In this bimonthly column, staff writer Doug Moore takes a very close look at extreme metal lyrics. Some will be serious, some will be silly, but they’ll all go under the microscope.
Carcass is a rarity in death metal: a band that will be remembered for lyrics as much as for music. This fact is especially impressive when you consider their track record. Carcass helped usher grindcore, death metal, and melodeath into the world. They also produced some of the most memorable albums in the metal canon.
But for many fans, Carcass is “the death metal band with the medical lyrics.” In the band’s early days, lyricist Jeff Walker used his older sister’s medical textbooks as fodder for disgusting but wry lyrical collages. The practice has become so popular among Carcass’s descendants that “Carcass worship” is a recognized niche style. Poison Tongues alumni Exhumed often receive the Carcass-worship tag.
Though I celebrate most of Carcass’s catalog (Swansong is an exception), my favorite Carcass lyrics come from Heartwork. Walker pivoted away from blood and guts on this album, instead fixing his sardonic eye on a various aspects of modern society. “Embodiment,” for instance, rails in classically-metal fashion against religion:
I will bow down before your precious icon, deity of self suppression
This effigy of flesh, corporeal christi, nailed
In submission to this false idol, seeking deliverance
From this spiritual hierarchy, downward spiraling, a corrupt throne
Of repression and guilt
Our will be done
Thy kingdom burn
On my knees, before this tormented flesh, in irreverence
In communion with this parasitic host of virtuous divinity
This imperious creed bears testament to the failures of our morality
Righteous durance is our cross we bear in stations
In stations of the lost
Our will be done
Thy kingdom burn – thy kingdom burn
Our will be done
From your knees arise
By your own hand, your god you describe
The earth shall inherit the meek
Your god is dead
Bound down, in God we’re trussed, foul stature
Icons embodied in flesh, we nail
In servitude to deities fashioned in our self-image
Shadows of eternal strife cast by those who serve
Serve a crown of pawns
The message of “Embodiment” is as clear as it is familiar: Christianity is a social technology designed for manipulation. It shames its adherents into subservience and prevents them from fulfilling their potential.
Walker sums up his feelings on the subject with a climactic declaration—”Your god is dead,” which has to be one of the more common phrases in metal lyricdom. But “Embodiment” is noteworthy more for how it expresses this sentiment than for the sentiment itself.
Modern science has ruined the Bible’s credibility as an explanatory, historical text. Many practicing Christians consider it purely metaphorical. But Christianity retains gravitas, thanks in part to its visual and linguistic richness. We respond with intuitive deference to the Biblical imagery and liturgical phrases that pervade our culture because we’ve been raised to do so.
On “Embodiment,” Jeff Walker turns Christianity’s language and iconography against it. He uses famous Christian phrases to attack and denigrate the faith. “Corpus Christi” becomes “Corporeal Christi”; “Thy kingdom come/Thy will be done” becomes “Our will be done/Thy kingdom burn”; “Stations of the cross” becomes “Stations of the lost”; “Crown of thorns” becomes “Crown of pawns”; and “In God we trust” becomes “In God we’re trussed.”
This tactic also produces one of the greatest one-liners in metal history: “The earth shall inherit the meek.” By switching two words in “The meek shall inherit the earth,” Walker completely reverses the meaning of the phrase—it becomes an individualist maxim and an amusing pun at once. And it sums up Carcass’s musical spirit: eccentric, aggressive, and brainier than most corpses.