The Lowdown: British death metal innovators Carcass helped found the genre in the ’80s and expand its boundaries in the early ’90s with a series of mostly-excellent and progressively different records, then broke up before getting their due. After a long hiatus they returned in 2013 with the platonically perfect Surgical Steel, maybe the best comeback album in all of metal and Heavy Consequence’s eighth-best metal album of the 2010s. Eight years later, their long-delayed follow-up, Torn Arteries, is harder to love than its predecessor, but still excellent.
The Good: Carcass play to their strengths on Torn Arteries, chief among them guitarist Bill Steer’s potent balance of rhythmic chugging, saturated guitar tone, and speedy-but-bluesy melodic runs. These have been the focus of his sound since 1993’s Heartwork, and Steer continues to deploy them to great effect on songs like “The Devil Rides Out.” Each song contains indelibly hooky riffs, but the nine-plus-minute centerpiece of the album, “Flesh Ripping Sonic Torment Limited,” in particular plays out like a parade held in honor of his pentatonic fret mastery.
Steer’s counterpart is bassist and vocalist Jeff Walker, whose raspy voice and acid wit maybe reach their harshest peak on Torn Arteries. His bass is barely audible, but when he’s unfolding meter-pushing and multisyllabic slices of social commentary wrapped in blood-soaked imagery as on “Kelly’s Meat Emporium,” it’s hard to hear how that matters. Walker’s wordplay is among the best in the business, and anyone who cares about such things ought to give Torn Arteries several spins.
But the standout performance on Torn Arteries belongs to drummer Daniel Wilding, whose dexterous percussion is the first thing audible on the album. Wilding performed on Surgical Steel, but that album was composed in part of material written before he joined. On the other hand, he was integral to the composition of these new songs, and their looser, groovier structures and the album’s counterintuitive production seem optimized to give him visibility.
The Bad: Carcass fans hoping for a return to their gross-out grindcore days won’t find it on Torn Arteries; this album’s rooted in the groovy melodic death metal vein the band have homed in on since Heartwork and perfected with Surgical Steel. Brutality and barbarity aren’t the band’s only goal any longer.
But while Surgical Steel was front-loaded and aimed to please, Torn Arteries is a little less accommodating. After its title track, the album tosses two of its grooviest and least hooky songs at the listener, before picking up on the back half. In fact, the album might have been improved by swapping some of those songs out with the teaser tracks from last year’s Despicable EP, which came from the same songwriting sessions.
The Verdict: Each Carcass album is an essential listen in the extreme metal canon. Like Chuck Schuldiner’s Death, they imbue each record with a different personality and feel. Torn Arteries has an absolutely rotten personality, but one soaked with black humor and charm — not to mention stellar riffs and performances — for those with the patience to get to know it. Those looking for unrepentant brutality can look to Cannibal Corpse, but those looking for something more complex need to taste this masterpiece of bitterness.
Essential Tracks: “Kelly’s Meat Emporium,” “The Devil Rides Out,” “The Scythe’s Remorseless Swing”