Latest release: Torn Arteries (Nuclear Blast)Website: www.facebook.com/OfficialCarcass
The cancellation of the Download Festival in Australia last year on which they were booked to appear was the first real inkling the members of Carcass got that things might be about to turn bad, not simply for them but for the world at large.
“I remember the last show we did was in February, right at the end of February 2020,” recalls drummer Daniel Wilding, “and there were signs all over the airport – Watch out for coronavirus, Wash your hands, all that kind of stuff. I remember saying at the time, ‘Ah, it’s going to be fine. They can’t shut down the world! There’s no way they can do that’. And, obviously, they shut down the world! When Australia got cancelled, we thought, ‘That sucks, but we can re-book it for a couple of months later’. Then slowly but surely everything got cancelled, and here we are almost two years on… it’s mad.”
Torn Arteries, the first Carcass album in eight years, was meant to see release in August 2020. But with pressing plants and distribution networks all closed down, that plan had to be changed. Fortunately, the recording was already completed and everything bar the shouting had been done.
“We had this in the bag before all of this kicked off,” Wilding says. “We pretty much had it all ready and the only things we had left to do was finishing off things like the artwork and figuring out what singles we were going to put out, and the tracklisting and all that sort of stuff. The majority that involved traveling and being around other people was done. Thank God, because if we’d been booked to go into the studio and then lock down happened, it would have been a much longer wait than it already has been. We were really lucky that we managed to squeeze it all in, because nobody knew what this was going to be.”
In keeping with the philosophy the band has maintained since first reforming in 2007, nobody really knew if there was going to be another Carcass album after Surgical Steel. Jeff Walker and Bill Steer are famously reticent about merely covering old ground. Both have often said there would be little point recording or continuing with the band unless there is some progression.
“Bill’s take was that if we were to do another album, it has to be completely different to Surgical Steel and we have to do stuff that the band’s never done before. I think Bill was really pushing to do something that was as different as possible. Without, you know,” the drummer says with a laugh, “doing a jazz album or anything like that! He wanted to do something the band hasn’t touched on before. Not that it would be easy to do another Surgical Steel, but we could have done a similar thing, but I don’t think Bill and Jeff are of that mindset.”
That was the band’s challenge for their seventh album, to take Carcass in new directions without losing sight of what defines them. It’s a tightrope that the band has walked before, when they dispensed with the earlier grindcore and death metal elements of their sound for the more polished style of mid-90s albums Heartwork and Swansong. Wilding, who was born six months after Carcass released their first album, was still a child then, but he has become an integral part of the group since he was recruited in 2012.
“There’s no way I take it for granted,” he says, “but now they are just Bill and Jeff, even though I still have a moment where I go, ‘Oh shit – it’s Bill and Jeff from Carcass!’ At first that was constantly on my mind: this is Carcass, I’m just this kid coming in and I just wanted to keep them happy. A massive testament to them, they never tried to make me go one way or the other. They never wanted me to be the same as Ken [Owen], they’ve never wanted me to do anything I didn’t want to do, but I put that pressure on myself. There’s a legacy here and I need to try and preserve that legacy to keep many people happy.”
That was more than eight years ago now. With the band’s heavy workload, Wilding now has a very comfortable musical relationship with Steer that allowed them to accommodate each other’s playing style when they were writing for Torn Arteries.
“Me and Bill know how each other plays so well now because we’ve played together constantly for the last decade. So across the board it’s more comfortable, and I think Bill wrote stuff that fits my drums more and I wrote drum parts that fit his guitar much more than on Surgical Steel because we know how each other plays now. We know each other personally and musically now.”
Writing for Carcass usually begins with Steer developing riffs and working on them with Wilding. While they make use of modern methods as much as any band, they aren’t ones for making digitised demos on a computer.
“Other bands start with a laptop, they record a riff on the laptop, program drums and make a full sounding demo on a computer. With Carcass it’s like the other way around. Bill has no interest in recording anything into a computer. He records onto his phone using the voicemail app and an acoustic guitar and then me and him get into a room and he shows me a bunch of riffs and we try and fit pieces together and make the skeletons of songs, and once we’ve got enough material, Jeff comes in and he rearranges it, because he’s thinking about vocals and all that stuff, because drums and guitar is all me and Bill think about! It’s a really cool organic process, and it’s really fun.”
Working in such a way means that songs only come together when they’re all in a room together, and the gruelling Carcass touring regimen didn’t offer a lot of downtime. In one way, the pandemic came with the blessing of forcing the band to take the extended break they may not have otherwise taken.
“We toured so hard on Surgical Steel, and then we went straight from touring to writing. Every downtime we had we spent on writing, so we saw each other twice as much as we saw our families, so there was definitely a point before the lockdown when we decided we just needed a break. Obviously the pandemic has been awful, but for the band it’s been almost a positive because it’s given us all a bit of perspective and made us realise how lucky we were before the pandemic, and we’re all in a position now where we’re all unbelievably excited to get back out there”
There’s still little certainty about when Carcass – or any performing artist – might be able to tour extensively again, even as Britain reopens to large events and played host to Bloodstock Open Air just a week before this interview. There are European shows with Arch Enemy booked for October for Carcass, but Wilding remains only cautiously optimistic about the possibility of them going ahead.
“If the pandemic hadn’t happened, it’s not like we wouldn’t have been excited, but it would have been more like, ‘Well, here we go again!’” he says. “It’s all up in the air, but we want to get out there again now, which wasn’t the case before!”