Carcass’ Swansong: The album everyone loves to hate

People don’t seem to slate Carcass’ Swansong as much these days. Probably because they can now accept that it wasn’t the band’s swansong after all, (hello Surgical Steel!)

But let it be known that I’ve always really liked it. Even being aware of its flaws. This is something I wrote back in 2010 after seeing Carcass at Hellfest.

carcass-swansong

Have you ever felt the urgency to justify your love for a particular album? Perhaps the band in question has a reputation for being a ‘guilty pleasure’ within metal? Or perhaps they’re just downright talentless? Well Carcass are anything but and carry a reputation for being legendary. They’re highly respected for their massive contribution to early death metal. Yet I always feel reluctant to admit my love of Carcass’ final studio album.

There’s a common tendency for fans to turn their noses up at Swansong. But is it as bad as they make out? Not really.

Frontman Jeff Walker introduced the opening track as being from the album that everyone “hates to love” when they played at Bloodstock. Not me – I love to love it and after seeing them perform at Hellfest earlier this year, I was a little disappointed not to hear any tracks from this particular album. Nevertheless, Swansong is always left in the dark and fans are so hasty to disregard it.

Of course there are a few factors as to why this is the case. Swansong stands out as being the ‘softest’ of the death-grind pioneers catalogue and strays quite drastically from the band’s signature sound. This alone appears to be a good enough reason for many extreme music lovers to instantly disregard it. But you’d be a fool not to consider Swansong as a separate piece, without the renowned discography as a backdrop for assessment. Whilst Swansong is by no means Carcass’ best album, there’s something to be taken from their final effort. So don’t cast it aside and label it as a failure.

Listening to Swansong, it seems as though the band were attempting something completely fresh and a completely unique sound has been captured. One that’s more rock’n’roll based, yes. But very dark in its own right. The hauntingly catchy riffs alongside Walkers rough vocals and strange lyrics create an eerie and interesting new sound which is still as edgy as ever. Songs like ‘Childs Play’ stand out to me as possessing a very sinister undertone. Even the artwork on the cover veers from Carcass’ typical theme of autopsies and gore and portrays an abstract family scene; one that is not wholesome and warm, but quietly disturbing.

Whether Carcass managed to execute their vision successfully or not is another matter for consideration. In fact, I think there is a good chance it was the latter. It has come to light that there were a handful of problems during the albums production which may well have affected the overall outcome and prevented Swansong from reaching its full potential.

‘Keep On Rotting In The Free World’ is a fantastic opening track and never fails to draw a positive reaction from the fans at live shows. However it’s evident throughout the course of the album that the momentum and aggression of the first two tracks slowly fades out.

Yes,  other tracks stand out, but maybe this loss of spark is evidence of the band’s problems beginning to take their toll; personal and with the production. Distractions and pressures in and out of the studio would jeopardize the writing and recording of the album and could have left Carcass more inclined to rush, or at least finish it as soon as physically possible. Certain band members have expressed in interviews how they were already becoming “tired of each other” and were aware that their run was coming to an end.

Already possessing this knowledge then, it’s no surprise that a feeling of abandonment might radiate through the piece. Perhaps if the guys had felt it possible, they could have provided fans with a more well-rounded and polished final effort. As a big fan of Swansong for what it is, I think it’s a great shame that this wasn’t the case.

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