Like football fans have certain dates marked on their calendars for potentially colossal matches, death metal fans have September 17th swirled within a blood red circle, heralding the new album from British grind-gore lords, CARCASS. As we can never have Chuck Schuldiner and DEATH back, then let chaos reign upon the formidable shoulders of CARCASS. Their new album "Surgical Steel" is what death metal pundits have been chalking their hopes on. Fret not, pundits. Only bassist/vocalist Jeff Walker and guitarist Bill Steer remain from the original lineup, but "Surgical Steel" is all that and a gleaming rachiotome ready to pare.
While Michael Amott and Daniel Erlandsson hung around for a five year interim when CARCASS officially reunited in 2007, they've made ARCH ENEMY their priority. TRIGGER THE BLOODSHED's Daniel Wilding and PIG IRON/DESOLATION/LIQUEFIED SKELTON guitarist Ben Ash have since stepped in their place, and their additions compensate huge.
For the band's first recorded output in 17 years since 1996's "Swansong", CARCASS makes no pretentions about where their future lies. "Surgical Steel" logically sits next to "Swansong" and 1993's celebrated "Heartwork". Likewise, everything on the new album is traded between grinding force and mid-tempo stomp, all delivered with dominant craftsmanship and a premeditated link to CARCASS' past.
The shivery cover art alone is reminiscent of their '92 EP "Tools of the Trade", while the lush opening instrumental "1985" is not just a nod back to the year of CARCASS' birth, it's so eloquent and unearthly you'll feel not so much graced by its presence as propelled somewhere out of this existence.
Immediately thereafter comes the letter-perfect "Thrasher's Abattoir", a blistering rework of a vault track from "A Bomb Drops", a demo when the core elements of CARCASS (Bill Steer, Paul and former drummer Ken Owen) were known as DISATTACK. The drums lance and gallop in varying sets of thrash and grind patterns while Steer and Ash's riffing is so precise they amaze beyond expectation. A whirlwind guitar solo touches in the eye of the storm, providing elegance to the manic brutality. What CARCASS had done prior to their split in 1996 was to refine death metal and grind to nearly the same effects as DEATH. "Thrasher's Abattoir" 2013 is so flawless one can hardly imagine anything getting within its league, no matter the level of experience.
Consider the same retracting excellence applied to the next song, "Cadaver Pouch Conveyor System". You can literally feel the layers being peeled by Jeff Walker's prolonged ralphs and yelps while the band slices away with thrashing evisceration. Only slowing things down enough to deliver a punctuated breakdown and solo sequence (metalcore holdouts, take note), the vigor of "Thrasher's Abattoir" and "Cadaver Pouch Conveyor System" will beat you blind, stand by.
CARCASS allows their listeners to catch their breaths with "A Congealed Clot of Blood", which might be as apropos a title as one can come up with to describe a song that marches then crawls through its coagulating solo segment. Nevertheless, expect some nifty back beats and rumbling bass drum kicks along with defined chugs to keep the song moving lithely. Next, "The Master Butcher's Apron" is one of the most hectic songs of the album, always threatening to jettison but skidding each time on the fourth mark of the successive grind rips. The blitzed-out payoff comes later after a wallowing solo section and yet CARCASS continues to employ a brilliant halting scheme every time they hit the gas on this track. By the time they're done teasing, you're in full headbang mode with a glorious solo swirling overtop the crunching pace.
Prepare to be amazed once again by the exquisite guitar flushes on the opening of "Noncompliance to ASTM F 899-12 Standard" and the spiraling fastidiousness of "Captive Bolt Pistol". If you want to simply cut to the chase, "Surgical Steel" is master's degree material all the way through.
Bill Steer has not just found a new supplement with Ben Ash, he has full extension of his abilities since Ash is equally dexterous. Daniel Wielding gives a technical clinic in all modes of blast and grind. With Jeff Walker's veteran shrieks and yowls and bottom-end tornados, CARCASS are as fearsome as ever. Better yet, they remain at the height of their talents, as if it's 1997 instead of 2013. Endpoint, "Surgical Steel" will be a lock for many metalheads' year-end best lists.