Carcass' Jeff Walker: "Life Is Just Food For Maggots"
If heavy metal makes you bang your head, then extreme metal will make you take a cheese grater to your face until shredded skin piles at your feet and blood drips from your chin.
A band named Carcass helped invent the style in 1985, and 17 years after the release of the group's 1996 breakup album Swansong, founding bassist Jeff Walker and crew returned to prove with 2013's Surgical Steel that they are still the masters of shred.
The new album topped a ton of year-end rock and metal lists. It reached number 41 on the Billboard 200, and also charted in heavy music strongholds like Germany and Finland.
But the band was born in Liverpool, England, and Walker still lives there today. "I didn't grow up here," he says. "I'm from a little industrial town about 10 miles away."
He started out as a singer for a punk band called Electric Hippies. And when that outfit fired him, he bought the bass player's guitar ("It was a piece of shit"), and got together with guitarist Bill Steer to form Carcass.
Walker was raised on the rock music of Thin Lizzy, as well as American hardcore punk. "It was played on BBC Radio One," the bassist remembers. "John Peel had a show every night where he played everything from reggae to punk. He played Black Flag, D.O.A., D.R.I., Crucifucks, Millions of Dead Cops. We're talkin about 1983. To buy any of these American records would have cost, like, $25 for a seven-inch. Really fuckin' expensive. But luckily we got to hear it on national radio."
In 1988, Carcass released the debut album, Reek of Putrefaction, on Earache Records. The band famously adopted highly technical medical terminology in its lyrics and exhibited a level of fascination with realistically gory literary imagery heretofore unheard in music. The BBC's John Peel rated it the best album of the year, and the harsh, discordant sounds of Carcass came to be known as grindcore.
By 1990, thanks in large part to the worldwide distribution of the group's music, Carcass was steadily accumulating fans in the States and set out to conquer America.
"The first place we landed was Miami," Walker recalls. "It was total culture shock. We had never experienced humidity before. We didn't even know what air conditioning was. But it was fun. We played with a band called Death, and bumped into our friends from Morbid Angel."
More albums and tours followed, and Carcass' rabid underground fanbase grew. Soon, the band was playing all over Latin America. "The metal shows are crazy down there," he says. "They just enjoy the music. They're wild. I loved playing in Peru, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, all over."
And along the way Walker has discovered that despite the dark and twisted aspects of the band's work, fans are inspired in positive ways by the music. "We've met people who have become doctors, nurses, and morticians thanks to Carcass," he points out. "It's a weird thing."
Now in 2014, Walker forges ahead, continuing to craft innovatively searing sounds and poetically grim lyrics. One recent song details the history of the captive bolt pistol: "It's what they use in slaughterhouses to stun the animals before they slit their throats."
The bassist is a vegetarian, and many Carcass songs reference the brutality of meat farming. Asked about the American food system, he says: "Can't say I'm a big fan of 'Cowschwitz,'" a cattle farm somewhere along the highway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. "Hundreds of thousands of bovines as far as the eye can see -- looks like a death factory to me!"
However, Walker insists the music of Carcass is satire, not a call to arms. "It's very tongue in cheek. When we talk about killing posers, it's not to be taken seriously."
Besides, as Walker notes: "Life? It's just food for the maggots and fertilizer for the plants."
See also: 25 Creepiest Heavy Metal Album Covers
Carcass. As part of Brutal Boat Bash: Round V, featuring Cyst, Made Of Metal, Maruta, Paralysys, and Virulentus. Saturday, January 25. Grand Central, 697 N. Miami Ave., Miami. The show starts at 6 p.m. and tickets cost $15 to $22 plus fees via ticketfly.com. All ages. Call 305-377-2277 or visit grandcentralmiami.com.
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