Founded in 1987, Autopsy are one of the best, and certainly the most committed death metal bands on the planet. Their influential, remorselessly brutal metallic onslaught was thought to have run its course in 1995, however, when the band disbanded and the members went on to other projects such as the much respected Abcess. Rumour (and a good deal of hope) surrounded the band’s fate and the first rumblings of a reunion took hold in 2008 when the band got together to add extra tracks to a special edition of the genre classic ‘severed survival’. The following year a performance at Maryland Deathfest signalled that things were indeed hotting up and in 2010 Abcess finally disintegrated, paving the way for a full-blown reunion which has seen the band producing some of their best material to date. Savagely returning to life with ‘the tomb within’, Autopsy’s post reunion albums have added considerably to the band’s already impressive legacy and, at the tail end of 2015, Peaceville decided to celebrate the band’s heinous career with a monumental box set entitled ‘after the cutting’. Boasting the complete ‘Skull grinder’ EP (released separately at the same time) and a whopping seventy-five further tracks, the box set draws together album highlights, live cuts, demos, rehearsals and rarities to form the ultimate summation of the band’s sickening career.
Before we get to the music, it’s worth taking a moment to comment on the box set’s amazing packaging. Utilising the same 12”, hardback book packaging which Peaceville used for the likes of My Dying Bride’s ‘Evinta’ project and ‘Katatonia’s ‘dead end kings’, ‘After the cutting’ offers up the artwork from Kev Walker, Dennis Dread, Gary Ronaldson and Chris Reifert in stomach-churning clarity. The illustrations, alongside plenty of behind the scenes photos and detailed liner notes (basically the band’s entire history) from Dennis Dread are beautifully laid out by Peaceville veteran designer Matt Vickerstaff and look amazing. It’s work like this that divides the money-spinning operations from the labels that care enough to present their artists in the best possible light and it’s hard to imagine any Autopsy fan not wanting to get their hands on this impressive package. The four CDs come neatly packaged in the back of the book and are both secure and safe in the cleverly arranged packaging. In short, this is one stunning box set and more than worth the asking price.
For those not interested in either the packaging of or the plethora of bonus tracks, the separately available ‘skull grinder’ EP is worthy of detailed review as it offers the only new music available on the collection. Comprising seven tracks, ‘Skull grinder’ opens with the gloriously unpleasant ‘strung up and gutted’ which underscores the malevolence which lies, and has always lain, at the heart of Autopsy. Recorded with an emphasis on the rawer sound of the band’s earlier material, the cleaner production of the likes of ‘Tourniquets, hacksaws and graves’ is jettisoned for a sound that is closer in aspect to ‘Shitfun’. It adds a further layer of grime to an already unpleasant and troubled atmosphere and fans will instantly be at home amidst the grimly exploitative gore and guts. Next up is the bruising title track which similarly offers no quarter to the uninitiated. This is Autopsy as fans want them to be, bloody, raw and entirely unburdened by conscience. Laden with primitive doom, it’s like Black Sabbath filtered through the eyes of a young George Romero, swapping the dry, brittle atmosphere of those Birmingham pioneers for a more gore-drenched and insatiably sanguine appetite. Upping the tempo, ‘Children of the filth’ is a droning, atonal beast that claws and tears at the listener with unhinged ferocity. Only the drums, brilliantly played but robbed of some of their power by a top-heavy mix that leaves the bass drum rumbling in the depths, slightly let down the otherwise unfathomably savage display and when the tempo shifts to sludgy trawl on shit-stained knees, fans will struggle to contain their despicable glee. Opening with a riff that quivers with dread, ‘sanity bleeds’ sees Chris Reifert proclaiming his lyrics like some perverted priest before the altar of hell and then we enter the disturbing echo chamber of ‘the withering death’ which opens amidst the slow breathing of some unseen horror before finally emerging as some diabolical fiend, slow moving and cumbersome and yet all too capable of catching its prey thanks to a diabolical mix of patience and cunning. The brutal ‘waiting for the screams’ offers up every ounce of salacious desire for human misery that might be expected whilst final track ‘return to dead’ is an instrumental coda to the EP with its eerie, subtle mood shift and echoing, treated guitar ramping up the tension to unbearable heights.
To quantify the rest of the box set would take more time and space than we have available here, suffice it to say that Autopsy fans will be in ecstasy over the treasure trove of material. On offer are insightful, if raw, demo tracks (including cuts from the sought-after ‘critical madness’ demo and an untitled offering from 1987) and rehearsal pieces (including a spectacularly savage ‘squeal like a pig’). The demos, despite their lo-fi origins, still pack a potent punch and it’s easy to see how the band found a label with such material on offer right from the start. Less well preserved are the rehearsal tracks which are barely produced at all. Very much a bonus for the hardest of the hardcore, the tracks hold some interest but it’s hard to imagine many listening to the overloaded bass and rumbling guitars of the 1987, or the treble heavy 1991, rehearsals more than once. Nonetheless, it is clear that it is the die-hard fan the producers of this box set had in mind and these super-rare offerings can be found on disc one, alongside the ‘skull grinder’ EP, making the first disc somewhat essential. Discs two and three basically serve as a lengthy best of with only a few rarities (such as ‘feast of the graveworm’ form the ‘horrific obsession’ single) scattered about. As a reminder of the band’s remarkably consistent (and powerfully influential) back catalogue the discs are a potent collection, but the familiarity of the material makes these two discs less than essential. The final disc heads back into exclusive territory with two live sets (Oakland, 2012 and 2013) and a six track rehearsal tape rounding things of nicely and it is likely that even the biggest fan’s appetite will be sated at the box set’s conclusion. Overall, this is a beautifully packaged and curated box set and Peaceville have done a fantastic job of paying so handsome a tribute to one of the world’s sickest bands.