2013 has, and continues to be the year of the recorded resurgence, both Black Sabbath and David Bowie releasing new records after years of inactivity. While both have merits, they ultimately pale into insignificance alongside the return of Liverpudlian Metal legends Carcass. Perhaps a name unknown too much of the musical wider world, but within extreme circles the forthcoming release a monstrously major event. To describe “Surgical Steel” as the comeback album of the year would be accurate, but also woeful understatement. In reality, this possibly the best comeback album ever, particularly after a protracted lay off of seventeen years, the aptly and ironically titled “Swansong” the last previous release in 1996.
Even taking into account the reformation of the band back in 2007, without drummer Ken Owen, who sadly suffered a cerebral haemorrhage in 1999, and numerous appearances on the live scene, still difficult to believe after such a lengthy period, Carcass could unleash what is quite simply a metal masterpiece. “Surgical Steel” focuses less, as you’d expect, on the earlier gore grind material, instead an extension of “Heartwork” and “Swansong” maintaining the darkly disturbing edges, without descending too far into a lyrical carnage fest. Original members Bill Steer and Jeff Walker manifest in the studio alongside Ben Ash and Daniel Wilding, armed with razor sharp aural scalpels, sonically disembowelling the listener, no pain involved however due to an anaesthetic mix of unpredictable song structures, intelligent riffage, blistering fretwork and stampeding rhythms all showcasing musicianship of the highest order.
It’s safe to say, “Surgical Steel” provides some of Carcass most melodic moments, but worry not, without the sacrifice of brutal intensity. Numerous classic 80’s metal affectations transpire including opening track “1985” as the twin guitar attack of Steer and Ash surfaces before the death grind kicks “Thrashers Abattoir” door wide open. It’s difficult, nigh impossible to find fault throughout “Surgical Steel” indeed only praise required, particularly through the triumphant trio of tracks which adorn the centrepiece of the record, “The Master Butcher’s Apron,” Non Compliance to ASTM F899-12 Standard” and “The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills” within which the spirals, eddies, swirls and tempo changes prove breathtakingly dextrous.
If you’ve already been exposed to lead track “Captive Bolt Pistol” with its hurtling rhythms, flesh tearing vocals and ghost fingered ethereal guitar work, be assured, as good as it is, there’s even better to come.
'Surgical Steel' is an essential album, ultimately defining everything which makes Metal the most stimulating musical genre around. That Carcass can produce a collection so relevant after many years of extreme hibernation, make the forthcoming live dates on the “Defenders of the Faith IV” Tour and their Damnation Festival headline appearance totally un-missable. www.facebook.com/OfficialCarcass Review by Andy Barnes
Nov 2nd Leeds University Student Union
Defenders of the Faith dates with Amon Amarth, Bleed From Within and Hell!
Nov 12 Birmingham o2 Academy
Nov 13 Manchester o2 Academy
Nov 14 Glasgow Barrowland
Nov 15 Bristol o2 Academy
Nov 17 London Forum
Fleshgod Apocalypse – Labyrinth
Italian symphonic/death metal band Fleshgod Apocalypse put out their third full length, Labyrinth, this month, pushing their blend of epic symphony and brutal death metal to the limits of aural comprehension. Greece’s Septicflesh arguably made this sonic experiment with more smoothness on Communion, but there are moments of excellence to be found here and there throughout Labyrinth’s fifty-five minutes that make it a unique and immensely heavy musical experience.
While other metal bands use symphonic elements to melodicise their music, Fleshgod utilize the orchestra to drive their music into new depths of brutality. The marriage of symphonic music to death metal is unstable and occasionally shaky, often giving the impression that the two are violently competing with one another, rather than co-operating as a single piece of music. Kingborn opens the album with the intriguing sound of strong waves, heavy breathing and crunching footsteps, which turns to a rising choir of operatic vocals before Fleshgod finally shove everything they’ve got in the listener’s face with awesome heaviness. It threatens to fall apart into total war, but the well-formed, interesting atmosphere manages to keep everyone together in an uneasy alliance, shove them all in the same boat and propel it forward across the mysterious musical waters ahead. In Minotaur, pummeling blast-beats and epic, operatic vocals elevate the music to Vesuvian heights. The guitar is nicely prominent for moments here, chugging and dropping to occasionally spectacular effect; sadly the guitar functions more as a rhythm instrument for most of the album, the complex symphonic elements leaving little room for interesting electric riffs or melodies. Vocal duties seem to be divided between several different singers. There are solid death growls, operatic female vocals, and some sort of odd male falsetto that sounds forced and out of place. Drummer Francesco Paoli is the album’s steam engine, blasting his way through every track with incredible power. The drums are the most prominent aspect of Fleshgod’s current sound, mercilessly stomping on everything else within proximity.
Each track is solid and interesting. The galloping chug and bits of epic melody in Pathfinder make it a standout. The classical guitar in Prologue is a pleasant but brief break; its follow-up, Epilogue is one of the album’s most ambitious, with a bigger role for the female opera singer, more melody, passionate guitar soloing and a deep, melancholic cello part.
Under Black Sails is arguably the most exciting track to be found on Labyrinth. It is the peak of the band’s abilities, showcasing neo-classical guitar parts, descending piano, and an unstoppable death metal chorus. Finally the title track, a haunting piano instrumental, strips away the thick layer of metal to reveal the saddened, mythic atmosphere that lay just beneath the surface all along. This final touch, a seemingly soft title track for a death metal band, is actually a very important one: it ties the listening experience together into a comprehensible album and an effective work of musical art, albeit a sometimes messy one. Labyrinth was released on the 16th of August, 2013, via Nuclear Records. The album is an imperfect but fascinating offering from Fleshgod, and it will be very interesting to watch the development of the band’s sound from this point. Recommended. www.fleshgodapocalypse.com
Equilibrium – Waldschrein EP
German folk-metal band Equilibrium certainly know how to pack a punch. New EP Waldschrein is out this month with an utterly fantastic new song and four other wonderful tracks. Waldschrein is a fun-filled celtic jig with bouncing guitars, thrilling choruses and crushing death metal breakdowns. Here the band demonstrates an ability to instantly fill the air with multi-dimensional fantasy atmosphere and delicious metal fury. This is without a doubt one of the best metal songs of 2013 so far. Der Sturm is a remake of a strong track off of 2005’s Turis Fratyr, and isn’t a vast improvement, excepting slightly better, heavier production, but it works well on the EP. Zwergenhammer is an older song that, for whatever reason, was unreleased until now. Fast folk melodies over charging metal rhythms (and the brief inclusion of a flute) make this another exhilarating piece of work. Then comes Himmelsrand; you can smell the nerd sweat all over this one. An instrumental cover of the Skyrim theme song, one wishes whilst listening that the game developers had hired the band to perform this version for the soundtrack in the first place. The EP closes with an instrumental version of the title track, the tune of which proves just as satisfying the second time around. The depth of the folk instrumentation and symphonics here produces an epic, cinematic vision of fantasy magic and heroism, demonstrating Equilibrium’s excellence within the folk-metal genre.
Waldschrein is a tantalizing piece of masterfully crafted metal music that marks Equilibrium as a powerful force in the genre, for those who weren’t already aware. To the band’s advantage, it should stir up a great deal of excitement for the forthcoming album, which will be unbelievably good if this is to be any indication. www.equilibrium-metal.net
Bloody Knives – Death EP
Austin, Texas’s Bloody Knives deliver a truly disturbing statement with their new EP, the simply titled Death. This is an eerie industrial nightmare, appearing like a bloody ghost and then disappearing just as quickly. The riffs are simplistic, but fuzzy, malevolently dark, and noisy, blasting out of the speakers with the militant stomp of the Neue Deutsch Harte movement. This is contrasted by soft, distant vocals that whisper sadistic lyrics from the mind of a killer. not alone and kill you all contain more elaborate electronica, the combination of dance music and homicidal intent brewing a frightening, surrealistic urban horror scene.
The EP wraps up with the squealing distortion and tasty bass riff of peeling away the skin, the longest track at 2:36. It ends abruptly, leaving an uncomfortably grimy impression. Death is a small, but unsettling glimpse into some very twisted creative minds. With this fast-paced release Bloody Knives have put out a thoroughly impressive EP, though impressive in a way that many will not be able to stomach. www.facebook.com/thebloodyknivesable
Reviews by Stuart Kristensen