For a band that formed way back in 1985, England's Carcass still pack a punch that should put newer metal bands in awe. The band's 2013 effort, Surgical Steel, was one of the best albums of last year, metal or otherwise. Filled with monstrous riffs and intricate lyrics, songs like "Cadaver Pouch Conveyor System" and "The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills" are case studies in how to fill a metallic groove with skill and command.
Speaking from a tour stop and in anticipation of Carcass performing Friday at Trees, guitarist Bill Steer spoke with DC9 about his band's fascinating amalgam of sounds and how he was surprised that anyone outside the fan base would be interested in the new album at all.
Did the overwhelmingly positive response to the new album surprise you?
Yes, it did, absolutely. We are fairly realistic people, I guess, and we didn't have exceedingly high expectations. We made this record primarily for ourselves and the very hardcore Carcass fan base. We didn't anticipate anyone else being interested. It's been kind of a shock really.
The album seemed to mix many styles that you may or may not have blended in the past.
That happened just naturally. We could never do something in a calculating way. You will make yourself crazy trying to guess what your audience wants you to do. It's best just to go with your instincts. Speaking for myself, it was an opportunity to correct mistakes from the past. I don't mean that in a grandiose way. It was little things on old records that I wasn't too happy with that I thought maybe we could improve upon. We would get together and bounce ideas back and forth. Some days the music was very intense and other days it was more traditional sounding.
Was the compositional style different from what you've done in the past?
No, it was very similar. I brought ideas to the rehearsal and we went to work on them. It is very collaborative. The majority of the music on the record is mine, but the way the music is handled has a lot to do with [singer] Jeff [Walker]. Sometimes, what we ended up with was radically different from the idea I brought in. It's quite fresh watching something go through that process.
I love "The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills." Not too many bands use the word granulating.
[Laughs] Yes, that's Jeff's song. He is a pretty crazy lyricist. He doesn't feel any pressure to live up to any expectation. He doesn't want to conform to any death metal stereotype.
There will be fans that have to pull out a dictionary and look some words up.
It's funny you mention that song, because that is the only song on the record that all of the music was written by Jeff. He brought in those riffs. We spent a long time knocking that song into shape, but the raw materials were already there.
You took a leave of absence in 1995 and once said that you never thought Carcass would play again. Why break up and why return?
The breakup? People tend to ask about that now like it was a strange thing. At the time, it felt like the most natural thing in the world. The band had been together for a number of years. We had gone from being clueless teenagers to guys in our twenties who knew a few things. We were just sick of each other and sick of the band. I could feel that things were slipping. It was just a bad time all around.
Then why get back together?
It was time. If you have enough time away from anything, it gives you a chance to reflect. Hindsight is very valuable. You can see some things for what they were. The hang-ups you had at the time no longer seem relevant.
You are considered a very influential metal guitarist. Who influenced you?
Wow, loads of people. When I was a boy, it was obviously Hendrix and Alvin Lee from Ten Years After. That's who made an impression on me. I also like people in my favorite bands. That would be people like Fast Eddie Clark in Motorhead and Paul Quinn of Saxon. When I heard those guys play, I wanted to get involved with music.
Nowadays, there are so many subgenres of heavy metal and many bands feature totally incoherent vocalists.
It's interesting that you mention that. That is certainly something that has changed over the years. That was an accusation that was often leveled at us, the critique of the vocals. In today's context, Jeff is very easy to understand. He spends a long time with lyrics and he spent a long time on the vocals for this record. I think it was the first time he got to spend as much time with the production side of an album. He wanted the vocals to sound punchy and I think he did a really killer job.
But you are right. Some of the newer bands that are out there, they have this shouting style. I just switch off very quickly when I hear people with those types of vocals. The vocals I hear from some deathcore bands, I find that kind of grating. It seems to be a lot of angry posturing. You wonder if someone can really be that angry all the time. I would worry if that is the case.
Do you notice a difference between performing in England and in America?
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I guess there may be a difference, but it is difficult to make a generalization. The United States is such an enormous country and you will see differences across the land. Playing Texas is always going to be different from playing Boston. Nothing springs to mind. The London audience is probably quite similar to the audience in New York. It's fun to play the smaller cities to see a more genuine excitement in the crowd.
In England, is the audience predominately male like it is here in the States?
Absolutely, I guess it's very male-oriented music. But I will say that it has come a long way since we first started. If you just look at the amount of women in metal bands, it is much more than was in bands in the '80s and '90s. I notice more females in the crowds now.