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‘Necroticism’ by Carcass Turns 25


When I was in college for electrical engineering, one of the most common phrases I heard was, “Engineers get it right the first time.” We were taught to make the first attempt count–in our line of work, whether it’s building a bridge or writing code for an iPhone, mistakes can put lives at risk.

Bill Steer, guitarist of UK death metal royalty Carcass, isn’t an engineer in the purest definition of the word, but he approaches his music with an engineer’s mind. Steer not only pioneered grindcore, gore-metal and melodic death metal with Carcass and Napalm Death, he arguably perfected those styles on his first tries. This makes Carcass’ third album Necroticism – Descanting the Insalubrious, which turns 25 years old this coming Sunday, an anomaly. It was the first time Steer had not broken new ground or re-defined a genre with a release, but the result was his finest hour. By pulling in his adolescent NWOBHM and thrash influences to reign in his high-velocity death/grind ability, Bill Steer and Carcass made their most interesting and unique record.

Even though Carcass slowed down for the first time on Necroticism, they executed the change masterfully. The band used their new tempo vocabulary to add dynamics and personality to their songs. The chugging march in “Corporal Jigsore Quandary” and “Lavaging Expectorate of Lysergide Composition” see Steer using his classic metal and early thrash roots to expand Carcass’ color palette. He used a similar trick on Surgical Steel in 2013, relying on thrash’s bouncing energy to drive that record. On Necroticism, he makes use of the rocking aspects of NWOBHM to add variation to the music and place a greater accent on his towering chords.

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“Incarnated Solvent Abuse” (perhaps the second greatest song about sniffing glue) mixes mid-tempo Bay Area thrash stomps, slow crawls and Slayer-esque speed metal breaks to make for a track that offers something exciting and ear-catching with every turn. Guitarist and future Arch Enemy founder Michael Amott, making his debut with Carcass on Necroticism, caps the track off with a practically relaxed solo section. Where Steer’s stamps on the record are marked by creepily intense character, like entering a staring contest with someone with a lazy eye, Amott’s sections feature a welcoming glide.

Amott’s influence would come to the fore on the follow-up to this record, Heartwork–on Necroticism, his contribution is limited to a pair of co-writes and a handful of guitar solos. Tellingly enough however, as of 2016 Necroticism is the final Carcass album to feature Bill Steer on lead vocals. At nearly every Carcass show I’ve attended, Steer’s turns on the mic have featured the audience launching into a frenzy. In other words, Steer’s raspy, husk-throat is the indicator that shit is about to go down. It’s Carcass’ live warhead that sets off a crowd, a nuclear football that they’ve kept under lock and key in the studio for 25 years.

On the opening track “Inpropagation”, Steer’s description of decaying poop announces the bombshell riff that dominates its final minutes. That fucking riff at the five-minute mark, a lumbering walk down the fretboard, doesn’t depend on speed or even a catchy progression to make its point. Similar fucked up strolling riffs are littered throughout Necroticism, and they give the record a brain-frying flair that few other albums can claim. “Corporal Jigsore Quandary” uses these as transition pieces at 2:00, 2:41 and 5:20, while the slow, downright mean lick two minutes into “Carneous Cacoffiny” leaves you begging for a conclusion before the band let loose a chaotic break that would have been right at home on Symphonies of Sickness.

The grainy horror movie-like production heard on Symphonies would not suit Necroticism’s riff salad however. Colin Richardson’s dry, mid-heavy production places Steer’s fat power chords and B-tuned chunks at the very front, and gives Ken Owen’s snare and kick a high-fidelity snap that pops through the mix whenever it needs to. Listening to this record is like watching Carcass play an endlessly rehearsed set in their practice spot – it’s no-nonsense and naked, a quantum leap away from the glossy sheen that defined Heartwork.

Necroticism wasn’t the last time Carcass wrote great material but it’s the final record where they pushed their abilities into unknown territory, where one could feel an edge and ambition to the tunes. But even in this unknown territory, Bill Steer was getting it right. His riffs and arrangements (with notable assistance from Owen) weren’t just a cornucopia of tempos and moods, they made sense and added to the music positively. His initial jab at a more architectural take on songwriting, a style that pulled in sounds from all over the death metal spectrum, makes for Carcass’ best and most varied achievement. For the third album in a row, Bill Steer got it right the first time.

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