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This album is almost two decades old, and it still mops the floor with all other death metal released in the succeeding years. While this is partially an indication of the sorry state of modern death metal, it is also a testament to the immense, lasting power that Mental Funeral carries. From the crushing opening of Twisted Mass of Burnt Decay to the slowly dripping clean notes of the final track, the music stands in a league of its own; this is one of those albums that you will never find boring.
Drummer Chris Reifert has stated his songwriting motivations in rather simple terms – to make “the sickest shit imaginable” or some such banality. But that phrase describes precisely what Mental Funeral is: lopsided, intentionally out-of-balance song structures; mischievously deranged riffs, very often spiced with multilayering for added harmonic effect; atonal guitar solos that appear out of nowhere, later to give way to yet another set of bizarre riffs; rhythms that bounce from rabid gallops to torturous crawls and everything in between.
Far from a textbook example of death metal, the album is a magnificent work from a band that did what it wanted even if it never won them any popularity contests in their active days. This was neither the fastest nor the most technical band in existence then, and it would be even farther from that status in today’s world where Niles and Cryptopsies reign. What sets Autopsy apart from the crowd is that Reifert & Co. never concentrated on one gimmick (technicality, “brutality”, speed, lack thereof, or what have you) but directed all of their energies into solid songwriting, employing whatever elements they thought proper. The end result is a mixture of vastly different bits and pieces well forged together: for example, the 35-second guitar-only interlude Fleshcrawl is a perfect way to both deliver a little pause from the brutality that preceded it and also lead into the next piece of dismal suffering.
There is a multitude of little rhythmic tricks that initially go unnoticed, but as one realizes how seamlessly the odd time signatures and other such surprises are set in the bigger picture, it heightens the listening experience even further; an underlying complexity permeates an album created by some guys who just wanted to record “brutal shit”. In contrast, when a modern death metal band goes into 7/8 time, you’ll be certain to hear them hailed as “progressive”, “inventive” and “different”. The difference, of course, is that for new bands it is a gimmick, while for Autopsy it was merely a way to drive a song forward with a little twist. Feel free to mail me about the exceptions in today’s world, for I am too sick of contemporary death metal to actively keep following it any more. In the meantime, I’ll cherish this classic like a Mongol cherishes his horse.