Reek of Putrefaction(Earache - 1988)
While Napalm Death's pioneering grindcore was more of a statement, political reaction and an extreme progression of anarchical hardcore punk, Carcass seemed to have fallen in love with the sound itself and the images it evokes. For one thing, the songs are usually longer, often reaching the epic duration of 2 minutes and more. This gives them more time to generate an atmosphere and an actual song rather than doing the musical equivalent of dumping a ton of steel scraps and raw sewage on your head all at once. Then there is the sound itself which wallows in its sick grinding quality, its blasting power, and its rhythmic butchering and vomitous sounds rather than constantly bursting in your face in anger. The extreme blast beats and occasional chaotic solos are balanced with plenty of slower grinding rhythms. And finally of course, there is the lyrical content. As notorious vegetarians, Carcass probably decided to associate the most repulsive imagery with the most sick and brutal music and came up with butchery, carnage, and all forms of reeking flesh and its excretions. This also started the 'medical encylopedia' lyrics which they would take to ridiculous extremes in the next two albums. All this is of course tongue-in-cheek, but it serves the sound well. The members include Bill Steer who left Napalm Death to pursue his own band, and Jeff Walker with his inimitable blood-gurgling growls, lung-upchucking grunts, vomitous roars and spleen-splitting screeches (all distorted). The production is very muddy of course, and anyone without a taste for the primitive and the sick will not understand this music in the least. Personally, I appreciate the blunt quality and consistency of this effort as well as the humor involved, but I can't say that it's my cup of broth.. I mean tea.
Symphonies of Sickness(Earache - 1989)
A logical next step for Carcass would be to explore the sick sound and gory imagery further by writing 4 minute songs with structure and lengthier explorations. The debut may have appealed to grindcore fans but the sound was very limited. And this is indeed what they did in this sophomore release, and naturally there were immediate cries of 'sell-out!'. The sound is practically the same however, only the effect is different. With more time for each song, the grinding riffs slow-down, develop and burst again into hyper-flurries, inspiring teeth-grinding, rumbling energy before exploding into mosh-frenzies. This music isn't razor-sharp and technical, it's a lot of low-end roar with intermittent, slow Black Sabbath-like riffing and blasting drums before everything bursts into pure brutal grindcore again and again. Add to this Walker's awesome vocals which have now settled on a harsh blood-spitting growl-rasp, and the muddy production which hasn't improved much since the debut. Altogether a primitive, deliciously sick-sounding album that takes the Carcass grindcore sound as far as it can go without changing the basic sound. This is still limited however and didn't excite me much, but it comes highly recommended to fans of this style.
Necroticism - Descanting the Insalubrious(Earache - 1991)
The pinnacle of Carcass's sound and career in my opinion. Although this upset many fans, the music has by now slowed-down most of the time and developed to include a slight touch of melody in the guitar solos without compromising the basic teeth-grinding and deliciously vile sound that we know so well. The second guitar by new band member Amott greatly helps the sound as well. With songs averaging 6 minutes and the loss of the heretofore ubiquitous hyperblasts, this can hardly be called a grindcore album, but it is pure Carcass nevertheless. The guitars are down-tuned to deep rumbling levels, the bursts of blasting energy still do come in when needed, and the long compositions are wonderfully dynamic. Almost every song has a short intro in the form of a movie sample that sets the mood well, often with some dark humor. And most importantly, Walker hasn't changed his engaging spitting & growling vocal delivery much. Highly recommended - nobody has done anything quite like it ever since.
Heartwork(Earache - 1994)
Introducing Death-Rock. Unlike some other so called death-rock albums however, this isn't merely hard rock with chugging, down-tuned guitars and death growls, but a true blend of styles. What's interesting is that a lot of the time, the death and hard rock merge halfway and the result is thrash metal. So we have songs that seamlessly shift from blasting death metal, to thrash or NWOBHM, and then to occasional hard rock strains and catchy melodic guitar solos. There are brutal, thrashy, slow as well as melodic riffs all within a single song. And surprisingly, this schizophrenic creativity works very well most of the time. Catchy melody with raspy growls suddenly bursting into a blast beat can get a while to get used to at first, but it grows on you fast and the metal hordes loved it despite themselves. Recommended.
Swansong(Earache - 1995)
This next step down the path Carcass has taken so far may have been predictable, but that didn't stop fans from being disappointed. It's pretty good however, as long as you don't expect some brutal death metal. The grindcore has vanished, so has most of the death metal, but the grinding down-tuned guitars and phlegm-spitting vocals haven't budged. And suddenly the NWOBHM sound from previous outings comes out of the closet and gets main billing here. Many catchy riffs abound, and even the mediocre tracks are memorable, the only flaws being the lack of variation and numerous tempo changes as on Heartwork. And of course, since the songs are mostly slower to the point of being rock'n'roll at times, there isn't the excitement of chugging brutality or bursts of speed. Hearing Walker spit and growl over melodic hard rock, Iron Maiden-like metal, slow death metal, and bluesy solos may or may not work for you, but it's done well. An acceptably enjoyable album that may serve as a bridge for heavy metal fans to cross over to death.
Wake Up and Smell the Carcass(Earache - 1996)
A last compilation to commemorate the disbanding of this pioneering band. These rare and unreleased tracks are in reverse chronological order. First are 5 unreleased songs from the Swansong era that are actually quite good and even superior at times to the songs on that album. Then there are somewhat interesting alternate and live versions of songs from the Heartwork era and album. Also included is the Tools of the Trade EP (Necroticism era) and a bunch of very early unreleased tracks from the Reek of Putrefaction days and a BBC session before that. These last 6 tracks obviously clash with the rest of the album. Completists will love it, big fans of later Carcass should find this worthwhile thanks to the good selection of unreleased tracks, but the rest will find this a mixed bag.