“Melodic death metal” is meaningless. What is popularly called “melodic” death or black metal can be roughly divided into the three different types of music sketched out by Ludvig Boysen in his “The Three Types of Melodic Death Metal” article for Death Metal Underground. While Ludvig’s three categories are essentially correct, refining and broadening them allows formal classification of all “melodic” death and black metal. Note that Death Metal Underground’s extensive Heavy Metal FAQ covers the topic of genre in great depth but a brief rundown for the ignorant and lazy is in order.
Carcass have been touring almost-nonstop since reuniting and releasing their phoned-into-ProTools excuse to tour, Surgical Steel. Right after supporting Slayer, they have announced yet another set of dates. Despite the mainstream metal openers, this “One Foot in the Grave 2016” might be worth worth checking for grindcore and death metal die hards as Carcass play material from all periods of their career when headlining.
Following a successful assault on our shores alongside label mates SLAYER and TESTAMENT, disinterred British metal icons CARCASS, will return to North America for a headlining tour this summer.! Joining them are southern metal heavy weights CROWBAR, horror thrashers GHOUL, and Los Angeles based metal act NIGHTDEMON.
“One Foot In The Grave 2016”
CARCASS, CROWBAR, GHOUL, NIGHT DEMON 07/16/16 Chicago, IL – Chicago Open Air Festival 07/17/16 Lawrence, KS – Granada Theater 07/19/16 Denver, CO – Bluebird Theatre 07/20/16 Salt Lake City, UT – The Complex 07/22/16 Sacramento, CA – Ace Of Spades 07/23/16 Santa Ana, CA – The Observatory 07/24/16 Los Angeles, CA – The Roxy Theater 07/25/16 Phoenix, AZ – Club Red 07/26/16 El Paso, TX – Tricky Falls 07/27/16 Albuquerque, NM – Sunshine Theater 07/29/16 Memphis, TN – New Daisy Theatre 07/30/16 Louisville, KY – Mercury Ballroom 07/31/16 Columbus, OH – Park Street Saloon 08/01/16 Baltimore, MD – Baltimore Sound Stage 08/02/16 Richmond, VA – Broadberry 08/03/16 Philadelphia, PA – Underground Arts 08/04/16 New York, NY – Gramercy Theatre 08/05/16 New Haven, CT – Toad’s Place 08/06/16 Montreal, QC – Heavy MTL Festival (Carcass only)
Keep in mind that Carcass are still entertaining when shitfaced:
I love used book stores — generally libraries, thrifts and small independents — because the chase is greater than the catch, and finding a rarity or just something fun to read is an inexhaustible thrill. A selection of old books gives a distinct perspective not just of writing but of history.
Each time I look over the dusty spines, castoffs of previous generations or well-loved volumes containing advice relied upon by those who came before, I am reminded how human history is a lattice of ideas. Each great thinker is a nodal point from which others branch, re-combining with other ideas or adding their own. And each writer boils down to one idea, usually, with the greatest having a handful.
The rest is a support system for that. To take a great idea and fling it out into the world requires a book, a third of which is introduction, a third explaining the idea in depth and a final third gesturing at relevance and shouting down the inevitable counter-arguments. Then the author spends the rest of his/her career amplifying on that idea or chasing its elusive ultimate form. Then, RIP and all of that boils down to a sentence of summary that most people know.
Think of Charles Malthus (“utilized resources expand algebraically, but population grows exponentially”) or even Adam Smith (“the self-interest of the many results in a balance”). Metal bands are remembered the same way: Black Sabbath (“used horror movie aesthetics on heavy rock to invent proto-metal”) or Suffocation (“used death metal textural complexity with speed metal choppy strumming styles”).
And Carcass? They will forever be remembered as the guys who made clumsy grindcore based around medical lyrics. This is too bad, as their real strength was to expand the grindcore song structure to include longer riffing that often emulated Second World War era popular music, even if unconsciously.
In fact, most of their success comes from the fact that they did everything unconsciously. On the surface, they were having a laugh with gore lyrics and sloppy grind. The first album, Reek of Putrefaction, is entirely unselfconscious in this way. It does not want to be anyone’s friend, or appeal to an audience. It is just having fun and accidentally unleashes the subconscious mind through a biting parody of society and its fear of disease and death.
It was that awkward and offhand element that caught the imagination of an audience. That, and the ripping tunes: the first Carcass album made grindcore complex enough for songs to be distinctive, but kept its rumbling chaotic surface that hid the structure. This made it heavier than most of what was out there at the time and inspired a thousand imaginations.
After that point, however, the Carcass story tapers off. Every album since then has been the band trying to re-interpret its original unintentional success, but to expand it by making the music more like Led Zeppelin and Metallica so that it can be “serious.” And therein is the problem: this band suffers a deep neurosis and when it tries to be serious, it fails. When just drunk and goofing around, these guys are able to reach into the unsocialized parts of their minds and come up with something good.
Symphonies of Sickness came out shortly after Reek of Putrefaction, but already shows us a more self-conscious band. The title is cute, the songs more obviously melodic and prone to borrow hard rock riffs, and the production still vicious but in a controlled way. Everything about the second Carcass album is a managed environment designed to manipulate appearance just like the neat rows of houses in the suburbs, political speeches and advertisements for security companies. The band reversed its raw approach and joined what they mocked.
After that, it has been all downhill. The Tools of the Trade EP showed us the new Carcass: melodic songs, death metal riffs and none of the grindcore urgency or organic appeal. It was all very much a product of the conscious mind trying to be serious so that other people would like it. Necroticism — Descanting the Insalubrious shat the bed with more of the same. For the time, it fit in competitively with death metal, and I listened to it then, but found over the years that I reached for it less and less.
I feared becoming like an old punker I met back in the early 1990s. “Carcass, great band, but they lost it after the first album,” he said. I knew these guys, I felt. They were like the old bearded dudes in robes who stood on streetcorners in the 1960s with signs saying THE END IS NEAR. They were walking stereotypes: the bitter old “truist” who only likes the demos and maybe the first album for any band, and will tell you to stop listening to that commercial shit you’re pimping and look up some rare, expensive and ineptly-packaged 7″ or cassette instead.
But the old guy — at probably 35, already a curmudgeon-in-training — had a point: most bands have only one idea. In metal and punk, bands are artists first and musicians second; they become musicians to express some idea or feeling. They intuit that musicians become experts in making music that people like and as a result, the external form dictates the content and it becomes about like everything else: technically correct, artistically empty like all the other products, fast food and celebrity autobiographies.
Carcass went on to get a PhD in bed-shitting with Heartwork, which was a decent speed metal album with some nice technical touches, but lacked any purpose so became overly “emo.” After that, the grindcore audience fled and the hard rock audience — this was pre-nu-metal days — was scared off by the vocals, so the Carcass brand went into free fall. The band launched a bitter final salvo with Swan Song in which they realized that their responsible, middle class daylight personalities always wanted to just be Led Zeppelin because that is how you work hard and succeed in rock ‘n’ roll as a career!
I fall between your average suburban music fan and the old crusty punk. Perhaps the Peel Sessions, “Flesh Ripping Sonic Torment” demo and a few scattered 7″ and live shows are the “real” Carcass, but the first album is real enough for me. After that, the band gets self-conscious and soon there is a stinky speedbump under the sheets. But Reek of Putrefaction is great and every person who enjoys quality outsider music should hear it.
A veritable tour of the fallen? Perhaps. Blabbermouth recently blabbed about these bands going on a tour of the US some time in 2016. According to them, a March 3rd performance at the Fillmore in Philadelphia has leaked, but little else has been officially revealed. If this does turn out to be an actual tour, and not just an attempt by record labels to entrap some sort of leak at Blabbermouth, it’s… probably worth noting, but far from the best lineup you’re going to see. Slayer and Carcass, at the very least, have strong legacies under their belts (although recent works fail to live up to such), but Testament’s career has been iffy at best, despite some musically proficient if not particularly inspired speed metal at the beginning of their career. As usual, it’s up to you, the reader, to determine whether this concert is worth your time.
Editor’s note: The tour was later confirmed. As of December 3rd, here are the dates:
2/19 – Riviera Theatre, Chicago, IL 2/22 – War Memorial, Nashville, TN 2/24 – The National, Richmond, VA 2/26 – House of Blues, Myrtle Beach, SC 2/27 – The Ritz, Raleigh, NC 2/29 – The Fillmore, Charlotte, NC 3/2 – Capitol Theatre, Port Chester, NY 3/3 – The Fillmore, Philadelphia, PA 3/5 – The Fillmore, Silver Spring, MD 3/6 – The House of Blues, Boston, MA 3/8 – LC Pavilion, Columbus, OH 3/9 – The Orpheum, Madison, WI 3/11 – Myth, St. Paul, MN 3/12 – Civic Auditorium, Fargo, ND 3/14 – MacEwan Hall, Calgary, AB 3/15 – Shaw Centre, Edmonton, AB 3/17 – Revolution Event Center, Boise, ID 3/19 – The Paramount, Seattle, WA 3/20 – Roseland Ballroom, Portland, OR 3/22 – Warfield Theatre, San Francisco, CA 3/26 – The Joint, Las Vegas, NV
On Friday, November 13th, you will be able to purchase Carcass’s latest compilation (Casket Case) for up to one minute. Earache Records claims that their previous ultra-limited box sets have sold out incredibly fast and it seems unlikely that this will be an exception. Casket Case features all five of the studio LPs Carcass released for Earache, meaning that you get the later underwhelming “melodic death metal” material as well as earlier, formative grindcore and death metal if you manage to get your hands on this. As a consolation price for those who fail to get their hands on this apparent bounty, Earache is also discounting the separate albums on CD for some time, as well as two compilations from when the band was dissolved during the late ’90s and early 2000s.
Getting into underground metal styles has never been a straightforward thing for anyone. The exception might be the Cannibal Corpse crowd that approach this music as fix for a certain mood, but see little beyond the most sensual appeal of the music. For those actually trying to appreciate the music anywhere beyond the surface either in a technical manner, it’s significance or the experience it provides beyond simple monochromatic sensual indulgence, the path consists of several steps in not one path but a multitude of paths that conform to the singular state and journey of each listener.
The present list does not attempt to give a template that will fit all as that is impossible. It is simplistic in its attempt to generalize and exemplify. The most important starting assumption is that the listener is at least fond of traditional heavy metal or hard rock in the worse case. I tried to avoid using of overtly offensive gateway bands like Craddle of Filth, Dimmu Borgir or Arch Enemy but these should not be completely discarded as possibilities to enable a smooth and pleasant transition into death and black metal.
For this example of a road map towards understanding and appreciation of death metal I have distinguished five different steps with suitable albums as follows:
I. Easy-going quasi death metal
Carcass – Heartwork
Entombed – Left Hand Path
II. Welcoming and easy-to-understand simple death metal that is only complex on a local level and so can inspire a sense of technical wonder in the listener while maintaining mood.
Death – Spiritual Healing
Adramelech – Psychostasia
Demigod – Slumber of Sullen Eyes
III. Excellent, but mostly on a technical level, with raw power and refinement in style, solid and well-produced albums that do not transcend their technical aspects
Morbid Angel – Covenant
Cryptopsy – None so Vile
Vader – Litany
IV. Authentic, representative of the core of the death metal spirit while being original
After parting ways with Carcass following the completion of Heartwork, the Swede Michael Amott embarked on his own project called Arch Enemy. Stigmata is the non-sell-out sibling of that last reviled/worshiped Carcass album in which Amott participated in. Starting out with Johan Liva barking in the vocal department, this was a far cry from the embarrassingly audience-pleasing act this band later became.
While most so-called melodic death metal acts, including later Arch Enemy, following in the footsteps of Carcass’ last album (Swansong should have been kept by Bill Steer for private use) produce clear, straight-up pop verse-chorus with riffs and solos in the manner of the most mainstream 1980s metal. Sticking out from the crowd, Stigmata explores different song structures, and different ratios between Swedeath Carnage-style riff sections and those which are direct references to 1980s melodic metal. Michael Amott presents us here, in this still underground release, the best of his ideas in their most sincere (though not optimal) form.
Symptomatic of the middle-age crisis that underground metal went through in the mid 1990s, Stigmata shows a sincere desire to produce solid, thought-out metal music, but its motivation and direction is misplaced in nostalgia-driven emulations of the past rather than a forward vision. This was the end of metal’s own romantic era. Metal artists’ general illiteracy in art could give no rise to a counterpart to the 20th century modernist classical music (perhaps Obscura was an exception?) and it went straight to post-modernist pandemonium shortly after the turn of the century.