Few metal bands are considered to be pioneers of two distinct subgenres. As teenagers, British group Carcass brought gore-obsessed grindcore to the forefront with their 1988 debut Reek of Putrefaction and the next year's follow-up Symphonies of Sickness. As the band progressed into the '90s, their sound became more complex and ornate. This style was captured on their fourth album, the now-classic 1993 melodic death metal landmark Heartwork.
Internal dissension and label issues caused a breakup shortly thereafter in 1995, but while the band members were away from each other, Carcass' legend grew. Reunion shows in 2008 were warmly received. Speculation of a new album increased in metal circles. According to Carcass' guitarist/vocalist Bill Steer, there was one man standing in the way of a new album: fellow guitarist Michael Amott.
“Michael was very vocal about it being a questionable thing to do,” Steer says from a tour stop in Chicago. It was clear to the group that as long as its current lineup existed, they wouldn't be able to move forward on new music. “Personally, I was disappointed,” Steer says, “as I was the last person to get on-board for the reunion. But once I was in there, it was really fun. It felt natural to me to begin working on new material. “
Amott, along with touring drummer Daniel Erlandsson, left the band in early 2012 to concentrate on Arch Enemy, a melodic death metal act he formed after Carcass originally broke up. This departure opened the door for Steer and bassist/vocalist Jeff Walker to begin working on new material.
Initially, Steer and Walker started writing and recording the new music in secret with new drummer Daniel Wilding. This veil of secrecy allowed the trio to ignore any outside pressures.
“When we were writing this stuff,” Steer says, “no one outside our really close circle of friends knew about it, so at any point, we had an escape. If we lost our nerve or decided it wasn't strong enough or didn't sound like Carcass, we would go our separate ways, and no one would ever get to hear anything.”
The band's new album, Surgical Steel, was finally released last week. Carcass' first album in eighteen years reinforces the band's legacy as purveyors of a unique brand of metal. Songs such as “Thrasher's Abattoir” and “Cadaver Pouch Conveyor System” meld the spectacular guitar harmonies of Heartwork with some of the band's goriest lyrics since the early days.
The album is a very fitting comeback given how much the band's legend grew during their hiatus, though that growth was initially lost on Steer.
“I was out of touch with that scene for a number of years,” Steer says. “It was only when speaking to Jeff and Michael during that time that I became aware that our records were standing the test of time. To put things in perspective, Heartwork wasn't considered a successful record when it came out. A lot of fans and reviews were very denigrating when it came out.”
While Carcass is moving forward into the future, they're still committed to honoring their past. On Surgical Steel, the band's history is honored by guest vocal contributions from original drummer Ken Owen, who nearly died after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage in 1999 and was subsequently hospitalized for almost a year. Damage from the illness left Owen unable to continue his drumming career.
These days though, Steer chooses to reflect on the positivity of how far Owen has come in his recovery during the last fourteen years.
“Occasionally someone will ask 'Is Ken going to rejoin the band?' It's obvious that person doesn't understand what Ken has been through,” Steer says. “You have to remind people to temper their expectations. It is clear he won't ever play drums like he did when he was 21, but…the fact that he is around walking and talking and leading a wonderful social life is amazing. In our minds, he is still a member of the band. We involve him as much as we're able to. It's very much a family vibe.”
Carcass performs at the Troubadour on Saturday, September 28th and Sunday, September 29th.
Follow Jason Roche on Twitter @JasonRocheLAW.