Album Of The Week – January 2, 2023

Kicking off the new year with a whale of an album. This was a long-anticipated reunion record that actually managed to not only live up to the hype but exceed it. Playing together for six years before recording might have helped with that.

Carcass – Surgical Steel

Released September 2013 via Nuclear Blast Records

My Favorite Tracks – Thrasher’s Abbatoir, The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills, Captive Bolt Pistol

Discussing Carcass does require a bit of backstory to provide context for the reunion. Carcass were a pioneering band of the “extreme metal era” of the early 1990’s. Beginning as a grindcore outfit, the band morphed into a melodic death metal machine that captured attention with albums like Necrotism and especially Heartwork. The group dissolved in 1996 but got the reunion bug in 2007 and began touring again. After a series of very well-received tours the band shuffled a few members and set about recording their first album in nearly 20 years.

Bassist/vocalist Jeff Walker and guitarist Bill Steer were still around from the band’s heyday. Guitarist Michael Amott had been part of the reunion tours but left the band to focus on his main gig Arch Enemy. Original drummer Ken Owen was unable to rejoin Carcass due to health problems but would provide backing vocals on the record. He was replaced initially by Daniel Erlandsson from Arch Enemy, but Dan Wilding would join as the new drummer for the recording.

The album comes in with a fairly lean run time of 51 minutes but there are 12 tracks, 11 to discuss. Also, Carcass lyrics and titles are often dense and sometimes unclear in meaning so this will be fun.

Thrasher’s Abbatoir

After the instrumental intro 1985, Carcass kicks off its first new song in decades on a banging note. The song has a go at all of the -tion words, which was a common thing to laugh about in the early 90’s death metal scene with a million bands like Suffocation, Incantation and other -tions running around. The song is dreadfully simple yet brilliantly executed, Carcass is very much open for business again.

Cadaver Pouch Conveyor System

The Carcass lyric writing method often involves opening a medical dictionary and throwing a lot of words together. This is in full force here, as I have no clue what a cadaver pouch conveyor system is. I’m sure the other 8 billion people on the planet share my confusion. There is stuff about death and mutilation in the lyrics but this isn’t a concept album so I’ll say the song is great and move on.

A Congealed Clot Of Blood

The medical concept here is far more understandable, but the song is actually about holy war or some shit like that. Whatever – the riffs are massive and the hooks in plentiful supply and Carcass is bashing its way through its return album.

The Master Butcher’s Apron

The tempo slows down a bit here which helps take in the lyrics which are about the slaughter of humans, or perhaps the slaughter of animals or something. I don’t really know, it’s very dense stuff, just headbang to it.

Noncompliance To ASTM F899-12 Standard

It sounds really complicated but this is perhaps the most logical song title here. The F899-12 Standard, or whatever, is a series of guidelines for how surgical instruments can be manufactured. So, noncompliance with that would meant the surgical tools are substandard. The song itself is about death and stuff, which is a likely consequence of having subpar surgical equipment.

The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills

Ok, so maybe this one is actually the most logical and coherent of the song meanings presented. The Dark Satanic Mills refer to Industrial Revolution-era England and the soulless nature of the architecture and work. And, for once, the song’s lyrics have to do with the title. There’s some involvement with/influence from legendary English poet William Blake here too.

But wait, there’s more! The chorus of the song is simply a sequence of numbers and presents a mystery. The numbers are 6026961. This means nothing to anyone and wouldn’t even work as a set of lottery numbers. But, if you remove the 666 from the sequence, you’re left with 0291, which is apparently a code having to do with US livestock standards. This has never been confirmed as the “true” meaning but it seems the most logical option.

Also the song is fantastic, possibly the best on the album.

Unfit For Human Consumption

We have yet another pretty easy to grasp song here. It’s discussing the food supply and how nasty it can be, long a favorite topic of conversation for the vegetarian-minded Carcass members. The lyrics do get into pretty awful detail, which is fitting since this is death metal after all.

316L Grade Surgical Steel

This serves a sort of a title track. The song seems to actually be a break-up song rather than an essay about surgical steel.

Captive Bolt Pistol

More about the food supply here, this is the device which is meant to instantaneously kill livestock with a blow to the head. The song does not sing the praises of the device.

Mount Of Execution

We depart the world of medical supplies and the food chain for a look at religion’s ills. The song is slower paced and very nicely done, with somber guitar work and a methodical vocal delivery. The song is a beefy one at over 8 minutes and changes tack toward the end, leaving out on a militant riff.

Intensive Battery Brooding

We end the album on yet another “what are you talking about?” title. The song is actually about a thing called Blue Peacock, which was a British Cold-War era idea to use live chickens as a way to keep landmine wiring warm. The mines were going to be planted to halt a Soviet Army advance across Europe. Oh, and the mines were nuclear. What a stupid fucking idea.

In other news, this song was actually a bonus track on certain CD editions of the album. It’s included on the Spotify version so I kept it on here.

Surgical Steel was a hit out of the gate. It was a brilliant return to recorded form for one of extreme metal’s most hallowed bands. This genre of music doesn’t often hit sales charts but this album did break through on several nations’ charts, including both the US and UK.

The critical reception to the album was very positive and fan reaction was tremendous – people were over the moon that the new album was not only good but one of the best the band had done. In a cynical music world where reunions are often brief flashes in the pan, Carcass showed tremendous staying power with lights-out live shows and now a monster of a record.

Nearly a decade later, the shine on Carcass has not faded. They are still considered one of extreme metal’s most significant acts. Rather than join the “release an album every year” fray, they have only put out one more since 2013 – Torn Arteries was a hit on year-end lists and charts in 2021. They continue touring and keeping their top-flight brand of melo-death afloat in an age where multiple generations of bands directly bearing Carcass influence have come and even gone. But a lot of the rub for modern day Carcass worship came from 2013 and Surgical Steel. They are an act who truly took over two different eras and reign as kings of the art form today.

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