I never believed for a minute that I’d ever be listening to a new Carcass album in my lifetime, let alone reviewing one. It really seems like it just isn’t true – Carcass ended almost twenty years ago; not on the highest of notes, admittedly, but on a decent enough set of ’em. But when Surgical Steel was not only announced, but released, it was just too much for me to take in. How would time treat these paragons of death metal? Would they still shred as fast, unleash aural assaults as devastating, and have lyrics filled with the same caustic wit delivered in the same acerbic snarl? Above all, would it be not just a new album, but a new Carcass album worthy to stand alongside classics like Heartwork and Necroticism?
The answer is yes. Hell fucking yes.
Even from the first few seconds of “Thrasher’s Abbatoir,” it’s impossible to believe that Carcass has been disbanded for more than a decade – they make it sound more like a fifteen-minute break in between sets than any extended stretch of time. In terms of sound and production, it picks up right where Heartwork left off. Jeff’s vocals are as menacing as ever, Bill Steer keeps up the same level of guitar wizardry we’re used to hearing from him (and even ends up playing some very Amott-sounding leads!), and new drummer Dan Wilding does a spectacular job of filling Ken Owen’s shoes, which is a statement I never thought I’d say about anyone. There’s even the crystal-clear production from Colin Richardson that Carcass fans have come to expect, and it’s just as necessary as ever to the finished product. This all sounds familiar, right? And as far as Carcass is concerned, familiar is a very good thing.
In my earlier interview with Jeff Walker, he mentioned that he didn’t want the band to exist as a “nostalgia trip,” just touring on the strength of their back catalog alone. Ironically enough, Surgical Steel sounds a lot like a nostalgia trip, and I mean that in the best possible way! The band revisits every moment of their career that made them known around the world, from purer death metal (“A Congealed Clot of Blood”) to the more melodic and almost radio-friendly side of it (“The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills”), and even a bit of grindcore blastbeats here and there. It almost feels like a crash course for everyone who has neglected for some reason ((It’s because they’re dumb.)) to give Carcass a proper listen. The only track that feels anywhere out of place is the 8+ minute closer “Mark of Execution,” but only because of its extended length. In terms of riff-smithing, it’s just as capable as the rest of the album.
This new Carcass is ostensibly the same band, still writing the same melodic death hooks that we all love, but they sound revitalized on Surgical Steel. This offering can easily take its place alongside the classics of their catalog. It would be so easy for this album to be a half-assed hackjob, only released as a cashgrab to profit off a legendary band’s nigh-impeccable legacy. But Carcass isn’t a band that takes the easy road. Surgical Steel is a monster from front to back, a deafening shout from the front porch to all the stunted and childlike pretenders of the death metal world to get the hell off their lawn. This is the chronicle of a band reclaiming their rightful place at the top of the pile and showing us all how death metal is done.