Carcass – Heartwork (1994)
What happens when you have to compare… let’s say Sentenced, Darkane, and this very album? Carcass contributed several formative works to what is now known today as grindcore, but as early as 1989, on Symphonies of Sickness, their music was taking orderly, accessible turns. Combined with a bit of humor and vegetarian members (“But Gabe!” you shout, “There’s no such thing as a vegetarian song structure!”), we also get this, which just so happens to also be a foundational work in its own subgenre.
The traditional scapegoat – since there are some people out there who don’t like Heartwork – is Michael Amott. It’s a reasonable position at first glance, actually, since Carcass became more melodic throughout his tenure with the band; furthermore Amott went on to form both Arch Enemy (more melodeath) and Spiritual Beggars (retro rock). It’s not hard to hear where his heart is, especially during the flashy and sometimes harmonized solos this album showcases. On the other hand, the album retains a measure of more stereotypical death metal/grindcore riffs that are often employed for contrast and also alternates between thrashy and rocklike drum patterns. It might be accurate to say this album’s got a bit of a split personality! In fact, it wasn’t just Amott who was interested in this; every other member of Carcass performing on Heartwork has at least dabbled in straight ahead rock/traditional metal music.
It’s hard to say what pushes your average band in a direction, but given the discographies this band has spawned, I’m guessing that this was a conscious return to roots, although clearly not a complete one. As for whether it works? That’s actually a harder question. On one hand, tons of bands in the early-mid ’90s transitioned from playing straight up death metal to this sort of hybrid rock/extreme metal sound for various reasons… although they also ended up in a lot of other places, which isn’t saying much. The key is that there’s definitely a market for this sort of thing, since it tends to result in simple, but otherwise intense and aggressive music… which has been coming up a lot in my reviews lately. Carcass seems to do a relatively good job not oversimplifying their songwriting formulas here, which is partially due to Michael Amott’s leads… and partially due to the crazed snarls of Jeff Walker, who is one of those rhythmically skilled death metal vocalists that you read a lot about when you read this blog. The caveat, of course, is that such things as Carcass’s older dual vocal attack and some of the songwriting sophistication that the previous two albums had achieved disappear into nothingness.
The lesson? Listeners beware, as few bands can actually merge the two genres Carcass does on Heartwork, and even they can’t get all the nuances down. On the other hand, they did a lot better than most of the people who attempted it.
Highlights: “Carnal Forge”, “Heartwork”, “Arbeit Macht Fleisch”, “Doctrinal Expletives” (which holds special sentimental value to me for being the first song by Carcass I ever heard)