Let’s ruminate on the land of hope and gory: Repulsion and Carcass

For early grindcore artists, after album number two, there seemed to be but two choices, start playing death metal, or breakup. Carcass have all but disowned their first effort, 1988’s ‘Reek of Putrefaction’. This is largely because the sound one finds herein is a messy wall of noise, even by the standards of artists who set out to create such an effect. The finished product was completely out of the hands of these musicians. They did not mean for the production to sound quite so dirty. They did not mean for the drums to be cacophony of noise. And they did not mean for the guitar ‘solos’ to sound like they were turning inside out. But the result is twenty two tracks of unstoppable goregrind that was to leave a lasting impression on the scene.

‘Reek of Putrefaction’ has been criticised as a shaky debut. People will cite follow up ‘Symphonies of Sickness’ as the truer statement of what Carcass were trying to achieve at this time. From the artist’s point of view this may be true. But the accident of amateurism and low budget that produced ‘Reek of Putrefaction’, for my money, is the definitive goregrind album, and the only full blown grindcore album that Carcass released, before they moved on to death metal. The guitars are indeed a blur of muddy riffs, bizarre, twisted solos, with drums barely keeping a recognisable rhythm. The dual vocal attack is inexplicable. The resulting sound is a work of accidental genius that somehow sonically invokes their chosen subject matter far more than any subsequent releases.
The lyrics need little explanation from myself. Ripped straights from medical text books, they surgically describe various rotting processes, medical procedures gone wrong, or various calamities of the flesh. The dual vocal attack of Bill Steer’s guttural growl and Jeff Walker’s raspy snarl are ideally suited to the task of delivering this material. Like much of the best death metal of a similar nature, there is no value judgement here. There is no glee found in suffering or sadism on the part of these narrators, they simply describe an aspect of nature. If one purpose of art is a mere reflection of world as seen by the artist, then early Carcass serves a revolting cultural purpose by anyone’s standards.

Repulsion, from across the pond, once considered the fastest band on earth, are direct contemporaries of their Liverpudlian brethren. It is not clear based on initial demo tapes appearing in the trading circuit in the late 1980s who was the earlier example of grindcore, Repulsion or Napalm Death. ‘Horrified’, originally released in 1986 as a demo and failed to make waves initially. A mere eighteen tracks and barely half an hour long, variety is not one of this album’s strong points. What we have here is rippingly fast hardcore punk and thrash riffs, only rivalled in speed at the time by Napalm Death. The drums rarely deviate from a blast-beat but the playing is precise; these musicians are capable playing to such speed one would think they have completely lost control, before undergoing a violent shift in tempo. However, as the music is intent on pummelling the same level of violence into the listener over the course of the playing time, there really is not much more to say about this release.

The production is of descent demo quality, all the instruments can be heard, including the bass notably. The vocals are akin to Jeff Becerra of Possessed, although more sinister. It is clear Scott Carlson wished to give life and intent and sinister purpose to the chosen subject matter. The lyrics deal with gore, without the detailed precision of Carcass maybe, but still enough to inspire the next generation of gory death metal artists waiting in the wings. Although the vocal style is an early example of a raspy death growl, the lyrics can be heard loud and clear. Repulsion were largely ignored in the USA at the time. The demo ‘Slaughter of the Innocent’, did not make waves until the boys in Carcass got hold of the material and released on their own label as ‘Horrified’. When they did it became a much loved classic in Europe, particularly in the Swedish scene and the British grindcore scene. Now its place as an undisputed classic is secure.

There is a sense in which ‘Horrified’ was the album Carcass were trying to produce at the time, but due to a series of happy accidents of production, playing, and budget, they ended up with something far uglier, dirtier, and downright scary in places. The musicianship on ‘Horrified’ is more precise, the production crisper, the guitars sharper, one can hear the riffs, the solos sound closer to Slayer than they do a theremin in a very badly decomposed state. But when it comes to grindcore, especially the strain that dealt with gore, all of these things are not virtues. ‘Reek of Putrefaction’ is a vile album, the guitars are muddied beyond recognition, Bill Steer’s vocals are sometimes so deep it becomes hard to distinguish them from the downtuned guitars, the drums are sloppy but heavy, adding a cacophony of noise to this already unbearably dirty music. For this reason I simply have to side with this album on this occasion. Although Carcass were later to disown it as a mess, and it is true this music is very limiting, I have not heard a more poignant sonic recreation of the rotting process since. It should also be noted that the demos Repulsion released around ‘Horrified’ are more varied and interesting than the material on this album and well worth your time.

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