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Carcass

+ {Blackstar}

Radical in their time, the group’s lyrical preoccupation with physical decay and medical dissection (which extended to their live slide shows and album cover artwork) together with their ferocious musical onslaught, pre-empted the subsequent death-metal explosion.
Instigated in 1985/6 by guitarist Bill Steer as another gory side-line to Birmingham’s more politically inclined NAPALM DEATH, the Liverpool-based dis-core outfit (at the time billed as Disattack) also comprised drummer Ken Owen, vocalist Sanjiv and bassist Jeff Walker (of ELECTRO HIPPIES); the latter two filling the respective shoes of walking men Andrew Pek and Paul as they turned in gigs as CARCASS. Born to a Scottish mother and English father in Stockton-On-Tees, axeman extraordinaire Steer had joined NAPALM DEATH at the same time that CARCASS emerged with their inaugural demo, “Flesh Ripping Sonic Torment” (1987); Walker duly taking up his role as growling vocal geezer on the likes of `Genital Grinder’, `Regurgitation Of Giblets’, `Malignant Defecation’, `Psychopathologist’ and `Festerday’.
Long-haired veggie hardcore death-metal grind-crushers (phew!), the combo – without Sarjiv – signed to Earache Records (who else?!) and released their controversial debut album, REEK OF PUTREFACTION (1988) {*6}; see above tracks for repeated prescription titles. Though the all-growling trio were hounded by the tabloids, an early supporter was the ever-eclectic Radio One DJ, John Peel, who played “his fave LP” to death, despite the band themselves hating the production results – especially the drumming parts.
In the fall of ‘89, Steer and his CARCASS buddies – Bill’d now taken leave of N-Death – gained further notoriety with their second post-mortem, SYMPHONIES OF SICKNESS {*8}; the group being one of the main attractions on that year’s legendary “Grindcrusher” European tour (a stage-divers paradise). Co-produced with Colin Richardson this time around, ten longer exercises were chosen to flesh-out the disc rather than short-sharp-shocks of undisciplined displeasure. Opening up the wound with `Reek Of Putrefaction’ (probably disembowelled from their debut), and digging further into grind-core ground via `Empathological Necroticism’, `Crepitating Bowel Erosion’ and `Exhume To Consume’, CARCASS were indeed the modern-day musical equivalent of Burke & Hare; if The BLOW MONKEYS had been “Digging Your Scene”, CARCASS were “Digging Your Grave”!
In March ‘91, their first two albums were seized by police under obscenity laws, although the charges were dropped later that year. In the meantime, Michael Amott (from Carnage) had been installed, the guitarist making his debut on album three, NECROTICISM – DESCANTING THE INSALUBRIOUS {*8}. One of the first acts to describe themselves as progressive death metal, the disposal of dead bodies seemed to loom large in the minds of the makers; Walker regurgitating mouthfuls of grim-reaper grime, while menacing Steer almost exploded into MEGADETH-meets-THIN LIZZY-type riffs on the likes of opener, `Inpropragation’. Like its predecessor, and to confuse historians, they repeated the teasing formula of delivering a similarly-titled track, `Symposium Of Sickness’, that might’ve stemmed from their previous outing. A rare addition to their CV/discog was an officially-released EP, `Tools Of The Trade’, featuring the grinding out of the track itself, plus `Pyosified (Still Rotten To The Gore)’, `Hepatic Tissue Fermentation II’ and, not included on the 12” version, `Incarnated Solvent Abuse’.
In 1993, the fourth album, the less tongue-twistingly-titled HEARTWORK {*8}, enjoyed extra controversy due to a designed sleeve by HR Giger – famous for getting the DEAD KENNEDYS in trouble the previous decade. Fracturing the Top 75, it led to a ground-breaking deal with Epic/Columbia Records for its 1994 Stateside release date. Worked on by mainly Steer, or Steer and Amott, conventional structure, melody and coherent lyrics (larynx-thirsty as they appeared) were grafted into the mix; the likes of `Buried Dreams’, `No Love Lost’, `Blind Bleeding The Blind’ and the title track, coming as close to an 80s-styled METALLICA or the NWOBHM as never before.
Predictably, major label expectations didn’t quite match the band’s own, and they were duly back with the meaty Earache stable there on in. Around these wilderness years, CARCASS toured alongside BODY COUNT (ICE-T’s metal band) and PITCH SHIFTER, although by the release of the lame MEGADETH-sounding SWANSONG {*6} album in ‘96, the musical rot had set in. This was perhaps due to yet another personnel change; Carlo Regadas coming in for live temp, Mike Hickey, who’d filled the berth of SPIRITUAL BEGGARS-bound Amott; he’d later join Swedes, ARCH ENEMY. Although the record again sold respectably (UK Top 75), tsunami-inducing, tongue-in-cheek tracks such as `Keep On Rotting In The Free World’ and `Don’t Believe A Word’, owed much to “retro-rock” nostalgia than classic CARCASS cadaver.
Astonishingly, the rest of the band mutinied, sacking their founder Steer. They subsequently went on to form BLACKSTAR (Blackstar Rising, in the States), enlisting ex-CATHEDRAL rhythm guitarist, Mark “Griff” Griffiths. One solitary album, BARBED WIRE SOUL (1997) {*5}, was a pale shadow of the once mighty CARCASS; Ken Owen would subsequently (in 1999) suffer a cerebral haemorrhage which would put him in a coma for nearly a year, and effectively curtail his career.
CARCASS once again reared its ugly head and re-surfaced in 2007/8 for festival reunion gigs, although Owen found it impossible to maintain his intricate style of sticksman execution. Over several years and a handful of albums with his own ever-evolving blues act, FIREBIRD, Steer was now ready to rise above the parapet and take on a newly-embodied CARCASS, alongside Walker, Amott and drummer Daniel Erlandsson (of the aforementioned ARCH ENEMY). But just as they were about to re-enter the studio for a Colin Richardson-produced comeback set, Erlandsson and Amott opted to bail, their replacements coming by way of Dan Wilding and post-album axeman, Ben Ash. Unleashed on German-based global imprint, Nuclear Blast, SURGICAL STEEL (2013) {*8}, re-injected a bit of adrenalin into the death-metal scene, and even dented both the UK and US Top 50s. The album itself eschewed all the usual-suspect traits, yet, as in Satan they trust, or even at the altar of BLACK SABBATH or JUDAS PRIEST on speed, the cathartic and confrontational CARCASS scalpel-sliced an autopsy of sorts in machine-gun etiquette tracks, `Unfit For Human Consumption’, `The Master Butcher’s Apron’, `Thrasher’s Abattoir’ and the fitting, `Cadaver Pouch Conveyor System’. You have been warned!
© MC Strong 1998-2001/GMD / rev-up MCS Dec2013

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