Autopsy – ‘The Headless Ritual’ Vinyl Review

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For reasons that have surely been discussed on SonicAbuse ad nauseam, there are some records which just need to be heard on vinyl. It’s not necessarily the sound quality that makes this such a necessity, but rather the whole package – the super-sized artwork (which, in this case comes courtesy of the amazing Joe Petagno); the symbolism of buying a new record by your favourite band; a dedication to the art of music and the art of making music which no amount of faceless, classless downloads can replicate; hell, even the time you take over sitting down and examining the package, reading the liner notes and details until the record is as impressed upon your memory as the music it contains – it is all part of the process of enjoying a new release that would be lost forever if it wasn’t for labels like Peaceville and bands like the legendary Autopsy continuing to fly the flag for those who simply love the idea of music being presented in the manner it deserves: as an art from, and one that needs to be protected from the ravages of an impersonal digital age.

So Autopsy; one of the finest death metal bands ever to tread the boards and genuine legends in the scene whose artwork and logos are instantly recognisable to metal heads the world over; really, what other format could you want to check out their latest symphony of sickness upon? Following on from the band’s stunning post-reformation album ‘Macabre Eternal’; a savage, dark, dank horror of an album that pushed all the right buttons supported by a series of devastating live appearances; Autopsy are firing on all cylinders and ‘the headless ritual’ sees these gruesome purveyors of the sickest metal around once again reach out a gore soaked arm with which to welcome their followers back to the fold.

Produced on a single platter, side one of ‘the headless ritual’ offers up four slices of unhinged metal on pristine, crackle-free, virgin black vinyl. It’s a strong pressing that captures the old-school, analogue production of Autopsy perfectly. Dispensing with any unnecessary ephemera, there are no samples easing you into the opening track, just the sound of Eric Cutler and Danny Coralles attempting to strip paint with their guitars whilst Chris Reifert’s oh-so-distinctive guttural roar informs us we’ll be “slaughtered by the beast”… oh we hope so. It’s a blistering opening track, neatly shifting gear between the opening frenetic blast and pure doom on the latter stages complete with a solo that honestly would not sound out of place on Paradise Lost’s seminal ‘gothic’ album. It’s a brilliant, atmospheric introduction to the new album and as it crashes headlong towards its end it is clear that Autopsy have lost none of their coveted ability to surprise with their unhinged levels of ferocity. ‘Mangled far below’, whilst searingly heavy, has a powerful groove that grinds its way into the consciousness and lodges itself there with its tale of idolatry and sacrifice, even finding time for a mid-tempo shift and some cleverly harmonised lead work, the latter showing Danny Coralles to be on particularly fine form this time out. ‘She is a funeral’ is mired in filthy riffs and a lascivious, doomy sense of abandon as Chris belches out a tale of lust from beyond the grave. Filled with necrotic imagery it’s like a Stephen King short story set to the dirgiest of metal, and it highlight’s the band’s ability to deliver an atmospheric tale with both lyrical skill and invention no matter how dark and perverse it may be. Musically it is one of Autopsy’s strongest pieces too, the sections of the song woven together with near progressive skill as the band move towards the conclusion of this none-more-grim tale. Side one ends with ‘coffin crawlers’, a claustrophobic slice of hallucinatory death metal that plays out like a mix of bad acid and Rob Zombie horror movies viewed through a haze of sweetly herbal smoke in the grey half-light of the early dawn, leaving you shattered and numbed by the experience.

Side two contains a further six tracks, opening with the savage ‘when hammer meets bone’, a tale that taps into the same primal urges as the original Texas Chainsaw massacre, telling the tale of a family who use the titular object to crush the skulls of those who enter their domain. At the outset It is one of the fastest tracks on the album, and if you ever needed any evidence of the warp-speed menace of which Autopsy are capable, it lies right here, although the mid-section sees things slow down to a demonic trawl through the filth and detritus of a deranged mind. ‘Thorns and ashes’ is a deadly slice of doom metal that segues directly into the stately, unholy ‘arch cadaver’, a track that opens upon a similarly slow-burning riff before shifting gear into a full-on thrash assault that recalls High on Fire whilst perfectly demonstrates the awe-inspiring prowess of Eric Cutler and Danny Coralles via a series of devastating leads. ‘Flesh turns to dust’ operates on riffs as arid as its title suggests and then, on ‘running from the Goathead’ we get a taste of Eric Cutler on lead vocals over a clattering backdrop that sits evenly between Slayer and Cannibal Corpse. The album ends with the brief title track which is a short, powerful instrumental which conveys the imagery of power and ceremony without a word being uttered – further evidence of Autopsy’s unswerving ability to convey a mood or atmos0phere via music alone.

Autopsy are a band for whom there is no middle ground. Disinterest is not an option and they will inspire love and loathing in equal measure from those exposed to their exquisitely diseased anthems. If, somehow, you have never experienced Autopsy before then, in all fairness, the band’s logo and artwork should give you a fair idea of what to expect from them in terms of style but essentially it boils down to the simple fact that if you love death metal then Autopsy are an essential band to add to your collection. Certainly this stunning vinyl edition is the only way in which to experience ‘the headless ritual’ – from the beautifully reworked logo (thanks to resident art-guru Matt Vickerstaff ) and absolutely mind-blowing comic book art (the aforementioned genius who is Joe Petagno alongside Gary Ronaldson) which is also included on a poster, to the pristine sound of the vinyl itself (a near perfect pressing – nice one Peaceville!) the vinyl edition is the perfect way to appreciate what must be one of Autopsy’s strongest efforts. With not a weak song in evidence, a pared-down set of only eleven songs which neatly play to all the band’s strengths and a set of lyrics (neatly reprinted in the gatefold sleeve) which highlight the demonic intelligence that lies at the heart of the band this is an unmissable outing from one of death metal’s most enduring acts. Embrace the sickness – Autopsy are back and they sound f***ing immense!

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