Jason Keyser, former lead singer of local metal bands Skinless and Detriment and current front man for technical death-metal band Origin, recently stepped on an Internet metal land mine of sorts. Keyser mentioned in a Facebook post that he had an extra ticket for a Carcass show, was looking for a ride and didn’t quite understand why the metal world is so devoted to the band. His statement was less than salacious. But it made ripples—Keyser has thousands of friends on Facebook. Carcass even made reference to the comment at a gig in L.A.
Liverpool’s Carcass have been on- and off-again darlings of the metal world since they began their sludgy, gore, death metal in 1985. Personnel issues, illness and record-label problems all eventually lead to the band’s demise in 1996. Their legacy of recordings was a mix of genre hopping: flirtations with sludge, death, grind, and gore made the band a bit ahead of their time, but their recordings were spotty. Some were worth a whole listen; others produced a worthy single or two. The formula for most of their releases was based on singer Jeff Walker’s limited, witchy, screeching, hissing vocals playing as a counterweight to Bill Steer’s sludgy riffs. Walker’s lyrics combined horror film tropes with cheeky political commentary and sometimes straight-out AC/DC-style tribute to rock & roll itself.
Keyser’s comments just so happened to come as a re-formed version of the band, featuring two of the original members, are touring in support of their comeback disc Surgical Steel. The album is back to business for the band despite new members. If you are looking for a moderate death metal disc, Carcass have made a great one.
As the years have passed, many bands have surpassed Carcass’ experimentation, their technicality and certainly their lust for gore. In fact, a lot of what Carcass were so good at has become so incredibly common in the metal scene these days that the new disc feels pedestrian when held up against other genre releases. Yet, on the scale of Carcass albums, Surgical Steel may in fact be one of their best. It features guitarist Bill Steer’s best playing, the best drumming ever featured on a Carcass recording and some of Walker’s most interesting lyrics—he mixes his gore flourishes with references to the Beatles and Temple Grandin.
It is a thoroughly enjoyable release and serves as a good crossover for those just getting into death metal. It’s great for Carcass fans and important for audiophiles who want to revel in Carcass’ legacy, but in the end the disc isn’t revolutionary by any means. It comes as the metal-core and death-metal hybrid scene has grown deadly stale.
The best moments on Surgical Steel come as Steer looks to his blues and glam influences and layers them over the patented Carcass grind. So why were Keyser’s thoughts so reviled by the metal community? Likely because the metal scene has so few heroes left. Carcass has long been the easiest name check for metal-cred seekers not wanting to align themselves with the stale releases of modern metal acts.
Back in the flesh, Carcass are no longer metal saints; they are meat puppets just like every other metal band. Carcass are a nostalgia act, but they still have a chance to deliver more. If they continue to dig into their influences and maintain a steady lineup, they might become a good band without the death-metal caveat. Time is their biggest enemy.