Carcass – “Symphonies of Sickness”

Turns out the second time’s the harm

Blame Carcass for the faecal disarticulation and anal disgorgement that is debut Reek of Putrefaction. While principals Jeff Walker, Bill Steer and Ken Owen walked away from their 22-song, 39-minute sonic torment disappointed, the fire in Carcass’s flesh-burning incinerator had been properly stoked. There was only one direction to go, and that was forward. The gore-soaking Liverpudlians prepared for revenge by embarking on a crusade to redeem Reek through new demos (1988’s Symphonies of Sickness), a four-song session for famed (and influential) U.K. DJ John Peel and an expensive one-off version of “Exhume to Consume” for the now-pivotal Grindcrusher compilation. Carcass wanted, if anything, to be taken seriously. To get there, they dropped the pseudonyms—though the comedy of W.G. Thorax Embalmer continues to this day—obscured the visuals, focused on fortifying personnel (Steer left his Napalm Death post in 1989), and wrote some of the sickest, grossest and meanest death metal the world had ever seen.

(De)composed by Owen and Steer, and given proper tongue-through-cheek aesthetic by Walker, Carcass’s second offering, 1989’s Symphonies of Sickness, blew the white high tops off death metal’s puberty stage. Certainly, Carcass weren’t alone in their lurch towards notoriety—fellow meatwagoners Autopsy had spilled blood with Severed Survival, the black breath of Repulsion’s infamous Horrified finally saw the light of day through Carcass-owned Necrosis Records and Sepultura revealed their inner selves on Beneath the Remains—but nothing was quite like the patently offensive, musically adept Symphonies. Co-produced and engineered by then-unknown studio guru Colin Richardson, Symphonies was the next-level step Carcass were aiming for. Members might even call it their official debut.

With longer songs, a more tuneful orientation, stronger performances and a beefier production, Symphonies of Sickness commanded immediate attention. Leadoff track “Reek of Putrefaction” signaled the beast to come, in fact. The haunting keyboard hit, the off-world gurgle and the sheer heaviness of Steer’s guitars make for one of most recognizable intros in death metal history. That’s before it descends into riotous blast beats, graveolent riffs and purulent vocals for nearly three minutes. Symphonies then coagulates into fan favorites “Exhume to Consume,” “Embryonic Necropsy and Devourment,” “Swarming Vulgar Mass of Infected Virulency” and “Ruptured in Purulence.” There was nothing like Symphonies in 1989, and while others have tried valiantly, there’s definitely nothing like it today.

With perforated ear canals, extracted fingernails and excoriated craniums, Decibel hereby welcomes Symphonies of Sickness to the Hall of Fame.

Need more Carcass? To read the entire seven-page story, featuring interviews with all members on Symphonies of Sickness, purchase the print issue from our store, or digitally via our app for iPhone/iPad or Android.