Carcass - Heartwork (1993)Release ID: 781
An extraordinary band that pushed the boundaries of melodic brutality...and succeeded brilliantly!
Carcass' evolution didn't always please everyone. Beginning their journey as a rather raw (and pioneering) goregrind outfit on Reek of Putrefaction, the band added more of a death metal element to Symphonies of Sickness, before leaving the grindcore behind completely on the brilliant Necroticism release. Heartwork finds the band adding a hefty dose of melody to proceedings without letting go of the death metal backbone. Throughout each of these steps there were unhappy fans, disappointed that the band was moving away from the style they personally enjoyed, but there's no doubt that on each occasion they gained masses of new fans in the process.
I think Heartwork is the stage where this fan (at first anyway) found himself a bit disappointed with the new direction. Necroticism is one of my all-time favourite albums and most definitely one of the finest death metal releases ever recorded. To find my beloved and brutal Carcass shedding the blastbeats and toying with melodies was reason for more than just concern and I must admit that I almost wrote this album off after just a couple of listens. But once I settled in and gave Heartwork some time I not only found it growing on me, but I also started to think of it as a fantastic album itself that doesn't really have any flaws.
One of the differences to be found on Heartwork is that Jeff Walker is now the sole vocalist. His raspy yet powerful delivery no longer joined by the varying styles of the other members of the band. As always, Steer and Amott produce fantastic riff after fantastic riff which, while certainly not as vicious as on previous albums, are still shredding enough for any fan of death metal. Ken Owens’ drumming was always one of the best things about Carcass and he still gets to show his stuff on Heartwork, even if the intensity of the work has been lessened somewhat. Carcass were one of the tightest bands imaginable by this point and each member played a huge role in the result.
Highlights for me are the title track, Embodiment, Blind Bleeding the Blind and Death Certificate, but there are no bad tracks to be found on this classic. It's a case of a band that were already extraordinary having the guts to try something different and still managing to come up with an incredible product. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for their Swansong just a few years later. But that's another story...
There are very few albums nowadays that I can recall track by track in my head. The fact that ‘Heartwork’ still plays through my memory some 26 years after I first heard it is testimony to it being a big part of my metal journey and also the catchy nature of the songwriting. I get that it is a departure from previous direction and that for many it was a step too far away from the more familiar sound of the band, but “Heartwork” was still a strong metal record and still recognisable as Carcass regardless.
My rating of 3.5 stars really only reflect my transition towards their earlier material as I have aged. “Heartwork” gets less rotation than “Symphonies...” or “Reek...” do, but at the same time will always have that element of nostalgia present to give it a solid rating. Whether it is the energetic start to the title track or the chop n chug of “No Love Lost” or even the spiralling maelstrom of “This Mortal Coil”, there’s still variety on this record.
As a melodic death metal album this just about has enough edge still to cut the mustard with my more extreme tastes. Often it gets criticised almost as an album that let the band down in some way, but I don’t think that is fair as it still stands up as a successful turn of direction for Carcass as well as being a defining record for the melodic death metal movement.
Heartwork is probably the album where Carcass was the most dedicated. They began demoing this album as early as during their tour for the less melodic Necroticism, even playing their new songs on tour. Much of the recording time was wasted finding the right guitar tone and the right ideas from their producer Colin Richardson. Things were going down to Hell for the people working on the album. With all that trouble going on, Carcass was still determined to get things right in order to reach higher lengths. In the end, they've made an offering that the world would recognize as a game-changing classic to this day!
I would never disagree with this album's melodic death metal legend status, but to be honest, it's not the most melodic melodeath album I've heard. The Maiden-like melodic harmonies that really make the genre, but that's a small step Carcass was missing here. The melodic harmonies in this album is mostly in just passages and solos, the latter not sounding as perfect as in Gothenburg bands. Mike Amott performed them slightly better in Arch Enemy that would've crystallized Bill Steer's standard riffing and groove.
The album's bleak emotion appears from the start with "Buried Dreams". Then things speed up with "Carnal Forge", beginning with harmony-powered intro riffing. Probably the closest this album has been to their earlier violent gore lyrics that would've traumatized people who aren't ready (like I would've been if I checked it out like 5 years ago). Swedish melodeath band Carnal Forge would get their name from that track. "No Love Lost" is certainly not easy-listening for most people, but it perfectly fits the more precise and mature direction the band has taken. The fast title track has really shaped up the melodeath genre as what we now know.
"Embodiment" has a mid-tempo groove and other aspects that would inspire a newer generation of deathcore created by Embodyment (I wonder if that track is where that band got their name). "This Mortal Coil" is straight on melodeath to kick things up high. "Arbeit Macht Fleisch" (Work Makes Meat) takes on a greater amount of harmonies that would inspire the last two Death albums.
There's a baffling breakdown in "Blind Bleeding the Blind" that would confuse people into thinking this is Coroner's Grin. The somewhat disappointing "Doctrinal Expletives" doesn't taint the album's greatness when some slight redemption is on the way. "Death Certificate" touches on dehumanization of life in a melodic yet blazing ending bang.
Heartwork is the album that gave later death metal bands the idea to add more melody than brutality, and it's quite an impressive achievement of a lifetime for this band. Where there any other bands before Carcass and the Gothenburg crew that started adding melody to an extreme genre with extreme lyrics? I think not! However, At the Gates who would make an album two years later that would inspire melodic metalcore bands to rise. In the meantime, enjoy the original melodeath work!
Favorites: "No Love Lost", "Heartwork", "This Mortal Coil", "Arbeit Macht Fleisch", "Death Certificate"
A really well-defined sound. I must admit that I was initially hesitant when I bought this back in 1993 as I was a huge fan of their previous material & this was clearly heading in another direction altogether. Ultimately I couldn't deny that the catchy song-writing & cleaner production had a brand new appeal all of their own though. I still definitely prefer the previous two albums but find "Heartwork" to be a really enjoyable & professional experience. Jeff's vocals are superb throughout. As are the guitar solos. I think it's probably a little restrained to get a higher mark out of me & it does tend to flatten out a little bit in the back end in my opinion. I saw them play live on the "Heartwork" tour & this material worked brilliantly in a live environment.