Some try it with tons of make-up, others with jeans, leather and honesty. And still others sell themselves as the loudest band on earth, etc., etc... The list of possibilities of how to emerge from the flood of more or less competent musicians nowadays is endless; one can't depend solely on quality. Well, there are also such bands as Carcass, who try it by means of provocation. Whoever takes a look at their album Symphonies of Sickness will be served well with demanding and yet thoughtful death/thrash/grind stuff, but confusion arises because of the massively different lyrics. Though Satan isn't praised for the nth time, the detailed description of human atrocities results in a certain caution on our part. Who hides behind the pseudonym Carcass? Three sick, insane perverts - or simply a band which believes to have found the stone of the wise?
Now, before we can admire the product of that trio on vinyl, we need to tell a story that started in the year 1985: just around that time Bill Steer (our interview partner) started a band with drummer Ken Owen. They started out as a four-piece, but the other two musicians back then had big problems coping with the personality and music of Bill and Ken. All lyrics and songs were written only by those two, which led to a split into two parts within the band. That didn't work for too long and, they parted ways, to found with Jeff Walker at the end of 1986 the current Carcass formation. In the following month they recorded the first demo with that line-up.
"It was in September '87 when we sent our first demo to Earache who liked us from the first moment on. Then the label pushed us to record an LP as soon as possible. We reacted by entrenching ourselves in our practice room and practising songs like mad in a short time, so we had a complete record. Then Earache sent us into a small piss-studio in Birmingham, where we did the LP in four days. That wasn't much time, but it could still have ended up okay. Unfortunately, the engineer was a complete idiot. He ruined the drum tracks so badly that we had to mix endlessly so you could at least hear something. But we only had a few hours available, and had to release the LP as it sounded. That was Reek of Putrefaction, and understandingly we were everything but happy with the result."
And we can only agree with him, because Reek of Putrefaction reaches live tape level at best! Nevertheless, the name Carcass suddenly had a face, and the underground listened up!
"We were totally surprised. The album simply wasn't competitive in terms of sound, but we received a lot of mail, though, and there were even some people who bought the album. To us, this was the proof that we were on the right way. Therefore it is not so important how a product is wrapped; the quality is what counts. But that doesn't mean that our second LP again became such a fucked-up sound disaster!"
A fact that surprises one is that, keeping in mind the above, the Reek of Putrefaction album is included as bonus tracks on the Symphonies of Sickness CD! It seems that the band wasn't asked about this!
"Basically, this was a decision of our label. It's okay, because the people who buy the CD get 26 tracks instead of ten - value for money. In terms of marketing, it's a good move, but we weren't too happy about that. Instead, we would have liked to enter the studio for a short time again, and do one or two extra tracks. Most people will buy the CD because of Symphonies of Sickness anyway, and we are more pleased, by far, with that album. We had a relatively okay studio, and a real engineer. That guy is named Colin Richardson, and is a real workaholic. We sometimes worked up to 15 hours in the studio, so we really got our money's worth in those terms. Symphonies of Sickness is definitely the direction we want to go in, but the later tracks we wrote for that already sound completely different. The record consists of six older songs that we already had circulating on a second demo. That demo already had the LP title, and sold tremendously in the underground. The whole thing really started in the next few months; we were featured in magazines, and smaller indie radio stations played our demo. We worked on the arrangements after that, and wrote four additional tracks that were later also included on the LP. In July '89 we entered the Slaughterhouse, a studio located in Yorkshire, where, after all, we had four weeks to do the record."
What makes Carcass different in our eyes is the combination of the most brutal grindcore/death metal with old-school heavy metal parts, though this band has to be clearly considered to be part of the grind fraction. But one can see where those guys come from, and their addiction to traditional English metal.
"It is stupid to say that we're this or that. Symphonies of Sickness is, to us, a successful attempt at combining a number of things. Our roots are particularly found in earlier punk. All those death metal bands from the States that we like and respect were never an influence on us. Therefore, we have, besides the grindcore parts, a number of traditional styles weaved in. We never wanted to do only a fast and brutal album; I think that should be left to others. We didn't want to end up in a dead end - therefore, the number of different styles in our music."
All right, in terms of music we now know what's going on. But as mentioned in the introduction, the band writes lyrics that can at least be called extreme.
"Our lyrics are at least as important as our music; we wanted to do it that way from the beginning on. Most thrash and death metal bands write about Satan or violence, or even politics. We wanted to be different from the beginning on."
Guys, you totally succeeded with that!
"We don't like gore movies, and the main part of them is pretty stupid and always follows the same scheme. Someone masked or disfigured runs around and kills young people, completely stupid. Our lyrics, however, are based on things that we read about somewhere, or that were created in our fantasy. I have to add that we don't take our lyrics seriously. Englishmen are said to have that infamous black humour, and if one reads our lyrics carefully, he might find a lot of that. Our lyrics are very straightforward and very detailed, and probably not to everybody's taste..."
At least one can think about whether he likes it or not!
"One example: Reek of Putrefaction, a text that was written by Jeff, describes the life of somebody who goes to graveyards at night, gets himself some fresh dead bodies and then... (censored - haha!). Also Exhume to Consume is about a sick personality who also goes to graveyards at night, digs up graves and feeds his hunger - basically a song about cannibalism. We certainly write extreme lyrics, but we don't promote violence, but instead show that things like that actually happen. If one reads a newspaper, he knows that things like that happen. Many horror writers such as King, Poe, Herbert or Barker use scenes like these, but they don't get labeled as depicting violence as enjoyable. I don't want our lyrics to be considered as art, but at the same time I find it annoying if somebody considers our lyrics to be cheap crap."
Nice themes, huh? Now somebody thinking about cannibalism, death, decay and related things in such detail eventually has to have some sickness inside...
"One should ask a psychologist about that. Sure, everything has its reasons, but to us this is secondary. We just don't take our lyrics seriously - it's pure entertainment. If I really did believe in what I write about, I would seriously start thinking. But, whoever likes extreme horror or gore scenarios will also like our lyrics. We also can't force one to accept our lyrics. But I think we set a new record with our lyrics. Personally I like this better; I couldn't write about Satanism at will, simply beause I don't have the slightest clue about that."
Symphonies of Sickness launched very successfully in Germany, even entering the indie charts, which underlines the combo's popularity. But as opposed to many other bands in the genre, so far any live presence in our area has been missing, but that will surely be made up for in the near future.
"If and how that happens is very unclear at the moment, but we will tour Europe for sure. We received a lot of mail from over there, and the record sells really well. Maybe we'll play somewhere in the summer in your area. But in any case, I can promise to all those people who dig Symphonies of Sickness that our next record will be even better."
Translated and transcribed by Stefan Raspl, firstname.lastname@example.org.