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Autopsy got into the death metal scene while it was still fairly young and the rules that tend to guide it were not so firmly entrenched in its psyche. There was a general consensus that lyrics would tend to expand upon the gorey, horrific, and occasionally mystical aspects of what defined the mid 80s extreme thrash elements that were making waves in the Bay Area, namely that of Slayer and Possessed. Thus the logical outcome is a rather loosely knit group of newcomers out of Florida and New York who were ratcheting things up to the next level, yet still sticking pretty close to the underlying thrash metal roots that they had sprung from. Where Autopsy differentiated itself primarily was a greater degree of doom influences, perhaps partially brought about by taking a few cues from Slayer's "South Of Heaven", which makes sense given their being from the Bay Area themselves.
This is all relevant because "The Headless Ritual" is a complete throwback to the early sound that this band exhibited in response to the still fairly young Florida scene, while simultaneously having a drummer who'd been involved with it via Death. The mixture of raving yells that are notably close to Schuldiner's and Tardy's early work, the jarring contrast between high octane thrashing with a thicker sound and punishingly slow doom sections (often with little transition to speak of), and the technical lead guitar remnant that was inherited from King and Hanneman are all on full display. The only things that really separate this from "Severed Survival" and "Mental Funeral" is an occasional helping of the more punk-oriented influences that were displayed in their mid 90s material and a louder production quality that is not quite as dense and murky as recent Incantation, but is a bit closer to it than not.
For the most part things tend to be fairly conventional, not many risks are taking in relation into past work, and the album is possessed of a raw yet fairly mechanical feel. It works well given that the lead guitar work and vocals tend to be all over the place, thus necessitating that the riff work and drums act as an anchor. In fact, one of the things that kind of holds this album back a bit is that the vocals get a bit too exaggerated at times and almost become comical. Nevertheless, exaggerated tremolo infused mayhem of "Slaughter At Beast House" does it's part to rivet the ears in a manner akin to "Angel Of Death" on crack, followed by a somewhat more measured degree of thrashing before going off into a plodding doom break. It sets the stage for a whole album of mixed up songs that will either begin on an extremely fast or slow note and then shifting completely to the other extreme at several points, almost like a mangled corpse being pulverized at full speed in a meat grinder before being slowly rolled out on a broken down conveyor belt. It gets a bit scatterbrained at times in comparison to the tighter feel of their early 90s material, but it exhibits a similar overall sound.
Anyone hungry for old school death metal will find a decent album here, though at times it seems like between the blurring riff work and disheveled vocals gives the impression that they are trying just a little too hard to be edgy while simultaneously avoiding the inhuman "brutal" sound that's become so popular of late in death metal circles. This is essentially a good attempt at turning back the clock to the days before Suffocation hit the scene, and it would have been better for it had they not tried to one-up them in terms of how extreme they sound within their own set style. Then again, even an overly elaborate death scene will still get the intended reaction out of its target audience, even if after the fact some of said spectators question if the gratuitous nature of the violence viewed robbed it of some staying power.