VERSUS: Heartwork vs. Slaughter of The Soul
Welcome to a new edition of Versus, the column where we look at two famous releases in heavy metal history and compare them to each other and decide which one was the better release. On this edition, we are getting heavier with two memorable and influential releases in the melodic death metal genre. Two albums that would not only define the genre, but would also influence other metal genres like metalcore with bands like As I Lay Dying and All That Remains, to the death n roll genre with bands like Entombed and Six Feet Under. This battle i’m calling “The Melodic Wars”
Our first contender is Sweden’s At The Gates and their fourth record, 1995’s Slaughter of The Soul. An influential release, leading to a rise in prominence in death metal which created what some call the Gothenburg sound with their release as well as releases from fellow Swedish bands In Flames and Dark Tranquility. Slaughter also comes as a huge influence on the metalcore scene, which while listening to the record, you can hear the similarities many bands would use from this record. Their guitar tone, guitar playing, and chord progression throughout would be a huge influence of the future metalcore scene.
The album opens with “Blinded By Fear”, with an industrial sounding song buildup. Then BAM! We are off and running and you hear the famous Gothenburg sound in the guitars along with driving drums that coincide with vocalist Tomas Lindberg’s shrieking vocals that sound anguishing through the track. A strong opener, and sets the tone and feel for what the record would deliver. Following that song is the album’s title track. The song continues its fast-paced playing and drums that are relentless throughout the album, giving your neck a workout and some soreness by the end of the record. Trust me, you’ll need an icepack when it’s all done. With this song, you can hear the influence it would have on the metalcore scene with the guitar playing. The band does give you a nice reprieve from the relentless headbanging with the instrumental piece “Into The Dead Sky” which features a beautiful somber acoustic guitar section, with very light electric clean parts that have a nice subtle drum section near the end before the track ends.
Then the fury returns with “Suicide Nation” which is my personal favorite off the album. Opening with Lindberg’s opening scream and drums adding an additional aggression to the guitars and boosting the rhythm guitars section. Closing the track out with a guitar solo, with fast paced drumming near the end, showing off the musical performance and blending together to end the song on a strong note. The intensity of the playing continues with “World of Lies” with a drum buildup and a strong mid-tempo opening riff that would sound like something off of an Amon Amarth album. The guitar playing is frantic, but yet controlled, and driving throughout the song and definitely a strong track on the album. “Unto Others” and “Nausea” both showcase a thrashy-influence in the musicianship and the double bass begins to pop up more prominently and hitting hard in the mix on these two tracks. Closing with the instrumental track “The Flames of The End” shows the addition of synth along with drums bringing a subtle tempo with guitars kicking in halfway. Overall, this was a defining record in the melodic death metal sound and definitely an influential record in metal history.
Their opponent, is Britain’s own Carcass with their fourth record, 1993’s Heartwork. The band’s breakthrough record, and some would call it a landmark album in the melodic death metal scene, as well as you are able to hear elements of the death n roll genre the band would really showcase on their 1996 record Swansong before the band would break up that same year. The band started to transition on this record officially from their traditional death metal sound on their previous record Necroticism – Descanting the Insalubrious to the melodic death metal sound on this record, and that the band would bring back on their 2013 reunion record Surgical Steel.
Album opener “Buried Dreams” starts off with a chuggy opening guitar into building lead guitars, and is followed by driving double bass from Ken Owen, which his performance is underrated throughout the entire record. With vocalist/bassist Jeff Walker’s snarling guttural vocals kicking in add to the mid-tempo melodic death metal sound the band create on this release. With amazing guitar work from both Bill Steer and Michael Amott, guitars are dominant on the record and soloing on the record is impressive and you can hear the sounds and elements that Amott would take with him to form fellow Gothenburg death metallers Arch Enemy after the band’s breakup. The next track, “Carnal Forge”, is a standout track for me on this record. A faster tempo, Walker’s vocals snarl at his best on this song along with the thrashy/death metal infused guitar playing which match his intensity and aggression. The double bass kicking in the mix help emphasizing the verse, and into a driving blast beat section. The music picks up even faster three quarters of the way through and features two guitar solos adding more headbanging power to the track.
The album’s title track starts with punching opening blast beats with a thrashy sounding opening riff. The sound starts to showcase the trademark melodic death metal sound with matching harmonies and riffage along with the guitar tone. “Embodiment” is a great example of the death n roll sound that the band would focus more on with their next record. Guitar playing is consistent and driving matching the snarling vocals getting more tenacious and hard-hitting. Another standout track “Arbeit macht Fleisch” is another strong song with a start/stop drum part in the intro before fast downstroke guitar playing on the verse section, and Ken Owen’s drum playing really pop and showcase on this song. The album's closer “Death Certificate” is a great album closer with amazing drumming again by Owen, and d-beat drumming adding to the intricate guitar leads in the beginning of the song. I adore the start/stop guitar sections with the drumming matching the cadence and pacing of the guitars. The song ends with a strong guitar solo into a mini-breakdown, before picking backup to the original tempo and closes the album strong on a classic release from the band and the genre itself.
After the dust has settled and the growling has ceased, what album came out the winner? To me, the winner is At The Gates with Slaughter of The Soul. Carcass may have helped define the melodic death metal genre with Heartwork, coming out two years before Slaughter, but I think At The Gates perfected the sound and feel of that genre and pretty much created the blueprint from what that sound would be going forward. Heartwork walked so Slaughter could run. Carcass did deliver a strong record and is still one of my favorite records from the band to this day, and is still an influential record for both melodic death metal and death n roll, but At The Gates take the victory on this with the definition of what melodic death metal would sound like as well as its influence on the metalcore genre.
Do you agree with my decision? Who do you think should have won this battle? Leave your comments in the comments section below as well as your suggestions for what two releases should battle next. I’m Justin, your friendly neighborhood metalhead, for This Day in Metal and this has been Versus.