Dissecting CARCASS’s “Heartwork” – Fourth Incision

This is the fourth in a series of articles analyzing the lyrics from the 1993 Carcass album Heartwork.

“Heartwork”

Works of art, painted black
Magniloquent, bleeding dark
Monotonous palate, murky spectrum, grimly unlimited
Food for thought, so prolific
In contrasting shades, forcely fed
Abstraction, so choking, so provocative

A canvas to paint, to degenerate
Dark reflections – degeneration
A canvas to paint, to denigrate
Dark reflections, of dark foul light

Profound, aesthetic beauty
Or shaded, sensary corruption
Perceptions, shattered, splintered, mirroring
In deft taints, diluted, tinted
Spelt out, in impaired colour
Denigrating, going to paints to pain – not a pretty picture

Works of heart bleeding dark
Black, magniloquent art
Monotonous palate, murky spectrum, grimly unlimited
Prolific food for thought
Contrasting, fed with force
Abstraction, so choking, so provocative

Bleeding works of art
Seething work so dark
Seering words from the heart

“Heartwork” is a statement of purpose.  Its story belongs not only to Jeff Walker and Carcass but also to anyone who has ever spent a significant stretch of time staring into the abyss.  Why do we gaze into the darkness?  What are we looking for?  What is it that makes some people gravitate toward existential questions that are presented in extreme music?  Heavy metal, for all intents and purposes, is a death factory.  Trying to find ten songs on your hard drive that don’t deal with some form of horrific strife, violent rage or terrible suffering is a nearly absurd task for those who are obsessed with The Sound.  Even power metal, with all of its uplift and ecstatic jubilance, often contains elements of profound sadness and pain.  To spend your life pondering terror, strife and human suffering hardly seems to be time well spent, but its appeal, at least for me, is undeniable.

There seems to be a popular school of thought that encourages people to “think happy thoughts”.  The idea of perseverating on horror is felt by many to be a recipe for dangerous feelings of sadness and detachment from the world.  On one level, there is something that seems correct about this idea.  Good vibes in, good vibes out.  Perfect equilibrium.  Yet, no matter how much goodness and light we choose to bathe in, we still suffer and we still die.  Spending life trying to fill ourselves with the beauty around us may be the best way to live for some, but feels disingenuous to me.  Death and suffering are all around us.  We are, in fact, all living out a slow motion disintegration.  I cannot hide from it; I cannot pretend it isn’t there.  My fear of the eventual fate that awaits me is a critical element of who I am.

There is an authenticity that comes with accepting one’s fate. Beyond that, there is a strange feeling of liberation that a person can achieve by coming to terms with the worst elements of existence.  Yamamoto Tsunetomo, a samurai whose insights were collected in a book the Hagakure in the early 18th century, makes a fantastic case for this sort of thinking.   One of the most stirring passages of the book says,

Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily. Every day when one’s body and mind are at peace, one should meditate upon being ripped apart by arrows, rifles, spears and swords, being carried away by surging waves, being thrown into the midst of a great fire, being struck by lightning, being shaken to death by a great earthquake, falling from thousand-foot cliffs, dying of disease or committing seppuku at the death of one’s master. And every day without fail one should consider himself as dead.”

This meditation on death seems like a morbid exercise, but how else is a person supposed to rationally process the mortal terror that comes with the recognition of one’s finiteness.  We cannot change it, but we do not have to run from it.

In the song “Heartwork”, Walker is stating the necessity of recognizing the dim, murky reality of our being.  The artist, coming to terms with this awareness, can do nothing of value but create an art that reflects the degeneration of our spirits and bodies.  The goal is not to shock people, nor to frighten people, but simply to state, in no uncertain terms, that everything is not okay.  This type of dark art can provide the audience with the gift of catharsis.  We are not alone in our terror.  We may have to accept the terrible terms of our existence, but we don’t have to do so by ourselves.

~Keith Spillett

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