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Most will have likely experienced the Retribution for the Dead EP on one of several CD issues of the Autopsy debut Severed Survival, but it was actually quite a ghastly and sufficient filler between the band's first pair of albums. Here, Chris Reifert and company pursue more of a direct death/doom hybrid, not at all an unexpected deviation from the slower breakdowns present on Severed Survival, and simultaneously setting up the caveman atmosphere of their superb sophomore album. I'd also mention that I love the cover art to this EP, more so than anything else the band have ever released. I almost wish the band had pursued further aesthetics like this on subsequent output.
There are three songs here, each a sordid amalgamation of Autopsy's barbaric death and doom motifs that feel like slow motion beatings with a toothed, blood encrusted cudgel. "Retribution for the Dead" opens with a glaze of pure Sabbath, then a forceful sludge as Reifert's vocals take a spin further away from the Schuldiner-like growling prevalent on Severed Survival, towards a more hoarse and unkempt tone of tortured despair. Around 1:45 the song adopts a dour, melodic drudge akin to Paradise Lost via Lost Paradise, a natural Peaceville connection. "Destined to Fester" gathers a comparable gloom before the war toms interrupt, then a wailing guitar line is affixed to the central, slug-like chords, almost like Grief jamming with Trouble. Speaking of the latter, the third and final "In the Grip of Winter" opens with swagger grooves before devolving into a mire of slow, muted chugs, then back to even more intense groove cycles. Gotta love the vocals on this one, and it serves as another glimpse into the future (i.e. Abscess). The cleaner, doomed guitar breakdown that leads into the final, bluesy excess is also quite good.
My taste in Autopsy is largely confined to the 1989-1992 period, and Retribution for the Dead is just another reason why. Like most of their releases, the guitars are never all that creative or exhilarating, instead relying on tried and tested patterns but delivering them with crippling, raw authenticity. The Californians have never shied away from their death/doom girth, traces were evident on the debut and certainly on its successor, but regardless this EP seems to offer a foul window into what might have been had the band chased this dragon on a narrower path. The tracks are morbid and swallow all hope, the lyrics retaining their primitive necrotic obsession. In the end, its one of my favorite recordings from the band, whether or not its been relegated to footnote status over the long term.
One can not really talk about the foundation of what we now know as death metal without discussing one of the earliest proponents of its 90s death/doom hybrid offshoot Autopsy. Formed when Chris Reifert, who created the drum mayhem that filled out the arrangement on Death’s “Scream Bloody Gore”, went his own way. Although the most auspicious of his creations is the full length debut “Severed Survival”, which pointed towards the elaborate lyrical depictions of violence and gore and dropped much of the mystical aspects of the genre, “Retribution For The Dead” marks the beginning of where this band’s really distinctive style fully emerged.
Although aspects of the doom metal brand of atmospheric depth, low end heaviness and darkness have been infused into this style of music as far back as when it began to move away from thrash metal in the mid 80s, this EP marks a very early example of it overtaking the thrash influences and dominating most of the listen. The title song literally listens like it was borrowed from Black Sabbath’s famed debut album title track, injected with the most decrepit case of leprosy imaginable, and allowed to limp its way into a major metropolitan area to spread its ghoulish disease. The two accompanying songs listen about the same stylistically, with perhaps a heavier tendency towards Saint Vitus’ muddier approach in terms of character, and with something of a southern sludge element appearing in the main riff of “In The Grip Of Winter”.
With all of this somber and slowed down depression going on, one would be quick to ask “where did all the thrash go?”. The answer to this is essentially somewhere other than here. With perhaps the exceptions of the lead guitar breaks where hints of a Slayer influence are to be found in the backup riff work, this basically spends all of its time in the lower swamps of Sabbath on steroids. Even the solos themselves, which are as spastic, unhinged, and all over the place as any lead break put forth by King or Hanneman on “Reign In Blood”, are marked by a denser, and almost bluesy character. Likewise, the bass-heavy tone of the rhythm guitars and the loose character of the drums tend greater towards a hard core fest ala Discharge than anything put forth by Lombardo or Hoglan.
In terms of an overall listen, this is a nice little 3 song feature that pretty well demonstrates the transition that many bands took out of the early Death and Possessed paradigm towards what became a highly respected hybrid genre that took all of the most woeful aspects of doom and married them to the most deranged aspects of the emerging extreme metal breakaway from orthodox thrash metal. It’s a bit on the primitive side and doesn’t get too far past the simplistic song construction that Sabbath was observing in the early 70s, minus the frenzied solo sections which are perhaps a bit more elaborate than what Vitus or Trouble were doing at the time. It only has one song unique to this particular release, so it will probably only appeal to completist hounds if the rest of this band’s studio discography is already in one’s possession.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on August 13, 2010.
Retribution for the Dead comes out as a short three song release. Right smack in the middle of Severed Survival and Mental Funeral. And conveniently packaged at the end of both re-releases of Severed Survival. Two of the three songs that are on RFTD, are also on Mental Funeral. With the utter convenience of RFTD, it is a perfect example of why some EPs are mainly for the die hard fans of the band. To be later collected and sought after to make your collection just right. Autopsy is years later, still indeed guilty of this. However the music is good enough to satisfy a dire fan's eagerness for completeness.
The title song Retribution for the Dead has one of the most blatantly ripped off early Black Sabbath riffs I've heard, besides coming from a traditional doom band. It is just on the initial riff, and then moves onto Autopsy's own signature death-doom process. The audacity of a person to rip off one of the most influential metal bands might be quite appalling to some. But was a neat way to open up the recording. 'Oh well, looks like Autopsy still cranks those old Sabbath records, huh.' They again distanced themselves from other extreme bands, by utilizing another 70's technique with the addition of a wah pedal on a solo on the song Destined to Fester. And Iommi's signature of tampering with the volume knob of the guitar only to crank it up when the other instruments kick in, on a small segment on the track In the Grip of Winter.
RFTD's production and musical direction as well as Mental Funeral's, adds slight variations from their past releases. They add surplus amounts of reverb especially on the guitars. But the difference with this and the reverb on the previous release Severed, is the instruments are more separated and distinctly heard. Cutler and Coralles continue to expand on their signature dual guitar lines. Mixing low slower parts, with higher noted riffs. To add an intricate melody, or an atmospheric solo. Reifert's drum sound changed slightly, having a more hollowed-out snare drum. Rather than a full thrashier one on Severed Survival. His vocals on earlier releases added screams with a hint of growls. But on RFTD, he started to add more growls and a hint of screams. The vocal parts are set up in a more narrative fashion. Rather than having chorus sections. He uses the various turns and twists of the song structures to further peak the atmosphere.
This release started to slightly distance itself from past thrash influences. And goes for a more slower pace with the songs, using a fair amount of single notes and slow moving chords to progress the song into many different highlights. Although, there are definitely moments where they stride at a gallop, or mid-paced section. Also, these slower sections help them utilize the dual guitar segments. As well as the drums, which use the toms quite often.
Strapped and ready to go, were Autopsy before Mental Funeral. So much, that they added this release in close proximity of each other. Die hard fan or not, whether you purchase this, download it, or just plain pick up either surrounding release by them, it is worth it to hear another tune by this band. This was the building climax to their darkest and most sinisterly creative creation: Mental Funeral.