Retro-Review: ‘Heartwork’ by Carcass

Carcass made a sharp, piercing statement in 1993 with Heartwork.

The early 1990s was the time when death metal was coming to its own and several bands were breaking away from what was then a very, very large pack. Carcass is one of the bands from that period who managed to create a sound that was theirs and theirs only.

Sure, Carcass had already carved its own audience out of the larger body of death metal with its prior albums. They incorporated speed, melody and lyrics based on medical terminology in their early days. Heartwork continued that, but not only did it refine the sound, but it saw Carcass broaden its appeal.

Hearwork was one of the handful of albums released in the partnership between Earache Records and Columbia Records, which saw to test the death metal waters. It resulted in some great albums in 1993 — The Ethereal Mirror by Cathedral and Wolverine Blues by Entombed – and showed what could be done with sound when you gave these bands a better budget to record their albums.

The partnership, of course, didn’t lead to a death metal boom, but it did have an impact. In my opinion, at least, death metal album production values went up quite a few notches after these albums were released. While the genre might’ve waned, heavy music in general just seemed like it started to sound better.

Anyway, the lineup for Carcass on Heartwork are perennial members guitarist Bill Steer and vocalist Jeff Walker, who are still in Carcass as of this writing. On drums is co-founder, along with Steer, Ken Owen and guitarist Michael Amott, who is known for his work with Arch Enemy nowadays.

The album

If you’ve heard this album once, you’ll probably always remember the riffs of the opening song, “Buried Dreams.” I’d call it one of the best opening songs to a death metal album that you can find, largely thanks to the first few seconds. It’s not because those few seconds are furious or bludgeoning, but instead, are kind of like opening a door to a slaughterhouse or an emergency room. Once you open that door, you’re trying to process what you’re seeing or feeling, then when the song kicks in, you’re hit by everything else … blood, cries of fear and, of course, death. It helps that “Buried Dreams” is a strong song through and through, with some great riffs and awesome melodies.

“Buried Dreams” sets the tone for Heartwork pretty well. Throughout the album, you’re hit with a mix of fast and furious riffs, dizzying guitar solos and slow grinds. The listener can tell that Carcass spent a lot of time trying to get these songs as near to perfect as they could in the writing process.

Heartwork” is as good a death metal song as you can get. Like “Buried Dreams” you can recognize this song right away from its opening riffs. It’s a damn fine song, huge sounding and blistering as it runs over the listeners. Unfortunately, Beavis and Butthead hated this song and it may have unjustly killed whatever momentum they had.

Beavis and Butthead hated a lot of good music and seemed to have it out for death metal at the time, because Entombed and Death got similar treatment. On the other hand, Glenn Danzig could record himself on a homemade keyboard and a kazoo and they’d still love it.

But whatever, I’m not going to let myself get drawn into a countering cartoon characters from 25 years ago.

On a side note: My friend the Salty Seaman had an argument about the lyrics once. While the lyric sheet said “canvas to paint” he would swear up and down it said “to masturbate.” I’m not sure he still holds that opinion, and I can kind of hear it, but I definitely here the “k” sound on “canvas.”

Showing their “slower” side (if there’s really such a thing in death metal), Carcass show a lot of restraint in “No Love Lost.” They let the groovy main riff take front and center, letting the listener fall into its rhythm and growling its rather memorable and catchy chorus. “Embodiment” is another good one in the same vein.

Of course, there’s a few tracks that stand out above the others. Aside from “Heartwork” and “Buried Dreams,” I’d put “Arbeit Macht Fleisch” in there with its absolute heavy delivery, being partly grounded in Carcass’ grindcore roots and mixed with their melodic death metal blossoms. A pretty memorable song by any measure.

“Arbeit Mahct Flesh” is followed by the pummelling “Death Certificate.” this one is a tonal assault built around a fast rhythm and punching bass drums. I’d love to hear this one live as you can imagine the mosh pits being particularly ferocious during this one.

Then you have the closer, “This is Your Life,” which makes a very complimentary bookend to “Buried Dreams.” In this, you’ll hear sounds that will return in their next, and final album for almost two decades, Swansong. It’s a pretty good song and gets pretty close to what we now call “death ‘n’ roll.” Definitely a standout, both for being a good song and sounding so much unlike the rest of Heartwork.

The verdict

Heartwork is a worthy addition to any death metal collection. It’s an album that I enjoy more now than the first time around. The songs are both good and solid and the album is consistent. Carcass is on top of their game here and it’s a shame that death metal seemed to, well, start dying off not too long after this album was released. The mid-90s were a rough time for the genre and many bands fell apart.

Luckily, for us, many of those bands would come back better than ever. Carcass being one of them.

So check out Heartwork, you won’t regret it.

Australian Amazon shoppers click here to purchase HEARTWORK

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