Carcass

Gods of Grind

By Simon Milburn

24 March 2015

It’s been less than a year since U.K. grind legends Carcass absolutely decimated Australian audiences touring on the back of their most recent long player, Surgical Steel. Since its release in September 2013, the quartet, who are founding members guitarist Bill Steer, vocalist/bassist Jeff Walker along with guitarist Ben Ash and drummer Daniel Wilding, have been very busy indeed playing to audiences near and far as well as release a companion EP in late 2014 titled Surgical Remission / Surplus Steel. There’s no rest for the wicked it seems, except today perhaps, when I caught up with Bill Steer who is kickin’ back at home.

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“I’m in my flat in East London,” begins Steer. “We practiced down on the coast yesterday so I didn’t get back here until late last night. So, yup I’m havin’ a quiet day,” begins this gentleman of grindcore. “We’ve got a couple of gigs in Greece coming up, so we just started getting back into rehearsing the set again.”

Carcass tragics, such as this humble scribe, would know that the band is three decades young this year. Sure there was a decade plus long break in the middle there somewhere but to think that one of the pioneers of grind is still going after all these years is quite incredible.

“Yeah, it is rather remarkable. Um, I don’t really know how to analyze it. I guess, y’know, when the band was away for however many years it was, quite a number I guess, personally, I didn’t have any concept of the band retaining a following or having any value to anybody. But I think gradually, Jeff [Walker] and Mike Amott (Arch Enemy, and former Carcass guitarist) became aware of those things and that was when they started pitching ideas about the band reuniting. It took a while for me to realize that just because I’d really stepped out of that world, y’know, the contemporary metal scene, anyway. So, I was reluctant at first. I mean, once we got out there, I suddenly realized there was an entirely new generation of people who are far too young to have remembered us the first time around. They’ve just discovered the music subsequently. I guess at that point the penny dropped. You realize that this music still stands up, and not just purely in a nostalgic way otherwise, you wouldn’t have the younger crowd here. So yeah, that’s the beginning of what set us on this path of getting back together properly, making new music and so forth,” explains Steer.

In fact, the band has more wind in their sails than ever before and Steer agrees after carefully considering his response.

“I would say there’s a very persuasive argument in favour of that because, well, if you look at record sales, everybody’s complaining about how dire things are right now, but we haven’t really suffered. I don’t really have the numbers in front of me and I’m not particularly interested in statistics anyway, but Surgical Steel has performed on par with our albums of the past. So, I guess that’s something to consider and yeah, when we do festivals we usually get reasonably good billing. We’re making some kind of living off this, so yeah, it’s super positive. I think probably the thing where now has the edge over then would have to be in terms of respect, because back when we were doing our thing originally, the band wasn’t taken very seriously. The overall vibe with us was we might have another couple of years of this and then it’s gonna collapse and nobody will remember the music. But when you come back after such a long time away, suddenly you become this band with a historical angle and people consider you to be influential and so forth. I guess, you’re just treated with a little bit more respect which I guess is nice.”

The band’s buoyed popularity these days is just one of the many things that these Liverpudlians have in common with Napalm Death, a band for which many would recognize Steer’s history with. But with such a big break in the middle of Carcass’ career, it’s no surprise that it’s been a while since these two ground breaking acts have toured together.

“I was racking my brains about this earlier and I couldn’t say for sure but we definitely did some stuff in the early ‘90’s. There was a tour of the U.S.A. where we the main support to Napalm [Death]. It’s quite nice to revisit that situation. We were really delighted to have an excuse to get back to Aus and to New Zealand so quickly… well in fact, New Zealand was missing from our last trip last year, but… we didn’t really expect to have this opportunity so quickly. It just fits really nicely because Napalm wanted to get out there and I guess the promoters wanted a fairly strong package. So then the idea was put forward, ‘Hey, why don’t we have Carcass as the main support to Napalm,’ and it seems to have worked out.”

To see a package like this in Australia is almost unheard of. I mention to Bill that it reminds me of the likes of the now legendary Grindcrusher tour in 1989 which featured Morbid Angel and Bolt Thrower alongside Napalm Death and Carcass on one bill.

“Yeah, God, that really seems like an eternity ago,” laughs Steer.

Carcass and Napalm Death have a lot more in common than just Bill Steer, Earache Records and the likes of Jeff Walker designing the album artwork for the now legendary Scum album. One of the more obscure things that both bands have in common is a connection via British comedian and actor Craig Charles. Charles played the lowest ranking crewman, Dave Lister, in the U.K. sci-fi comedy Red Dwarf as well as hosting a children’s music program on the BBC called What’s That Noise? . Both are places you’d never expect to see members of Carcass and Napalm Death to appear.

“Off the top of my head I think what it was, Craig Charles had heard Napalm [Death]… I don’t know if it was via John Peel or another DJ, but the band was being played quite a bit in those days, I guess, almost as a novelty act really. Y’know, like, ‘Listen to this group. They’ve got short songs and it’s really extreme sounding.’ But the fact that it reached somebody like him, who wasn’t necessarily the kind of guy you would expect to be listening to extreme metal or hardcore punk, but he somehow encountered it, and, I don’t know, he found it entertaining at least. So that became his little mission to get the band on What’s That Noise? which was sort of a weird thing for us to do because it was a children’s TV show and not everybody in the band was in favour [of it]. Every time we were on television, we regretted it. We just weren’t comfortable with it but it was kind of being pushed at us in a way that was, I dunno, I think certain people maybe from our label and other people around us would have felt that it was ridiculous to turn those things down given that they were such great publicity. But yeah, it was just so cringeable.”

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When asked if he feels the same now looking back at this show given it was 26 years ago, Steer laughs, “Well, I just wouldn’t look.”

“The Red Dwarf one was a little further down the line because by that point I was out of Napalm [Death]. I think Craig Charles had asked for two of the longer haired guys from Napalm, whoever looks the most hideous, to be extras in this thing. I’ve forgotten exactly what happened but nobody from Napalm was forthcoming or maybe they weren’t available, so they approached Jeff and myself and we ended up doing it. That was a fun day actually. We got paid reasonably well to just sit around all afternoon and then I guess somebody sprayed grease in our hair and we had to behave like bats for a few minutes on camera.”

It’s possible that Steer enjoyed this television experience a little more than What’s That Noise?.

“Maybe, I guess” Steer laughs. “Y’know, if you’re going to do something ridiculous, you might as well go the whole hog.”

Mass media and metal have both changed a hell of a lot since that era. However the riff master of one of metal’s most iconic acts isn’t sure of what else can be done to push metal’s extremities even further.

“I honestly don’t know. Firstly I don’t really keep up with contemporary music. Occasionally I hear things but that’s just through other people. Y’know, I’ll be in a situation where it’s more or less forced on me. But, generally, I have no idea what’s going on presently. I think the second thing is, how do you shock people now? I mean, those tactics - playing insanely fast, tuning really low, having a very extreme shouted vocal - all of those tricks have been played repeatedly, so I don’t know if there’s any shock value left. It’s a bit of a mind scramble just to think about it, and I think we just try and get on with working on the elements of our style that satisfy us. Whatever we think is good musical content, that’s what we work on with Carcass. But I guess there are still people out there who think they can break the speed record or tune that bit lower… I don’t know. But I don’t understand how, in this genre anyway, it can go much further. Hopefully someone will come along and prove me wrong.”

Until then, I’m sure Carcass fans will be more than satisfied as long as the grind gods continue to unleash killer albums along the lines of their 2013 splatterpiece, Surgical Steel. Returning to Australia for the second time in less than a year is indication enough that things have been pretty crazy for the group since its release.

“Yeah, absolutely. In fact, speaking personally, I would say the longest stretch I was at home uninterrupted would have been about 10 days over that period of a year and a half. We didn’t have much time off. Also, if I was back at home occasionally there’d be practices with Gentlemans Pistols, the other band I play in. There were definitely times where I wondered why I was paying rent. Why don’t I just put my stuff into storage? It’d be a lot cheaper,” jokes the guitarist. “But yeah, it was just brilliant to be honest with you. The travel aspect was fantastic. We got to go to all places you would expect to go to as a band of this nature but also a whole lot of other countries I never thought I’d visit. We’ve just been spoiled with the kind of reaction we’ve had to the band - not just on the road but obviously with the new album, or rather the current album. We didn’t go into this with any expectations. I think you’re always gonna set yourself up for disappointment if you do that. But the way Surgical Steel has been received is just quite a shock to all of us I think.”

The quartet’s 2014 Australian tour was their first tour on the back of new material since 1993’s Heartwork tour. Carcass’ first ever show in Australia in 1993 would go down in folklore amongst the old guard of the Brisbane metal scene for the wrong reason. For the very same reason, it became memorable to the band as well. You see, someone stole the band’s stage backdrop after the show.

“Oh yeah!” enthuses Steer. “That is very memorable. I tell you what, that banner was absolutely huge. We had just come off stage in Brisbane and I swear within a couple of minutes, literally no more than that, somebody came backstage and told us that the banner had been stolen. We looked at this guy in disbelief. We were like, ‘That’s simply not possible! You would need a team of men to remove that banner and it would be done over a period of time. How could it be gone already?’ He said, ‘Well, just a load of guys came up and took it and then they just walked past security with it.’ We were kind of amused because it was so ridiculous you couldn’t really get bent out of shape about it.”

Last year, the most unlikely of events unfolded. Almost 21 years later, as the band setup to play in Brisbane once again, they received an unexpected delivery at the venue which was a pleasant surprise.

“Last year somebody returned it. Not in person – I think they were maybe a little bit embarrassed or ashamed. So they dropped it off with somebody who brought it to the venue. It was very nice to see the thing again. Obviously times have changed and fire regulations are much stricter so we’ll never be able to use that particular backdrop again.”

If nothing else, from a nostalgic point of view, the banner is now back with its rightful owners and has gone full circle.

“Yeah, exactly. Maybe if one of us has a big enough garage or something we can hang it up. But right now, it’s tucked away with our gear somewhere.”

There’s only a matter of weeks until the band return to our fine shores but this time around, things will be a little different.

“Well I guess we’ll try and have a slightly different set. That’s the obvious thing. Because we’re not the headliner, I imagine we’ll have to be a little more concise and I can’t predict exactly, but I doubt that we’d be playing beyond an hour. So it’ll be a case of trying to keep it punchy and just go all out really. I think it’s gonna be fun.”

The Australian New Zealand Deathcrusher Tour featuring Carcass and Napalm Death kicks off in April 2015. Extortion are also on the bill for all Australian shows. Catch these two gods of grind at one of the following dates: April 16th – Perth, Capitol, 18+; April 17th – Melbourne, Prince Bandroom, 18+; April 18th – Sydney, The Factory Theatre, 18+; April 19th – Brisbane, The Hifi, 18+; April 21st - Valhalla, Wellington, 18+; April 22nd - Valhalla, Wellington, 18+; April 23rd - The Kings Arms, Auckland, 18+. For more information on Carcass, check out www.facebook.com/OfficialCarcass .

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