Heartwork is superb in almost every respect: the band hammers out brutally speedy, complex rhythms in a fashion that would confound a Celtic Frost or a Slayer, the production is dry and emphasizes the massive virtuosity of the guitarists and drummer, and most of the compositions (it’s hard to call them “songs”) range from enjoyable to transcendent. Certainly there are some forgettable go-nowhere tracks (“Embodiment”, “Doctrinal Expletives” and “This Mortal Coil” offend the most) but that’s honestly a constant throughout metal’s history, a truism as old as the throwaways of Black Sabbath and King Crimson. Only a puritanical scrooge (or Bob Christgau) could find nothing of redeeming value here.
The best songs are so great, in fact, that they basically carry the album. Some are fascinatingly ugly, like “Carnal Forge”, or at least very interesting like “Arbeit Macht Fleisch” and “Buried Dreams”; “Blind Bleeding the Blind”, “Rot N’ Roll” and “No Love Lost” are pretty dang great; and we cannot forget The Holy Trinity. “Death Certificate”, “Heartwork” and “This Is Your Life” absolutely MAKE this recording — without these three tracks Heartwork is a slightly-above-average death metal album, a trifle with a couple of interesting riffs. The first pounds magnificently with a few slow sections; the second is the summative statement of the entire album, with its beautiful themes and flawless structure. And the last, one of the few pieces on the album that could be called a melodic song, must be heard to be believed. I have no fucking idea why they left it off the first release.
(I advise purchasing the “Full Dynamic Range” edition available from the band itself on Bandcamp.com. It eschews a lot of the compression that makes other metal albums such a chore to listen to, especially for 55 minutes at a time. The bonus live tracks can be safely ignored.)