CARCASS: SWANSONG (1995)
1) Keep On Rotting In The Free World; 2) Tomorrow Belongs To Nobody; 3) Black Star; 4) Cross My Heart; 5) Childs Play; 6) Room 101; 7) Polarized; 8) Generation Hexed; 9) Firm Hand; 10) R**k The Vote; 11) Don't Believe A Word; 12) Go To Hell.
Well, I totally agree with the fans that Swansong can hardly even begin to be considered a proper Carcass album. Where are the insane tempos? Where's the guitar/bass/drum madness? Where are the gory lyrics? Pretty much the only thing that somehow ties this record to everything that was before are the growling vocals, and even these are constantly in danger of becoming comprehensible — this is arguably the first Carcass album where you can generally make out what the songs are about, and many of them are about... social protest and disillusionment... oh wait... are these guys turning into Bad Religion or what???
Not surprisingly, the album often gets negative marks from metalhead fans and critics alike, because, well, those who want their Bad Religion can have it, and those who want their kick-ass melodic heavy metal à la Accept can have it, but this is like a total frickin' sellout — and, in fact, it was almost going to be official, since after the success of Heartwork Carcass, with new guitar player Carlo Regadas replacing Michael Amott (who went off to start Arch Enemy), were all set to go big, signing up with Columbia. Eventually, much to the relief of the indie metal crowd, the deal fell through, and they returned to Earache records; but in the meantime, the band members managed to spoil their mutual relationship, Bill Steer kind of got bored with the whole metal business, and by the time they mopped up the sessions, the group was pretty much finished.
That said, if you look at the general evolution of Carcass music, Swansong seems like a perfectly logical conclusion. Arguable as it is, I'd still say that it contains their most «naturally-sounding» and memorable set of tunes, even if it comes at the expense of downplaying the shock factor almost to zero level and dropping the search for innovative production techniques and melodic layerings. A single example may suffice — the main riff of ʽBlack Starʼ, sounding like a nasty shrapnel run from a low-cruisin' airplane, seems far more evocative to me than anything on Heartwork, let alone all those earlier and messier tunes. It may be a minus, yes, that the track quickly begins to sound like a solid, but derivative imitation of Iron Maiden; but this will only lead us into the uncomfortable depths of discussing what matters more — quality/memorability or innovation/individuality — and I'd like to avoid that discussion in a set of Carcass reviews.
Anyway, at least they do not lose their sense of punny humor (ʽKeep On Rotting In The Free Worldʼ, ʽGeneration Hexedʼ), and at least these good riffs and melodic solos keep coming, even if I could totally see ʽGeneration Hexedʼ sung cleanly by Accept's Udo Dirkschneider and its riffs cracked out by Wolf Hoffmann — and most other songs are like a mish-mash of various metal substyles, from Metallica-Megadeth thrash to the British New Wave (the band themselves mentioned Thin Lizzy as one of the influences at the time, although this is certainly not the first association that is going to jump into your head). Actually, at this point the growling vocals in general are an unfortunate atavistic compromise — songs like ʽRoom 101ʼ, with its mad prophet tale, were made to be sung cleanly: I close my eyes and try to imagine what would Ronnie James Dio have done with it, and once I do, the actual version begins to sound like a death metal parody of an unpreserved Dio track.
In fact, with a cleaner approach, Swansong would have made for a very impressive collection of «protest-metal» tunes — the melodies of songs like ʽTomorrow Belongs To Nobodyʼ have enough thunder and snap to them to sound convincing, and I cannot for the life of me regard Steer's and Walker's songwriting here as throwaway songwriting (well, apparently while they were writing the tunes and making the original recordings, nobody thought as of yet that this would be the band's last album). Blame it on the general narrowness of the metal formula that the record, stripped of the band's traditional grossness, sounds monotonous and devoid of individuality — a flaw that would have been more forgivable on an old school pop record, perhaps. But as long as you're cool with that general formula, Swansong should be a thumbs up all the way, and a perfect way to switch off one's career: now that the band has «matured» to the state of complete adulthood, there's no way further but down, and disbanding was the most natural thing to do.