Carcass: Surgical Steel

UK metal masters resharpen their knives

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Whether you worship at the altar of death metal, metalcore or grind, few bands are more worthy of laudation than Carcass. Seventeen years after the release of their final album, Swansong, a record that garnered an equivocal response from the band’s fanbase, the news that Jeff Walker and Bill Steer had decided to reconvene their offal-drenched alma mater and make a follow-up has been met with a mixture of feverish excitement and trepidation.

Carcass are one of the most important and inspirational metal bands of the last 25 years, and if Surgical Steel was anything less than a sturdy return to the standards set by classics like Heartwork and Necroticism: Descanting The Insalubrious, then a lot of people would be left wondering why notions of a reunion had been entertained in the first place.

Gloriously, we needn’t have worried. It was stubbornness and an unconditional respect for their own legacy that kept Carcass away from us for nearly two decades and those two qualities are plainly underpinning what can only be described as a breathtaking return to action. Everything the diehards could possibly desire and more, Surgical Steel is a triumph for integrity and a meticulous approach to delivering the goods.

Produced by the legendary Colin Richardson and mixed by the equally revered Andy Sneap, this was plainly destined to be a state-of-the-art modern metal record, regardless of its compositional direction, but it is the sheer viciousness and verve on display as the twin-lead splurge of intro 1985 gives way to Thrasher’s Abbatoir that seals this bloody deal. The contribution of new drummer Dan Wilding should not be underestimated: with all due respect to Ken Owen, whose ill-health sadly continues to prevent his full participation, Surgical Steel is a more precise, technical and aggressive beast than anything in Carcass history.

One hundred and 10 seconds of flat-out and fiery death with a thick undercurrent of futuristic speed metal, Thrasher’s Abbatoir hurls down the gauntlet to younger generations of extreme metal bands with an air of ‘Fuck you!’ thrown in. Jeff Walker sounds as he ever did: incensed, bug-eyed and unique. Bill Steer’s six-string talents remain undiminished, his soaring lead work still a wonder to behold. But it is the songs themselves that make Surgical Steel such a visceral delight. The overall vibe of The Master Butcher’s Apron and Captive Bolt Pistol sits neatly between the lurching complexity of Necroticism… and the turbocharged traditionalism of Heartwork.

But this never feels like a step back to an earlier time. Instead, songs like the punishing riff-maze of Non Compliance To ASTM F899-12 Standard or the tectonic grind of closer Mount Of Execution represent a refined evolution of the Carcass sound, with all their trademark elements and quirks retained but with newfound momentum. There are no weak spots, no detours into hard rock territory and absolutely no fucking compromises on offer here.

Veteran status be damned. Carcass are back with a seething, unrelenting vengeance and Surgical Steel is as pure and perfect as can be.

Dom Lawson

Dom Lawson has been writing for Metal Hammer and Prog for over 14 years and is extremely fond of heavy metal, progressive rock, coffee and snooker. He also contributes to The Guardian, Classic Rock, Bravewords and Blabbermouth and has previously written for Kerrang! magazine in the mid-2000s.