On nearly every level, the Carcass reunion that began in 2007 has been a resounding success. (Also, 13 years? What?!) No matter the lineup that joins Jeff Walker and Bill Steer on stage, the band is still a formidable live act that draws huge crowds and headlines great package tours. Oh, and 2013’s Surgical Steel was a pretty great new record as well.
It’s now been seven years (again, what?!) since that record, and Carcass has seemingly been promising a new record for half that time at least. But instead of the long awaited album, we instead get a four song EP, and it is… fine. (Yes, the new record is supposedly actually arriving next year, but we’re still waiting.) Like the Surgical Steel leftovers EP Surgical Remission / Surplus Steel, Despicable sounds largely like more leftovers. It completely maintains the blend of Necroticism, Heartwork, and Swansong, but this time the latter seems to be the focus more than the other far two superior records.
Despicable thankfully kicks off with its one truly great track, “The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue.” It builds gradually from slower harmonies to a nice Heartwork gallop and eventually to a massive impact of bombast and blast-and-shred madness. A slower solo section leads to another build back to the violence, showing off the rare dynamic side of the band. “Under the Scalpel Blade” is also pretty solid, even if it can’t help but feel a bit like it was compiled from various parts of older, better tunes. The other two songs fare worse, and there’s one obvious culprit: energy. Or rather, a lack thereof. “The Long and Winding Bier Road” and “Slaughtered in Soho” have some could-be-quality elements (the chorus in the former), but overall are plodding and devoid of real bite, which is pretty strange for this band, no matter the year.
Still, there’s nothing outright wrong with Studio Carcass in 2020; the indisputable instrumental talents of the band ‒ in addition to the still-vicious barks of Walker and Steer ‒ ensure that even the lesser tunes here are enjoyable on a superficial level. But even the best songs have a hard time competing with Surgical tracks such as “The Master Butcher’s Apron” or “Unfit for Human Consumption,” to say nothing of how they compare with the band’s best from their original run. The way you react to this paragraph likely says a lot about you as a Carcass fan and tells you exactly how much you need this EP.
In the interest of being a little more positive, let’s all be thankful that they didn’t reuse the Tools of the Trade cover art a fourth time.