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Having blazed their trail more than two decades ago, reconvened extreme metal progenitors Carcass now reap the dividends of a hard-earned reputation, while subsequently crafting vital fare (see cracking latest album Surgical Steel) which only enhances said legacy. The self-proclaimed “Pommy bastards” refuse to be relegated to heritage status.

Less than a year since their previous Australian trek, they’re returning to our shores; this time part of a sure-to-be-classic double bill alongside Brummie grind gods Napalm Death. Mainstay guitarist/vocalist Bill Steer tells Loud about keeping on rotting in the free world.

Q: You’re headed back to Australia, this time around with Napalm Death. I believe it’s been a couple of decades since the two bands toured together.
A: Yeah, I was trying to remember this earlier, and I just couldn’t really say for sure. I remember the two bands played together in the UK on the Grindcrusher tour, and then I think the early ‘90s there was a tour that was known as the Campaign for Musical Destruction in the USA. Napalm were headlining, and we were on that one. Those are the two instances that stick out; I’m probably forgetting something though (laughs).

Q: What are your recollections of the late ‘80s, early ‘90s when the two bands were really coming into prominence? Obviously you were briefly a member of Napalm, but were you friends with them later on as well?
A: The only person I know well in Napalm is Shane (Embury, bass) because that’s the only guy I was actually in the band with. Because as many people are aware, Napalm has had a gradually changing line-up over the years, so the group that is out there today is quite different from the one that was around at the tail-end of the ‘80s. But yeah, we always got along, and it’s kind of hard to explain how that scene was back then. I suppose there was elements of camaraderie, and there was probably elements of competition almost, rivalry, I don’t know. But I guess it’s safe to say that the two bands weren’t trying to do the same thing musically.

Q: Certainly not.
A: Yeah, and I guess time’s gone on to show that even more.

Q: That was an era where both bands were creating truly seminal works, too – some of the most vital extreme music ever made.
A: Yeah, it was a pretty exciting time, because it felt like we were crossing unchartered territory. We were all very lucky, because we were around at the right time. It was very early days for that scene. Whereas now, I think you have bands that are playing roughly within that genre but it’s so much harder for them, because how do you do something fresh? How do you do something that has that kind of shock value? It’s tricky for these guys. Even though some of them are really proficient players, it’s just a different time and a different place, I guess.

Q: Do you keep tabs on new developments within heavy music at all?
A: No, not really. I listen to music all the time, but I guess I’m the first to admit that I’m living in the past. When it comes to heavy music I really only listen to the old stuff. Occasionally someone will play me something by a contemporary band, and sometimes it’s something that’s quite impressive, but I don’t think I’ve heard anything lately that I would say makes me want to go out and buy the album, listen to it at home, or be inspired by it for new music. It’s just a personal taste thing, because I know there’s other people out there who are equally passionate about that music, but for them it’s all about what’s happening now, and the next thing. So it’s just down to the way your brain works, and what turns you on musically.

Q: Due to your hiatus there was more than 15 years between Carcass albums. Do you feel that ethos was beneficial when you were writing Surgical Steel, that you could just create music that wasn’t informed by anything other than your own creativity?
A: Yes (laughs). I think it was very beneficial because we would have driven ourselves crazy if we really sat down and analysed what would be an appropriate record for us to make in this current climate. Speaking personally, I don’t think it’s very impressive when an older band comes back and tries to keep up with the young guns. Tries to have some new, modern edge to what they do. Firstly, it would have been dishonest in our case, because we genuinely don’t like the direction that a lot of new metal has taken. But also, it would have just been embarrassing, because you just can’t fake that kind of thing. So it’s better to stick with the influences that you really feel, and just specialise, do what you do best. And also avoid things that don’t suit you (laughs).

Q: Were you a little taken aback by how seemingly universally acclaimed Surgical Steel was though?
A: Yeah, very much so. I was prepared for a lot more in the way of slagging. Of course there was some, but it was just less than I expected. I mean, the whole thing took us by surprise. I was just thinking there’d be a substantial cluster of hardcore Carcass fans around the world that would pick the album up and probably love it. And I figured it’d mostly be ignored by the rest of the metal world. We were very fortunate; it received a hell of a lot of attention, sold fairly well and it’s being spoken about like it’s a genuine addition to the Carcass catalogue, which is how we view it. It’s just lovely that other people feel the same way.

Q: Indeed. I like much of the Swansong record actually, but at the time of the band’s initial demise it was viewed as a disappointing finale. Were you anticipating some fans or critics would almost be cheer-leading you to success; expressing sentiments like, ‘well, at least it’s better than Swansong’, for instance – those types of back-handed compliments?
A: Yeah, we definitely have had some of those. But I guess with Swansong, I’ve said this a few times, I guess it’s become the album that people feel obliged to say they hate, even if they haven’t maybe heard it properly. I do know some people where it’s the exact opposite; they find that their number one Carcass album.
So there’s no hard-and-fast rule about this, but I just noticed as a fan of music myself, people tend to, with an artist who’s done a string of albums, they tend to take on one record in particular as being the weak album, or the mistake or whatever. After a while it’s not even so much an opinion (as) it’s just a platitude, this little sound-bite that gets trotted out time and time again. And if people repeat something enough times they start to believe it.
If you look at Black Sabbath, there are a lot of people who just dismiss the Born Again album as being ridiculous because Ian Gillan’s on it. But I don’t know, if I’m really into a band or an artist, I like to hear everything, and even give the records that didn’t initially grab me a chance. I think Swansong has become one of those records. It’s by no means a perfect album, it’s not nearly as balanced as Heartwork, but it has things on there that are unique to that record. For all of its faults, I think Jeff (Walker, bass/vocals) and myself are still fond of it.

Q: I agree it’s certainly not on par with Heartwork, but those who entirely dismiss it are probably selling themselves short.
A: I think also it indicates just how blinkered some people can be in this genre of music, because they talk about it like we’ve released a jazz album or something (laughs), like a completely different style of music. But if you play this stuff to a layman, somebody who’s just nothing to do with metal, it’s all going to sound like a racket to them. I’ve come across people who consider Heartwork to be a lightweight record, so you can’t have a conversation with somebody like that (laughs).

Q: I saw the band live three times last year in three different countries, and every show felt fresh. You were playing very similar set-lists, but it still had that vibe on each occasion. Do you still derive the same joy from playing live as say, 20 years ago?
A: Yeah, in some ways more, because we’re able to enjoy it a little bit more I think. You’re very aware of the passing of time, and you’re just grateful to be out there doing this. So that’s a factor. I think also picking the right guys to join the band. If you look at Dan (Wilding), our drummer, metal is full of incredible players right now. They’ve almost turned drumming into sport, it’s become like this competition thing and there’s just a whole discipline to it that wasn’t there when we initially started making music with this band.

So we had a lot of bewildering choices as far as drummers, but I always felt that he would be the right person for a whole load of reasons. Mostly because of how he plays, because I think the guy’s a natural musician. But then also his personality, because he doesn’t have ego issues; he’s very, very good at adjusting to situations. And with Ben (Ash), our second guitar player (it’s) a similar scenario. We got two lads who really want to get out there and play. They’re not going to approach this in a jaded way, and neither are Jeff or myself. So I guess that’s coming across on-stage.

Q: Do you envision Carcass recording another studio album then?
A: Yeah. Here and there, Dan and myself are getting together and working on some new tunes. We definitely plan to make a record, and I can’t really say when it’ll be… It’s definitely an intention to work on something later on in the year. I think it’d be fun to do. It’d be a challenge to make something valid that doesn’t repeat the formula of the previous record, but still feels like Carcass. It’s a tall order, but I think we can do it.

Q: Any famous last words?
A: Just we’re really looking forward to getting over there again; it was a very pleasant surprise when we heard we were being invited out again. The fact that we get to do it with Napalm just makes it a little more special, so we’re all excited.

You can catch Carcass alongside Napalm Death and Extortion on the following dates:

16/4: Capitol, Perth WA
17/4: Prince Bandroom, Melbourne VIC
18/4: Factory Theatre, Sydney NSW
19/4: HiFi Bar, Brisbane QLD