Review: Carcass – Torn Arteries

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Fast casual, artisanal Carcass.

They remember when Rot was young. They built a legacy of gutsy goregrind and gruesome syllabary retch, evolved into a medicalized melodeath pioneer, then split apart at death metal’s global peak. 18 years later, they emerged from the surgical ward after a grueling long transplant, annealed with a fresh steel plating. In the creative process, Carcass clearly operate on nobody’s schedule but their own, as senior cardiologists in the ward they helped to build. From the original Symphonies Of Sickness to 2013’s Surgical Steel, Liverpool’s master butchers have always had an eye for prime meat, and the confidence to suture it together however they felt. But now it’s been 35 years, and even the most hardgore need to watch their red meat intake at that age. Torn Arteries, their newest slice after an 8-year break, could be just what the doctor ordered.

It seems like the band know it, too. With their heady thematic focus deftly cloaked in splattery prose, Carcass definitely have the self-awareness to recognize that they’re grown adults now, and their needs have changed since 1986. Torn Arteries is definitely a more mellow sort of melodeath, not as blunt-force heavy as Necroticism or Heartwork and not as nimble as Surgical Steel, but functional all the same. The prosaic cover art says it all: It’s not the genuine, blood-gushing article, but a leaner, more heart-healthy alternative. If I had to sum up this album’s feel, especially in the context of the classic catalogue, I’d say the slaughterhouse has closed up and the building is now reclaimed by a trendy vegetarian bistro. So let’s glance at the menu.

Given that this is the boys’ seventh full-length, they certainly know what they’re about. Moments of meat hammer percussiveness to stomp along to, a la “Wake Up And Smell The Carcass”, bound together with hand-stretching pedal riffs at odd intervals, peppered with harmony and Jeff Walker’s breathy hiss. I’m particularly fond of second lead “Dance Of Ixtab” for its heavily blues-infused springiness and crowd-churning groove, a nice revival from the Swansong days. The new elements on display are a generous side helping of clean guitar sections, intended to let Bill Steer’s solos really dig in and emote, and the ambitious track “Flesh Ripping Sonic Torment Limited”, a ten-minute buffet with changes aplenty, though it can become a bit cold on your plate before you’ve finished it all.

Most of the courses, naturally, come with tantalizing dollops of the house sauce, a buttery emulsion of harmonically rich leads with intertwined flavors that glide over one another. This is really the draw of the record for me, since Carcass leads have always been taut, distinctively contoured phrases, gliding along like a gleaming scalpel through an abdominal teratoma. None of Carcass’ many imitators have ever quite matched Steer’s level of finesse, which has only grown finer with experience. Whether it’s the bridge from “The Devil Rides Out”, the post-solo spasms of “Torn Arteries”, or the winding threads of lead single “Kelly’s Meat Emporium”, the smears of scale-drizzle are versatile and served up liberally.

While the solos are lovely as ever, sometimes they’re a bit unsupported and plainly integrated with the songs themselves, suggesting that the focus is a bit too much on the dressing and not the dish. Expressive and tasty though these leads may be, they’re occasionally stuck being merely the ending flourish of a staid chugging run. More than a couple of the riffs on this record depend on the same two-part variation, a hammered burst of low stutters followed by a glut of whinging high string bends, and the pattern does get a bit noticeable after a few songs. The ingredients are top-shelf, but their integration sometimes seems disparate.

In aggregate, Arteries comes off with a bit less of an identity of its own in comparison. But still, because this is Bill Steer we’re talking about, his superb technique and en-pointe feel for his instrument can still elevate the staler parts of any composition. The man has an unmatched penchante for just the right bends, just the right counterpoint, so that simply hearing him play so effortlessly and fluidly is enough to complement any palette. Yet I think of the alt-rock opening of “The Scythe’s Remorseless Swing” and wonder whether this should be the most surprising part of a Carcass record, before the rest of the track kicks in and floors me with that bitching chorus.

Torn Arteries is not just imitation meat. Carcass seem very comfortable not being their own impersonators. It seems to me that they play the harsh death metal sounds that they still like, but feel no contradiction in identity by following softer directions to elegantly (and minimally) frame Steer’s adroit solo work. No more do we consume the exhumed, even if the tools of the trade still match. Carcass here are at their most controlled, almost what one might call presentable, completing an arc from the guffawing gore peddlers of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to the bespoke suited serial killers of American Psycho. Torn Arteries will still chop you up with an axe, but it will put a newspaper down first and be sure to finish in time for dinner reservations.

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