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Apparently, Autopsy's breaking point was just after Mental Funeral, where their structure and consistency decomposed like a rotting corpse to turn into chunky, messy soup. I have yet to hear the album Shitfun, which many say is the worst and most disappointing Autopsy release, but I decided to try out Acts of the Unspeakable, which hinted towards the decay of the band's musical credibility in the death metal scene. I have to admit, I was curious as to what awaited me on the album with such an intriguing cover, and I wanted to further explore Autopsy’s discography.
We open the album with Meat, and a desolate, slow-paced doom riff that introduces us to the dank ugliness heard and felt on the rest of the album. After that, the song abruptly shifts pace into a whirlwind of drumming, guitars, and spitting vocals from Chris Reifert. From there, the song shifts back and forth between rapid pummeling speed to slow, atmospheric doom-rock sections.
As the numerous short songs flash by, the album swirls haphazardly between break-neck speeds of chugging sludge, rocking riff sections, and zoned-out doomy interludes. There seems to be little focus in the songwriting, and these three tones switch with each other at pretty much any given time, giving the whole thing a tumultuous feel that works sometimes and distracts at others. Out of the whole album, I find that the fastest 'merciless' pounding sections lack a lot to me, coming off as little more than minimally-structured heavy noise reminiscent to grindcore and goregrind. When the album takes the time to stop and sniff the roses, such as in the beginning of Your Rotting Face, I feel the music resonates and breathes more, creating a moody swampy atmosphere that almost reeks with the vibe of asphyxiation and corpses rotting in a moist, dark tomb, their stench thick and cloying. That's not to say that all of the fast parts in the album are a mind-numbing bore. There are some good fast headbanging moments, like in the opening of Death Twitch, but for the most part, when the album moves into full throttle, I can't tell what's really going on other than an avalanche of noise. The standout moments come out of the woodwork haphazardly, making it so that rather than having favorite songs for the most part, there are only favorite moments. Sure, there are songs that are consistently stable and work very well, such as Pus/Rot, Your Rotting Face, and Funereality.
The music's sound is quite a bit different from on the previous two albums: it is a spacey, abstract sound due to heavy reverb on both the guitars and vocals. These two aspects of the music bounce off each other to create a muddy, gnarly, almost wet sound that Autopsy fans can surely identify with. The guitars shift in tone and pace often, coming to abrupt halts or speeding up to full tilt. With the abrupt changes of pace, I find the atmosphere shifts too. The fastest and most incomprehensible moments have the distinct vibe of a garage band going ape, whereas the more intelligible moments have a graveyard/crypt tone, a tone that implies decay and rot. Generally, though, everything seems swampy and dingy. When the guitars take centre stage, their odd-sounding riffs add an element of ominous surreality which I find is best showcased on Funereality. The only thing that serves as an anchor to the sporadic music is the drums, which unfortunately lack the bone-crushing intensity found on Mental Funeral, though they still have many opportunities to go above and beyond standard timekeeping, and consequently have a good amount of variety.
Chris Reifert's roaring, gurgling growls and screams of Mental Funeral and Severed Survival have become short, spitting shouts that give the music an immediate and somewhat rushed tone, but Chris treats the listener with the occasional prolonged screams and growls that seem to bounce off the tight confines of the claustrophobic coffin that the music creates. There is some experimentation with them too--sometimes Chris tries a punkish yell, and at other times there seems to be some digitalized vocal effect on them, but both of these things happen rarely throughout the album.
Acts of the Unspeakable has 18 songs that flash by in 35 minutes, most songs hovering around the two minute mark, with one song just touching the four minute mark, and one song being as short as twenty seconds. This causes for many screeching halts followed by short silences in the music. For those that aren't used to this kind of short songs/long track list thing, it may be hard to focus on much of what's going on, but a few listens will help everything come together better. Although the many songs do come off like a band's early demo, sporadic and hectic and unpolished even after multiple listens, and it can be irritating, especially from track 14-16, where I find the music the most unintelligible and clattery. This is quite the detractor, especially considering the focused structure and meaty but consistent flow of Mental Funeral and Severed Survival.
Although Acts of the Unspeakable is more primal and unfocused than the previous two Autopsy albums, it still has a lot to offer in the way of doom-and-gloom riffs and interesting melodies and atmosphere. I definitely don't hate this album, and I do personally find that the strong points overpower the weaker ones. Some of my favorite Autopsy moments (again, favorites on this album come in the form of moments rather than songs) are on this album, and I don't consider it to be a total failure or waste of time.
Favorite overall songs for me have been mentioned already, but I'll just say them again here: Your Rotting Face, Pus/Rot, and Funereality are all the best songs for me, as they give the best taste of atmosphere and consistency and structure, and are therefore more memorable than, say, Spinal Extraction, which plows through its 20-second runtime without pause (although for Funereality I can say I prefer the re-recording of it that was on the Severed Survival re-release). Walls of the Coffin comes close to being a favorite as well. If you're not like me and like a crazy dosage of speed and chaos, Ugliness and Secretions would be your best bet. This may not be Autopsy's best album, but it is still good for the old death metal collection, and you most likely will not be thoroughly disappointed in the album.
Originally written for http://www.spirit-of-metal.com/
After the sloppy frolics of the Fiend for Blood EP, I worried that Autopsy's devotion to increasing primacy might have surpassed their better judgment, that the band would have decided to fuck around so for an entire album. Not that the EP was necessarily awful, it was...interesting, but as a big fan of Mental Funeral and Severed Survival, I was silently praying that some order might be restored. Turns out that my concerns were unjustified, and the band's third full-length Acts of the Unspeakable delivered on most of the same counts as its predecessors. There is definitely a ruddy sludge and grind motif tunneling beneath the material here, but they have compensated with enough vile, doomy riffs that the album can still deliver a few shivers.
One other minor change I noticed was in Reifert's vocals, which had taken on a stranger, almost conversational tone as opposed to the growling of the past. Where before he was the stuff of nightmare, a catacomb dweller gurgling guts through his primitive prose, he had here become the butcher's uncle, sitting on the porch out front of the slaughterhouse and reminiscing on the flanks he's carved, or the 'accidents' he's seen in his carnal surroundings. The production is not really up to snuff with Mental Funeral, so that was a minor distraction. The guitars simply don't carry the same coiled power through this mix. However, it lends a more spacious atmosphere like dust shifting through the air of a murder scene, curtains of descending, solemn doom. You'll also notice the increased amount of tracks here, 18 in all...and only two ("Your Rotting Face" and "Pus/Rot") manage to escape the 3 minute limit. Most are between 1-2:30 in length, so they're hurling less at you, but they manage to range themselves across a number of faster, slower and mid-ranged dynamics, so it's not some mindless grind record. The cover art is noticeably more abstract, but I still kind of enjoy it.
Personally, I find some of the more contrasted tracks here to be among the strongest. Opener "Meat" is quite good, with creepy guitar drawls that explode out into faster paced butchery, only to arrive at a very Demilich-like central rhythm. "Necrocannibalistic Vomitorium", which wins the song title award here ("Ugliness and Secretions" and "Battery Acid Enema" vying for the silver medal), offers a similar shift between doomed evil and a fast break, with some morbid, echoing lead work tucked in there. Other favorites include "Voices", a rather standard burst of muddied deathgrind with some fibrous, quality notes under its gore soaked eaves; "Funereality" for the atmosphere conjured through the warlike necrosis of the drumming; and for the sheer savagery, perhaps "Orgy in Excrements". "Skullptures" just rules, period. Most of the others here just seem to channel straight in one of my ears like carnivorous maggots and then straight out the opposite orifice, stopping for only a few bites of my brain. But they never breach protocol, so the album is a consistent, 35 minutes of splatter.
Autopsy had not thrown in the towel quite yet (don't worry, it's coming), but the Acts of the Unspeakable have nothing over their precursors other than a quantity quality aesthetic. The landscape behind the band was beginning to change. Grunge, punk, sludge and other forms of primate brutality had gained viable ground, and it feels like Reifert and company were beginning to explore that direction rather than the sepulchral menace that they once shared with Death and Obituary around the turn of the decade. This change would ultimately manifest in the members' later band Abscess, but hints were being dropped well in advance, arguably through the subtext here. This is not at all the go-to album when I'm in the mood for Autopsy's lewd, unhinged, cryptic pungency, but it's not a huge decrease in quality.
Like the previous "Fiend for Blood" release, "Acts of the Unspeakable" is attempting to blend a few factions of extreme metal together—whether it be played intricately or savagely—and also bump the boundary bar a little higher of where to prod and goad your sensibilities.
And if that wasn't enough, an overcasting strangeness crept in as well.
The band goes for some spacey, abstractly played portions, either with effects that stretch the sound of the instruments and vocals, or just how they'll take a section and transcend it to be potentially uncanny, alien or just out there. These modes of playing can create a sort of shrouding and surreal atmosphere, one that blots out external distractions and locks your senses to the same wave length as the band, or possibly sparks the search for your own uncharted course in the process. It can be accomplished by hitting a few unorthodox drum patterns such as various hits on the toms, or even simplistic hi-hat/ride taps and then letting the guitar take the lead. Sometimes the guitars just bend a few particular notes during a rhythm or solo, or just let an out of tune note float. These sections can be somewhat complex by creating their own time signatures, or just played on a basic level but still worked through.
Autopsy also reveals an aggressive side where grind is a focal point—this is where the group would break into spasms and outbursts between all of the consistently structured sections. You get to hear thick and muffled guitars buzzing a few primitive notes back and forth, hectic solos bully your ear canal and are so out there it sounds like it came from an undiscovered dimension, the drumming can be more direct and basic compared to other techniques here or Reifert's past methods, and the vocals never seem to stay still with one single mode but are all over the place either by growling, yelled or just simply hoarse and gruff. Though they have moments where the vocals can be more discernible, where you actually get to hear snippets of demented acts projected from the lyric book, so in essence you're still getting shocked one way or another.
Due to the band switching it up so much, they end up being this slippery, unpinnable, one-of-a-kind "freak of nature." And because of that I think this album has the potential to be passed up upon initial inspection, one of those recordings that needs some repeat spins to sink in. Though the death, grind and doom influences do have moments of clashing due to the song writing having unwarranted 'jumps!' come about, and it can make a certain track almost seem like it could have been broken into two or three since a few ideas might not have been expanded on within the confines of a single track. It's almost like channel surfing between a few radically different television shows within a single session compared to being engulfed in just one where your head gets a chance to wrap itself around a growing concept; that can also have its usefulness here since things are continually moving forward and you get to hear a variety of various treatments. If it happens at the end of a track, though, it's like having your batteries die or the power going out in your stereo before you feel a satisfying end was met compared to having a particular 'crazy itch' for more of the same. I just get the impression that there is timing, flow and order here, whether it be a varied or basic section, and then other portions where anything goes or is indulged in, almost as if there are multiple song writers and not every idea is retracted. As if they're left there as a guessing preventative to where they go next.
"Acts of the Unspeakable" has plenty of atmosphere, experimentation and also captivating moments, but at times it feels like a recording where Autopsy are musically at a crossroads of which gets precedence. Though the lyrics do manage to nail exceeded limits of perversion into your head with each song, that much you can count on them for. Also the production, when doing either musical set-up, adds this hazy layer on top of the instruments, which can make the feeling of unpredictability add weight to the loss-of-self-loss-of-surroundings statement: "Is this really happening to me?" This comes off as a more improved listening experience than "Fiend for Blood," which essentially had some strong points but on that EP not everything was evenly diced as steady or workable. This release has numerous tracks to it and you're not just dependent on such a short listening experience either, which can help. Some sections such as vocal, riffing or drumming techniques come up that sound like they came right out of either "Severed Survival" or "Mental Funeral" releases, but then again a good portion of this album isn't the same exact experience as those—the band really does change it up.
"Acts" is the group attempting to expand themselves and in turn working through a few newer territories while trying to maintain part of their prior selves as well. This is usually what I prefer with certain bands' discography, to have a building process where the group in question has room to evolve but isn't too far distanced from their past. Although the difference between them and a regular extreme metal group is that Autopsy isn't just a straight forward death metal act trying to go for creativity or expansion within a simpler template. For them this can lead to areas of juggling more genres than most can call claims to, and at this point in their discography, be able to wholly handle when things pill up, like their version of self-sufficiency could have used a tad more drawing board. This is recommendable in my book—you know the one: Book of the Damned, Weird and Downright Nuts and Bananas, Who Wants Ice Cream?—but if the band took a little more time with all of the experimentation, it could have been a much more 'larger-than-death' experience, one where the Grim Reaper'd sweat I'd imagine.
This album gets a lot of shit talked about it, and is generally reviewed unfavorably, which is why I am writing this review. People compare it to the first two Autopsy albums, ‘Severed Survival’ and ‘Mental Funeral’, both great albums in their own right. What makes this album different is that it is a lot weirder, and the vocals are deeper and gruntier than on the previous two. People generally compare this one to the previous two unfavorably, which I do not believe is fair. Not too trash those two masterpieces, for that is what they are, but this one sticks out for me more, and I like it more for several reasons.
One of them is the sound quality. It is dinghy and messed up, but also kinda clean, especially considering the raw sound produce don the demos and the two albums. But I think this recording style fits very well with the music they play, and I believe that ‘Severed Survival’ even would sound better with this recording style. I also like it better because I think that some of the songs on ‘Severed Survival’ were a bit hastily done, and should have been given more time, although this cannot be said for the stuff on ‘Mental Funeral’, and I see this album as a continuation of the aforementioned. It is a furthering of that album in every way in my eyes, making it somewhat better. The album itself is not as raw and dirty as the other two, but I do not see that as a problem, for it is still the good old Autopsy, indeed, it is the last good old Autopsy album, because ‘Shitfun’ was already a decline, in my view. So this is the last roar of winter passion for Autopsy, the final bellow before the hunter becomes the haunted. And I feel that they gave it all they got on this one.
The final reason is because of the musical content, the songs and everything else. The inlay itself is already a good example of how awesome this album is. It is a landscape of depravity and torture, it is a huge picture of great detail of every single sort of torture and punishment and sexual degradation that can be thought of, and a few that cannot, except for fucked up sickos like Reifert and company. The music is much the same, it is like visiting a land of degradation, sodomy, copro-fetishists, death, tortures, executions and other such delicacies. The music is the most awesome out of all of the albums, there are a couple of short songs under one minute that simply rule and are a real step up form the already brilliant ‘Fleshcrawl’ on the ‘Mental Funeral’ album. But really these shorts, like ‘Frozen With Fear’ and ‘Ugliness and Secretions’, they are truly great, not to mention the awesome ‘Lobotomized’ and ‘Spinal Extractions’.
The rest of the songs are also truly great classic, following in the tradition of the first two albums, but really giving something a bit more, pushing it further than before. And then they have some songs of a rather doomish persuasion as well, like ‘Walls of The Coffin’, ‘Skullptures’, and my personal favorite, ‘Funerality’. So Autopsy keeps the old while bringing in the new as well, which makes this album my absolute top favorite from these guys. The others are sweet ass death/thrash too, and are great if you like old death metal, and even great if you like new death metal, but this album shows so much more of them than that. It shows that they can fuck around with a lot more than just the death/thrash, which makes this album an insane thing to listen to.
Coming as number 3 in line of albums after the crushing "Mental Funeral" this album really has a lot to live up to. Sure it isn´t better than "Mental Funeral" but it sure comes close to being just as great.
The songwriting has gotten more spastic and seemingly hap-hazard but I don´t think that it is all that random as it might seem at first. The songs sometimes shift from very slow to very fast in an instant and the riffs also vary a lot. Some riffs are plodding and consist only of a few notes while some are more "technical" or what ever you´d like to call them. All this creates a very odd feel and combined with the muffled sound it really makes for an interesting experience. To be quite honest I think it is the abrupt changes and "randomness" of some of the songs that makes this album so good but of course the songs are great on their own as well. I should also mention that the songs have gotten shorter on this album and hence the long list of tracks, 18 in total.
There really isn´t much more to say about this album. The musicianship is as should be expected good and Chris Reiferts vocals sound maybe a bit different then they did on "Mental Funeral" but they are still great. If you like their earlier stuff you will most likely become fond of this album as well if you give it some time.