Sure, this “Fab Four” hail from Liverpool, but the lyrics “like maggots colonizing / contagious disease contaminating” are about as far away as “love, love me do” as you can get. And that’s how Carcass like it, even though the 2013 Surgical Steel album is proving to be their most “commercial” to date, breaking into the Top 50 of the Billboard 200.
The influential extreme metallers, who formed in 1985, have been on a little 18-year hiatus, so Carcass co-founder/lead guitarist Bill Steer was pleasantly shocked by the warm reception from both critics and fans. “We thought the number of people we’d reach with this album would be a lot smaller — die-hard Carcass fans,” he admits. “We didn’t think the wider metal community would pay much attention.” For a one-time (and still somewhat) underground band to be lauded in the mainstream can be odd for both fans and the group, and it takes Steer back to his own early rabid fandom. “There’s an enormous element of elitism where people want a band and a scene to remain theirs only. I understand it to a degree because I used to kinda feel that way. When I was 16 or 17, I got a buzz off listening to music that I thought was unpalatable to other people. But I don’t feel that way about life or music any more.”
Still, the architects of gore-grind and melodic death metal — relatively dormant as a group since their aptly titled 1996 “final” album, Swansong — have not mellowed, and, yes, are still delightfully “unpalatable” to many thanks to lyrics by bassist/singer Jeff Walker. Songs like 1989’s “Embryonic Necropsy And Devourment” or 2013’s more political “A Congealed Clot Of Blood,” where Walker snarls, “Come decapitate the fasiq you made with the praiseworthy’s blade,” are not for the faint of heart — or stomach. As Steer undersells: “Obviously, we’re not the most settled individuals, or we wouldn’t be doing this.”
But with age comes perspective, and Surgical Steel is the beneficiary. “The big thing for us was trying to correct mistakes from the past. I’m not talking about moral things, more about stylistic elements,” Steer explains. “Even little things we did with a vocal or guitar, which, as time went on, we felt hadn’t stood up that well. But we suddenly had this chance to make a new album, and I hate to use the word, but to try to ‘perfect’ what we think the Carcass sound is. It’s really the first time Jeff had time to get into the production side,” says Steer. “In the old days, vocals were a sort of an afterthought; he was given a day or two here or there to blast through a few takes.” Surgical Steel‘s reviews and sales have borne out the band’s thoughtful and hard work, and, as Steer humbly acknowledges,”I think it’s fair to say we’re reasonably happy with the outcome. [Honing the Carcass sound] is fan-based stuff really,” he concludes. “Because ultimately that’s where I’m coming from as a musician; I’m somebody who is obsessed with music and collects records.”
The Decibel Magazine Tour Featuring Carcass comes to town Saturday, April 11, 7 p.m., Best Buy Theater