Music Review: Carcass’ Surgical Steel and Gorguts’ Colored Sands
Published: October 16, 2013
Carcass dubbed the short burst of creamy, harmonized guitar lines that opens its first album in 17 years “1985,” and it’s aptly titled. It sounds like a transmission from those pompier days of metal when NWOBHM and thrash hadn’t yet completely overtaken the mainstream, back when then-teenage Bill Steer and Jeff Walker first scrambled out of Liverpool to help pioneer grindcore and seal the deal for extreme metal. But as the counter clicks over to track 2, “Thrasher’s Abbatoir,” Surgical Steel (Nuclear Blast) should blow anyone expecting a nostalgic reverie back about five steps. In fact, it’s soon clear that a coupla dudes on the other side of 40 went and waxed one of the best, most vital metal albums of the year.
The creamy guitar harmonies reappear throughout Surgical Steel, and why not? They were a key feature of Heartwork, Carcass’ 1993 melodic death ’n’ roll cornerstone. If Surgical Steel sounds at times like tapes cut a year after Heartwork and left languishing in a vault after the band’s 1996 breakup, well, there are plenty of ’heads who aren’t gonna be mad at that. But Steer, Walker, and new blood Daniel Wilding and Ben Ash sound energized, bursting with awesome moves, impatient to beat you over the head with them. And while Wilding’s new-school double-kicks drive tracks like “Thrasher’s Abbatoir,” his flexible flow also makes the striated alloy of death-metal pummel and old-school breakdown on cuts like “The Master Butcher’s Apron” conjure visions of heaving circle pits. If you need reminding of how relentlessly exciting good metal can be, look no further.
The real secret weapon here, though, is perhaps to be expected from a band with a thing for medical gore: hooks, hooks, hooks. Whether it’s due to Walker’s articulate gargle on the choruses or Steer’s insane fusillades of riffs slamming into riffs slamming into riffs on cuts on like “316L Grade Surgical Steel” or “Captive Bolt Pistol,” you will wear Surgical Steel’s marks.
If Surgical Steel seems to have picked up more or less right where Carcass left off nearly two decades before, Gorguts’ Colored Sands sounds like a band not at all interested in revisiting where it’s been. The Québécois death-metal crew had already broken with DM orthodoxy through the arcane harmonies and spazzy rhythms of 1998’s Obscura (a gateway drug for a generation of hipster metal- adopters) before its own temporary break up in 2005. Colored Sands pushes out into a landscape that is, for lack of a better word, orchestral.
You’d be forgiven for equating “orchestral” with “cheesy synth interludes,” because that’s how it usually goes in metal. But frontman/guiding light/lone original member Luc Lemay doesn’t add orchestral touches so much as he writes and arranges Colored Sands’ nine lengthy tracks in a way that expands beyond the usual riff/blastbeat binary. He’s not afraid to drop a genuine break—a delicate hushed verse, not just a slowed-down pit-stoking section—amid the churning chords of opener “Le Toit du Monde.” Tunes like the title track, with its slippery guitar harmonics, and the lurching “Enemies of Compassion,” with its faux tribal pound and slashing chords, sound concrete dense without ever bogging down in mere featureless din. (Having Kevin Hufnagel and Colin Marston from uber-complex instru-metal group Dysrhythmia on board as new members no doubt helps.) Things do get literally orchestral at one point, thanks to the LeMay-penned string piece “Battle of Chamdo,” but it’s rather impressive, a bowed evocation of metal’s minor-key fraughtness and chugging rhythms. Not so much a soundtrack for the home pit, then, but powerful, ambitious music not to be discounted by the open-eared.
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