by Brian Krasman (Mead, Meat, Metal)
All that gore, all the bodies, all the sticky blood and flowing guts that comprise death metal’s disgusting roots had to come from somewhere. It didn’t just sprout up one day like a stinking, rotting crop ready to be reaped by those who had enough of music that played by the rules. It had to be cultivated from scratch in order for death metal to be a thing in the first place.
Now, death metal is a huge genre, its musicians are respected for their diversity and ability to pull off great compositions in the midst of such horrors, and there are fucking institutions such as Cannibal Corpse, Suffocation, and Immolation that are still slaying audiences to this day years and years after people predicted what they do so well would be a fad. On the down side, the sub-genre has bloated so much that there are tons and tons of substandard bands that need skimmed off the surface of death metal’s swamp before you can even think of going in knee deep. That’s why when one of the master bands like Autopsy comes back around with something new, we remember why we love this style of music in the first place, all those lousy Hot Topic-pumped death bands be damned. And let me be clear: Their music should be damned.
Maybe we can just feed them to Autopsy, the long-standing death metal giants who are uglier, meaner, heavier, doomier, more deranged, and more violent than 99.9 percent of the bands that followed in their muddy footsteps. Yeah, they went away for a while after 1995′s weird “Shitfun,” but the band reunited in 2008 for what was going to be a couple new songs for a reissue of their 1989 debut “Severed Survival,” but then it stuck. The guys reformed, and they issued us 2011′s killer “Macabre Eternal,” as triumphant a return record as you’re bound to hear. Now the gears are moving and the blood is spilling and they’re back with their punishing new record “The Headless Ritual.”
Autopsy’s lineup remains unchanged from their 2011 comeback, with long-standing members Chris Reifert (vocals, drums), Eric Cutler (guitars, vocals), and Danny Coralles (guitars) standing tall along with bass player Joe Allen (ex-Abscess) who joined the fold in 2010. They remain nasty, creative, off-putting, a little bit experimental, and very much focused on spilling as much horror into their work as they possibly can. The record is a trim 45 minutes that doesn’t feel nearly that long, and it’s further proof that sometimes you must let the masters step in show you how it’s done. So kids, get ready for school.
“Slaughter at Beast House” opens the record not only with a song title that should chill you but with a speedy, tricky assault that eventually turns into muddy doom, like a grislier take on classic Black Sabbath. Reifert howls about “tales of torture” as the words rip through his throat like razor wire, and the track ends on a dizzying note. “Mangled Far Below” is burly and has a High on Fire-style stoner gallop, and it just wallops you in the face over and over. “She Is a Funeral” is an elaborate, chilling take of death that’s the longest cut on the record and the most intoxicating. “I was transfixed,” Reifert howls over a death groove, and the rotting horror story evolves along with the music, that is some of their most interesting-sounding in some time. “Coffin Crawlers” gets a little playful at times, with weird, cartoon-like guitar runs that sound like they’re soundtracking a cat chasing a mouse, but then crushing doom settles in. “When Hammer Meets Bone” leaves little to the imagination, especially when the song opens with blood-curdling lurching that sounds like someone drowning in their own blood, and then it launches into a gallop that kicks up dirt.
“Thorns and Ashes” is a short, interlude-style cut with simmering guitars and buried growls, and it leads into “Arch Cadaver,” that has a vintage Slayer feel. The cut blows up and hits high gear quickly, and the gruesome violence is packed into 4:22-long serving. This one will be devastating when played live. “Flesh Turns to Dust” has a damaged doom riff as a spine, weird noise whining in the background, and an overall bizarre personality. “Running From the Goathead” is screamy and savage, furious and fast, and mean and mangling, sounding as terrifying and nightmare-inducing as its title indicates. The closing title cut is a bit of a surprise because it’s a swirling, melodic instrumental that’s over fast and causes the record to end on a strange note. Nothing wrong with the track, but it kind of takes the charnel air out of the sails of the record’s conclusion.
It’s Autopsy. You don’t really need a neat summary to wrap up this look at “The Headless Ritual,” do you? You know what these guys do, and if you’re somehow unfamiliar with this legendary band’s blood-crusted path, then you’d do fine starting here and working your way backward. This is true death metal, the way it was intended to be made, and no one does it uglier. That’s just the way it should be, and Autopsy remain your flesh-shredding masters.