Justify Your Shitty Taste – Carcass’s “Swansong”

Almost every band has that album: you know, the critically and/or commercially reviled dud in an otherwise passable-to-radical back catalog. Well, every Wednesday morning, a Decibel staffer or special guest will take to the Deciblog to bitch and moan at length as to why everybody’s full of shit and said dud is, in fact, The Shit. Today’s submission: since Jeff Walker couldn’t be bothered to do it himself, we enlist J. Bennett to take a bow for Carcass’s Swansong.

By now you know the drill with these so-called defenses of the infinitely questionable and presumably scatological: Some overworked, underpaid dB scribbler or special guest makes a valiant attempt—sometimes successful, sometimes not—to extol the virtues of a usually-terrible album in hopes of convincing you (or maybe just themselves) that said album is actually not as terrible as you/they thought. That’s not what’s gonna happen here.

Instead, I’m gonna tell you why almost every Carcass fan’s least-favorite Carcass album is, in fact, THE BEST Carcass album. And I think we can all agree that my opinion is the only one that matters in any essay ghostwritten for me by my trusty pet macaque, Curtis. (Thanks, Curtis—I’m loving this one so far.) If you happen to disagree with any claims made herein, feel free to pepper the comments section with guesses about which drugs I might be on (answer: the good ones), and do not hesitate to insist that I must be some kind of waterhead. I’m A-okay with all of that. Waterhead.

But first, a caveat: Early Carcass grind purists can fuck right off. And I mean that in the most polite, fundamentally British sense. Because if Reek of Putrefaction is your favorite Carcass album, you will definitely find the rest of what I have to say here completely unbearable. Symphonies of Sickness champions maybe less so, but it’s unlikely that diehard SOS freaks will find much pleasure in the following string of nouns, verbs, dangling participles and general hyperbole. If Necroticism is your jam, you’re already on more common ground with me than you’d probably care to admit. Inducted into Decibel’s Hall of Fame back in September of ’05, the Liverpudlian grind titans’ 1991 blasterpiece was unquestionably deserving of the honor. From a historical standpoint—in both the trajectory of Carcass and that of extreme music as a whole—Necroticism was absolutely the right choice for dB’s venerated hall. But it’s not my favorite Carcass album. Nor is the completely awesome and H.R. Giger-approved Heartwork, though it’s a very, very close second. No, ladies and gentlemen and waterheads of all stripes: My favorite Carcass album is Swansong.

It feels good to say it out loud. Or at least, you know, in public. Even Carcass mastermind Jeff Walker doesn’t understand why I love Swansong so much. Though he was kind enough to send leadoff track “Keep on Rotting in the Free World” out to me when Carcass played the House of Blues in Los Angeles a few years back, I suspect he was taking the piss. But I know that cranky little fucker has a soft spot for Swansong. After all, he named his post-Carcass band Blackstar, after the third track on the 1996 album that proved to be Carcass’s… uh, swansong. That’s gotta be worth something, innit? Oh, but I can already hear the Welcome to Carcass Cuntry jokes being farted out from the peanut gallery. They’re funny, too. Most of ’em, anyway.

If I told you I owned Swansong on all three physical formats, would it prove my dedication to this death ‘n’ roll juggernaut? Or would you just feel sorry for me? What if I told you I was actually listening to it on cassette right now and singing along as I type this? Truth be told, I’m actually air-riffing to side-A closer “Room 101” with my left hand and typing with my right, which is making this bit of “journalism” take way longer than it should. But I can’t help it, because the riffage on Swansong is just so fucking tits. Cue up that illegal download of “Tomorrow Belongs to Nobody” on your Interhole machine right now, and I guarantee you will not feel the urge to unsubscribe it from your face.

Because here’s the thing: At its woefully underrated heart, Swansong is a distinctly vicious and insanely catchy rock ‘n’ roll album of the highest fuckin’ order. Check out the main/intro riff on the aforementioned “Black Star.” Go ahead and tell yourself you don’t have a boner for it. (This means you, too, ladies. If there’s one thing I learned from the Internet, it’s that women can also get boners.) Now roll on over to Side B and blaze along to “Polarized” or the completely-unstoppable-but-unfortunately-titled “R**k the Vote.” The evidence all points in one direction: From nose to toes, Carcass know where it goes. Fact is, I’d put Swansong up against Entombed’s Wolverine Blues for the numero uno slot on the death ‘n’ roll master-list.

There’s a reason why Swansong is so compelling to me and simultaneously such a bummer to many a Carcass fan in general: Walker, guitarist Bill Steer, drummer Ken Owen and guitarist Carlo Regadas (who replaced Venom guitarist Mike Hickey, who in turn replaced longtime Carcass fret wizard and future Spiritual Beggars/Arch Enemy axeman Mike Amott) completely abandoned any and all lingering grind tendencies and unpronounceable medical-lyric fixations (which, let’s face it, was a gimmick—albeit an impressively researched one—that had run its course) and simply got their monster riff on. Here’s a tip for you Reek of Putrefaction/Symphonies of Sickness fascists: Instead of listening to Swansong in the context of old, muffled Carcass, listen to it in the context of, say, the first Down album, which came out less than a year prior. That’s the kind of burly twin-guitar riff-rock style we’re talking here—“speed doom,” as I like to call it—and even the guitar tone is similar. Which isn’t to say that Walker and the boys were emulating those storied New Orleans fabulons. The reality is that, musically speaking, Carcass were three-quarters of the way to Swansong on 1993’s Heartwork. Go ahead and fire up the “No Love Lost” or “Heartwork” video on the YouTube. Are we gonna split hairs here? Well?

Nevertheless, Swansong has plenty of detractors, including Amott. Some of them will giddily point out that the album was released the same year as Metallica’s Load and insist that it represents a similarly embarrassing nadir in Carcass’s career. They’re wrong, of course, but Swansong does have a few shortcomings worth addressing. Is “R**k the Vote” a dumb name for a song? Yes, but certainly no more than Reek’s “Malignant Defecation” or “Festerday.” Was it a bad move to entitle a song “Don’t Believe a Word” when Thin Lizzy did it first and best? Absolutely. Is the giant-human-head-with-wings on the album cover more than a little hokey? Without a fucking doubt.

But with any luck, there are a few of you out there who have never heard Swansong and have no preconceived notions about the de facto musical glories within. To you I say get your hands on this fucker and blast the living shit out of it immediately. To the rest of you I hoist a giant middle finger made of iridescent yellow foam and say, “Suck it, Trebek. Suck it long and suck it hard.” There will always be those who claim that music criticism is completely subjective and thus completely subject to the whims and prejudices of the critic, but that is just a lie designed to mollify those delusional souls who like to throw bitch-fits on music websites. The hard truth is this: I am right and you are wrong. It will always be this way, so you might as well just learn to accept it. It is your lot in life. In closing, I AM IRON MAN.

1. “Keep on Rotting in the Free World”
2. “Tomorrow Belongs to Nobody”
3. “Black Star”
4. “Cross My Heart”
5. “Child’s Play”
6. “Room 101”
7. “Polarized”
8. “Generation Hexed”
9. “Firm Hand”
10. “R**k the Vote”
11. “Don’t Believe a Word”
12. “Go to Hell”