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I admit it. This review has been hatched from a simple urge to right the wrongs of some of my fellow reviewers, with whom I must steadfastly disagree. I’m not sure whether this music is simply falling on tin ears, or whether music has become so soulless and based on pro-tools, sarcastic limp-pricked indie-influenced rock, and “breakdowns” that reviewers can’t recognise crushing music anymore.
As more than one of the other members of the peanut gallery has pointed out, this album certainly does not break new ground. Yet this is clearly what Autopsy set out to do: produce a fantastic DEATH METAL album. There are no frills. No effort was made to modernise anything other than perhaps the production. Let me dwell on this point for a moment. I usually despise modern production, but on this album, every effort was made to ensure that the sound was as organic as possible. The album is amazingly warm and has a tube feel to it that would fit right at home with a modernised Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. Allen’s bass is up front and seductive, Reifert’s drums pound clearly without overwhelming the music the way a lot of modern jobs do, and the guitars positively shred. Once again, where others hear overproduction, I’m hearing competence. This production wraps around like a putrefying flesh Snuggie, and drowns the listener in a charnel house of sound and story.
This leads us to another point. I truly love early Autopsy, but one of their shortcomings in the early days was their inability to tell a story. Their early efforts were sketches of hideousness; each tune a different snap-shot of the morbid, something that many of their contemporaries were also doing (cf. Repulsion, Death, Obituary, etc.). What has been fulfilling on the more recent Autopsy releases has been to hear how they now flesh out (forgive the pun) an instance of gore-soaked horror into a full-fledged macabre celebration. Tracks like “Running from the Goathead” invoke nothing less than perhaps a Lovecraftian foray into a pursuit dream vortex, and are far more effective at eliciting a chill than simple “pop-the-eyeballs” shtick.
The guitars and riffs on this album are simply nauseating . . . as only Autopsy could make work. The riffs enhance the lyrics and general malevolent atmosphere in a way that other death metal acts have been pining to approximate and failing to consummate for decades. Guitars scramble and twist and instil panic in the listener. The intro/outro of “Coffin Crawlers,” the dreadful terror of “Running from the Goathead,” the tense transition from solo into the unanticipated apex of “She is a Funeral,” all run seamlessly into one another, and create an album woven brilliantly to make the listener feel that they’ve truly listened to something appreciatively abominable.
The vocals on this album are snarling, gurgling narrations to match the lyrics and riffs, and although I’m sure that a bunch of the fanboys here want the rotting roar of Mental Funeral or necropunk bark of Severed Survival, Reifert & Cutler deliver depraved madhouse gibbering chants and gargled dead-bum ejaculations that match the delivery of the spinning whirlpool of flayed flesh and rusty hooks.
One point with my fellow pundits on is the cover art – I wasn’t overly excited about it, as I’ve never been one for the heavy digital art, but it’s not bad, and certainly better than a tonne of other albums out there . . . and most of the asshats listening to music these days just illegally download the album and listen to mp3s anyway, so what do they care? I won’t be buying the t-shirt, but Autopsy have other kick-ass images the discerning connoisseur can choose from anyway, so quit your bitchin’ (check out the awesome “Zombie Nurse” t-shirt they were selling at their shows in 2012).
New directions are often overrated. Bells and whistles are often just that – treats for imbeciles to content themselves with. Producing a gem from a field of soggy coal that’s been over-mined by thousands of hacks for twenty-five years is where true talent manifests. That’s why it’s so satisfying to hear a DEATH METAL album that sticks solidly to the fundamentals of the medium and yet inspires. This reviewer personally found The Headless Ritual to be one of the best albums of the past decade, and certainly an improvement over Macabre Eternal which dragged and tended to be propped up by filler between the Cutler-fronted tracks (although to be fair, those kicked ass).
Hail Autopsy, and actually hail the year 2013. It was the first since about 1996 that I’ve been able to put together a top ten, and The Headless Ritual was certainly in the top two or three. I stomp on the freudenschade of today’s “metal” trolls in celebration of a truly burbling font of supreme death metal joy.