In terms of sheer ugliness it is still hard to top the beast known as AUTOPSY. They pretty much pioneered what is often referred to as ‘Goregrind’ – a messy, crunchy concoction of slow riffs, gargled vocals and punky beats. There is nothing intricate or technical about this band but they were masters of musical carnage. Last year the band reformed briefly to record two new songs, their first new material in over a decade, to coincide with the 20-year anniversary of their classic 1989 debut “Severed Survival”, which Peaceville will re-release with lots of gory extras (expanded liner notes by the band, deluxe digi-packaging, and tons of bonus tracks, including the new “Horrific Obsession” material, stretched across two discs). Kudos to them, and kudos to Chris Reifert and co. for spawning this classic slice of Death/Gore in the first place.
While I’ve often stated that I prefer more technical/dynamic forms of Death Metal to the oft sloppy late 80s variant, there is just something about this album that makes it a consistently enjoyable listen thanks in no small party to the absolutely murky, vile atmosphere that hangs over their songs. Early DEATH made you think about zombies ripping someone’s head off; AUTOPSY makes you think about zombies eviscerating said corpse and then eating the gory matter. You can’t really go wrong with this album. The late Chuck Schuldiner’s band is perhaps the best musical comparison (Reifert was an early member of DEATH), but while DEATH went for a faster take on Death Metal, AUTOPSY slowed things down significantly as well as adding subtle “melodic” touches, together with sporadic punk beats and early Grind embellishments. “Charred Remains” instantly sums up the band’s musical headspace with its cool sludge-like intro riffs, fast middle section, and horrendously repellent lyrical themes. “Service For A Vacant Coffin” has a Doom-y vibe that has BLACK SABBATH written all over it before also speeding up significantly towards the end, while “Disembowel” is an instantly catchy mid-paced groove monster with rumbling bass drilling right into your brain. It’s bloody fun (pun intended) and while it is surprisingly catchy they never let up in heaviness. From there the quality is kept high through to the end, whether it’s the very “Scream Bloody Gore”-like “Ridden With Disease” (especially lead guitar-wise), the double-bass powered Thrashiness of “Embalmed”, or the groovy Death steamroller that is “Stillborn”. The three bonus tracks tagged onto the end of the first disc are also worth mention, particularly “Destined To Fester” which starts off with a Doom riff that’s as slow as cold molasses before suddenly plunging headfirst into a pronounced Black Metal melody around 1:02, before returning to a garage-y Gore vibe near the end. It’s musical shifts like these that really makes these guys special. Vocalist/drummer Reifert’s belched growls are a perfect fit for the music, the guitars of Danny Coralles and Eric Cutler slice and dice with manic glee, while the crunchy rumble of bass extraordinaire Steve DiGiorgio provides a solid low-end to the songs. Basically, they all compliment each other and in no song is there not at least an arbitrary solid riff or rhythmic beat to be found.
Disc two brings us a host of live and rehearsal songs in addition to the two new songs that make up “Horrific Obsession”. Of these two, the title track is particularly great, with a memorable, darkly brooding main riff that soon gives way to more speedy riffing and those trademark punk-y beats that the Reifert continues to utilize in ABSCESS. “Feats Of The Graveworm” is more mid-paced and somewhat less catchy but still solid enough to show that the band hasn’t lost a step. While the production is cleaner than that of their early material it is still ‘old school’ enough to satisfy the die-hards out there. Whether this brief collaboration will lead to any further recordings or even a full-blown reunion is still up in the air, but one thing is for sure: they still know their shit. The live/rehearsal tunes are here mainly for posterity and while tracks like “Critical Madness” (slow yet groovy) and the live rendition of “Pagan Saviour” can kick up a storm the sound quality is quite poor and uneven.
Overall this is a sure fire Death/Gore classic that more than justifies a re-release. The music they now make in ABSCESS isn’t that far removed from AUTOPSY, but they are a much missed band that had a big hand in shaping the sound/lyrical themes of early Death Metal. Together with OBITUARY’s “Slowly We Rot”, DEATH’s “Scream Bloody Gore” and MORBID ANGEL’s “Altars Of Madness” primal Death Metal simply doesn’t get better (or uglier) than this, and it is definitely an essential listen.
PS – Extra thanks to the fine gentlemen at Peaceville for keeping the cover art featuring the zombie surgeons intact! Technically it’s the “censored” version though it looks way better than the original art which features a corny depiction of a guy being ripped apart by hooks. Oh, and while you’re at it also check out IMPETIGO (especially the “Horror Of The Zonbies” album), as they were the best AUTOPSY clone out there. Happy hunting!
(Online March 16, 2009)