are not above a bit of self-referential fan service as a preferable route to todays overtly referential heavy music spectrum. If everything has already been done and the fanbase is generationally split, hey, be the best Carcass-assed Carcass today and the result will work itself out. My thoughts are pretty decisive here: More of this is a great time and I’m a longtime fan of everything they’ve put out, even most of ‘Swansong’ and eh, a couple of songs off that strange death n’ roll record as Blackstar. If I’ve got to be a finnicky thirty-something piece of shit, sure, I won’t go as far as saying they’ve blown my mind with ‘Torn Arteries’ but the pleasure of listening is there and the lasting value presented here comes a bit later when we’ve time to dig into the details.

Fresh carcass for rotting vegetables. Right off the bat the title track/opener “Torn Arteries” is speaking to the semi-technical elevation of ‘Surgical Steel‘ (2015) by way of drummer Daniel Wilding (ex-Aborted) who has an even more serious handle upon the right amount of flash and fuckin’ groovy physicality that Ken Owens had brought first on ‘Necroticism: Descanting the Insalubrious’. This makes for a thrilling opener that isn’t afraid to give a raw, gravel-dusted slap of early 90’s Carcass nostalgia across the face with what we could describe as their own brand of melody-mindful and tastefully chainsaw’d death metal. The angular uplift of the major riff around ~1:10 minutes is unmistakably prime cut Bill Steer work, perhaps the least imitated piece of his greater oeuvre which smartly grants the instant signature moment ‘Heartwork’ fans in particular are going to be psyched to hear. Trust that the whole of this record aims for this balance of signature movement but this particular moment foreshadows some of the deeper plows into groove we’re served along the way. The Martin Walkyier-esque titled “Dance of IXTAB (Psychopomp & Circumstance March No.1 in B)” eases us into the pocket with what is essentially a tribal stadium rock salvo and warp-zippered lead runs which, again, give us the right shade of ‘Heartwork’-sized appeal but showcase what Steer & Co. can do with this sound nearly three decades later. Key point on my part here is that they’re in the pocket, so completely in the pocket on each of these songs that the exact right momentum-based tunnel vision Carcass have always brought is almost too slick and continuous in an age of try-hard dynamism in extreme metal; The effect is readily engaging, accessible, and patiently developed through an hourlong ten song roll.

“Under the Scalpel Blade” is it, this is all of the stuff I want from a Carcass song in 2021 and perhaps since the mid-90’s. Like any petulant American served exactly what they want I definitely tried, but ultimately struggled, to come up with some real criticism in the moment of enjoyment. Any sort of absurdist mental devolution experienced via open enjoyment of nostalgia kinda flopped in mind for the sake of ‘Torn Arteries’ being relatively seamless, there are no chinks in the armor or wobbly turd-balled solos, they’ve gotten the flow of the experience so damned buttoned up it is almost suffocating and, in this sense it meets the pressurized songwriting standards their artistry had likewise reached in the mid-90’s. We find the band leaning in two directions of overall sway from this point in the tracklist, a real honing-in upon the sort of grooves that only Carcass has ever managed to pull off with any consistent melodic “edge” and semi-technical elevations of known quantities, the showpiece being the brilliant ~10.5 minute “Flesh Ripping Sonic Torment Limited”, a battery of costume changes that briefly venture into new territory for this sound. Overall we are getting the logical rawk-sided version of Carcass beyond 1991 but without any of their biting heaviness lost. Not a retread of ‘Surgical Steel’, not a follow up either, but an ideal snapshot of the band working quite well together in terms of riffcraft, songwriting, signature intricacies, and always with the big picture of each song’s impact in mind.

The resurrection encore. There are a few small points of criticism I could conjure up, though none of them are pivot-away points for my own taste, I’ve really nothing negative to pick at here. Jeff Walker‘s vocals are well-placed and this has always been his great strength alongside uniquely snarled vocal, alas we don’t get the angry ranting goblin verses of the past quite as often. “Kelly’s Meat Emporium” and frenetic album closer “The Scythe’s Remorseless Swing” both kinda get us there but he’s handed over quite a lot of each scene to the spectacle of the guitar/drum interplay; It works for me but I’d wanted the vocals to blend into the boom of the mix less often. I suppose it’d make sense to allow some comment on the vegetal heart sculpture (a reference to Kyuaizu) from renowned artist Zbigniew Bielak, a piece which won’t give you much to go on ’til you’ve seen it all rot in stages — Looks like a fine salad but I’m not big on peppers in general due to acid reflux, my fault not theirs. The listening experience overall is captivating in its richly angular, wisened movement and cleverly phrased pieces which do a fine job of injecting soulful grooves and some freshly turn-on-a-dime digs into this classic “Carcass metal” sound. A high recommendation, with consideration for my own long-standing fandom.

High recommendation. (80/100)

Rating: 8 out of 10.
TITLE:Torn Arteries
LABEL(S):Nuclear Blast
RELEASE DATE:September 17th, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp
GENRE(S):Death Metal,
Melodic Death Metal

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