Disposable Heroes: Carcass’s “Symphonies of Sickness”

There’s little more annoying on this planet than the immoral majority telling you how essential, transcendent and (huh-huh) seminal a particular extreme album is, when you know that it’s overrated as fuck. Hence, our new Wednesday morning column, “Disposable Heroes,” in which one brave soul sails against the current to inform all you clones why you can’t spell classic without “ass.” This week, Jamie Getz, ringleader of Westboro Baptist Church favorites Gods & Queens, has a clone to pick with Carcass classic Symphonies of Sickness.
In December of 1989, I was 13 years old (so many years before Earache would release many jaw-dropping Dub War records). I was just starting to get ankle-deep into being a tape trader, buying and borrowing everything and anything I could get my hands on. One band floored me (enough to get their name tattooed in my lip at the old age of 16; smart move as it was the only place my parents couldn’t see it. Even smarter was the cool straight-edge tattoo I got later that year…). This band was Napalm Death. This was a very pre-Internet age, and I relied on magazines, letters, gossip of my older friends at shows and dubs of tapes. To my knowledge at the time, Carcass didn’t even exist.

sos cover

This was my first take on the band. Yes, yes, I know Reek of Putrefaction came out a year before, etc. I was unaware of anything Carcass up to this point. So, imagine how amped I was when I discovered Carcass had shared members with my all-time favorite band. Imagine how let down I was when I got my hands on Symphonies of Sickness (probably around June of 1990, right around the same time I got Death’s Spiritual Healing, another record I just didn’t get, and still don’t). I didn’t understand it. How could members of my favorite band put this out?

As soon I put this on, I was thoroughly confused. This wasn’t grind; this wasn’t death metal; this wasn’t some melodic death metal either. This sounded like mid-paced, standard metal, with goofy vocals. This just wasn’t brutal enough for me. I wanted to be knocked on my ass. I wanted the music to come out of the speakers and assault me. I wanted a mixture of Streetcleaner and From Enslavement to Obliteration, two other records released around the same time that shook me to the core. Not these phaser-effected weak guitar solos (“Excoriating Abdominal Emanation”), weak breakdowns (“Exhume to Consume”), seemingly pitch-shifted vocals (what’s up, “Ruptured in Purulence”) and songs that went on aimlessly for far too long (“Empathological Necroticism”). I was appalled, and annoyed. Simply put, it just wasn’t aggressive enough for me. I wanted the heaviest of death metal, and the fastest of grind, the fastest end of all solos, and the most insane vocals I could find. This record has none of that.

Not to mention the absurdity of the lyrics. They offered me nothing. Nothing! There was no social dilemma here. Nothing of what I’d come to expect from my grinding English musical idols. “Blackhead and boils, pustular cysts. Chapped commodones, perspiring zits…” or, “Where does the white man stand, where does the black man stand, where do we all stand? Knee deep in fucking shit.” I’m gonna still go with the latter. Maybe this was an effort to remove themselves from the social aspect lyrically, and if it was, they succeeded. I’m pretty certain more dictionaries were pulled out trying to decipher the lyrics of Carcass than any other metal band ever.

db cover

I illegally downloaded this sucker, just to make sure I didn’t have my head up my ass after all these years. I gotta say that my opinions stay the same. There’s not one memorable hook, or high point of this record. At least not one that I didn’t laugh at. At the same time, I’m going to leave this little rant on a positive note. Despite me not liking this record at all, the impact, and legacy this record has left on metal is undeniable. I fully admit that Carcass laid some new groundwork for countless clones to follow. Just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s not good, but I’d much rather have had Carnage’s Dark Recollections be the record everyone flipped out about and remembers as a genre defining record. That record fucking RULES.