Autopsy – ‘Born Undead’ DVD Review


The rabid advances of technology have had many negative effects on the music industry, many of which have been well documented on these pages, but there have also been advantages. Back in the mists of time (well, the eighties and nineties) music videos were more often than not exercises in fan torture, the promise of a live set met with shaky, poor quality footage matched to virtually indecipherable sound transferred to instantly degrading VHS tapes. Major label acts, with the virtues of a huge amount of money backing them, fared better than most, but extreme metal acts were lucky if they were able to release any live footage, and even luckier if any of it transpired to be any good. The digital revolution has changed all that. It is now relatively easy, and cheap, to gather relatively high quality footage of an act on stage and this has resulted in a number of bands, hitherto unable to make a foray into the visual arena, releasing DVDs of varying quality.

Autopsy are, without doubt, one of the most legendary death metal bands to tread the boards. Their reformation in 2010, following a fifteen year hiatus, was a cause for celebration amongst the extreme metal community and here the band, alongside long-serving label Peaceville, have crafted a DVD that offers up all you could ever want from the band in a startling display of generosity that sees a documentary, the band’s live set at Maryland Deathfest (2010), as well as an array of bonus footage that puts most major label efforts to shame. Over the course of five hours you will learn  pretty much everything there is to know about Autopsy, with the lengthy documentary providing a wealth of interviews, tributes and footage and the DVD providing the aforementioned full live set, a whole load of footage (of varying quality) from other shows following the reunion, and three promo clips, all of which comes packaged in a stunning, rigid digi-book covered with gloriously gruesome artwork courtesy of long-time collaborator Kent Mathieu.

The main feature here is ‘A history of horror’, a documentary that covers the rise, fall and return of Autopsy. Featuring tributes from bands such as Obliteration, Exhumed, Impaled, Dekapitator and many more, the great thing is how much these guys feel what Autopsy do – they truly love them and from the live footage that peppers the documentary it’s not hard to see why. The real treasure here, however, is seeing the band work through their entire history in their own words. Kicking off in 1987 we get the whole sordid tale from the band’s very formation, through the demos and lost members right up to the present day, all woven together with a pseudo-serious documentary-style voice over which can’t help but sound a little out of place but which provides valuable nuggets of information nonetheless. Early highlights include the source of Autopsy’s name, primitive rehearsal and concert footage and period photographs charting the growth of the band in those early days. What is remarkable is just how much archive footage there is available for the band. The quality is largely very basic, venue camera material, but for long time fans of the band it is a veritable treasure trove that goes way above and beyond most documentaries to truly tell the story of the band, and theirs is an interesting tale that deserves the care lavished upon it.

Moving into the nineties and we hit up against the days of ‘Mental funeral’, a time that seems remarkably fuzzy in the collective memory of Autopsy thanks to the impact of a huge quantity of alcohol, which is a shame as it stands tall as one of Autopsy’s finest records. Nonetheless the well edited interviews do piece together some sort of record of that chaotic time. 1992 saw the band unleashing ‘acts of the unspeakable’, an album with artwork so graphic Peaceville got raided on obscenity charges adding further spice to an already gritty story and then 1993 sees the band slowly starting to unravel as we speed towards the final dissolution in 1995 as the band unveiled the monstrously horrible ‘shitfun’ album.

With members heading off to do Abcess, it would be fifteen years before Autopsy regrouped for the remarkable ‘The tomb within’ EP (swiftly followed by the even better ‘Macabre eternal’), although the documentary does a good, and candid, job of covering the individual members side projects during that time. The return of the band, moreover, feels triumphant as the members discuss a return amongst themselves agreeing that they could only return as a complete unit, showing a great deal of integrity in the process.

Overall the documentary is excellent. Well produced, with a huge amount of input from the band, it’s one of the best band histories that I’ve come across, the interviews are well conducted, the band have plenty to say and the rare footage dispersed throughout a welcome treat for long time fans of the band. If this was all there was, you’d be hard pressed not to recommend this DVD, but on top of that there is the wealth of concert footage which is guaranteed to sate the appetite of even the most hardcore Autopsy fan.

The jewel in the crown of the live footage is surely the pro-shot material from Maryland Deathfest which crams in 18 songs of unspeakable brutality. Well shot, the quality is admirable and the sound mix, whilst raw as f***, captures the spirit and intensity of the band with reasonable clarity. It is an exciting and inspired performance which bears out the band’s comments in the documentary about reforming Autopsy for the love of playing it hard and heavy and it is clear that the crowd are every bit as excited as the band are. For those in need of exploring further there is also a brilliantly shot gig from PartySan 2010 which actually has a better sound mix and clear visuals, a well mixed selection from Slaughter by the water 2011 and a venue camera shot performance from Hole in the sky 2010 which makes up for in intensity what it lacks in quality. In short, if you watch all of this and still want more then you are possibly in need of psychiatric care. However if you DO want more there is still the promo videos and rehearsal footage to wade through guaranteeing to keep you busy for a good portion of your day.

Autopsy are legendary for a reason. Their studio albums have a power that has aged well, whilst the post reunion material is at least as good, if not better, than their formative works. Their live performances bear this out – terrifying, intense (sometimes even funny when things go wrong) and sonically devastating even with the mix at its rawest – Autopsy take their art seriously, which is why it is so refreshing that the DVD has been treated with equal care. Everything from the stunningly ugly packaging (brilliantly designed and laid out) to the wealth of extras showcases the attention to detail that has been lavished upon this project and the result is one of the best extreme metal DVDs to have been released (it’s surpassed, perhaps, by Cannibal Corpse’s insanely huge effort) thus far. Long may Autopsy reign, but for the time being this DVD highlights exactly what makes the band so special. An essential addition to any death metal fan’s collection.

Check out the trailer and see what you’re missing:

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  1. jesse davis September 3, 2012 12:37 am  Reply

    great review, thank you.

  2. edward williams September 4, 2012 6:47 am  Reply

    godfathers of death metal!!

  3. jesse davis February 8, 2013 8:11 pm  Reply

    whenever i feel crappy, i read this review! lol! thanks again, phil!

    • phil February 9, 2013 10:42 am  Reply

      Hi Jesse – it means a lot to get feedback from someone actually involved in the project. Anyhow I guess it makes us even, because anytime I feel crappy I put on that DVD! Cheers man!

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