When it came time in 2013 to induct the 100th album into our Hall of Fame, we knew it had to be something special. And what’s more special than motherfucking Heartwork? Not much, man, and revisiting it today to rank the songs from worst to best, I’m really reminded that this album, which recently celebrated its 25th birthday, is a thing of pure metal glory, the band taking death metal to new places, Columbia Records along for the ride, not that they had any idea what to do with music that sounded like Megadeth being flushed down a toilet… and as a lifelong gore-grind fan and ‘deth apologist, I mean that in a really, really good way.
So, join us as we relive all the guts and glory of a landmark death metal album, looking at the songs in order of reverse awesomeness (and grab a copy of the issue with the Hall of Fame piece in it right here).
10. Doctrinal Expletives
Between me and you, I’m a bit torn between this and “Arbeit Macht Fleisch,” which one goes where down here. This song title rules, but I think as far as incredible Heartwork-era songs go, “Doctrinal Expletives” is actually pretty low on the list. The amazing solos aren’t as amazing, the incredible songwriting isn’t as incredible, that sort of thing. 9.5/10 compared to a solid 10/10. To most bands, it’d be their best song ever. To Carcass, it’s the least great on album full of incredible choice cuts.
9. Arbeit Macht Fleisch
I’ve always thought Heartwork was really near to being a perfect album except that it maybe went on for one song too long, and that the drums sound a hair too stiff. Clearly I’m just being a picky dork with the drum thing, and I’m willing to renegotiate my “too long” opinion now that I’m sitting down and really examining each track. Granted, these late album songs don’t quite match up to the glory of the first half, but might I draw your attention to the guitar solo here? To that riff at 1:55 that just totally rules? To the fact that every song on Heartwork is incredible? Good. As you were.
8. Death Certificate
“Death Certificate” is a cool way to end the album, and not just because that’s a good song title for a last song. It’s got a great mix of mid-tempo guitar-god stuff (see solo part) and more upbeat shredding (see verses). I can never seem to remember if this song has a chorus or not, but it’s got that huge groove at 2:45, taking me right to the end of the song, and to the end of the album, in style.
7. Blind Bleeding the Blind
I’m going to say this a lot, but, man, the guitar work on this album is good. Here, we get dueling solos in the intro (!), which sets up this killer song mightily, the band sounding like they’re having a blast with this groove blaster, double-bass drums all over the place, Jeff Walker growling his finest, the band hitting a very sickly sweet songwriting spot, this late-album cut really standing on its own, the band letting the spaces in the song breathe for ages but not sounding horrid doing so, as bands often do. Might inch a space or two higher on a different day.
So the first four songs on Heartwork are outrageously good. “Embodiment,” as song five of 10, was in a really tough spot, and the band took the bold step of taking things down a notch in the energy level, slowing the bpm, and delivering the album’s longest song at 5:36. It’s still catchy and memorable as can be, though, that chorus worming its way into everyone’s brain after listen number one and staying there a quarter-century later, so there’s that, then there’s also that riff that pops up at 2:25 and again at 4:14, the band just shoving their melodies in your face, the riff sounding almost happy for a second there. “Embodiment” tends to be a bit overshadowed by the four ragers that precede it on the album, but this is a monster of a track.
5. This Mortal Coil
Yes, this is how you start off the second half of an album, with that riff, with a verse vocal line done just right, with a tempo shift at 1:26 that just gets me every single time, with guitar work that just drips with passion and energy but without sounding cheeseball. In a concise 3:49, “This Mortal Coil” still manages to feel totally epic and huge, but that’s just how Carcass circa ’93 rolled. This song rages and rides the horse all the way to the finish line with that excellent galloping beat.
4. Carnal Forge
Good god, the guitar work on this album… the guitar work on “Carnal Forge” alone is worth whatever amount of money you paid for the longbox pigeon carrier version of this album or whatever wacky format existed back when it came out (kidding, it was actually something called a “compact disc”), but the blastbeats also satisfied those of us getting a bit nervous at the accessibility of opener “Buried Dreams.” Really, the blastbeats are more of a nod and a wink than a statement of intent at this point, but, hey, it works, it all works, everything works so damn well on “Carnal Forge.”
3. Buried Dreams
“Buried Dreams” is a very, very good way to start off Heartwork: I love the verse, and the chorus is one for the ages, Carcass settling into their newfound groove with a big ol’ groove, hooks for miles, and memorable songwriting that made us all get a bit too defensive back in the day. But looking back at it now, I couldn’t imagine this album opening any other way: it sets the tone perfectly, and then the two songs that follow it are even better. This is a killer album opener, and a great metal song, full stop.
2. No Love Lost
It’s rare, but there are some songs that are just so good I can barely listen to them. “No Love Lost” falls into this category. Not sure how Carcass surgically implanted themselves in my brain to find out what I think perfect music sounds like, but, hey, they did, and there’s the verse riff and tempo I always wanted to hear pushed up against the ultimate chorus, at least to my frail human ears. I’m not even going to check for the millionth time in my life which band member wrote this song because it’s probably going to result in a semi-drunken late-night email to said member that I’ll totally regret. So let’s just end it here. “No Love Lost” = perfect, and I can barely deal.
Oh Jesus Christ, after “No Love Lost”’s perfection, now I have to deal with a song that’s even better? “Heartwork” is everything this era of Carcass is capable of, done to absolute glory. The rise in the chorus, the stompin’ verse, the lead work… and, again, the chorus. This song is really a masterclass in getting it right, Carcass on absolute fire here, the joy of seeing the video for this song play on major television networks at the time just icing on the cake. There’s only one Heartwork, and there’s only one “Heartwork,” and it really doesn’t get better than this.