How do you maintain a career in death metal for more than three decades? A sense of humor helps, and Jeff Walker, vocalist and bassist for the UK’s Carcass, embodied that as they closed out the Keep stage Sunday at Sound on Sound Fest. Nearly half of the scheduled lineup on Sunday didn’t perform because of a rain delay, and Walker made a point of apologizing for “bringing the weather” to the fest.
For a group of Brits, the mud and rain were like a 95-degree day in the summer to us — perfectly natural. Carcass played to a paltry audience, nothing like the sprawling European metal festivals they’re used to. Walker made light of that, estimating the crowd at around 20 at first, then 50, then 80. He also joked that they were brought to clear out the grounds, and when those dedicated few stuck around, further quipped that they weren’t doing a good job of emptying the site. They clearly made the most out of a bad situation, and Carcass likely played to far fewer people when they were starting out.
It also helps that they’re still one of the premier names in death metal. They’re best known for their innovations in creating melodic death metal, one of the most popular subgenres where growled vocals and macabre obsessions meet Iron Maiden-like guitars. Carcass, and their 1993 album “Heartwork” in particular, were an instrumental influence on a wave of American bands in the mid-2000s — Lamb of God and Shadows Fall chief among them — that brought metal closer to the mainstream.
The rain must have brought out something in them, as “No Love Lost” felt more bitter, and Bill Steer (that’s a Texan name for a Brit, right?) and Ben Ash’s leads on “Heartwork” felt more heart-wrenching and closer to the metal gods than ever. Carcass also were pioneers of goregrind, where the fast and sloppy grindcore of their contemporaries in Napalm Death and Sore Throat got a healthy dose of outlandish gore imagery. While they didn’t draw from much of that era during their set (that meant no “Microwaved Uterogestation” or “Festering Innards”), they dedicated a small middle of their set to it, anchored by fan favorite “Exhumed to Consume.”
Carcass may be a household name in metal, but they came up from the crust punk scene in the ’80s, where it’s important to play for a small crowd as if it’s Woodstock. In an odd way, their set at SOS was as much about where they came from as where they are now. Born from less than ideal circumstances, they were fun to watch, which couldn’t be said of Death Grips’ stiff performance or the bookish indie bands fests like SOS usually bring.