MANHATTAN, NY—As a teenager, guitarist Bill Steer was immersed in the punk rock and the newly developing death metal music scenes, trading tapes and following whatever bands visited his native northwest region of England. He formed a hardcore punk band called Disattack in 1985. Shortly after another punk rocker, bassist Jeff Walker, joined the band, Disattack changed its name to Carcass and became one of the first grindcore bands in England. Carcass then morphed into a one of England’s first melodic death metal bands in the early 1990s, while maintaining its often morbid lyrics and gruesome album covers. Carcass disbanded in 1995, its members joining other bands, but reunited in 2007 for touring purposes. The group released its first album of new material in nearly 20 years with 2013’s Surgical Steel. The band presently is comprised of Walker on vocals and bass, Steer and Ben Ash on guitars and Dan Wilding on drums.
When Carcass disbanded, the death metal scene still was heavy metal’s stepchild. In the intervening years, the genre has increased its audience, and now the revamped Carcass are performing before larger followings than in its first incarnation. Carcass are headlining the 2014 Decibel Magazine Tour, including an appearance tonight at the Best Buy Theater.
As the lights dimmed, the dramatic instrumental intro track from Surgical Steel, “1985,” played loudly through the house speakers, and Carcass took the stage under red-on-red lights. Plugged in, the band opened what would become a nearly two-hour set with “Buried Dreams.” Carcass proved that the veteran band was still a leader in the genres it helped originate. As the musicians’ stomach-length hair flew in every direction, the group built beyond its crunching Black Sabbath-type riffs with growling vocals, twin guitar leads, speed metal intensity and an occasional hint of nu-metal breakdown. The chunky guitar-fueled performance was heavy, tight, energetic and bombastic.
Carcass mixed songs from its six studio albums, with many of the newer songs generally toward the beginning of the set, including “Cadaver Pouch Conveyor System,” “Noncompliance To ASTM F 899-12 Standard” and “Unfit For Human Consumption.” Many of the older songs, including “No Love Lost,” “Reek Of Putrefaction” and a medley of “Black Star” and “Keep On Rotting In The Free World,” were comparatively further back in the 17-song set. The closer was the title-track of the band’s best-known album, 1993’s “Heartwork.”
Complementing the death metal band’s reputation for shock and gore, Carcass’ songs were often accompanied by images of autopsies, animal corpses and gruesome scenes projected onto two back screens. “Genital Grinder,” for instance, showed a close-up of what seemed to be rotting male genitalia. Contrastingly, Walker lightheartedly bantered between songs about anything that came to mind. President Obama was in Manhattan that evening, and Walker wisecracked that the president was in the theater. At the end of the third song, as the house security was leading the photographers out of the photo pit, Walker said to the staff below him, “Photographers get three songs to make us look sexy for publicity but, if it is alright with you, we want them to stay!” He then went on to suggest that a sweaty Carcass is just as sexy. Carcass may not be sexy, but for a band that is relatively unknown outside the extreme metal community, they put on a show worthy of greater arenas.