It takes no more than the opening bars of ‘Hand of Darkness’ to realise that Autopsy lost none of their infernal fury during their fifteen years in the wilderness. Returning to action with the monumental ‘The Tomb Within’ released via Peaceville last year, this is the pay-off for the fans whose appetites was merely whetted by that tasty reminder of the band’s power and it’s a pleasure indeed to report that ‘Macabre Eternal’ is a brutal, uncompromising display of gore-obsessed death metal that shows the young pretenders how it should be done and reminds the listener just how distressingly powerful the us death metal scene can be when not watered down by various genres with the epithet ‘-core’ attached.
There is always a concern when a legendary band returns that they risk their own legacy in the process. Certainly Carcass did themselves few favours with the phoned-in feel of their Bloodstock show two years back, but it is apparent from the moment that the punk-infused guitars of the opening number give way to a full-blooded (and full-throttle) rampage through the darkest recesses of Slayer-esque thrash territory, with added chunks of throat and phlegm hitting the microphone for good measure, that the only thing that Autopsy’s legacy will be receiving is a massive, high-voltage shock applied to the parts best not mentioned. With vicious tempo changes and a razor-sharp production that stays just on the right side of raw without compromising the band’s trademark sound, it’s a brutal, fizzing opening track that simply stamps down hard upon the competition and makes you wonder what took these axe-slinging veterans so long to return to action. With drumming legend Chris Reifert manning the tubs as well as providing the sickest vocals this side of Napalm Death, death metal fans will find it hard to contain their glee as the first track winds its way through almost six minutes of horror-inspired metal.
Just to show that speed is not an issue, ‘Dirty gore whore’ is a lightning fast rampage through perverse territories with Eric Cutler’s rather more trebly vocals giving the track a grittier feel. Lyrically recalling a condensed version of Pig Destroyer’s unnerving masterpiece ‘Natasha’ in its tale of murder and obsession, there’s an almighty riff at around 2.35 that makes you want to bow down and worship at the altar of death metal forever, so gloriously does it encapsulate everything that vicious metal should be. Like a whirlwind of guitars, offset by Reifert’s unconventional drumming it’s one of those moments in metal; like Slayer’s ‘reign in blood’ or Machine Head’s ‘Davidian’; that’s just utterly brilliant because it’s so lost in its own momentum that you feel as if the CD could spontaneously combust at any moment – check it out and I dare you not to head-bang. ‘Always about to die’ slows the pace to a doom-metal crawl, with suitably guttural vocals to match reminding you of the frailty of the human existence. Utterly compelling, the abrupt shift from the super-fast to the treacle slow emphasises the skull-crushing power of the band in full flight and while the EP was a mini-gem, the full-length format gives Autopsy much needed room to experiment and when the almost groove metal time-change hits around half way through the song the effect is to make you sit up, bug-eyed with excitement as the band smashes you with another sonic curveball and the pace gets ever faster. Demonstrating with demonic ease that to play death metal doesn’t equal playing with a near fanatical, one dimensional obsession with speed, Autopsy effortlessly tear down every barrier that the genre has imposed upon itself in recent years over the course of forty-odd, fascinating minutes.
Moving on to the title track which has a brutal groove and adventurous percussion, the band continue to play with your expectations dishing out the speed when it’s required but largely playing with an admirable restraint that makes the whole thing all the more impressive. Thus while ‘the tomb within’ was a fantastic EP in its own right, ‘Macabre Eternal’ is several steps beyond in terms of quality and delivery and the band themselves play with such obvious pleasure that it’s easy to imagine that they’ve only just formed. ‘Deliver me from sanity’ launches a full-frontal assault that sounds like the love child of Dillinger Escape Plan and Slayer while ‘seeds of the doomed’ appropriately sees the band take on the cloak of Black Sabbath for a demonically-charged, doom attack that is heavy, claustrophobic and the stuff nightmares are made of. It is this diversity across the twelve tracks that makes ‘Macabre eternal’ such a riveting listen and the band play with so much energy and aggression on every single track that the initial few plays will simply leave you awestruck, unable to judge the contents in a rational or critical way – a kind of musical shock and awe tactic for the cynical ‘seen it all before’ generation and it is devastatingly effective.
Having wallowed in the depths of a paralysing doom attack, Autopsy return to full speed on the opening to ‘bridge of bones’ before the song is stripped back to drums and bass guitar and a killer groove is introduced once again referencing the ketamine-laden might of Sabbath or perhaps Heaven and Hell’s ‘the devil you know’ if it had been fronted by Johnny Morrow. With a scintillating classic-rock solo, acoustic passages and sub-human growls it is an adventurous track which shows just how proficient Autopsy are as musicians and song-writers, although fans of the bludgeoning attack shouldn’t worry as the latter half of the song is destined to flay the skin from your face. Equally bludgeoning is the vital, surging metal of ‘Born undead’ which is gloriously brutal. ‘Sewn into one’ continues in the vein of brutal, mid-tempo metal that finds its own slippery, distressingly heavy groove and then acts as crowbar to prise off your skull and allow Chris Reifert’s spectacularly unpleasant lyrics to seep in. Throw in an unhinged solo from Danny Coralles and the package is complete but nothing prepares you for the aural torture that is ‘Sadistic gratification’, a slow-burning outrage that is possibly one of the most disturbing tracks I have ever encountered. While lyrically it is not as extreme as, say, Cannibal Corpse’s cartoon gore, it makes up for this by utilising a modicum of restraint coupled with the unnervingly realistic screams of Rakhel “the sheep” Hartz-Alvarez. The result is terrifying, mainly because it replaces the easily dismissed visual imagery of films with a direct line to the imagination and as the screams and sobs mount up it takes a hardened heart indeed not to feel slightly nauseous. It is a brutal, disgusting highlight of an album that throws down an irresistible challenge to the new breed of gore merchants: top this if you dare! In terms of sheer slithery terror, only Axis of Perdition and Pig Destroyer have come close – this is the real deal and far more effective than any number of ultimately tame Hollywood sanitised torture-porn flicks.
Following such a monumental and distressing achievement ‘Spill my blood’ closes out this insanely good comeback and leaves you sweaty, unnerved and ready to begin the ride all over again. When you add in Wes Benscoter’s stunning cover painting to the equasion as well you have a simply astounding death metal release that simply raises its leg and urinates upon the competition with so much scorn. Autopsy don’t so much deserve your attention as demand it physically and this stunning record is not only a fine work but possibly the death metal release of the year. It is hard to imagine anyone matching the sheer visceral power of ‘Macabre Eternal’, this is essential music for all fans of the extreme.