Returning to Form: An Interview with Carcass


[dropcap]I[/dropcap]f you don’t know Carcass, you don’t know metal. Ever since Reek of Putrefaction transformed the landscape of grindcore in 1987, Carcass has been a force to be reckoned with in the world of extreme metal, whether they be tackling death metal and grindcore on Symphonies of Sickness and Necroticism – Descanting the Insalubrious, or pioneering the very sound of melodic everything on Heartwork and Swansong. Every single album from their back catalog is a necessary piece of heavy metal history, and their breadth of influence across countless subgenres is absolutely impossible to ignore.

While they could easily tour on the strength of their back catalog alone, Carcass isn’t content with resting on their laurels, and are all set to unleash Surgical Steel on Nuclear Blast this upcoming September. Thanks to an early leak, the world of heavy metal can confirm for themselves that this is another fantastic album in the grand tradition of Carcass, and it sounds almost as if they never even went on hiatus for the past seventeen years.

We were lucky enough to have a quick chat with Jeff Walker, the bassist and vocalist of Carcass. We discussed the recording of the new album, his thoughts on internet piracy in the digital age, and what’s next for the band in the interview below.

Read our review of Surgical Steel here!

From my point of view, I still don’t think we’ve recorded our classic album.

Metal Blast: So I’d like to start this off by mentioning how great it is to have Carcass existing again. I saw you guys at Maryland Deathfest earlier this year, and you guys absolutely tore it up.
Jeff Walker: I can only assume you were drunk.

MB: Oh, of course! I remember reading that originally you guys weren’t planning on doing more than a few tours and festival dates, but plans have definitely changed over the past few years! Where was the point where you realized that a new Carcass album was a thing that needed to happen?
JW: As soon as the reunion fell apart. As you rightly stated, the three of us [Walker, Bill Steer, and Michael Amott] got back together in 2007 and played shows in 2008, and we didn’t actually look beyond that summer. And it kinda snowballed after we got offers for 2009 and 2010, and that came to an end when Mike Amott and Daniel [Erlandsson] returned to their first love, Arch Enemy, and me and Bill then obviously had to take stock of what we wanted to do. In all honesty, I was happy that it was over because I didn’t want to continue just doing shows on a nostalgia trip, so the only obvious thing to do was to make another album. Bill had never really shown any interest until late 2010, after we finished any commitments we had that year. Me and Bill were left twiddling our thumbs, and Bill just rung me out of the blue and said ‘Do you fancy trying to write some new material?’ That’s the only credible way Carcass could have continued. I mean yeah, we could have found other musicians and carried on playing gigs that we were offered, but at some point you’ve got to prove your relevance. You can’t just rely on the past.

MB: With Carcass’ spotless discography, enormous influence across all forms of extreme music, and genesis in Liverpool, I’ve heard a lot of people refer to you guys as the Beatles of death metal. Is that a comparison that you’d agree with?
JW: I’d agree with it! [laughter] That’s the first time I’ve heard that said! What I’d say in our defense is that we’re probably the most important band from Liverpool since the Beatles, as far as having an impact on a global scale, musically. And that’s not a conceited statement, it’s just that maybe that says a lot about the bands in Liverpool! [laughter] I don’t think that there’s any denying that. We may not have sold millions of albums, but the impact, culturally, is a lot bigger [than that].

MB: Having a legendary death metal act like yourselves returning after an extended hiatus is going to cast a lot of doubts; there’s a lot of high expectations that would be really easy to fall short of. How did you guys deal with all this pressure from your audience, your label, and probably yourselves as well?
JW: I don’t feel any pressure whatsoever. All we’ve done is make an album. We’ve made sure we’ve made as good an album as possible, and just like anyone else, we don’t want to shit on our legacy. And I know damn well we haven’t; I’m pretty confident of that. And even before any feedback, I knew what we’ve done was good. I’m not being arrogant, it’s just that you have to have a degree of self-belief, as long as it doesn’t border on delusional! [laughter] But we’ve delivered. There’s no possible pressure anyone could put upon us. We did this without any label backing anyway, so there’s no outside influence on us making this album, other than me and Bill and Dan Wilding just getting on with it.

MB: You’ve gotten in some new blood to fill in the ranks, like Dan Wilding on drums and Ben Ash as a touring guitarist. What kind of stuff do they bring to the table?
JW: A lot of youthful enthusiasm. Never underestimate what that can bring to a band! Dan’s a very accomplished, fantastic drummer; he fills Ken’s slippers very well indeed. Ben Ash is a really great guitar player, and he’s a very good performer. I think there’s a lot more energy on stage now. They’re replacing two well-known characters, Ken Owen and Amott. It’s not something we sit around and discuss, they’re just very capable and just get on with it.

MB: How much did Dan help with writing the songs on the new album?
JW: He was there from the start to the finish in the capacity as a drummer. This was all written in rehearsal. I could give you a percentage of his input, but that’s not really giving him full credit. I can easily say that this album wouldn’t be the album it is without him being involved, it’s as simple as that. He’s the perfect drummer for Carcass in absence of Ken. Let’s put it this way, he could have easily overplayed on this album; he could probably overplay most drummers under the table! But he knows his role in the band, he’s been very tasteful in what he’s brought to the band and it fits him perfectly. He was there throughout the writing process, so he’s just as important as myself and Bill in a way. This album wouldn’t be the same without him.

MB: And speaking of Ken, I was really happy to see that he contributed some vocal parts on the new album! What was it like bringing him back into the studio again?
JW: Well I’ve said this before in other interviews, but Ken casts a long shadow on this album. There’s a lot of his influence in the drumming [and] lyrical ideas. He was a part of the Carcass sound, and I think we’ve managed to keep that alive. The only way we could actually get him to physically contribute, we felt, was to have him come in and do some backing vocals. He came down and so did the original Carcass bass player, a guy called Chris Gardens. We’ve got three out of four other original members from 1985 playing on the album, so this is all about showing the band’s roots and its lineage, its heritage, and having a link that can go back for twenty-seven years. If we ignore the fact that we had the hiatus for seventeen years, [this album’s] almost seamless in a way – that’s what I feel – even given all the drastic upheavals like Ken’s health. I know a lot of Mike Amott fanboys probably wish he was on the album as well, so there’s a lot that people could shoot for to gun us down over this, ’cause on paper we could be setting ourselves up for a big fall, couldn’t we? And I think we’ve pulled it off.

MB: Yeah, I’d say so! So on the subject of the new album, does the title of the album have any sort of significance, or did you choose it more because it sounded badass?
JW: Well, I think it sounds badass. Obviously steel is metal, surgical is something that people always associate with Carcass, with the whole medical bullshit, so it kinda fits. And I guess we’re paying homage to Judas Priest with British Steel, so it’s a very heavy metal title. It’s Carcass’ heavy metal album.

MB: And when the album leaked earlier this month, what kind of thoughts were running through your head besides “Oh shit, our album just leaked!”?
JW: I was more pissed off about the fact that a friend of mine told me that it leaked, and I told him “Nah, it won’t leak!” [laughter] And he found it, and that’s a thing that pissed me off. The only thing that really pissed me off about the whole thing is that some asshole, for whatever reason – and it’s gotta be malicious, I don’t think they thought they were doing anyone a favor – it’s obviously that someone’s leaked it, and the intent is to either hurt Nuclear Blast or hurt Carcass. Well, I think it’s backfired, because I don’t think it’s caused any damage whatsoever! I am not one of these people who thinks that people who download [music] should be locked up and fined. I think it serves a purpose. It would be very dangerous if this album sucked balls and it leaked, if the label was basically counting on the fact that they needed people to go buy it to hear it. But the fact of the matter is that the album is good, and I don’t think it hurts for people to hear it. It’s no different from people hearing it on the radio. You’re always going to have hardcore people who download and never buy anything, and those assholes are never gonna change. But there’s a lot of people who probably, and quite sensibly, and within good reason, would approach any Carcass album with trepidation after seventeen years, and probably don’t wanna risk spending ten bucks on a CD before hearing it, because in their mind it sounds like an accident about to happen! So I think the fact that people had a chance to check this out, I think by word of mouth it’s getting around that it’s actually not a bad album!

MB: One thing that I’ve noticed about most Carcass fans is that they’re generally divided between the Necroticism lovers and the Heartwork lovers. Surgical Steel seems like it’s embracing both of these styles, with a really cut-throat and aggressive first half and a more melodic and riffy second half. Was there a conscious effort on the band’s part to include both of these styles and keep them both in check?
JW: Well, I think this album is a consolidation of, for want of a better way of putting it, all five styles, all five Carcass albums. None of them sound the same. I think all we’ve done is, as I said before, took stylistic cues from those albums. We didn’t sit down and listen to them and think ‘okay, let’s do a bit of this and a little bit of that.’ Some of that came naturally. This album isn’t a cynical plot to take people’s money by just rehashing what we’ve done in the past. I think this album, if you put it next to the other five, is yet another album that doesn’t sound like any other album. Well, definitely, there are elements of Heartwork in there or Necroticism, but that’s with the whole sequencing of the album. I do think it’s a musical journey, but it’s only recently I’ve realized that in some ways, it does start at point A and finish at point B. People have picked up on that they think the second half is more melodic, which I would take issue with, because there’s still a hell of a lot of melodic parts on the A-side. See, we’ve actually produced this album as if it was on vinyl, with a side A and a side B. And in some respects, most bands would put all their best material on the beginning of the album, in the hopes that it keeps peoples’ interest. And I think we’ve actually paced this album quite well, and in some respects, the B-side could arguably be stronger than the A-side. It all depends, I guess, on your taste.

And you talk about there being two Carcass camps, well, I really think there’s five Carcass camps! I know people who think Reek of Putrefaction is the best thing we ever did, and I know some people think our career ended with Symphonies, so they don’t even get started with Necroticism or bring in Heartwork!

MB: So on the subject of sequencing the album as if it were on vinyl, do you have any special plans for the album’s release? Are there going to be vinyl pressings, or special deluxe collector’s editions for people to throw all their money at?
JW: Yeah, the vinyl’s already on sale, and there’s two versions of the vinyl. The US version is 33 RPM, and the Europeans have done two 45 RPM 12-inches, for better audio output. It’s coming out on cassette, CD, you name it, and there’s even a flexi disc with Decibel [Magazine].

MB: So I know you’ve got a few small-scale US touring dates next month, which I unfortunately couldn’t get tickets for, but do you have any other plans for supporting Surgical Steel?
JW: Well as far as the United States goes – and obviously, we need to tour properly – these gigs are more of a showcase, where we’re trying to build up a vibe the week of release. We couldn’t commit this late to a US tour, ’cause we’ve got too much else on [our plates] anyway. Plus, we’ve got a really cool idea of what we’re gonna do next April anyway. So we can’t ignore the States when the album comes out, so we have to do something. This is in the tradition of something that we did in March this year, where we did three small club shows in London. We could have played the Forum in London, we were told, for a hundred thousand people. But it was just a cooler idea to do three, kinda, back-to-the-roots club shows. It’s the same with Los Angeles. We could easily play House of Blues, but where do we go if we come back in six months? Play the same venue? So we’re doing two nights in the Troubadour, it’s something a bit cooler. We’ve tried to keep ticket price down as well.

MB: Yeah, I can definitely see the appeal of playing a smaller venue. There’s always much more up-close interaction with the band and the audience, both feeding off of each other’s energy…
JW: Yeah, but I mean to be honest, we have to keep this interesting. The US circuit that bands play probably hasn’t changed since we went over there in 1990 with Death, and it can get a bit tiresome turning up at the venue and being like ‘Oh, God, not this place again.’ So we’re trying to keep it interesting for ourselves as much as the fans. You want to be motivated when you get out of bed in the morning, and not be groaning to yourself that you’re playing, oh I don’t know, the Masquerade in Atlanta, Georgia for the fifth time. You’ve got to shake things up once in a while.

MB: Do you think there’s enough magic left in the band for another album?
JW: I don’t know if it’s ‘magic,’ but there’s definitely scope to go somewhere. From my point of view, I still don’t think we’ve recorded our classic album. I can pick faults in our new album, and as long as you can do that, it gives you room to move. I mean, this album isn’t getting scored 10/10! [laughter] So until it does, until we do an album that does, then I’ll never be satisfied. We’re never gonna reach perfection – I don’t want to – but being as objective as I can, I want to be able to agree with people when they say “You know what? That’s your best album.” Because when people talk to me about Symphonies or Necroticism, or Heartwork, no matter what people will say, if they think it’s the best album, I don’t feel that way. And I want to be able to agree with them.

MB: And last of all, now that Carcass is reunited, recording, and touring again, do you think we’ll ever be able to say the same for Smeg and the Heads?
JW: [We’re not video-chatting on Skype, but I can practically hear him facepalming.] Done your homework, have you?

MB: I’m so sorry, I just had to ask! Any last send-off for your fans?
JW: Well, nothin’ really…If you download it and like it, please buy it! Otherwise Nuclear Blast will go bust! [laughter]

Surgical Steel is set for release on September 13th in continental Europe, the 16th in the UK, and the 17th in North America. The album is available in digital, compact disc, vinyl, and cassette formats. You can preorder the album, browse Carcass’ back catalog, and pick up plenty of other associated merch at the Nuclear Blast webstore.

Thumbnail photo: Frank Schwichtenberg

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