We all like a bit of drama, right? Carcass’ return album Surgical Steel is of course hotly anticipated and the media blurbs that were rolling in steadily attested to this with fawning pull quotes. Then the album leaked, well over a month before the official release. Conspiracy theories, threats, reviews after “one listen”, and some outright nonsensical posts and statements ensued. Frequently during those oft-hyperbolic exchanges there was one key question lost – is the album actually good?
The answer to that oh so pivotal question is yes, Surgical Steel is a good album. It’s not their best album of course, but it was never going to be and should you make a list of their albums, it will feature near the bottom and probably just above (the unjustly criticised) Swansong, if consensus is anything to go by. However this is the best reunion album that Carcass could have made.
Surgical Steel has all the hallmarks of a modern metal record. It’s certainly laden with all of the melodicism of their latter work from their original run and just enough of death metal’s core elements to keep this album suitably heavy and visceral, just as the artwork and familiar subject matter shows.
And Carcass have kept all those important elements intact for Surgical Steel; everything that makes them Carcass. Intro track ‘1985’, referencing their formation that year originally under the name Disattack, is led by slick clean guitar solo peeled off easily by Bill Steer giving way to ‘Thrasher’s Abbatoir’, which is an adequately titled track if ever.
Meanwhile, ‘Cadaver Pouch Conveyor System’ is where the album’s melodic knives are truly wielded with dangerous precision and speaking of which, new drummer Daniel Wilding (Aborted, Trigger the Bloodshed) has done a supreme job of filling the boots left behind by Ken Owen. Wilding will always be subject to criticisms on his playing, which is something he’ll just have to get used to, such was the presence and style of Owen’s playing but Wilding’s chops are still impressive, and tastefully executed, from start to finish and play off Steer’s guitar playing quite well, joined by another new recruit in Ben Ash.
There are several moments on this album that will stick with you for hours after listening through. ‘The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills’ is melodic Carcass in excelsis. The lead riff could easily have been plucked from Swansong and the chorus is utterly infectious to top it all off. One very real concern for a new Carcass album was delving too far into their melodic components and essentially creating a new Arch Enemy album but Walker on vocals. Instead, the band has maintained enough chunk and heft at the same time to avoid this route and perhaps the absence of Michael Amott on guitars has played a role in this turn of events.
If you’re looking for evidence of this, take ‘Unfit For Human Consumption’ as an example, which is loaded with an instantly memorable riff that’s complemented by catchy passages and a spat-out chorus from Walker to top it all off. In many ways, the song is emblematic of the whole album.
Surgical Steel is a triumph at the end of the day. It’s a solid slab of melodically minded death metal (note that doesn’t say melodic death metal) and serves to bolster Carcass’ reunion and reputation, especially in the eyes of the younger generations that didn’t get to see the spectacle the first time. Of course, it’s not the death metal gemstone for 2013 but it’s one of the better death metal reunion records of recent years and one that Carcass should be proud of.