From humble origins as DIY grindcore noise fiends (with songs called things like Regurgitation Of Giblets) to their current status as revered British metal veterans, Carcass have got little to prove at this point. Unfortunately, their back catalogue is not very big (which is what happens when you split up for 17 years), but what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in quality. Here we rank all seven Carcass full-length albums, from worst to best. And even the worst one is pretty good.
6. Swansong (Earache, 1996)
Much-maligned upon its release but, in reality, far better than you may have been told, Swansong lived up its name as the final album Carcass made before splitting mere months later. Even more melodic, catchy and succinct than the immaculate Heartwork, the band’s fifth album strayed a little too far away from death metal for comfort, but still contains some great songs. Opener Keep On Rotting In The Free World and the heroically snotty Tomorrow Belongs To Nobody were both instant anthems, while Child’s Play and Firm Hand were decent stabs at more epic material. Nonetheless, even the most dedicated Carcass fans would struggle to put Swansong anywhere other than at the bottom of this list. It’s great, but it’s nobody’s favourite.
5. Reek Of Putrefaction (Earache, 1988)
It seems safe to say that Carcass’ debut album was not for everyone. For a start, it sounded like it was recorded within the actual bowels of a rotting yak. Secondly, the ultra-gory artwork, compiled from real medical textbooks, was enough to put anyone off their Frosties. Meanwhile, song titles like Genital Grinder, Microwaved Uterogestation and Vomited Anal Tract were unlikely to be uttered on mainstream radio. Radio 1 legend John Peel absolutely loved the album, however, and picked it as one of his favourite albums of 1988. He was correct, too: Reek is raw, ugly and akin to being beaten to death with someone else’s guts, but it was also a fearlessly singular statement, influencing a generation of gore-obsessed bands in the process.
4. Symphonies Of Sickness (Earache, 1989)
After cramming 22 songs onto their debut, Carcass did the unthinkable and headed toward a more traditional approach on the follow-up, which boasts a mere ten. Admittedly, Symphonies Of Sickness was still gruesome, brutal and lyrically unsavoury, but by embracing longer song structures and letting rip with a bit more heavy metal flair, Carcass became more distinctive and more accessible. More importantly, songs like Ruptured In Purulence and Crepitating Bowel Erosion confirmed that the somewhat chaotic sloppiness of Reek Of Putrefaction was a thing of the past. As of December 1989, Carcass were a proper (death) metal band.
4. Surgical Steel (Nuclear Blast, 2013)
Imperious. There’s no other word for it. Carcass returned after a 17-year absence with an album that upgraded their classic, Heartwork-era sound and made it even more viciously metallic. Recorded as a three piece, with founding members Jeff Walker (bass/vocals) and Bill Steer (guitar) alongside new drummer Daniel Wilding, Surgical Steel gave the distinct impression that Carcass had never been away. Whether it was short, sharp bursts of melodic death fury like Thrasher’s Abbatoir and Captive Bolt Pistol or more intricate, grandiose fare like the snappily-titled Nomcompliance To ASTM F899-12 Standard, the band’s sixth album was rightly hailed as a blistering and, yes, imperious comeback.
3. Torn Arteries (Nuclear Blast, 2021)
Truly great comebacks after long periods of absence are a rarity, but second glorious comebacks are nearly unheard of. But that's exactly what Carcass achieved when they released Torn Arteries in 2021, tearing right for the throat with a tightly-packed masterclass in exactly why they were hailed as extreme metal legends in the first place. From the almost heavy metal bombast of Bill Steer's guitars on Eleanor Rigor Mortis to the implacable stalk of The Devil Rides Out or all-out assault of Kelly's Meat Emporium, Torn Arteries is proof that Carcass have never been a band to stick to the tried and true path, easily justifying it as our pick for the best death metal album of 2021.
2. Heartwork (Earache, 1993)
A mere five years on from the cacophonous Reek Of Putrefaction, Carcass had evolved into an unstoppable, pure metal force. Comprising ten, absurdly catchy but relentlessly crushing anthems, Heartwork practically invented the notion of melodic death metal on its own. From the opening lead guitar harmonies of Buried Dreams through to the final strains of the riotous Death Certificate, Carcass’ fourth album bridged the gap between the grimy underground and the shiny mainstream: as equally relevant to fans of Maiden or Monstrosity. Having instantly iconic artwork created by the legendary H.R. Giger certainly didn’t hurt the situation, either.
1. Necroticism: Descanting The Insalubrious (Earache, 1991)
Only just edging the mighty Heartwork to win the top spot, Necroticism is simply one of those classic death metal albums that is guaranteed to make metalheads of a certain age of a bit misty-eyed. After that nauseating debut and its cudgelling follow-up, Carcass upgraded their line-up with the addition of second guitarist Michael Amott and sharpened their songwriting chops at the same time. Death metal had a tendency to shun repetition or melodic hooks, but Carcass had different ideas. Songs like Incarnated Solvent Abuse and Corporal Jigsore Quandary were constructed like classic metal anthems, rather than a dizzying blur of interchangeable riffs, and with Bill Steer and Amott wailing majestically throughout, Necroticism was instantly recognisable as a big, fat game-changer. Meanwhile, Jeff Walker’s vocals were becoming increasingly crisp and clear, while his lyrics were edging away from serving up laundry list of horrors in favour of a (still bewildering) metaphorical approach, rich with malevolent wordplay. Carcass had grown up, but they were still fucking horrible.