Released in 1996, the aptly titled "Swansong" was CARCASS farewell album.
The album was published by Earache, 'cos Columbia Records dropped the deal with the band very soon, and in hindsight, we can surely declare what was clear right from the start, that is to say CARCASS weren't the right band for a major. Teaming up with a label which doesn't have the faintest idea of how to promote and market your musical offering it's impossible for any combo. It seems that the band recorded "Swansong" already from Feb. 1995, before sending it off to Columbia. When the record company received the stuff, had some hesitations about the material, and there was a debate about the possibility of remixing the album. The job was begun by Sony (go figure!), but CARCASS themselves were (obviously) really disappointed, claiming the guitars and the vocals needed to be louder. That caused a long delay, during which the band got increasingly frustrated with their label, and Bill Steer seriously thought about leaving, apparently dissatisfied with the band's new material.
But stop with the speculations right now, I could write a book on the argument, but I think it'll be totally out of place and boring, no use how huge a CARCASS-freak you are (err, I am).
As a matter of fact, Columbia dropped the deal, Bill Steer left the band and the remaining bandmembers sensibly laid to rest CARCASS and formed BLACKSTAR even before the release of the album.
On the line-up front, Amott departed from the band right after "Heartwork", and on the following world tour ex-VENOM guitarist Mike Hickey (who also is the first and last American to have ever joined the band), took over. But him and the band weren't in the same wavelength, as Jeff himself said, and they hired Carlo Regadas for the new album, a pretty talented guy they already were friends with, living about five minutes away from Jeff's place.
"Swansong" lacks the heaviness of the early CARCASS, which is not to be surprised for, if you think about the change of style already showed on their previous effort, and the overall sound is even softer than "Heartwork". I mean, the guitars are still sharp and downtuned, but more in a MEGADETH sort of way, maybe just a tad tighter.
The production is very dry and polished, in regard to the past; I don't know whether this is due to a band's own choice or to their label's pressure, but it still works to my ears. The bass guitar is louder and very separate from the rest of the instruments, unlike all the previous CARCASS-records (well, I have to admit it also sounds that way 'cos the guitars have been lessened), and that's good, no matter what reason lies behind. I don't think there is that much difference with this record, maybe it's just the approach to recording it. In my opinion, on "Swansong" Colin Richardson just did what they told him to do, without contributing that much to the creation of the resulting sound. By the way, although questionable if you think of how CARCASS used to sound, the production is flawless.
From a musical standpoint, this is Death Rock indeed or rather, according to the bandmembers' own words, "Rot'n'Roll". The songwriting is quite different respect to the CARCASS-standards. In fact, the construction of the tracks appears to be simplified, being mostly based on verse-chorus-verse structures. The result is an odd hybrid between aggression and melody, wisely emphasized by almost constant mid-paced tempos. Anyway, the distinctive sound of the band is well preserved, though undeniably progressed: I think it's yet pretty recognizable as CARCASS.
The guitarwork is amazing as always. The riffs are catchy, still well thought and constructed, and all the solos kick major ass (e.g. Bill's lead around the 2:41 minute mark on "Polarized": pure genius). Carlo is an excellent guitar player, in my opinion maybe even more skilled than Mike Amott. He also contributes to the composition of the tracks, owning the writing chore on three of them (and "Black Star" is an absolute highlight).
The vocals again are raspy and sick enough, though showing traces of a less brutal approach to the songs, in regard to the past. The drumming work is less complex this time, nevertheless its execution is extremely classy, Ken unnecessarily proving one more time the great drummer he is.
The lyrics, entirely written by Walker, are more direct than "Heartwork", focusing on social issues and deep thoughts. They show a wide approach to the problems connected with human conditions, being clever and intelligent as ever and including a lot of funny puns and cultural references. This demonstrates that the typical tongue-in-cheek attitude of early CARCASS wasn't lost, after all.
All in all, someone can claim that with "Swansong" CARCASS definitely sold their souls to mainstream, but by no means the material here is inferior to their previous works. I just think it's another step in CARCASS evolution, and shows how the band was talented and inventive. No matter what they played, they were great at it. If only corporate Rock was really like this... but I digress.
Bottom line: the band's last and overlooked masterpiece.