Dissecting CARCASS’ “Heartwork” – Fourth Incision…Heartwork

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, forcedly 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, sensory corruption

Perceptions, shattered, splintered, mirroring

In deft taints, diluted, tinted

Spelt out, in impaired color

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

Searing 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 it 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.

Here’s the video…..

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About Keith Spillett

I have a lot of strange debris rattling around my mind that I need to work out in a useful way.

6 responses to “Dissecting CARCASS’ “Heartwork” – Fourth Incision…Heartwork”

  1. Dave says :

    Regardless of the lyrics, it’s the best song on the album. Two cents. But thanks for the analysis. I actually always thought this song was about a weird art gallery exhibition featuring strange works of art, like spinal cords attached to metal frames welded in the form of giant peace symbols…can probably find something like that down in the East Village somewhere…

    • Keith Spillett says :

      I haven’t been in the East Village in a while, but it wouldn’t surprise me. The video where the guy is crucified on the peace symbol probably helped in giving you that idea. I love the video and wanted to add commentary on it, but in interviews Walker basically claimed it was an invention of the label and didn’t have much to do with his vision. It’s a shame because I think the video captures the spirit of paradox that comes through most of the songs.

  2. UA says :

    Great article…excellent.

  3. johncerickson says :

    All life, all existence is dichotomy. Love/hate, Life/death, Light/dark. In all things we see both sides. To appreciate good, you must know evil. You don’t appreciate your health until you’re sick. Therefore, to fully value.light, you must contemplate the abyss. If you don’t examine death, you fear it, but if you learn and experience death, life becomes more sweet.
    So – do I pass comparative emotionalism 203? ;)

    • Keith Spillett says :

      You pass…if you read a bit more Sylvia Plath you might be able to get up to an A. I would add that to truly understand the abyss a person needs to be wiling to accept that the beauty of the universe might not be discovered with this sort of inquiry. A person must not know where the path will lead in order to get to where it’s going.

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