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Very much the bridge between the thrashiness of '87 Demo and the all-out death of Severed Survival, this is the crucial point in Autopsy's career where they veered away from the blueprint set by Chuck Schuldiner's Death and Possessed and began to move into their own sonic territory. The lineup had also expanded from a power trio to a four-piece with the addition of second guitarist Danny Coralles, who has been a member of the group ever since. It's very unique in many ways, the doom influences from '87 Demo are gone, only to resurface on the Retribution for the Dead EP, it's one of the few Autopsy releases on which Eric Cutler doesn't perform vocals, the only one to feature bassist Ken Sorvari, the list goes on.
The first thing we notice is a musical and lyrical maturation from the band. Lyrics are, of course, far from family-friendly, but much of the graphic gore element has been removed, only to be resurrected for Severed Survival. Songs are longer and ideas feel more fully developed. It has a more accomplished feel. Reifert's voice is by now rapidly approaching a death growl, and the band as a whole are becoming more technical and confident. The demo contains one of my personal favourite Autopsy tracks, "Ridden with Disease", "Critical Madness" is a live staple, and "Charred Remains" re-recorded counterpart on their debut became one of their best known songs. So this should be perfect, right?
It isn't. "Charred Remains" is okay but limp-wristed, and "Critical Madness" is overrated. Production improves, and is better than their first album, and the band is by now a fairly tight unit. Reifert is learning to sing and drum better, but this demo is still flawed. Far from the decisive steps of their first demo and full-length debut, this finds a band drifting on a by-now wide sea of death metal, gradually but definitively drifting into more extreme territory. The band doesn't seem to know this, however, just playing, not knowing or having any intention of where to go next. This really should be of little interest to many, a bit too heavy for thrash, but too soft for Autopsy or most death metal bands, and when any songs from the demo are played live the band fully ups the brutality factor. They find themselves for the first time in need of good riffs which don't come, but hey, at least we're treated to audible bass for the first time.
Finally, Autopsy could have done with a drastic increase in extremity to match the rapidly-developing scene, and to not catch people out when they suddenly followed the trend (kind of) on their debut. Autopsy releases can normally be grouped: their first demo goes with Mental Funeral and the death-doom oriented stuff, Severed Survival with Acts of the Unspeakable and reunion-era releases, whereas this kinda sits in its corner on its own, unsure where to go or what to do with itself. It isn't bad, but it's a problem-plagued release in the problem-plagued history of Autopsy
The 'Critical Madness' demo continues Autopsy's disgusting journey with a louder sound quality and also differences with musicianship. This includes second guitarist Danny Coralles to dual-up with Eric Cutler and begin an ongoing collaboration until the band would break ties in the nineties by forming Abscess without Cutler. The song structures essentially became more developed with this demo causing Autopsy to establish a unique placing for themselves compared to the last.
As the sound quality became a little louder, the instruments began to raise themselves out of their former shallow graves. The dual guitars add a thicker projection and in turn give the songs more of a "crunch" to its rabid bite. Likewise to Paradise Lost around this time, they went for a slower and more doom-like sound mixed with death metal. It isn't surprising when Coralles states that he listened to Black Sabbath in interviews, as well as Reifert stating he listened to Trouble. This death and doom structure is a foundation that will go on with the band till their very last album. Even when they included grind and dropped the thrash influences, they still never forgot to churn out a plodding riff here and there. With this newer attitude, it separated themselves as a band and it was basically a diverse change of setting compared with some contemporary groups continuing to use the typical thrash-like momentum. At some point it became a standard: done well by some, rudimentarily copied by others, and bands such as Autopsy with their demo here in '88, searched elsewhere for inspiration to set themselves apart.
Reifert's vocals began to slightly evolve from the last. He does a sort of fluctuating mildly growled voice at times with some higher, almost screaming tones that break loose as well. His voice started to fill in compared to the last and caused it to sound less adolescent to my ears. His drumming chops began to expand by attempting to match some of the different tempo changes and as a result has more capability to include varied fills to the overall mixture. Often when he's vocalizing he'll attack the cymbals, since I'd imagine this to be more convenient than various rolls and far-reaching hits around the drum set, which he does plenty of when the vocals get a rest. It turns out to be a cool little effect that a lot more bands should embrace. Because I believe when you play faster sections, the cymbal hits place a definite "nod" to your headbang, and without them, or not enough of them, it's as if you're waiting for something to happen, causing you to be more of a spectator than an actual participant. Ken Sorvari replaced Eric Eigard on bass. He seems to add a subtle hint of backup to the guitars than being separate and distinct. Over their span, I have to say they went through more bassists than the filmmakers did soundmen on the movie 'Man Bites Dog,' that or it feels more like some kind of recurring guest with each of their recordings, and for whatever reason never settling on one to fill the position.
Autopsy fleshed out dormant abilities of themselves from their last recording. And I have to say within less than a year's time they gave a decent size "nudge" forward. The songs displayed here would be included on their monumental debut 'Severed Survival' of the next year, which are only slightly altered musically, along with the production getting fuller, essentially maximizing them even more. I recommend this early recording for a prime mixture of death, thrash and hints of doom where each of the respected genres are capable of working together as a whole.