Home / Doctrinal Expletives: The Lyrical Testimony of Carcass

Doctrinal Expletives: The Lyrical Testimony of Carcass

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It was 1985 when the smoke cleared to reveal three miscreants from the shores of Liverpool, standing, slightly choked up on the ethereal substances, but with a glint in their eyes, down-tuned guitars slung back over a shoulder or two, and medical dictionaries tucked neatly under the arms. They were out to grind the delicate aural features of anyone and everyone, and were prepared to do so with lyrics as much as with a few blast beats or shudders of the low E (or low B in their case).

The first two albums, Reek of Putrefaction (1988) and Symphonies of Sickness (1989), represent some of the finest slabs of macabre medical jargon known to man, or at least to coroners, because lets face it – we ain’t talking about ‘oh doctor I’ve got a bit of a cold’ here. Witness the tale of a simple tummy pain explained in all its visceral detail in ‘Ruptured in Purulence’:

Miasmic fungus infests the small intestine
Vitriolic juices burn through the stomach’s wall
Bursting carcinosis as chylase melts your guts
Crepitating neoplasm erupts with gore…

According to my internet research miasma is a noxious, poisonous atmosphere; carcinosis is a cancerous spread in the body; chylase seems to be a Carcass original; a neoplasm is an abnormal growth of flesh which is perhaps cancerous.

Or observe this fable of the dangers of parasitic infection in ‘Cadaveric Incubator of Endoparasites’:

The inset of rigor mortis, ulcerous corruption and decay
Saponified fats lather as soap as you slowly eat yourself away…
Organs savaged by rotten enzymes, rennin and rancorous cysts
A festering abcess immersed in ravenous autolysis

Saponification is the conversion of fat to soap (cf: Fight Club); Rennin is a milk curdling enzyme; autolysis is a rupture of cells induced by release of certain enzymes.

The excellent ‘Exhume to Consume’ presents a lovable lament of excavating the corpses of the dead to indulge in a feast of their remains:

Ulcerated flesh I munch
Rotting corpses are lunch

Pretty self-explanatory there.

1991 brought arguably the pinnacle of their music in the album Necroticism: Descanting the Insalubrious. Another collection of pathological horrorscapes this time set against a refined and matured instrumental section, most of these songs even come with disturbing spoken-word intros.

Fourth track ‘Pedigree Butchery’ comes with some appropriately gruesome and obscure lyrics. Check these:

Desparental, primparal goods oozing

Desparental is another Carcass original, let’s assume it to refer to a set of progenitors, especially due to primpara meaning she who is pregnant for the first time.

Rheological, twisted nursery chymes
The fluxing of the delfeshed
Paedophilosophical, carnage knowledge
As the illegitimeat to the domesticated is fed

Rheology is the study of the deformation and flow of matter; another Carcass original in the form of Paedophilosophical, maybe the best word ever, the paedo prefix is of course connected to children, so how about: a deep investigation of youthful progenies. Very family orientated number here.

Also the lyrics here show a certain step up in that things have developed into a wonderful moribund poetry, this is demonstrated numerous times throughout the proceedings. Just look at some of the following extracts:

Striking up my discordant underture
A carnal cacophony perversely penned
(‘Carneous Cacoffiny’)

Is not the sentiment upon which we feed
But precocious consciousness
Draws out a morbid nous to bleed
Chiselling out seething words
(‘Symposium of Sickness’)

Monographic text, a literary vex
The macabre perplexed, with meshed reality
(‘Symposium of Sickness’)

The medical preoccupations dissipated somewhat for Heartwork (1994), where the lyrical concepts had to evolve to match the ever evolving instrumentality of the music. A lot of the old primordial gratuity remained, but was interspersed with a wider range of ideas, producing fewer words that I had to look up in an online medical dictionary, and less of an overall visual, nausea-inducing lyricscape. But nevertheless, tell me what the hell the following is about:

Multifarious carnage
Meretriciously, internecine
Sublime enmangling steelbath
Of escheated atrocities
(‘Carnal Forge’)

Internecine is a mutual slaughter/destruction.

Notice the contrasts between the older material and the aforementioned with some of the words of Carcass’ “hit single” (or closest thing to it), the title track ‘Heartwork’:

Profound, aesthetic beauty
Or shaded sensary corruption
Perceptions, shattered, splintered, mirroring
In deft taints, diluted, tinted

The spreading wings of song concepts can be seen in the likes of ‘Embodiment’ (religion), ‘No Love Lost’ (human emotion), and ‘Blind Bleeding the Blind’ (ignorance and apathy).

A final evolution in the lyrics occurred with the band’s last album, the fittingly titled Swansong (1995). Movements in music, to what was occasionally termed ‘rot n roll’ (presumably after the B-side of the ‘Heartwork’ single) and/or ‘death rock’, once again pushed the lyrics in directions where that medical dictionary wasn’t really an imperative item. The order of the day here was more sociological than pathological. Peruse the opening verse to ‘Don’t Believe a Word’:

You should never take too literally what you read
Misinformation, distortion, make belief
Fabrications, half truths implied
Misquotations, out of context and lies

Or the anti-consumerism, anti-corporate single, ‘Keep on Rotting in the Free World’:

Consumer or consumed, your life is cheap
Economic salvation in sweatshops returned from the East
Despair the only quality of strife
A reason for existence if you can afford the price
If your price is right

Or other concentrated, relevant themes such as authoritarian state control (‘R**k the Vote’), tyrannical oppression (‘Firmhand’), and generational apathy (‘Generation Hexed’). It’s an album of bitter anti-establishment ideals verging on anarchical sanctimony, and is brilliant because of it!

Carcass had a life too short, but traversed a number of lyrical themes in that time, from grisly surgical manoeuvres, to mortality, to free speech and thought. I’ll leave you with a quote from the song whose name I took for the title of this writing, not that I attribute these sentiments to Carcass, but it’s important to remember the subversion possible with language:

A play on words, making no sense

Which makes no sense
Which makes nonsense
(‘Doctrinal Expletives’)

For more meanderings visit me here: Generic Mugwump

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About Aaron Fleming

  • Immensely creative and niche-defining, but one does not get a sense of their musical abilities

  • Musical abilities from my writing, or from their music?

    I could go on all day about the chunky discordance, tremolo picking and ultra fast chord changes, but I chose to ponder the lyrics a bit this time.

    Their own musical abilities? Surely not, just look, for one instance, at some of the wonderful harmonies on Heartwork.

  • I’d say from your writing, but the lyrical exposition is much appreciated

  • Sir Fleming, for one who has admitted that he has none much interest in the lyrical side of these things, you’ve done a blindin job here. And, dare i say it, you’ve actually intrigued me with regards these rapscalions. i remember Heartwork and Swansong bein released, an the hoopla in Kerrang an the like, but avoided the whole affair nonetheless. Death Metal has never been to my particular liking. but this is highly intoxicating, this screed right here. fantastic work, sir.

  • Aaman – perhaps a sequel some day concerning the vicious riffage of the guitars, and the destructive drumming prowess of the mighty Ken Owen. Or maybe why Symposium of Sickness is the hardest song to play on guitar (actually that’d be a good one because it’s the only song written by Ken Owen on that album, which is interesting).

    Duke – thank you very much. That’s true about my lyric orientation, maybe I’m trying to push myself a little more.
    And I can surely attest to Carcass’ excellence, just a tiny bit behind Death as my fave death metal band ever.

  • ah Carcass, the Dylan’s of death metal.

  • The Dylan’s of deathmetal? What about Gwar? They have an album called, “This toilet earth.”

    Sorry, Sir Fleming, for meandering off-topic again. I was completely unaware of Carcass prior to your piece here this day.

  • Gwar is The Tubes of death metal.

  • It’s likely obvious to everyone the only reason I could pull the Gwar reference was Beavis & Butt-head.

    “There should be more toilets in videos.”

  • Haha, you can never have enough Gwar references!

  • Guppusmaximus

    Mr. Fleming,

    A job well done!! By far the best Death Metal review I have seen here on B.C.. I truly feel their early work influenced such excellent acts like Cannibal Corpse but in order to do any justice to this great style of music you must pay tribute in review to Death(as you mentioned #5) especially with works from 1987 titled,”Scream Bloody Gore” and in 1988,”Leprosy”. Chuck was a true pioneer and left on a brilliant note with “Sound of Preserverance”in 1999…R.I.P.
    Again, excellent review:)
    I can’t say as much for GWAR….Great shock value but kind of boring musically(just my opinion)

  • Guppusmaximus

    One more thing…I finally met Gene Holgan(drummer on “Individual…”&”Symbolic”) at a S.Y.L. show recently. It was soo F*cking cool, he is a F*cking animal on the kit but he makes it look so calm. Nice guy too,laid back…

  • Guppusmaximus – Thank you very much!

    I was actually thinking a few weeks back about writing something about Death, but it slipped out of mind I guess. It’ll be worth some thought over the next couple of days.

    And Hoglan is indeed a monster behind the kit.

    And yeh Gwar’s mainly just a humourous novelty, but hell so is GG Allin and I’ve spent many an entire conversation discussing the merits of his wonderfully mad and decadent live shows.

  • Quintus Fixlein

    Very nice, this one (I stumbled over it while searching for Carcass-remnants in the web). I’m with the boys since the early Napalm Death/Electro Hippies days, and I like everything that evolved from this hatchery of utter creativity ((early) Cathedral, Godflesh, Scorn, now Jesu etc. – even Jeff Walkers ‘Cuntry’ outfit) – and Carcass is the greatest metal band of all time full stop.
    Death is also great, but the lyrics are ambitious but dumb, The Philosopher from the otherwise brilliant Patterns album q.e.d.