DURING THEIR initial run, Carcass had a hand in laying the groundwork for two of extreme metal's most enduring subsets. Formed in '85, the British band pioneered grindcore and pushed it to maximum goriness with their first two records, Reek of Putrefaction and Symphonies of Sickness. Later, Carcass provided an early template in 1993's Heartwork, their fourth album, for the melodic death metal that would take hold in Sweden. By '95, they'd called it quits.
But the intervening years were kind to Carcass. Not that they weren't appreciated in their heyday—John Peel was an early champion of the band—but as the story of death metal was being written in the decade after their demise, Carcass emerged as one of the legends of the genre. So in 2007, Carcass reunited, to much fanfare from metalheads, though many were nervous about Carcass messing with their legacy.
"Loads of people kindly instructed us not to make another record," jokes guitarist Bill Steer. "I do appreciate the advice, but obviously it's our band."
Steer admits he was keen on making a new album after the initial run of reunion shows, but the idea was quickly nixed. "I had a whole backlog of stuff going back to the mid-'90s. It was a situation where my impulse was, 'It would be great to try writing some material as a group,' but it was instantly shut down because of the dynamics in the group at that time," he explains. "It didn't even really get to the discussion point, because certain people in the band at that time made it clear instantly that they wouldn't entertain the idea of making a record."
Carcass started out as a three-piece, with guitarist Michael Arnott joining after the second record. For the first reunion tours, Daniel Erlandsson replaced original drummer Ken Owen, who suffered a cerebral hemorrhage years after the band's breakup. Arnott and Erlandsson weren't amenable to the idea of a comeback record, given their outside commitments—most notably the melodic death metal band Arch Enemy.
But after Arnott and Erlandsson quit Carcass to concentrate on their other bands, Steer and bassist/vocalist Jeff Walker revisited the idea of doing another Carcass record. Last year they released Surgical Steel, their first album in nearly 17 years, and it sounds like they never left. To put it another way: Not only did they beat the odds and release a comeback album that didn't suck, but it was also one of the best metal albums of 2013.
"It's safe to say that anybody listening to Surgical Steel would have a hard time spotting any influence that connects with contemporary music. Because I don't listen to any, and I guess the same goes for Jeff," says Steer. "With the newer lads in the band [guitarist Ben Ash and drummer Daniel Wilding], obviously they're younger, and I can't really speak for them, but even they're leaning toward preferring the old stuff. We were drawing from the same pool of influence that we drew from around the middle period of the group, the third and fourth albums.
"I'm not particularly interested in us embarrassing ourselves by trying to keep up with what the youngsters are doing."
Pulling from those middle-period influences is another way of saying they didn't mess much with the death 'n' roll found on their fifth album, the oft-slighted Swansong. In many ways, Surgical Steel sounds more like the logical follow-up to Heartwork, the album that preceded Swansong—although Walker has called Heartwork "pedestrian."
"With Jeff, he's very, very critical of everything and everyone, and naturally he doesn't regard any of our stuff as being that good," says Steer. "He probably tends to side with the third album [Necroticism—Descanting the Insalubrius] because it's so difficult. It's very angular music that's hard to reproduce, especially in a live scenario. Some of the people who want to score underground points cite that as the Carcass record, but, if I'm being honest, for the kinds of things I want to hear from a record, my favorite two would be the current one and Heartwork."
While Surgical Steel serves as something of a summary of everything Carcass did during their first heyday, it's the only record that sounds as if the band is being mindful of its past. Each of the first five albums made some sort of leap into new territory, and now that the band has gotten the comeback album out of the way, Steer says he sees them moving back into that frame of mind.
"When it comes to doing another record, assuming that we do, we would have to make some kind of significant step forward. It would have to be that way, because that's what the band's always been like."