Carcass, am I right? Legendary band, instrumental not only in forging early grindcore’s sound but also early melodic death metal. One band pioneering two styles of music? Almost unheard of. You can read more on their journey through the last three-plus decades in our newest EINthology exhaustively written by Hanna, who just happens to be joining me for this review of Torn Arteries. This ain’t our first time doing this, let alone with Carcass themselves, so let’s get right into the blood and gore of this new album.
Hanna: How’s it going, David?
David: Good. Deathly good even. How about you, Hanna?
H: Ooh, that’s good to hear. I’m feeling pretty excited, and I’ve got a bit of a sense of deja vu. It’s been a while since we last did a review like this.
D: It has! For some context I guess, we actually piloted our new conversational duo review format with us talking about Carcass‘ last offering, the Despicable EP. That was a lot of fun.
H: It was! So much so that I think we decided straight afterwards that we’d do the same thing for the new Carcass album, and now here we are, almost a year later. I think we’ve got a pretty big task ahead of us with Torn Arteries, and I’m quite curious to see what you have to say about it.
D: Well, I know we’ve both been holding our tongues a bit until tonight, so I’ll just break the proverbial ice by saying that every single song on this album rips to a degree that I haven’t experienced in quite a while.
H: I can only agree with that. Right from the opening title track, it’s clear that Carcass are not here to mess around – I was not expecting so much ferocity so early on! The more I listen to the album, the harder I find it to pick a favourite song, but the title track is definitely up there.
D: It is. Strong start, but frankly, also a strong middle and end. It’s been a wildly entertaining listen for the past couple weeks. Carcass fans that appreciate their melodic side will find riff after tasty riff, each song just action packed with good grooves and solos. If you’re not a Carcass fan, but love a great guitar riff, you’d be hard pressed to find much better than this, or more consistent than this.
H: Absolutely! I definitely think it’s the most ‘fun’ album Carcass have ever released – it’s just so incredibly energetic that I can’t help but groove along to it every time. Plus, it’s not just the riffs and solos that kick ass; the vocals are just spectacular, it’s probably my favourite Carcass release in that regard. What was your first impression of it?
(Light content warning as this video shows various foods, plants, and animals decaying, as well as a ton of meat harvested from animals – vegans proceed with caution)
D: Definitely about the same as you. Jeff Walker’s vocals are as strong as ever – menacing and calculated. I agree that it’s their funnest too. You know, this late in the game, Carcass don’t have shit to prove to anyone. They are very clearly comfortable with where and who they are now, they have a ravenous following, yet don’t occupy themselves much with what they (we) expect. They just come out, write some unreal stuff, and get wide acclaim. I think that feeling of freedom and just doing what you want is very evident on Torn Arteries.
H: I thought that too. They have never been too concerned with being the ‘most brutal’ or ‘heaviest’ or ‘most shocking’ or whatever, but on this album in particular they’ve nailed not giving a shit about that – staying true to themselves, doing something completely different, while still sounding very much like themselves. To me, Torn Arteries feels like a blend of 1996’s Swansong and 2013’s Surgical Steel, but at the same time, it’s very fresh.
D: Also agree. Although I don’t wish it to be, I was thinking upon my… probably 14th listen of this album that if this were their last album, it’s a really good send off. We even get little nods to their past! There’s a song on here called “Wake Up And Smell The Carcass/Caveat Emptor” and the first half of that name references the name of a compilation they put out in 1996. Another song called “Flesh Ripping Sonic Torment Limited” references their first demo put out in 1987 (I wasn’t even born yet!). It just feels very self-aware and like it’s completing a legacy.
H: I did wonder that, especially considering the lyrical content of “Flesh Ripping Sonic Torment” – they allude to things coming to an end in the final lines ‘This circus is leaving town/The circus of death approaches‘. That could just be Carcass being Carcass though – it’s not like morbid lyrics are unusual for them at all! At almost ten minutes long, “Sonic Torment” is by far the longest song on the album, but I never notice its length because it’s so cleverly constructed. The riffs are great, the structure flows, there’s a gorgeous clean intro, and those acoustic guitar stabs in the chorus! I don’t think I’ve ever heard an acoustic guitar sound so much like a guillotine.
D: Hell, I believe “Sonic Torment” is their longest song ever produced! Future me will have to fact check that (future David here; yep, it’s the longest I can find). Super solid throughout though – it houses one of the only slower, quieter moments on the album with that acoustic intro and mid-track interlude. If we wanna talk death though, my go-to for that is the album closer, “The Scythe’s Remorseless Swing” which starts with the sound of church bells dinging in the background, serrated guitars slicing through the mix like that eponymous scythe, lyrics talk of time running out, expiry, and general death (Jeff gives the most menacing ‘tick tick tick tock‘ I’ve heard since Metallica‘s “Frantic”).
H: I was hoping you’d bring that one up! I think listening to the album for the first time, this was the song I was most intrigued by, purely because I think the title is awesome. It’s totally death-centered, but not in the way I would’ve expected – normally when I think death in music, I think slow, trudging, doomy. But “The Scythe’s Remorseless Swing” is quite the opposite – driving, apprehensive, almost impatient. Not to mention it’s far catchier than any song about death’s inevitability should ever be, and I love that. The final touch of the sound of flies buzzing when it ends is just the cherry on top.
D: Yessss, I noticed that! I thought flies were assaulting me in real life when I listened to it outside – nope, the song was. One other track I wanted to bring up was the somewhat recent single, “Dance of Ixtab”. Love this song. First off, I love that Carcass took some influence from indigenous Mayan culture. Ixtab is a goddess of death that acts as a psychopomp (soul guide/escort to the afterlife) for people who hanged themselves. Very, very dark stuff, as expected from a band of this caliber, but again, the song is immensely groovy – almost upbeat – with its bouncy riffs, marching drums, and overall fun tone. Those layered guitars during the chorus? Perfection.
H: Woah, I did not know that! That, my friend, is fuckin’ brutal. I’m going to be completely honest, I didn’t really like this song when I heard it as a single, but it’s grown on me so much. That trademark groove that you mentioned is definitely very pronounced on this song, it always gets my shoulders going. It’s very coherent musically as well, and probably one of the most solidly constructed songs on Torn Arteries. Jeff’s bass tone is to die for all throughout the album, but it stands out the most on this track, and I love that. I have a song on my mind as well – I’m curious, what do you make of “The Devil Rides Out”?
D: “The Devil Rides Out” is a burner for sure. I got almost an Iron Maiden feel from the squealing guitar lines that bookend the track. It has an ominous feel, being the one track I can make out to be about occult, Satanic shit. Some of the melodies in it have this faint West Asian feel that I just eat up. Very solid track. How did you feel about it?
H: I just adore it. It’s not the most cohesive track on the album, but that very mystical feel is definitely refreshing, and the doubling of Jeff and Bill’s vocals on the line ‘Get behind me, Satan‘ sends shivers down my spine every time. I reckon it’s super undercover, and I don’t think everyone will like it, but I’m so glad we’re on the same page at least!
(Another light content warning, as this animated video shows a number of human figures hung by the neck and empty nooses all around, although in a pretty unrealistic, stylized fashion)
D: Indeed! It’s kind of that outlier track you see on some metal albums where it’s either love it or hate it. I do understand and agree with it not being the most cohesive as well, but they still pull it off. This is a good segue to talk about anything else we didn’t feel too strongly about on Torn Arteries, but frankly I’m kind of at a loss aside from them reusing “Under The Scalpel Blade” from Despicable. The song does fit in here though, so I give it a bit of a pass – at least they didn’t stick all of Despicable in this track listing!
H: I thought that was a strange move, too, when I first saw it on the track listing. I forgave it though because I also think it works beautifully in the context of the album. I can’t think of much to criticise here either – I think it’s an incredibly solid, very enjoyable album. Maybe more solos? I’m still missing those guitar duels from the Heartwork/Surgical Steel days. However, the solos that are on Torn Arteries are fantastic, so I don’t mind as much as I did with Despicable. I really wish we had time to dissect every track, but it’s nice to leave a bit of the album undiscussed as well. Is there anything more you’d like to say about it?
D: Could always use more solos, right? I think all I’d like to say is this is without a doubt one of the best metal albums of 2021, definitely in the death metal realm. I can’t see anyone that’s way into great guitar work, band cohesion, and catchy melody not loving this album. Carcass fans will be happy, metal fans will be happy, and I predict it’ll be on a lot of heavy music year-end lists – it will definitely be on mine. Stellar album, and a great show from legends that, frankly, didn’t have to put out more work, but the drive and talent is still very obviously there and I’m quite thankful for that.
H: And again, I can only agree with that. I was worried I’d hyped it up too much in my mind, but Torn Arteries really is a very sophisticated, thoughtfully executed album that will give fans many, many hours of listening pleasure. What a time to be alive.
D: We are the arteries, and Carcass have torn us up in the best of ways. I do believe that’s about it from me. Any final thoughts, Hanna?
H: What a way to put that! Nope, that’s all from me. As always, it’s been an absolute blast getting to share this review with you – I can’t wait to do it again!
D: Pleasure was all mine, pal. Until next time, everyone!