It’s common knowledge that the 1980’s were a crucial time for the development of various styles of extreme metal. Black metal, grindcore, and death metal all originated in this decade. As true for all sub-genres of metal, these three had their fair share of the good, the bad, and the absolutely ground-breaking. For both grindcore and death metal, the U.K. based band Carcass provides a more than sufficient example of ground-breaking metal. It’s difficult to explain how influential this band was so let’s start at the beginning.
In 1988, Carcass released their debut “Reek of Putrefaction”. This was an album that was indisputably nauseating, but in all of the right ways. Sonically, this album had the same structure and intensity of other early grindcore releases, such as Napalm Death’s “Scum”. The songs were short and distorted, with blast-beats abundant. One of the main facets of this album, an element that made it different from other grindcore at the time, was the gore inspired lyrically themes. Hell, even the opening instrumental was titled “Genital Grinder”; how metal is that? Cannibal Corpse owes much to this album. The vocals, notably performed by all three members, were some of the most guttural and unintelligible to be heard in the late 80’s. In sum, “Reek of Putrefaction” was musically angelic to many metalheads, yet to others, it was the soundtrack to their midnight food poisoning.
The very next year Carcass released “Symphonies of Sickness”. Their second album was anything but a sophomore slump; if anything, it was miles ahead of their debut. First, the production improved tenfold, which contrary to popular belief, extreme metal can benefit from better production. This has more or less been proven in the past 20 years. Second, this was the album that saw the band stepping into death metal territory. While retaining much of their frantic grindcore sound, they adopted some slower, sludgier elements, a more technical approach instrumentally, and an overall increase in song length. Third, this album was heavy as shit! I’m willing to make the claim that this album is not only the heaviest in their discography, but one of the heaviest albums of the 1980’s. “Symphonies of Sickness” is more or less a crossover album between grindcore (the heaviest sub-genre of hardcore punk) and death metal (the heaviest sub-genre of metal) so naturally it’s going to be heavy on an apocalyptic level.
“Necroticism – Descanting the Insalubrious”. I don’t know how else to describe this album except by saying, “goodbye grindcore, hello Michael Amott!”. Seriously, this album marked a huge transition in their sound. By 1991, Carcass had abandoned most of their classic grindcore sound in favor for death metal. But not only was it death metal, it was progressive death metal! This album more or less combined the intensity of death metal with the songwriting sensibilities of Queensrÿche and pure shred of “Rust in Peace” era Megadeth. Yeah, it’s that good. It could have just been a coincidence that Amott joined the band around the time that this transition took place, but in my opinion the addition of a second guitarist helped Carcass reach their full potential.
In 1993, Carcass released “Heartwork”. Again, a radical shift took place in the sound of Carcass. This time around, many of the songs were shortened in length compared to “Necroticism” (Yet still much longer than the average length of songs from “Reek of Putrefaction”). Also, while continuing with the brutality and technicality established on their previous albums, “Heartwork” show cased an impressive amount of melodic guitar riffs and solos. Whereas their debut helped to establish grindcore as a sub-genre, “Heartwork” more or less kick-started the melodic death metal scene, which proved to be an incredibly influential style of extreme metal. As a melodeath junkie myself, this is easily my favorite release from the band. Definitely recommended to anybody that’s a fan of bands such as In Flames, Arch Enemy, and The Black Dahlia Murder.