Wake up and listen to this Melodic Death Metal wonder.
When a band or artist changes their musical direction towards something more commercial or mainstream, in order to become more famous and consequently make more money without worrying about their morality or principles, their old diehard fans start calling them a sellout. We have seen this type of thing happening hundreds of times with different bands from a wide range of musical styles, especially in Heavy Metal which always tends to be a more conservative genre than any other. Who doesn’t remember all the negative reaction of the fans and the specialized media to Metallica’s Load or Judas Priest’s Turbo? However, sometimes this change is for better, and that’s exactly what happened to Liverpool’s Extreme Metal masters Carcass when they “abandoned” their old Splatter/Grindcore to show the world a more polished material with the album Heartwork, released in 1993, becoming the pioneers of what we call today as Melodic Death Metal.
Although Heartwork was considered a radical change by lots of their old fans, and as I mentioned before a sellout by many, the album is far from sounding commercial or any shit like that. This is a milestone in the world of extreme music, quickly becoming the source of inspiration for hundreds of bands all over the world due to the quality and complexity of its music. The first track, Buried Dreams, already shows a much “cleaner” Carcass than ever before, but it’s still very extreme and violent. That new Carcass, a lot more melodic, offer us then Carnal Forge, which is pure Melodic Death Metal with amazing vocals, especially the initial scream, and beautiful solos by both Bill Steer and Michael Amott.
Can we call the unique No Love Lost a Melodic Death Metal ballad? This song is a classic with its perfect riffs and lyrics (“Without emotion you heartstring’s played / Strummed and severed to the tune of a tragic serenade”), and as one of the album’s singles it got a pretty cool video too. Then comes the best song of all, the title-track Heartwork, a heavy music masterpiece with incredibly fast riffs, awesome solos, an addictive chorus (“A canvas to paint, to degenerate / Dark reflections – degeneration / A canvas to paint, to denigrate / Dark reflections, of dark foul light”), and Jeff Walker being absolutely fantastic on vocals, sounding like an (extremely) evil version of Dave Mustaine. This is a Death Metal anthem with flawless synchronicity of all band members, and a mandatory track in any music selection for a heavy workout at the gym.
After an impeccable start, the album loses a little momentum with Embodiment, which is not as amazing as all previous tracks. Moreover, this song reminds me a lot of what Arch Enemy do today, clearly due to Michael Amott’s influence, but not as cohesive. This Mortal Coil is an excellent song with awesome guitars, making it one of the best in the album and a great song for any live performances. The next song is fantastic too, albeit it has a very weird name: Arbeit Macht Fleisch is a derivation of “arbeit macht frei”, the famous German phrase found over the main gates of many Nazi concentration camps during World War II (including Auschwitz I) that means “work makes (you) free”. In this case, the meaning would be “work makes (you) meat”, a more suitable expression for the gruesome heavy music played by Carcass.
The last part of Heartwork begins with Blind Bleeding the Blind, a very technical song with lots of groove and electricity, followed by Doctrinal Expletives, which is a more straightforward, traditional metal song. The last track of the album, Death Certificate, has an amazing start and very interesting lyrics, but in my opinion it’s its fast and heavy rhythm what makes it so great. This is the end of an outstanding album, with Bill Steer and Michael Amott kickin’ ass from start to finish (what those two guys did with their guitars together in Heartwork was glorious) and Jeff Walker adding a creepy touch to it with his guttural, raspy voice. In addition, we can see here one of the most extraordinary front covers in the history of heavy music, called “Life Support 1993”, designed by the deceased Swiss artist H. R. Giger.
The band released Swansong in 1996, and 17 years later they got back with the amazing Surgical Steel, in 2013, but Heartwork is still their biggest work so far and something quite impossible to be beaten (and if I were you, I would definitely go for the Full Dynamic Range Edition with its four amazing bonus tracks). Carcass might have changed their musicality, with an almost complete shift in their vocal style and more diversity in their music and lyrics, but instead of a sellout they became a reference in Melodic Extreme Metal. If you love truly heavy, violent music with a solid melody in the background and insanely gory words, well, let’s just say that you must “wake up and smell the carcass”.
Best moments of the album: No Love Lost, Heartwork, This Mortal Coil and Arbeit Macht Fleisch.
Worst moments of the album: Embodiment.
Released in 1993 Earache Records
1. Buried Dreams 3:58
2. Carnal Forge 3:54
3. No Love Lost 3:22
4. Heartwork 4:33
5. Embodiment 5:36
6. This Mortal Coil 3:49
7. Arbeit Macht Fleisch 4:21
8. Blind Bleeding the Blind 4:57
9. Doctrinal Expletives 3:39
10. Death Certificate 3:38
Full Dynamic Range Edition bonus tracks
11. This Is Your Life 4:09
12. Rot ‘n’ Roll 3:51
13. Carnal Forge (live in Tokyo) 4:25
14. Heartwork (live in Tokyo) 5:01
Jeff Walker – vocals, bass guitar
Bill Steer – lead guitar
Michael Amott – lead guitar
Ken Owen – drums