Most bands claim to progress with each album, though seldom can really be said to have challenged themselves with new innovations every time they step inside a studio. However, few people who picked up on a band called Carcass, and their splatter-fest Earache debut 'Reek of Putrefaction' (1988), could fail to see the true progression represented by today's incarnation. Each new Carcass record has marked a gradual and natural evolution from primitive beginnings. The band's second effort, 'Symphonies of Sickness' (1989) gave way to the more palatable 'Necroticism - Descanting the Insalubrious' (1991), before the dam burst with 'Heartwork' (1993) and a subsequent worldwide deal with Columbia Records buried the myth that Carcass were just another noisy 'death metal' band.
Bassist Jeff Walker explains that the evolution process "is more like people growing out of a naive state, and just coming straight to the point. The songs on 'Swansong' are less a mix of too many riffs, and more about a simpler structure, the verse chorus verse chorus thing." 'Swansong' is the latest, and quite possibly the last Carcass offering, recorded over a year ago, though no less powerful for the delay. It has brought the band to the accessible sound they hinted at on the massive 'Heartwork.' Walker's rasping vocals retain the intensity that hallmarked the earlier albums, but the overall sound is more mature - fluid solos blend with powerful metal riffs to produce an album of real class. References to medical atrocities are long forgotten.
"Some of the lyrics deal with frustrations and experiences we've had since the last record was out and the whole deal with Columbia. It's more like I'm getting it out of my system, because the album has been ready for so long, but factors outside of the band have been holding it back." With the success of 'Heartwork' (it reached Number 54 in the UK National Album chart), Carcass signed worldwide to Columbia Records in April 1994, only to part ways after the recording of 'Swansong' and return to Earache. Says Walker; "We were never naive enough to think we were going to become the next Metallica, although we always got on well with Columbia. It's almost like the second Great Rock 'N' Roll Swindle, we got the money and they didn't get the album!"
Stand out numbers like 'Keep on Rotting', 'R**k the Vote' and 'Tomorrow Belongs to Nobody' demonstrate a songwriting skill that few major established rock bands could equal. Coupled with the natural aggression that Carcass never lost, it makes for compelling listening, strangely commercial but with an underlying malevolent attitude. Cries of sell-out are predictable but the band remain undeterred; "Actually Columbia claimed 'Swansong' wasn't commercial enough, they even wanted me take singing lessons,' laughs Walker. "I suppose part of the reason we got dropped was because we wouldn't compromise, we stuck to our guns - how many bands would do that on a major label?"
Back on the Earache roster, the Columbia experience had taken its toll - months of waiting heightened band tensions, although Carcass amazingly remixed songs on both Bjork's 'Hyperballad' Top 10 UK single, and Killing Joke's 'Democracy.' Swansong' is without doubt the best Carcass have produced - Bill Steer's audacious leads meets the bludgeoning rhythm section, (completed by drummer Ken Owen), head on, but instead of pummelling the listener senseless, it slyly worms its way into the mind with a seething, malignant ease. Aggressive yet melodic, influenced by traditional metal sounds but uncompromisingly relevant in an age of passing trends and marketing politics, Carcass '96 is a cultured beast.
Carcass have never done the obvious, and 'Swansong' echoes the frustrations and personal trials of a band intent on going against the grain, confident in the knowledge that they are doing something different.