Christmas, it seems, has come early this year for fans of Peaceville’s early output. Not content with singlehandedly reissuing the entire output of Moonfog, the latest batch of reissues have gone quite overboard with the slew of extras to be found on each one, and this very welcome exhumation of Autopsy’s rightly revered second album from its grave is no exception. Handsomely packaged in a card slipcase, this special version of the album, now in its twentieth year, includes lengthy and informative liner noted giving a track-by-track breakdown of the album and a rough ‘n’ ready DVD covering two live shows (one in Holland filmed in 1990 and a second in San Pedro, California filmed in 1991). It is a generous gesture that guarantees that even those who own the original album will be intent on tracking this special edition down.
What is it that makes ‘Mental Funeral’ such a special album? A primitive, youthful, savage beast of an album it captures not just the power of Danny Coralles and Eric Cutler’s guitars, Chris Reifert’s guttural vocals and Steve Cutler’s pounding rhythm section, but it also captures an atmosphere of violence and degradation rarely expressed so potently. ‘Twisted mass of burnt decay’ is the perfect introduction to the album’s visceral thrills – a fast-paced, grinding display of twisted riffs, hateful lyrics and an oddly-slowed down, doom-laden mid section, it set the pace for much of what was to come, whilst a glorious solo highlights that the lads had not just attitude but skill in abundance. With the first track segueing into the second you’re into the morbid horrors of ‘in the grip of winter’ before you even know it, the riffs slowed to a crawl whilst Chris Reifert’s commanding bark details a truly horrifying fate for those caught out in the icy maelstrom depicted. Most apt title must surely go to ‘flesh crawl’, a brief instrumental that causes the expected effect before leading you straight into ‘torn from the womb’ a mid-tempo, lumbering beast that is near hypnotic with its tribal beats and monotonous riffs broken up only by another fluid solo which sears across the surface of the track eliciting a stunning roar from Reifert.
A tour of the world’s battle fields and murder spots, ‘slaughterday’ is vomited out singlehandedly influencing any number of young artists with its fast-paced riffs and deathly grunts. Listening now it’s hard to imagine the stunning impact of this album and tracks such as this, but back in 1991 ‘Mental funeral’ sounded revolutionary – to these ears it still does – a bleak, sickening glimpse into the darkest recesses of the human mind laid bare by some of the finest extreme music ever recorded; and listening now, the gathering gloom of winter closing in, it’s hard to overstate the influence this record had with its brutally heavy yet incredibly memorable riffs and raw-yet-heavy production. The thunderous percussive attack of ‘dead’ is a case in point, a monumental groove is developed on the back of ‘Slaughterday’ with the band viciously slamming everything they have behind a mid-tempo attack that is simply irresistible before upping the tempo once more for the intro to ‘robbing the grave’. Autopsy’s success lies in the remarkable variety to be found on the album. For sure they’ll give you mind-blowing speed and warped lyrics, but you’ll also find moments so slow and utterly all-consuming that they all but succeed in crushing the very spirit out of you. This sense of dynamic tension within the songs, coupled with the way that the music frequently segues together making the album sound like one gloriously twisted symphony of the diseased, must surely be Autopsy’s calling card – unafraid to be different, the band simply wrote the rules as they went along creating an album of violent contrast guaranteeing it a place in the heart of any fan of extreme music.
After the four minute blast of ‘robbing the grave’ the stair-stepping riffs of ‘hole in the head’ are far removed from the toxic sludge that preceded them. Despite the relative brevity of individual tracks there is an epic feel to the album as a whole as it slips through its various moods and feelings always maintaining the grim atmosphere of the charnel house and occasional moments of such exquisite brilliance it’s hard to conceive of the creative process that went into this masterpiece. Take the warped, hyper-speed elements of ‘hole in the head’ which immediately follow a slowed-down, doom riff of monumental proportions. It’s brief, never over-egged, and as a result sounds simply astonishing and harrowingly heavy, decimating all in its path and leaving the listener agape with awe at what has just transpired. ‘Destined to fester’ is a pus and blood filled mini-nightmare, in thrall to Bathory and late night horror, while ‘bonesaw’ is, in the band’s own words, “a short burst of spastic craziness!”. Surely the bleakest track on the album is the icy ‘dark crusade’ with its dirty riffs and guttural vocals before the album draws to a furious close with the title track.
‘Mental funeral’ is a short album, although at first listen it feels much longer thanks to the ridiculous amount of invention that is crammed into every track. Moreover, despite its brevity there is not a single moment’s respite from the brutality, indeed listening to ‘mental funeral’ is like watching a particularly good horror movie with each section a necessary step to get to the next – in short, this is not an album for Ipod shuffles or a quick fix – this is an album that needs to be lived and breathed, enjoyed and endured from start to finish. That it is a monument in death metal history is without doubt and even at a remove of twenty years and all the extremity that has appeared in that time, the album still sounds as fresh today as it did when it was unearthed in 1991.
Of course, being a reissue, Peaceville have crafted a release worthy of this landmark album and aside from the disc itself you get a DVD to remind you exactly how potent the band were back in the early 90s. Of the two concerts on offer, the first is a film shot from the back of a club in Rotterdam, Holland and the quality is accordingly mediocre. That is not to say that it is not effective, the sound quality is about on a par with what you’d expect from a live death metal concert recording from the 90s and maybe even a little clearer, with the guitars coming through with reasonable clarity, although the solos are largely lost amidst the clatter, and the vocals just about making it above the drums. Visually the band are not much to witness, especially as the vocalist – normally the focal point of a show – is also the drummer, but as a testament to the ferocious power of the band it stands tall, highlighting that Autopsy were more than capable of recreating their studio prowess in the live environment. Highlights include run-throughs of tracks which would soon surface on the ‘Retribution for the dead’ EP, especially the doom-laden title track and a formative version of ‘in the grip of winter’ which would later be re-recorded for ‘Mental funeral’.
Far more rough and ready is the recording from San Pedro, which is filmed from more-or-less the centre of the mosh pit, no doubt by some hardy and unlucky member of the band’s road crew; yet bizarrely for all that the picture quality is like a thousand youtube clips, it’s a more representative view of the live experience of the band, with sweat and spit very much on display and a more forgiving sound mix allowing solos to shine more brightly. The audience are clearly much in love with the new material and the thirteen song set list includes much of ‘mental funeral’ including an unnerving run through ‘flesh crawl’, a stunningly brutal ‘torn from the womb’ and a glorious ‘robbing the grave’ and while the camera may be shaky, the sound is remarkable making this an unmissable reminder of the band’s unholy power.
Worth the price of admission for the DVD and liner notes alone, this is a timely reminder of Autopsy’s early days and a necessary addition to anyone who found the band recently through the quite excellent ‘Macabre eternal’ album. Quite simply if you like gory, intelligently written and expertly performed death metal then this is an essential addition to your CD collection.