For death metal fans around the globe, 1996 was a particularly difficult year as fans had to deal with the titanic loss of Carcass and At The Gates. For quite a long time, it appeared as though we would never hear from either band ever again. Lo and behold, after a 12-year absence, both bands decided to reunite and play for legions of deprived fans. When the reunions were made public, questions began surfacing about whether or not either band would ever record new material. For both bands, the answer had been an unequivocal “no.” While we are all still waiting for At The Gates to reverse their stance and get their asses in the studio, the legendary Carcass decided to take the plunge and see what would happen.
Surgical Steel opens with, 1985, a slow building instrumental that elicits a vivid image that you are witnessing a giant awaken from a 17-year slumber. As this metal monster stretches its limbs, you eagerly wait to see what it will do first and the anticipation builds. The listener is then brutally and bluntly greeted with the unmistakable ripping and tearing snarls of Jeff Walker. From the opening moments of Thrasher’s Abbatoir, there is no question that this is Carcass…firing on all cylinders. For anxious ears clamoring to hear what the band produced after nearly two decades of silence, you will certainly find plenty of satisfying moments throughout the album.
Jeff Walker sounds as lethal as ever, his signature razor wire vocals scraping and picking at your eardrums as themes of gore, decomposition, and death cascade from his mouth. Blasting drum beats and flourishes spring up like landmines all over the place, constantly knocking you on your ass. Cadaver Pouch Conveyor System and the opening of The Master Butcher’s Apron are exercises that new drummer Dan Wilding ace with flawless execution. He had to follow in the footsteps of Ken Owen – who suffered a brain hemorrhage over a decade ago – and it’s easy to see hear why he was tapped to sit behind the kit. His power and precision fit the band perfectly.
Although Walker and Wilding exert their influence on the album, you really must tip your hat to Bill Steer. Surgical Steel really served as a canvas for Steer to lay down some of the tastiest guitar work he has ever put down. The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills and the album closer, Mount Of Execution provide several of the many shining moments for Steer. These two tracks in particular display great diversity in his ability, especially when held in comparison to earlier songs on the album. The final track is especially revealing as it opens with an acoustic passage and slides into something that could easily have been included on Swansong; it’s a great ending to the latest chapter in the band’s illustrious history.
Although the album has plenty of highlights, the only truly unsure moment came with Noncompliance to ASTM F 899-12 Standard. As it started, it felt eerily similar to Heartwork and seemed like the first time in the album that the band was leaning too heavily on the past. As the song unfolded however, it really began to form its own identity and finished strong. Despite the similar vein, the song is in no way a low point and is actually one of the album’s finer moments.
When bands decide to enter the studio after a prolonged absence, the end result often sounds desperate as the group appears to rely too much on past glories. With their newest offering, Carcass has managed to concoct an album that skillfully and thankfully avoids this pitfall; in an interview with The Age of Metal, you can hear Bill Steer talk about the decision-making process that led to them stepping into the studio, as well as his feelings about how the album would be received.
It’s very easy to simply say that Carcass is back. However, after listening to Surgical Steel, it would almost cheapen the end result. The album feels like a very natural next step. If you didn’t keep close tabs on the band through the years, you would never know that this was their first batch of new material since George Fisher made his album debut with Cannibal Corpse. Stop and process that for a moment…we’ll wait. Now that you’ve been able to wrap your gelatinous grey matter around the huge time gap between Carcass albums, listen in awe as the band shows everyone why they are still one of the most preeminent bands in metal history.
2. Thrasher’s Abattoir
3. Cadaver Pouch Conveyor System
4. A Congealed Clot Of Blood
5. The Master Butcher’s Apron
6. Noncompliance To ASTM F899-12 Standard
7. The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills
8. Unfit For Human Consumption
9. 316L Grade Surgical Steel
10. Captive Bolt Pistol
11. Mount Of Execution
Genre: Death Metal
Record Label: Nuclear Blast Records
Playing Time: 47 Minutes
Jeff Walker − bass/lead vocals
Bill Steer − lead guitar/backing vocals
Dan Wilding − drums