Carcass – Surgical Steel

by Daniel Rodriguez
August 3, 2013 –

carcass-surgical_steelFrom the opening dual guitar harmonies straight out of 1985 that bring to mind the live intro to a Europe or Stryper set, it’s obvious that this album will be more in line with the guitar hero pop-metal of Arch Enemy than anything from Symphonies of Sickness or Reek of Putrefaction.

To some degree, that’s to be expected. Carcass threw in the towel on forward momentum long ago (1991) and have resorted to playing up their namesake for the purpose of phoning in stadium metal for the aesthetically overblown Wacken age, and Surgical Steel is perhaps their most commercially flexible attempt at filtering late model radio format speed metal through a death metal aesthetic filter, where actual death metal technique is limited to tremolo picking, blast beats, and Jeff Walkers vocals.

Carcass joining an elite cadre of financially successful bands by doing so, starting with At the Gates’s Slaughter of the Soul and even Pantera’s Far Beyond Driven. Let me state it again for those who wish to be millionaires: the appearance of being an outsider to a society nearly universally loathed by its inhabitants, with an underhanded delivery of comfortingly familiar derivative works that by their obedience affirm the social order, will always be a financial success. It allows the appearance of rebellion with none of the actual costs. It’s like artistic insurgency tourism.

Surgical Steel ends up being a mix of Swansong‘s Thin Lizzy-isms applied to the framework of songs like “This Mortal Coil” and “Doctrinal Expletives.” These songs have more to do with Mike Amott’s recent Wacken pandering than anything on Heartwork. “A Congealed Clot of Blood” resembles a “revisited”, more uptempo version of Swansong‘s “Don’t Believe a Word” and the last song, brings to mind the best years of Sanctuary with its sentimental melodic guitar intro, or evokes the Overkill ballads “The Years of Decay” and “Soulitude” with its emotional framing and pacing.

Some tracks like “Cadaver Pouch Conveyor System” attempt aggression by utilizing the same speed metal meets extreme music technique as “Carnal Forge” from Heartwork, but with the obvious “money riff” effect of the dual harmony guitar part that is the focus of these songs. The reversion to old lyrical themes (based off the song titles and album artwork) seems like misdirected fan service as these songs would probably win over more people from the Century Media crowd if the lyrics had the same simple “emotional” topics that songs such as “No Love Lost” had.

While this album may appease the simple appetites of those who merrily purchase Arch Enemy and Children of Bodom albums, many songs try to deviate from the verse-chorus stylings with an overloaded, ill-fitting bridge that detract from their simple nature. This divided nature may keep Surgical Steel from being as successful as recent Hypocrisy or Slaughter of the Soul in the arena of stadium faux-death AOR metal for drunken Wacken attendees.

Again, we say: if your heart is no longer in death metal, don’t bother. Start up a project band and transition into progressive rock, classic rock, or whatever it is that actually appeals to you. Explore your new musical pathways. It’s just as much a sell-out to try to “stay true!” when you no longer care as it is to make Justin Bieber-styled pop because you know ten million teeny boppers from the ‘burbs will buy it. Musicians, chase your dreams. We get the best of your talent that way, even if we have to transition genres to appreciate it.

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45 comments

  • deadite

    Ugh, I’m just hearing this for the first time. What boring tripe. At least on “Necroticism” when the heavy metal was present, it was tolerable. I thought Bill Steer said grindcore was for kids, and he never wanted to be involved with it again?

    This sounds so disingenuous. I was not expecting another “Reek” or “Symphonies”, but I was not expecting this level of blandness. At the very least I hoped for something on “Necroticism”‘s level, or close. Agreed in full with the article, they should’ve kept Blackstar together; that at least sounded like the music they really wanted to make.

  • fallot

    As usual, an excellent and penetratingly written article. Sadly this album will be lapped up immediately by the vast majority of the metal listening crowd. I can almost see the metal-archives reviews now. Carcass I am sure fully realizes that they can explore other musical avenues. Their persistence with metal is pragmatic, they have an image they can cash on. Not really possible if you switch styles or genres that much.

    1. Invisible Sandwich

      To be fair, most of Carcass’s members have had relatively successful hard rock/traditional metal projects already – I don’t know how many records Firebird or Spiritual Beggars sold, but the Metallum crowd seems to hold the latter in high regard, at least.

  • larry

    this fag trashes every album on here he probabley still lives at home in his parent basement!!!!quit trying to sound hardcore when your not fucking fag!!! carcass rules \m/

      1. kvlt attakker

        No self-identity. Must blend in with the herd.

        Props to deathmetal.org for the honest review.

        1. EDS

          With hipster style English posts like that, it is “he” who probably lives in his parents basement.

  • EDS

    All they did was take all the riffs and song constructions on Heartwork, change up the notes and re-write/re-construct songs, and BAM! Surgical Steel was born. Well they also wrote some cool and thought provoking lyrics and used more blast beats. I mean because today’s metal hipsters need to have a lot of blast beats right? Or they won’t download it. This is another case of veterans of the old scene using a cut and paste mentality in writing their “comeback” album. I guarantee there will be at least 10 reviews on this album’s Metal Archives page within the first 2 to 3 months of its release.

  • Imposition

    This gives me a headache. All the worst metal tropes are to be found here. In your face, overly loud vocals is the most painful. It will give the kiddies something to latch onto, a human element.

  • David

    Awesome, because Heartwork is one of my favorite albums of all time. I must be one of those simple folks who has an appetite for simple metal. I’m not hardcore enough for this site I guess. All I know, is when I put on my “simple” music, it makes me feel good and helps me get on with my day. Can’t wait to hear this.

    1. deadite

      Nice passive aggression. You know what makes me feel good? Injecting heroin into my balls. Doesn’t mean it is good.

      1. fallot

        I dont detect any passive aggression in that comment. David seems to be a person that consumes metal like he would a snack or a television show. I say this with no malice or judgment; if that is all one wants out of music that is fair enough, but it is the definition of a simple appetite.

        Simple in this sense does not mean simple in construction. That is an error frequently made by people when they take exception to the position of this site towards most metal music. It refers instead to refinement and depth. This music is heavy on the ears, not the soul. The instrumental proficiency exhibted on this album and its technical aspects far outstrip some albums which this website considers to be the best of metal. Rightly so, for they are profound works.

        David I invite you to listen to the bands in the reviews section of this website, perhaps starting with the Carcass output preceding Necroticism. If you are already familiar with them, I would still invite you to read the reviews.

  • matia

    A review is a personal opinion, stick with that in mind and you will have a good time reading them. Now for the album, well if you try to peel off the album’s layers acting like a “death metal sound engineer” then probably you will agree with the review’s technical notes. However if you are not a death metal technical analyzer like the reviewer you will probably enjoy this album. I very much enjoyed listening to this new Carcass material even if its a mix of riffage from Heartwork/Swansong with a little bit of Necroticism licks flavor, hell i enjoy it much more than all the latest “classic death metal” releases from all the classic death metal bands that end in -ation. And just to testify that i kinda hate the Heartwork and Swansong era since i was entrapped in the magic of Necroticism and never managed to get away even now. I, like may others, hoped that this album would be very near to Necroticism and in a strange way it kinda managed it but not to the degree i hope for, at least its quite entertaining and adventurous, much more than Heartwork/Swansong’s melodic death masturbation.
    I also fully agree with the last sentence of the review which points to a serious problem in todays metal where older and reknowed artists try to cash in on their music heritage than chase their dreams.

    1. fallot

      The criticisms levied at the album are not technical, the review merely details these to describe the album. It is empty stuff, the songs mean nothing and thus come out as waffly and random noise. A review is certainly a personal opinion, but what does saying that mean? Can it be disregarded because it is an opinion? Is it invalid, or untrue due to being an opinion? It seems the only reason that sentence is there is to imply that if you are not a nitpicking elitist, but a normal person, you will enjoy this album. That could possibly be true, but it will not change that this is a poor, artistically dishonest album with which Carcass crap on their amazing legacy.

      1. matia

        So what do we have then. Our reviewer based on Carcass legacy, rants on the album. Carcass used their legacy to create this album.
        So both you and our reviewer seeing that Carcass didnt create a pure grindcore album with crappy-grind production after 20 years rants on the album by calling it empty, meaningful and reminiscent of their late works, which arguably suck. Why to complicate thoughts so much is beyond objective reasoning so we come to the conclusion i foretold, that the review is an opinion with NO OBJECTIVE base in it. You can describe the technical details of the album but there you stop, anything further is purely subjective, what you see as empty i see full and you may rant all you want, its your personal opinion and nothing more, it defines your personal truth not mine.
        The way i see it with Carcass, and many other albums and bands, is that since they differentiated the sound of their releases from one to another, the result is, lets say, 3 distinct genres spread between 5 albums. One usually loves a certain genre more than the other so if i love technical/progressive death i would fall in love with Necroticism, you like gutted grindcore you respect their first releases, finally many people loved the melodic death metal which at the time was at its first steps so they respect the Heartwork era and look forward to it. Now Surgical Steel has definetely something to give to the Necroticism maniac but is mostly based on Heartwork/Swansong era, though the adventurous and diverse compositions, reminiscent of Necroticism/Symphonies maybe, doesnt make this album as melodic and groovy as Heartwork/Swansong, so its rather enjoyable and a good surprise for fans of Carcass sound. So for those who loved their early grind era and find Necroticism as pop, sorry guys but it seems that your Carcass died on 1991 with Necroticism. Allow me also a little personal opinion rant, whoever thinks that Necroticism is pop has a SERIOUS problem defining musical genres. Comparing the album with pure grind/noise yeah its pop allright, as is 99 percent of all metal releases. Please get real and admit that you are grind maniacs or you are stuck with the “underground” which is a meaningless word for decades now. And yes nitpicking elitist is the correct word, good for you, i am too with many bands/albums but that defines me not the album.

        1. fenrir

          Your problem is that you are not able to tell the difference between “what pleases my senses” and “what is better music”. You have no artistic concept of metal.
          I seriously am infatuated with Arch Enemy’s Burning Bridges, Children of Bodom’s Follow the Reaper, Carcass’ Heartwork. But I know their place. They are not great works of art. They are fun and technically proficient popular music works.
          On the other hand I do not like Morbid Angel’s music, I just find it boring. But historically, I can see their importance to the development of Death Metal. Musically, when you pay attention and analyze the structures of songs in their early albums, you see the originality and innovation in metal that they brought about.

            1. fenrir

              I will, thanks for the encouragement. I do like Morbid Angel – inspired albums, though (would you consider Gorguts’ The Erosion of Sanity in that same line of thouht?).
              Btw, Why should I avoid Covenant? I know the first two are the most important, is there anything worth study and attention in the rest of their discography?

              1. Carg

                Covenant is the beginning of the end. Formulas Fatal to the Flesh has some cool guitar work on it, but they’d lost the mystical aspect of their music by that point. Altars is a clandestine sect summoning blasphemous energies into this plane; Blessed is a not-so-clandestine sect channeling the Elder Gods; Covenant is a not-so-clandestine sect who are probably going to take a break for tea in a bit.

                1. fenrir

                  Thanks, Carg.
                  I think paying close attention to the music (not as background) and reading the lyrics makes a big difference. That is how I got into (so-called old school) Death Metal.

                  1. fallot

                    That is an excellent approach. I actually recommend pretty much memorizing albums note-for-note (obviously not technically, just in your head), at least for the intermediate metal listener. You seem to be more experienced than that but I would still recommend it if you have the time. It is much easier to not be distracted and to focus on the overall structure when you arent lost in the details. Familiarity also brings up micro-level stuff that is easily missed in the noise/distortion.

                    1. Carg

                      As an addendum to this, if you do have the technical proficiency at a particular instrument, take the plunge and learn to play your favourite death/black metal tracks. Playing along to Altars/Blessed and Blizzard Beasts taught me a ridiculous amount about riff shapes/styles, picking techniques, and the necessity of rhythm/groove in extreme metal (not cuntera groove, punk/hardcore groove).

                2. baffled guy

                  “Blessed” is a great album, very advanced compositionally for a metal album and possibly even better than “Altars”. Does a metal album need to be “raw” to be considered a classic?
                  Maybe it comes down to what got one into metal. Was it hardcore and thrash or was it Iron Maiden? In any case top quality is usually evident to an intelligent person and should’t be ignored due to pure personal preference which directs supposedly high quality standards (as in “I like 5 albums, the rest are shit”).
                  “Covenant” is not on the same level, certainly not essential but I’d say it’s worth listening and worth buying.

                  1. Carg

                    Agreed on all points. I recognise that Blessed is better than Altars, compositionally, but it’s that mystical quality that first drew me to (and then got me hooked on) MA, and that’s most evident on Altars, as far as I feel it. Ties in with the history of the band, too: Altars is largely Azagthoth/Browning material, and those guys were big on conducting rituals before rehearals/gigs/recordings (as well as generous doses of psilocybin, as far as I can remember).

              2. fallot

                I would consider Erosion to be in the same vein as Effigy of the Forgotten by Suffocation. A lot of death metal owes a debt to MA though. Covenant isnt a bad album by any means, but if you dont find MA personally enjoyable it would probably be a good idea to absorb the very very best albums until you do. You can always listen to Covenant later. There is nothing else really worth it artistically in the discography, but Azagthoth is a very creative and talented metal guitarist and you should still get something out of Formulas… if you are interested in that sort of thing.

        2. eman

          Consider this: subjective interpretation may match up with objective reality. In other words, someone’s opinion may give you the same information that an impersonal observation would. That’s a jagged pill for a chronic relativist, but you don’t have to be that way.

        3. Bad News

          Man turned his back on his own potential and chose to dwell in the hubris it sewed (Carcass created Heartwork to get more attention from mainstream pop culture; turn back on earlier groundbreaking works). The primitive pleasures of primitive man; animals with insatiable appetites (more radio thrash for the masses; no more unheard of original death metal). Never to rise or question, man chose to engage solely with the mundane affairs of the every day, unwittingly provoking death in the process, and thus his vanity damned him to die in shame (People will remember the last At The Gates album while the first opus remains forgotten; later The Haunted promised more dead brain cells for all). Man was the bastard of creation which allowed Marduk to kill Tiamat (never mind quality, new album the product for social acceptance; social acceptance>wisdom = bang your head for 3 minutes>quality composition of great life enriching value). For too long we have drank from these poisoned waters (Swede-wave/Watain-core/groove metal). These are the godless years we all live in (Facebook, Decibel Magazine reviews, and shoegazing black metal impersonators)…

        4. fallot

          Honestly my friend I don’t care that much for grindcore. It’s just that the grindcore albums Carcass produced in their early days were great stuff. No one cares that this isn’t a grindcore album, they care that this is a bad album from a once great band. Please do not get caught up in superficialities of style/genre, it has nothing to do with this discussion. I like Heartwork more than Necroticism actually, the former is at least more honest. Necroticism is just gay.

  • baffled guy

    I’m baffled by the but-hurt the bashing of this album is causing. I thought it was quite clearly hollow and boring. Apparently fast food metal fans can consume anything. I’m starting to appreciate what Morbid Angel did with their last album (which is actually a “surgical steel” type of an album with electronic beats), trolled the fuck out of these guys!!!

  • Christopher

    While I agree that there is something troublingly cynical and pandering about Surgical Steel, anyone openly comparing Carcass to Bieber is clearly trolling for comments and that is as cynical, pandering and troubling as anything Carcass might dredge up. As for the record itself, I need more time to assimilate it but its clear Carcass didn’t really challenge themselves or aim for anything other than encapsulation.

    1. Carg

      I think it’s quite a legitimate comparison to make; both acts seem bent on generating cookie-cutter music that the proles will “appreciate” for being exactly what they’ve heard a million times before, only slightly shinier. A shiny turd is still a turd, though.

  • fenrir

    All this being said about art, all which I agree.
    I find the album very pleasurable as a metal guitar student.

  • matia

    Fenrir what exactly these 2 sentences are supposed to mean?
    “Your problem is that you are not able to tell the difference between “what pleases my senses” and “what is better music”. ”

    How you define this? By the numbers? By your degree of metal “knowledge”? Using your great intellect which it seems we lack of and cannot interpret “better music”? Using your “decades old” listening experience? Surely there must be an objective way to tell the difference since you insist so much that this “difference” is not subjective. Please enlighten me cause i am near 40 closing 30 years of metal and this sentence sounds weird and strange to my ears.

    And

    “You have no artistic concept of metal.”

    So who is entitled to this? You? I dont? How is artistic concept defined? Based on what principles? Is there an agenda with these principles? Is there an undeground organisation of elitistic metalheads that define that? Isnt art a human concept? Isnt it based on human? So which human(s) will define art and for whom? For the hearing impaired metalheads? Is it a “for those once loyal” situation? For whom the bell tolls at last?

    I hope all these questions dont sound too ironic, cause they certainly are a bit but only cause of the absurdity of your sentence’s implications.

    So in conclusion since Sabbath and a few other proto bands defined metal, brought innovation and blah blah blah then why on earth do we long for new stuff like maniacs? Better enqueue in winamp the old and original, mostly crappy produced, pioneering 80’s/90’s metal music back catalogue to an infinite repeat till we die and save some time and money to spent on drugs, sex and alcohol. Aye, i wonder why

    1. Carg

      If I were a carpenter, and I took a fancy to shodding horses, I wouldn’t be upset when people told me I’m shit at it. I know I’m shit at it – I’m a carpenter. I deal with wood, not horses or iron. Shodding is just a hobby.

      Your problem seems to be that you’re not sure what you are; if you were sure that you were able to tell the difference between what pleases your senses and what is better music, then you would stress that point, and provide examples (as has been done by fenrir); similarly, if you had an artistic concept of metal, you would outline it for us, and we’d be able to discuss it reasonably. As it is, you’ve reacted defensively, as any ego would, providing absolutely no substance in your response. No problem with that, as far as I’m concerned, but I don’t think you’re going to win an argument against this guy (especially not on this site).

    2. fenrir

      > “So which human(s) will define art and for whom?”

      In my opinion, the professional, classically educated music erudite. They’ve only been at it for centuries, after all…
      ——————————————

      > “Isnt it based on human?”

      What pleases you is solely based on your own feelings and (in a way of speaking) your organic reaction to music is based only on yourself. If we try to search for what is the best music, we are looking for a truth, which by philosophical definition exists outside the opinion of anyone. Relativism does not yield answers about truth.
      ——————————————

      > “So in conclusion since Sabbath and a few other proto bands defined metal, brought innovation and blah blah blah then why on earth do we long for new stuff like maniacs?”

      With all due respect I feel that is a very sad statement to make, and one that reflects your lack of understanding in the matter. We respect Black Sabbath for creating the basic template for metal, for innovation. That being said, BS’s music at that point is like a baby (little development) . 80s metal was still extremely naive, but it was looking for something vehemently, that is why we perceive that intense and sincere aura from it. It was a lost adolescent looking for a deep meaning in the “extreme” genres, trying to shape an atmosphere in different ways (playing with linear structures, with dissonance, etc) which would help it find meaning. It was an pre-adolescent kid obsessed with penis size in the guitar-wanking genres, who think the number of notes and the speed at which you play them or how ‘cool’ it sounds is what makes for better music -> stuck in the technique worship and aesthetics. (Good enough for what you are writing) Technique and a good use of aesthetics is a pre-requisite for making good music and not a merit in itself, which is where most metal bands, the children, get lost even today.
      Following this allegory, I would say metal reached adolescent pre-adulthood with some of the best 90s Death and Black metal.
      Some would say that Gorguts’ third and fourth albums were the first steps of metal into young adulthood. This has nothing to do with the use of dissonance, which is what repels people from Gorguts’ music. Nobody has stepped in further than them, as far as I know. Some of the best efforts end up falling out of metal and recombining it with other styles, not developing it.

      The sad thing today is that as technicality becomes more of a commodity for metal musicians (which is something really good!) they still do not find a true artistic direction and instead of discovering and refining they are stuck either worshiping the past (all the metal bands who sound ‘retro’), recombining different elements without bringing any additional development (the best bands of the so-called Melodic Death Metal) or developing the superficial aspects of naive music into ‘cool’ toys (Periphery’s debut). Metal today is but a child with more toys, an adolescent with a computer, a little 15-year-old lady with a mini-skirt and lipstick. Contrast this to what classical music would be, an experienced and knowledgeable albeit sometimes cranky and close-minded 70-year old.

      We long for new stuff like maniacs because (at least in our case) we know there is more to do! The possibility of someone bringing something more, something truly refined, is exhilarating.

      All this allegory and terminology (such as “what is refined in the context of music?”) merits a more explicit and technical (if you are willing to) explanation. We would have to discuss why and how in more detail and I would welcome Carg and fallot to join in as they both seem to have a far more clear understanding than me.
      You attacked me thinking that I am being arrogant. I consider myself a student who still has much to learn. I just commented on what I understood was a comment based on lost and misguided ideas on your part. I never meant to be disrespectful, just direct and explicit.

  • baffled guy

    When you listen to a piece of music don’t you ever wonder what does the artist try to convey with it? For example, the Carnage review of this site ends with this phrase : “…possesses our dreams of denial with a sudden realization of how much more comfortable we are in the caverns of darkness accented by light than in a world of unending, machine-fed illumination.” Of course if considers this idea valuable is a whole other topic but in the writers opinion (and mine) this is what that album achieves while also being a fun and memorable listen and that’s why it’s good art and people listen to it 23 years after its release.

    Music in Klaus Schulze’s words is “aestheticized frequency” and in Holocausto’s words “bio-harmonic dissonance”. Combine these 2 with a clear concept and you have what constitutes good music through the ages.

    On the other hand, if you belong to the majority of metalheads who are just looking for 2 “cool” reefs and a catchy chorus or pseudo-intellectuals who will praise anything as long as its weird enough, you either have complete disregard for the concept of higher/better art or you don’t think Metal music can/could ever reach such heights, which makes me wonder why do you bother or even obsess with it. Maybe you don’t think highly enough of yourself or your intellect (confidence problems, we all have them).

    PS1. I wouldn’t want you to take that last paragraph as a personal attack, because it’s not.
    PS2. I ‘d like to believe I’ve made my point clear despite my not so great use of English language.

    1. baffled guy

      replace “dissonance” with “resonance” and “reefs” with “riffs”. arggghhh!!!!

  • hoodwink

    I don’t really mind the hideously-titled “Surgical Steel” as fridge buzz or wallpaper but damn, this review absolutely nailed the album in every possible sense.

    It’s a safe bet if you’re a nominal death metal band that’s released an album Eddie Trunk would listen to, your creative essence has been exhausted.