England's Carcass are an extreme metal band credited as pioneers of grindcore and melodic death metal. With their 1987 demo, Flesh Ripping Sonic Torment, and their 22-song debut full-length, Reek of Putrefaction, a year later, they showcased a brutal, physically punishing, technically demanding playing style with gory, violent, and, more often than not, repulsive lyrics drawn from industrial manuals, medical textbooks, societal aberrations, and politics. By the time they issued 1991's Necroticism: Descanting the Insalubrious, their sound had evolved into a raw, unruly blueprint for technical death metal. Further, 1993's influential Heartwork registered as one of the first recordings of melodic death metal. With sonic and aesthetic evolution came conflict and tension, and the band split after 1996's Swansong. They reunited for touring purposes in 2007. In 2012, Carcass re-formed as a full-time concern and cut Surgical Steel for Nuclear Blast in 2013. The album's relative accessibility, massive riffs, and thrash metal hooks won the trio a legion of new fans. They toured the globe regularly for the next six years and in 2020 released the four-track EP Despicable.
Carcass were originally formed in 1985 in Liverpool by singer/guitarist Bill Steer (who would later spend some time playing in Napalm Death) and drummer Ken Owen. By 1987, singer/bassist Jeff Walker had signed on with the band, resulting in a deal with Earache Records shortly after. The trio then issued a pair of full-lengths that are often considered classics of the grindcore genre, 1988's Reek of Putrefaction and 1989's Symphonies of Sickness.
After the dawn of the '90s, Carcass expanded to a quartet, as Michael Amott signed on as second guitarist, resulting in two more favorites of the metal underground, 1991's Necroticism: Descanting the Salubrious and 1992's four-song EP Tools of the Trade. Whereas he once sang in a growling voice, Walker adopted a slightly more traditional metal singing style, while the band were no longer afraid to let Iron Maiden-esque guitar work enter the mix. The result was the group's major-label debut for Sony, 1994's Heartwork. Although Heartwork is probably Carcass' best-known album, fan reaction is often split evenly between those who felt the group pandered with a more easily digestible sound (one comparable to thrash metal) and far less offensive cover art, and those who believed it to be one of the great metal releases of the '90s.
Amott left the group just after the release. He was replaced by Carlo Regadas for Carcass' final studio album for two decades, 1996's appropriately titled Swansong. Owen suffered a massive brain hemorrhage in the aftermath and remained in a coma for nearly a year. Upon waking, he needed a wheelchair for months before he learned to walk again. Against all expectations, he taught himself to play drums again, though his playing never reached the technical facility required to resume his membership in Carcass. He does occasionally make brief guest appearances with the band. Wake Up and Smell the Carcass, a compilation of rarities, was also issued in 1996. Subsequently, Walker and Regadas continued working together under the Blackstar name, and Amott formed both Spiritual Beggars and Arch Enemy. Steer formed the stoner blues-rock power trio Firebird and spent some time playing in Napalm Death.
The band re-formed in 2007 as a live act, with Walker, Steer, and Amott tapping Arch Enemy drummer Daniel Erlandsson to man the kit, though there was no talk of heading back into the studio. Amott and Erlandsson left in 2012 to focus on Arch Enemy, and Steer and Walker, along with drummer Dan Wilding, surprised fans with the announcement of a new album. The resulting Surgical Steel, released by Nuclear Blast, arrived in September 2013 and the band won a new, larger following; the album peaked at 41 on the Top 200. They enlisted guitarist Ben Ash to resume as a quartet and hit the road for years. They headlined Damnation Festival in Leeds before embarking on the Defenders of the Faith Tour with Amon Amarth and Hell, which ran throughout Europe and the U.K. in November and December 2013. Carcass performed at 70000 Tons of Metal in January 2014 and headlined the Agglutination Festival in August. In November, they issued the Surgical Remission/Surplus Steel EP, comprised of unreleased tracks from the album sessions as well as Japanese and digital only-cuts, and a Decibel flexidisc. Now rightfully considered as metal pioneers, they played and/or headlined various festivals in the U.K. (Download Festival at Castle Donington) and co-headlined Deathcrusher 2015 alongside Napalm Death, Obituary, Voivod, and Herod. Carcass also supported Slayer on their Repentless tour.
In early 2018, Ash announced his departure from the band. Carcass hired U.K.-born, Los Angeles-based guitarist Tom Draper (ex-Angel Witch), who made his first live appearances with the group at Deathfest Netherlands in March, and at Decibel's Death and Beer Festival in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. During the summer and fall of 2019, the band opened select dates on Slayer's global farewell tour. Carcass re-entered the studio for the first time in six years and emerged with the digital track "Under the Scalpel Blade." They planned to release their first album in more than 20 years -- titled Torn Arteries after a demo former drummer Ken Owen made as a teen -- but decided to postpone due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, the band issued a four-song EP, Despicable, at the end of October. ~ Greg Prato & Thom Jurek