Carcass' third and fourth albums, Necroticism and Heartwork are two of the very finest albums the world has ever seen. It's quite difficult to review the rest of their discography due to the excellence of those two pieces of work. But it's so important to look back at their humble beginnings, especially when one considers how damn original they were at the time. They clearly progressed and evolved with each release, going from brutal, sludgy grindcore (Reek of Putrefaction) and ended up with some sort of cleanly produced, death n roll (Swansong).
Symphonies of Sickness sits in between that crappy sounding yet somehow entertaining debut and the completely peerless death metal of Necroticism. It's still underproduced, but somehow the sound works completely. The imagery, the lyrics, the whole tongue in cheek experience, just wouldn't work as well if this wasn't raw and impenetrable. And nothing else had sounded this sick and twisted back in 1989. Along with Autopsy, Carcass created a whole new genre of metal, and one that is still going strong today. The band have recently reformed (well, Jeff Walker, Bill Steer and Michael Amott have recruited Daniel Erlandsson to make a new Carcass) and it will be interesting to see what they come up with next.
All three band members take on vocal duties on nearly every track. It's amazing how different Bill Steer and Jeff Walker's vocal styles were and yet how perfectly brutal each of them sounds. Steer's guitar riffs are amazing, and his style has been copied repeatedly in the past 20 years. Highlights are Reek of Putrefaction, Exhume to Consume, Empathological Necroticism and of course Swarming Vulgar Mass of Infected Virulency. You got to love those titles. Carcass rocks!
Liverpool's Carcass started out in similar vein to Napalm Death musically but with an emphasis on gross-out, gore-drenched lyrical content and pretty much invented goregrind with debut Reek of Putrefaction. Much like fellow Englishmen Bolt Thrower, Carcass refused to stand still and refined their sound with each release throughout the late '80s and early 90s. With sophomore Symphonies of Sickness the Scousers reduced the debut's reliance on grindcore and introduced more death metal and variety into the songwriting mix with consequently longer tracks and a much more satisfactory result in my opinion. There is also a huge leap in quality of the sound from the debut - it is much cleaner and isn't the turgid sonic mess that the debut struggled with. The tone of Symphonies of Sickness is on a rancid offal-pit level of purulent filthiness, Ruptured in Purulence for fuck's sake, have you ever heard a dirtier sounding track? It's almost impossible not to imagine that something has gone off in your fridge while listening to this, yet they achieve this filthy sound without sacrificing clarity in the most part. As anyone who is familiar with my preferences in extreme metal will know that this sort of thing is exactly the kind of sound that I love.
I guess people going into a death / grind album from 1989 would probably expect an album that blurs into one with little progression or variety and that accusation has been thrown by some at Carcass, but if you actually listen to Symphonies of Sickness then you will hear that that is far from the case. There is far more going on here than initially meets the ear and it is evident that Carcass have had few equals in extreme death metal songwriting over the years. They never compromise the songwriting for brutality's sake and equally they don't compromise the brutality of the tracks either. That said, they are certainly not averse to throwing in the odd melodic riff and phrase that sticks a particular track to your memory cells most effectively, but rest assured, there will just as certainly be a blasting dose of grind to blowtorch your grey matter along any second.
Their use of three different vocalists also adds a variety to the different tracks. I don't know who provides which vocal, but they are all quite different with one being deep and rumbling like some nether pit-demon, one is ragged and harsh with an almost black metal level gurgling shriek and the third sits somewhere between the two. I must admit I do prefer the deep rumbling growl that features on tracks like Exhume to Consume - that almost sub-sonic vocal rumble is a vibe I love. I tend not to get too involved with the lyrics as the obsession with pathology isn't really my thing at all and, in all honesty, I also find the cover to be a bit much, whilst understanding that it is all part of the band's aesthetic and does suit the virulently putrid atmosphere uniquely well.
Overall, for me I think Carcass hit a sweet spot between grind and death metal here that I haven't heard replicated too often. The variety and accessibility of the songwriting coupled with the dark, rotten-stench atmosphere is a masterclass in extreme metal song production and has resulted in an album that is right up there with the very best death / grind releases.