12 February 2009

Carcass – ‘No Love Lost’


I don’t tend to like YouTube embeds: they mess with your scrolling, links are a bit neater, and they seem ever so slightly messy. But, I figure, I’m writing about this song and you may as well get a chance to hear what it is I’m banging on about. It's also a nice treat for Valentine's day, no?

‘No Love Lost’ was the first Carcass song I heard. It was on MTV and everything. Granted, it was Into the Pit, the post-Headbanger’s Ball black metal/death metal ghetto. But MTV nonetheless. It was a mid-paced metal song whose only real concession to death metal (let alone the grindcore the band was recording only half a decade earlier) was the vocal and lyric.

At first I even considered it rather tame. Then the brilliance of the songwriting really came through. As with the other classic Colin Richardson-produced ‘singles’ of the time – like ‘Replica’, ‘Davidian’ and ‘Old’ – this was a pit-friendly combination of great riffs, under-rated arrangement and a steady tempo that lent itself perfectly to unwinding on the dance floor.

But I’ll stop referring to it in past tense, because it still exists. It took me a long time, after hearing this song, to buy its host album Heartwork (January 1998 was when I finally succumbed to curiosity). It took longer still for my appreciation of the album to peak (to date, that’ll be late 2008).*

I’ll be banging on about the album in due course. For now, we focus on the single. For a long time, this was pretty much the only tune I spent any time with on Heartwork. Nowadays, I prefer various other songs off the record, but ‘No Love Lost’ always has that special effect. And surprisingly for me, the effect it has seems to be the effect it is supposed to have.

It begins with the intention of making some kind of statement. There’s a beat. A single, solitary beat. The snare shot punctuates the sound of the twin guitars jerking into action, like the speeding car in Hollywood films screeching away from a dead start. It’s simple but effective.

It works as a perfect shift in gears from either ‘Carnal Forge’ (on the album) or ‘Incarnate Solvent Abuse’ (when I saw them last year). I love it when album sequencing can emulate that rush of a new song that you usually only tend to get during a great live set. You’re thrilling to the modernised thrash-death hybrid of 1993 Carcass, and you get thrown by the juddering intro of ‘No Love Lost’. And you never really get used to it, which is what’s so engaging.

Enough about the first split-second of the song, though. The rest of it’s not bad. It took me this long to realise it’s actually in ¾ time. I’m not a musical theory dude, see. In fact it might not even be ¾, but I hear it in threes. I know, I sound like a proper idiot at this point, but I’ve started so I’ll finish.

While sticksman Ken Owen isn’t blasting his kit on this one like he had been doing in the past, he is still full of great little tricks. On the verses he switches, from line to line, from hitting the snare on the one-beat to the three-beat, with a fill to punctuate each time. I’ve recently started just listening to the drumming on the song, because I’m baffled by how simple and complex it simultaneously is.

(Clue for those who think I might eventually, finally, switch to the dark side, to Necroticism, in the great Carcass debate: simultaneous simplicity and complexity is the key to why Heartwork is such a stunning album. I compare it to Metallica’s ‘black’ album, and I do consider Ulrich’s drum skills rather overlooked, but the Liverpudlians’ album is nowhere near the simplification its streamlined sound suggests.)

Carcass solos were always something a bit special, too. I mentioned in the Necroticism post that Steer and Amott had this great way of switching the rhythm guitar lines as they switched the leads, and this is no exception. In fact, they seem to take a leaf out of Pantera’s book by using a sped-up version of backing guitars ‘Dimebag’ Darrell used on ‘Cowboys From Hell’. But just listen to it, and you’ll see what I mean. It’s funny how I’m now fixated on what’s going on behind the solo, but love solos more than ever. Maybe that’s why I do.

I should also mention the video, seeing as it’s at the top of this post. Not only am I not a musical theory bloke, but I’m also not a video director. Correct me if I’m wrong, but they seem to be using the same ‘colouring in back and white film’ technique that everyone went nuts for in that Nirvana video. And this was the same year!

While ‘Heart Shaped Box’ was effective in the way it summarised the hyper-unreality of Cobain’s life and stature at that point, ‘no Love Lost’ makes its own point, though offering less opportunity to refer to Baudrillard. I have become vaguely fixated with early 1990s heavy metal culture in the north of England. Specifically Yorkshire.

Maybe it comes from a youth (mis-)spent at Bradford Rio’s, or from the fact that the scene must be the least glamorised in all of metal. Or maybe the music from that era is just growing on me.** But I’m fixated either way. Not fixated enough to like my fellow metal fan at the recent Damnation festival, but that was a bit too real. I mean I wondered where good old fashioned, pale, lank haired, skinny socially maladjusted characters sans post-metal beards got to. Transpires they’re still knocking about.

But that eerie Technicolor in this video imbues north-western vocalist Jeff Walker with a moribund paleness that sums up a scene in one frame. Especially set against the video’s too-lush greenery that figures in a Dales/Lakes/Pennines-metal nostalgia trip.

While the lyrics are the antithesis of romantic (‘without emotion, your heartstrings played / Strummed and severed to the tune of a tragic serenade’, Walker growls), the visual is nothing less than Romantic. 1990s English heavy metal’s tongue in cheek horror show was a modern equivalent of Gothic literature tearing away from Romanticism in a drawn out hysteria of self-spooking shrieks and giggles.

Not to say it’s comedy music, or even particularly ironic. This area of metal was as serious as any before or since. But there is that deadpan humour pervading the whole thing, a black storm cloud with the smiley face; looming, glooming, over proceedings. ‘No Love Lost’, a combination of visual beauty, sonic malice and grizzly humour, embodies an era in less than four minutes.


* Is it too late to finish writing that ‘fave albums in 2008 that weren’t from 2008’? I think not.
** Think I’m kidding? Just wait til I bang on about My Dying Bride, Paradise Lost and Anathema.

3 comments:

  1. You know, I'd never really sat and listened to the drumming on this one. It's a lot more complex that I'd thought, you're right; compound time sigs ahoy. Ken Owen is vastly underrated.

    Go on, bang on about 90's Northern Death/Doom. I have a lot to say on that subject, it'll be interesting to see if we're on a similar wavelength...

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  2. The Magnificent 710:30 pm

    It is a fantastic song, and it's probably my second or third favorite on the album. The first, of course, is the title track which brilliantly opens with that unforgettable speed run and settles down into a melodic line before launching into bedlam again. The vocals are fantastic as well, with the "of dark foul..." being cut off and leading into the melody / solo a couple of times before you get the eventual heavy / vocal payoff at the end (about 4:20) where he gets to "LIGHTTTTTTTTTTTT". I mean 3:17 to 3:45 might be the heaviest single thing in the history of music.

    You get those Death discs in yet?

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  3. Lord Grimm: It'll be coming, but probably not for a while. I might do a little Paradise Lost thing in the next few weeks (or months) though. Should bother going deeper and getting Blood Divine and Sirrah albums in? Aww, I probably just will anyway. And Solstice!

    Magnificent 7: I have got Human in. It's impressive, but I'm not going to make any rash declarations either way at this stage. I also need to listen more to the earlier and later stuff in order to get a handle on how well it does or doesn't 'bridge' sounds.

    That said, I do dig it a lot on its own merits (though really think you should at least give Altars of Madness another shot), and it seems Schuldiner amassed something of a tech-death supergroup for that album. Members of Cynic and Sadus! Well impressed. But yeah, have to give it a few more spins.

    Thanks for the recommendation.

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