Album Review : Carcass - The Best of Carcass (2016)
Reviewing a band's greatest hits album is fucking weird, but I'm looking for an excuse to talk about Carcass' career. Because they're a fascinating, yet atypical band. Napalm Death might've invented grindcore, but Carcass brought the genre in a completely different direction. They've invented grindcore's most extreme and fearsome subgenre goregrind, which most people have a difficult time calling music. They abandoned that sound five years into their career, became a really cool melodic death metal band and never looked back. Carcass are tough cats to follow. That is why I think going over their greatest hits album is a great way to put their musical brilliance into context. These guys pushed the boundaries of extreme music like few other bands.
The opener on The Best of Carcass is arguably their most iconic song Heartwork. If you decide to give Carcass a one-song trial, make it this one. It has elements of everything that made them great in different eras of their career: fast, shredding grindcore-inspired guitar riffs; Jeff Walker's trademark gravely, high-pitch growls; abrupt tempo changes; original and inspiring melodies and many more inspiring surprises. Heartwork definitely leans on their melodic death metal side but it's one of the best songs in the genre I've ever heard. It has such a strong identity and Carcass grindcore influences have every to do with it. The savant mix of sonic aggression and progressive sensibility is lethal here. Even the lyrics are completely unheard for the genre. It's an ode to dark arts, to people who choose to confront beauty instead of creating it. If I had to make a record with my twelve favorite death metal songs on it, Heartwork would definitely be on it.
So, now that Heartwork is out of the way, let's split the rest of the album in two categories: goregrind and melodic death metal. Carcass recorded three goregrind albums at the beginning of their career: Reek of Putrefaction, Symphony of Sickness and Necroticism - Descanting the Insalubrious, which seven out of the twelve songs on The Best of Carcass is dedicated to. They included the iconic instrumental opener from Reek of Putrefaction Genital Grinder, which was arguably the first goregrind song ever heard. Its fast, distorted down-tuned and obsessive riffs have withstood the test of time admirably well and have become somewhat of a ritual in Carcass gigs. People want to hear it live. The band cleverly uses it as introduction to other songs from their goregrind catalog when they play live. It's only 90 seconds long, yet its primal and echoing guitars create a powerful atmosphere.
Perhaps the most important song Carcass included on their greatest hits, at least historically speaking, is Pyosisified (Rotten to the Gore) which introduced for the first time the use of vocals pitch shifted beyond recognition. The band alternates between conventional death metal growls and what I call pitch shifted alligator sounds in order to create a dramatic duality on the song. I believe Pyosisified (Rotten to the Gore) created an entire artistic movement all by itself with the use of pitch shifted vocals but it was perhaps never used that shrewdly and with such an artistic concern ever again. Other standout goregrind songs on the record are perhaps their second most important song Corporal Jigsore Quandary, Incarnated Solvent Abuse and Exhume to Consume. They're all a lot of fun but they're more conventional, refined versions of earlier ideas they had. They're not historically important to goregrind like Genital Grinder and Pyosisified (Rotten to the Gore)
Last but not least, Carcass also had a significant melodic death metal era in their career, which had high points that were arguably much higher than their goregrind high points, but that is puzzling as a whole. I don't even know why they drastically changed direction like that. My theories are that 1) They just got tired of simple song structured and sickening lyrical themes or 2) They had Heartwork (the album) in their drawer for some time and got a shitload of money for it. They're also adventurous and experimental musicians at heart, so they simply could've outgrown their creation and not really know where to go next. The fact that they could only find 5 songs to put on The Best of Carcass from a twenty-three years period is a testament to that.
I don't even like all the melodic death metal songs they've put on that record. Sure, Heartwork and Buried Dreams are classics, but c'mon. Keep on Rotting in a Free World? There's freakin' COWBELL on this song. It reeked of a joke to begin with. It comes from Swansong, which I don't think is a very successful album to begin with. It was released in a very troublesome time where the band was on the verge of breakup and nu metal was taking over the airwaves and you can definitely feel it on Keep on Rotting in a Free World and Polarized, which are two songs that are really un-Carcass in their nature. There were many other great choices to pick from: Carnal Forge or Embodiment from Heartwork; Edge of Darkness, from Wake Up and Smell the Carcass, not sure why these choices were made.
Anyway, Carcass is one of the greatest metal bands of all-time. Their boundary-challenging contribution to extreme music still stands unchallenged today and their legacy is palpable both in death grind and goregrind musical scenes. They're a band which is both enjoyable and important, which is rarer than you'd think. Sure, their later work is more tormented and self-aware, but they still managed to pull musical gems from their sleeve every now and then. So, there you have it: Napalm Death created grindcore, Carcass created goregrind and THAT weird and extreme genre went into a weird fucking direction all by itself, which we will discuss in the next review.