The early Nineties were a period of change for U.K. extreme-metal pioneers Carcass. First, they made the transition from gory grindcore to a still-gory technical death metal with 1991's Necroticism – Descanting the Insalubrious, the group's first release to feature guitarist Michael Amott, who had previously played in Swedish extremists Carnage. But the monumental transformation for Carcass came between Necroticism and their melodic death-metal masterpiece, 1993's Heartwork.
Though Amott quit Carcass to form Spiritual Beggars after recording Heartwork (he would later form Arch Enemy), he co-wrote six of the 10 songs with guitarist Bill Steer, and his playing provided a more accessible, but still far-from-mainstream, sound. "Necroticism is almost like our prog-rock album, but by that time you can hear Mike's influences coming in," bassist Jeff Walker told Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal. "By the time we did Heartwork he had a bigger influence. By Heartwork, the actual riffs are just Bill and Mike. And we were willing to go with what he was coming up with because it was good and different. Call it a case of the gore-death whatever thing getting kind of old. There's only so many times you can churn out the same crap."
Throughout Heartwork, Walker's vocals are still gravelly and growled with apoplectic fury, but drummer Ken Owen's blast beats fall between more tempered grooves on numerous songs, such as the title track and "Carnal Forge." Indeed, most of the album is mid-paced, allowing the tuneful palm-muted riffs of Steer and Amott to take center stage. No longer did Carcass resemble Napalm Death. The multitude of catchy riffs and fetching guitar harmonies make them sound more like a cross between Megadeth and Iron Maiden, but with Gollum behind the mic.
In addition, while Carcass had basically carved the goregrind template, writing in graphic detail about horrific acts of violence, disease, death and decay, with Heartwork lyric-writer Walker strayed from the formula, instead addressing different types of atrocity, including religious extremism and war. "These songs aren't protest songs, but they're songs using the same kind of Carcass language — trying to be clever — using more than two syllables," Walker said in the documentary Carcass – The Pathologist's Report. "I was trying to make this really powerful, semi-quasi-fascistic lyrical content all about religion, warfare ... They're not political, it's just statements of fact."
In that spirit, here are 10 facts you likely didn't know about Heartwork.
1. Carcass were already writing songs for Heartwork while on tour for its predecessor
In an effort to raise the bar on their songwriting, Bill Steer and Michael Amott started working on riffs for Heartwork while the band was out on the road in support of Necroticism. "I suppose what we were really doing was going for shorter songs," Jeff Walker told Metal Hammer. "We were beginning to write songs that were less wandering… Not that we weren't capable of being complex or technical — something like 'Arbeit Macht Fleisch' proved that to be the case."
2. A hash-smoking sesh after a Brutal Truth/Cathedral show contributed to the raw sound of Jeff Walker's vocals on the Heartwork demos
In February 1993, Carcass recorded a full demo of Heartwork at Liverpool's Parr Studios in Studio Three, the smallest of the facility's three studios. The band wanted to be able to hand producer Colin Richardson a quality recording of the songs in advance of the final recording sessions. What they created was striking, even though Walker's vocals were noticeably strained. "I had a slight vocal problem," Walker admitted to Metal Hammer. "I'd been to see Brutal Truth and Cathedral play, and had a hash pipe afterward — that caused the problem. But the demo versions of the songs were a lot rawer than the album ones — and I have to say that I prefer them. The production was more basic and seemed to suit what we were doing." The demos are available on the special edition of Heartwork.
3. Carcass played all of Heartwork songs live prior to the album's release — to Walker's chagrin
When Carcass toured with Death and Cannibal Corpse in spring 1993 they played the entire Heartwork album, even though Walker didn't greenlight the move. "All the others wanted to do it, but I never saw the point," he told Metal Hammer. "The fans had never heard the tracks before, so why would we fill up our set with them? It was to be the only time that Mike [Amott] ever got to play the songs live."
4. Unlike on Carcass' previous albums, Walker recorded all the vocals on Heartwork
Steer and Walker shared vocal duties on the first three Carcass albums, but for Heartwork the former never entered the vocal booth. There were rumors that producer Colin Richardson felt the songs better suited Walker's vocal style, but the bassist said that wasn't the case. "Bill made the decision himself," Walker explained. "He just wanted to concentrate on his guitar playing. We all tried hard to persuade him to sing on the record ... but he refused to budge. It all came to a head when, one day, we were going on at him so much that Bill walked out of the studio and came back an hour later. I think he'd made his point that this wasn't something he was prepared to discuss, and the matter was never mentioned again."
5. Carcass almost fired producer Colin Richardson when they were in the studio
While Richardson was scheduled to produce Heartwork, he was working on other projects, including Disincarnate, which featured ex-Death guitarist James Murphy. "There was a point where he was doing so much work with other bands that we thought, 'This is weak,'" Walker said in Carcass - The Pathologist's Report. "We were such snobs that we didn't want to work with him, 'cause in a way, we're thinking it's getting so trendy nowadays that we don't want to get lumped in with these other bands. Me and Bill went down to meet him and we were talking to him about it. He was kind of upset about it — pissed off. And then we decided we were still going to go with him about it. If we [fired him and went] our way God knows what would have happened."
6. The band had to go small to get the sound they wanted
Carcass had recorded the high-quality Heartwork demo in the smallest upstairs room in Parr Studios. When they started their sessions with Richardson, they worked in the studio's best room, but were unable to dial up tones they were happy with. "We just couldn't get a guitar sound," Walker said. "For some bizarre reason, being the desk, being whatever, the sound was shit. It must have took two or three days before we realized, 'Well, let's just go upstairs and plug in and see what happens.' Within five minutes, we had this great guitar sound again — not that we did anything different."
7. The album's first track, "Buried Dreams," references both serial killer John Wayne Gacy and the Beatles
Walker wrote "Buried Dreams" after reading the Tim Cahill book Inside the Mind of John Wayne Gacy. And while the lyricist has always liked the Beatles, he modified one of their lyrics to make a statement. "The song's a play on the Beatles' 'All You Need is Love,'" Walker revealed in the documentary. "And that's nice. But flip the coin and it's saying, 'All you need is hate.' More people are driven by bitterness than they are by love."
8. A personal connection helped Carcass secure a piece of H.R. Giger artwork for Heartwork's cover
Like Celtic Frost before them (1985's To Mega Therion), Carcass used artwork by Swiss surrealist painter and sculptor H.R. Giger for the album cover — specifically, a piece called "Life Support," which was based on one of his earlier works. "The art already existed," Walker said in Carcass - The Pathologist's Report. "It was something he had done in the late Sixties. We approached him by a series of coincidences. I had known some woman who's a best friend of his girlfriend/manager. And he'd actually recast the artwork. So when we approached him it was just really good timing. I think he was pretty cool about it because we didn't have a large amount of money. I think he was prepared to cut us some slack just because his girlfriend was a friend of a friend. Sometimes the stars align and all that shit and things work out."
9. Despite writing much of the album, Michael Amott was MIA for most of the recording
"We were recording Heartwork and Mike was losing interest," Walker said in the band documentary. "He was stuck in Israel at that point. He got his passport locked into an [apartment] and he'd gone back [to get it]. The cracks were starting to show. Mike started the Spiritual Beggars back in Sweden. After doing a tour in '92, I remember where his head was at. Doing Heartwork, he basically came in just to play his lead."
10. At first, Heartwork got a "frosty reception"
When they finished the album, everyone in the band (except maybe Amott, who would soon split) thought it was their best, most cohesive release to date, and over the course of 25 years the album has stood the test of time, remaining a landmark of melodic death metal. As happy as he is about how metal fans regard Heartwork today, Steer insists the perspective is a case of revisionist history. "The album got quite a frosty reception, especially in the States," he said in the documentary. "I remember meeting kids and they'd be saying, 'You sold out.' [At our concerts] people would say, 'It's good to see you, but you're not playing [my favorite songs].' And as they were drifting away, they'd say, 'Actually, I think the record sucks.' I didn't meet anybody who liked it. It almost felt like we'd messed up in terms of delivery of what our audience wanted to hear."
Jon Wiederhorn is the co-author of Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal, as well as the co-author of Scott Ian's autobiography I'm the Man: The Story of That Guy From Anthrax, Al Jourgensen's memoir Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen and Agnostic Front singer Roger Miret's My Riot! Grit, Guts and Glory.