Carcass remind us in four songs why they are known as the greatest British death metal band. They’ve created two of death metal’s most popular subgenres, goregrind, and melodic death metal. Yet they've never lost the respect of their fanbase. Not an easy trick to pull off, especially in a scene that values genre loyalty to a fault sometimes. There’s no way any self-respecting death metal fan could not like the Despicable EP though. It’s tasty, engaging, technical without being wanky, and sounds like nobody else. Despicable is a must-listen for fans starved for content in this most horrible of years.
Despicable began life as Carcass’ seventh full-length LP. That was before the global pandemic put an end to the music industry as we knew it. Bill Steer says that Torn Arteries is still coming. If it sounds like Despicable, it’s going to be one of the band’s best albums to date. This is a good lesson in how less-is-more can work in an extreme setting. 2013's Surgical Steel was the same. The key to Carcass’ later work is the restraint it shows. Blast-beats are sparse, a contrast with most of the death metal scene today. Fans of the old Gothenburg sound should rejoice.
The sound might be named for Gothenburg, but Despicable is British to the bone. Just look at the song titles. ‘The Living Dead of Manchester Morgue”, “The Long and Winding Bier Road” and “Slaughtered in Soho”. In fact, if you stripped away Jeff Walker’s vocals, this could almost be an NWOBHM record. The guitars dance off each other and the melodies hit just right. We expect nothing less from the group that invented melodic death metal. Ingested and Infant Annihilator have been slamming things up on the British scene in the last few years, but Carcass are old school. They write songs by jamming organically, not through ProTools or Logic. There really is no replacement for a tasty clean riff like the ones Despicable throws out at every turn.
“The Living Dead of Manchester Morgue” is the first track on Despicable and also the best. Its main riff will remind listeners of Amon Amarth’s classic “The Pursuit of Vikings,” while the fretwork that Bill Steer and Jeff Walker pull off are jaw-dropping. They’ve always been more competent than your average rage-basher, but the twists and turns they take listeners through in the song’s middle section are some of the most impressive they have ever written. Modern death metal has become overburdened with tech wizards who can sweep circles around most guitarists without ever writing a memorable hook. Carcass don’t have that problem, even when they are throwing away the beat entirely to freewheel.
“Under the Scalpel Blade,” which was released as a single earlier this year, has a steamroller main riff and Death/Possessed approach to vocals. Daniel Wildling’s percussion was a highlight of 2013’s Surgical Steel, and “Under the Scalpel Blade” shows that he has only improved. He doesn’t play the beat so much as he adds another melody to an already crowded song, utilizing his massive-sounding kit to keep up with the guitars and bass.
They repeat this trick on “The Long and Winding Bier Road.” After some wild riffing that sounds like it could come from Iron Maiden, the band falls back on their old chugging ways. Another no-miss song. It just sounds fantastic, a blend of Carcass’ influences, original contemporaries like Pestilence and even the bands they influenced themselves, like Arch Enemy and At The Gates. If it ain’t broke, why fix it, right? No need to reinvent the wheel when you already invented it.
Though gloriously predictable, Carcass do have a few tricks up their old sleeves. The call-and-answer bridge in “Slaughtered in Soho” will stir up some violent moshpits once concerts resume, but the guitar solo that follows it is exceptional. Virtually free of distortion, it sounds like one of the classic 80’s guitar god moments. Through the Eddie Van Halen style tapping, you are reminded why bands continue to name-check Carcass as an influence to this day. Without them, modern death metal simply wouldn’t exist.
Hats off to Carcass. Once again, they've reminded us how it’s supposed to be done. If you don’t like Despicable, you don’t like death metal. It’s as simple as that.
Stream the whole album below: