Hey everyone. You’ve probably noticed that once in a while we run duo reviews, where two people provide their take on an album from a usually larger artist. Eeli and I did it with the menacing Anaal Nathrakh album, and so, again, we do it today – with some differences. We wanted to try a duo review in a much more natural and flowing environment: as a conversation between two people that have heard the music. With that, we present to you Hanna and I’s discussion/review of Despicable, the new EP from English death metal legends, Carcass. Please tell us what you think about not only the EP, but this new format!
David: Hi Hanna! How are you?
Hanna: I’m great! Any day that I get to wake up and discuss sick music is off to a good start. How are you?
D: Same, honestly. And I think we’ve got a good amount to discuss given the pedigree of our band today.
H: Tell me about it! Carcass were one of the first death metal bands I got really into, so I’m very excited to discuss their new EP with you.
D: I’m curious, when did you discover Carcass? How did that come about?
H: I’d just gotten into a band with some guys who were much further into their metal journey than I was – I must’ve been 14 or 15, had only just discovered that I had quite the appetite for metal, but was a bit overwhelmed by the sheer amount of different things to listen to. I got Surgical Steel off someone in the band and just loved it from the first listen. It’s one of the only albums from around that time that I still vividly remember hearing for the first time. What about you? What’s your Carcass story?
D: That’s great! I swear, the value of friends that show you good music is unfathomable.
I can’t pinpoint when exactly, but it was about ten, maybe nine years ago, around the time hype was building for Surgical Steel. I see metalheads and journalists talking about Carcass. Around this time, I was into bands like Cannibal Corpse and Nile, so I checked out Heartwork after hearing about how it’s a perennial classic. Loved it immediately. Loved the groove and riffs to it. Vocals were nice and growly, but still decipherable for the most part. I studied them a bit more, listened to their other work, then Surgical Steel came out and was one of my top albums of 2013.
H: I hadn’t actually heard Heartwork until earlier this year. I always thought it was bound to not live up to the hype, but it absolutely does. I definitely agree with what you said about the vocals, and I think Carcass have always hit that sweet spot between groove and precision for me. Even on Despicable, there are some extremely groovy moments, interspersed with absolutely violent, 100% death metal riffs.
D: Yessssss. The thing I liked with Carcass‘ reinvention of sorts to death metal as opposed to their grindcore roots is that they really settled into where I think they always belonged, all the way up to this EP right here. I must remark, though I try not to pay too much mind to age, [guitarist/backing vocals] Bill Steer and [bassist/vocalist] Jeff Walker, the two remaining members of the band’s original lineup, are in their 50s now, and they, literally and figuratively, haven’t lost a beat. That’s hard!
There’s always this threat of older musicians becoming washed up or degrading in quality and… frankly, I’m not seeing it yet.
H: Absolutely! They’re two very impressive musicians, and their music still comes across as very natural and authentic even after being around for so long. Carcass have this amazing cohesion across their discography; you can always hear their signature sound, but it never comes across as stale or overdone.
D: Not at all, and they seem to be even stronger now and grow as they continue on.
I won’t lie, I was slightly disappointed we got an EP here instead of a full-length, but as I understand, I think they want to release the LP when they can tour behind it, which I get. Still, my disappointment was ever so quickly assuaged after I heard the riffs of “The Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue”. Very classic Carcass opening with that signature sound you mentioned, and settles into this bouncy melody.
H: I feel exactly the same. Despicable is very moreish – I would love it to be twice the length! They’ve teased us a bit with this one. I’m glad we got an EP over nothing, but I am also eagerly awaiting that LP.
“The Living Dead…” probably has one of the best uses of galloping guitars I’ve heard. It’s something that’s used so prominently in power metal and the like that I usually find it a bit cheesy, but Carcass nailed it on this track. They’re so tight, and the tone is so perfectly crunchy, but with so much clarity at the same time. It really helps those lovely dark Carcass harmonies later on in the song stand out.
D: It’s funny – as soon as you said that, I got to the galloping part on that track. As an Iron Maiden fan, I think I’m predisposed to like any and all gallops in music.
H: Haha, understandable! I never got too into Iron Maiden, so I don’t have that positive association with gallops. Either way though, Carcass definitely make gallops work in their favour on this one.
D: Agreed. I think it was a super nice track to lead with as far as singles go. Get fans excited, show Carcass are still here. The other single though, just may be even better. “The Long And Winding Bier Road” is an absolutely stellar death metal track. How did you like that one?
H: It’s so good, I fucking love it. That harmony at the beginning is the perfect example of one of my favourite Carcassisms, so tastefully executed. From a technical standpoint, it’s an extremely cleverly constructed song, with that cheeky key change from that chunky first riff into the verse and its gloriously anthemic chorus. It makes me want to climb a mountain and sing it at the top of my lungs once I get to the top. The final, extended chorus is one of my favourite parts of the song, when the backing vocals kick in and descend in a way that’s extremely reminiscent of Gojira – it’s unexpected, but works perfectly.
D: Yes, and I love how the guitars go just an octave higher in that final chorus to really nail it home… that is an octave, right? I’m not a musician!
H: Funny, I actually hadn’t noticed. There’s definitely some other harmony in there, it’s quite subtle. Definitely gives a bit of a lift to it in its final moments. It’s a nice build to a very understated ending. No frills, no mucking around, just some fat power chords and that final little riff and that’s it. What did you think when you first heard this song?
D: Well, my hypnosis from the arpeggios at the beginning was good enough, then the band drops down to allow that absolutely filthy-ass riff to come in. It’s one of the catchiest things I’ve heard all year, literally woke up with it in my head today. Verses augment it a bit so the vocals can snarl on it. It just captures this essence that Carcass have had for decades of being very clean and precise (surgical if you will), but never losing that dark, bloody death metal edge. For me, it’s the best track on here.
H: That’s a big call. It’s such a tight EP that I struggle to pick a favourite. The only one I’m not completely sold on would be “Under The Scalpel Blade” – but even that’s pretty awesome. It’s got some really cool riffs, but I feel it lacks… something. I’m not entirely sure how to describe it.
D: Interesting. I really like that track because of the bastardization of medicine it presents. It mentions Swann-Morton – a prominent maker of scalpel blades – the caduceus staff that’s so commonly associated with health and medicine. That also plays into the cover of the EP, which I thought was a reference to the caduceus staff, but in my research actually fits more with the Rod of Asclepius – another symbol of medicine – with the single snake coiling around a scalpel or blade of some kind. I love the balance of medical and macabre that they do, and honestly captures more of the reality about how medicine can definitely be used for evil. I especially like the lyrics, ‘The serpent thrives/From the maternity ward/To the cold morgue.‘
H: I really like that line too! One of my favourite lyrics on the EP. I didn’t delve nearly that far into the meaning of the song, so I’m glad you did. Their imagery has always been striking in some way, from the kind of gory beginnings to the much more medicinal now. The cover art of this one is certainly no different, and I enjoy the contrast between the sterile white background and the gruesome, blood-spurting serpent. I think “Under The Scalpel Blade” is perhaps the musical embodiment of that contrast, with its chorus being both so optimistic and so brutal.
Maybe I’m just salty about this song because of its solo section – it’s one of my favourite guitar solos on Despicable, but I’m a little disappointed that Carcass didn’t use the opportunity here to trade solos between guitarists the way they did on Heartwork and Surgical Steel. It’s a technique I really enjoy – the question-and-response style, and how you get to hear the difference in both guitarists’ approach to things like phrasing and melodic ideas. It’s definitely something that I miss throughout the EP, and its absence is most prominently felt on this track (in my opinion).
D: That’s all pretty fair. If there is any ‘objectivity’ in this review, I think you hit on it there with that. More dueling solos please!
But, you know what does have some great solo work? Our final track, “Slaughtered In Soho”. The short shredding complements the slower, lower melodies all throughout the album, but here especially. It’s a good finisher because it wraps up a lot of the themes and tropes that we’ve touched on so far, but still remains fresh against all odds. And that cowbell…
H: I agree – it’s just a shame that solo isn’t a bit more forward in the mix! This song definitely does have a lot of Carcass trademarks, but also some subtle (or not so subtle) differences, like the cowbell you mentioned. Carcass have done really well on this EP to include things that aren’t so common on their previous releases, like the cowbell, or the shaker in “Under The Scalpel Blade”, or the choir pads on “The Living Dead” – something I’m not usually fan of, but they transition so well into the guitar solo. Getting a bit sidetracked, sorry!
The backing vocals on “Slaughtered In Soho” are on point as well. It’s another really well thought out track, with a great deal of attention to detail. Sure, the cowbell’s a little out there, and the Dave Mustaine style panting at the end is perhaps unnecessary, but it’s up there as one of my favourites, and I knew it would be from the first few riffs.
D: Indeed. I couldn’t get the meaning or theme down with this track quite as much, but, assuming Soho is in reference to the upscale area in Manhattan, I got tossed back to the often overlooked (probably for good reason) George A. Romero film Land of the Dead which climaxes with a horde of intelligent zombies crashing a monolithic, opulent building reserved for the rich and famous to take refuge while others were left to die. I’d give a spoiler warning, but that movie is 15 years old!
Good song though. Vocals are varied, the groove descends well, and it has a slight cinematic feel. If it were a little hint of things to come for Carcass, I could get behind that.
H: Sounds like an entertaining film, maybe I’ll give it a watch and just blast “Slaughtered In Soho” on repeat during that climax. I certainly wouldn’t get bored of it. If Carcass‘s LP is anything like Despicable, I’m going to be a very happy individual.
D: I think I will too. At the end of it all, yes, this was a tease, but it was textbook Carcass with some subtle movements in newer directions and I know fans of at least Heartwork and Surgical Steel will feel similarly. They are one of, if not the, best that melodic death metal has to offer currently – I’d offer my life to the scalpel on that.
H: Beautifully put, I can only second that!
D: And with that, I think we’re just about done. Any final thoughts, Hanna?
H: You’ve pretty much summed it all up there, David. Any of the other musical subtleties I think it’s best to leave for the listener to discover for themselves. Carcass always were one of my favourite death metal bands, and Despicable has only strengthened my appreciation of them. They’ve still got it, and I hope they’ll continue to have it for many more years to come. I look forward to more sick riffs, dark harmonies, and, hopefully, dueling solos!
Anything else you’d like to add?
D: I’ll just say listen to Carcass, and take care of yourselves out there so you don’t become one.
H: Spot on.