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There is no easy way to sugarcoat the fact that Autopsy's releases since their 2010 comeback with The Tomb Within EP have been getting steadily worse. Load this CD up on your laptop and you'll see a promising detail appear in the fact that this new effort is nearly 20 minutes leaner than 2011's Macabre Eternal, but that cover art definitely doesn't scream a classic return to form. Once again they have teamed up with legendary Motörhead artist Joe Petagno who, in spite of having a fresh creative burst in recent years with his Satan's Host collaborations, delivers an absolute turkey here, an overly-digital dated-looking piece that looks like a simple amalgamation of his turn of the millennium work with the likes of Abhorrence and Diabolic. If The Headless Ritual had've been released in those easier and simpler times around 2000/2001 it might have passed muster- but musically, aesthetically and artistically speaking the bar for Death Metal is impossibly higher now- Autopsy simply don't seem to have their finger on the pulse any more.
Everything about the start of opening track “Slaughter At The Beast House” is just spluttered out aimlessly without any hint of that precision that even their sloppiest early material showed. Aside from the dodgy vocal effects that erase on positive point to be mentioned here the second half of this track where things are slowed down to Autopsy's trademark crawl, and even past that to an early Black Sabbath vibe are much closer to where this needs to be, but the band have everything backwards. They really needed to start off with a twisted and sickening dirge and then explode into faster passages, not the other way round. By the time this confused track is finished the damage is done, and too late to reboot the whole album it simply never recovers.
Matters aren't helped by the fact “Mangled Far Below” seems so disparate from the opening track in terms of guitar tone and drum sound, and “She Is A Funeral” fails to provide any continuity by going down an odd sort of lo-fi 90's blackened vibe. Worst of all though is the lack of coherent presence in the vocals of Chris Reifert, constituting a fall from grace to rival even that of the band as a whole for sadness. “Coffin Crawlers” attempts to earn some points back with a B-movie sort of feel but everything is scuppered by those random notes struck in the section before the solo of “When Hammer Meets Bone.” It honestly sounds like an incomplete demo, replete with terribly mixed final fast section and a riff blatantly ripped off from Accept's “Fast As A Shark”- for a veteran band with some absolute genre classics under their belts it is absolutely devastating to see they have fallen so far.
The 1:46 minute interlude of “Thorns And Ashes” may unfortunately be the strongest track on here, but it also highlights one of the major issues which is the production- a spine-tingling guitar lead like this track has deserves a much better tone and mastering job, especially given the hallowed act and reputable label we are dealing with here. It beggars belief at times how this could get from the band's collective minds into the studio, past the engineer, onto the hard drive, past the Peaceville desk and onto disc without someone copping on that it just simply isn't up to the level that a legend like Autopsy deserves. There are shades of their old selves present, especially in the slower moments, but overall this sounds rushed, poorly produced and rife with flat out poor ideas and musicianship that even the likes of Jungle Rot, splatter bands such as Ghoul and Machetazo and even Phil Anselmo-era Necrophagia would have had sense not to release. By far the worst thing Autopsy have done since Shitfun, perhaps ever, and worryingly they are on such a downward spiral that it seems that trend may continue.[3/10]
From WAR ON ALL FRONTS A.D. 2013 zine- www.facebook.com/waronallfronts