Autopsy - Tourniquets, Hacksaws and Graves
Album Review: Autopsy - Tourniquets, Hacksaws and Graves
The story of Autopsy isn't one mired in the usual sludge that gets slung around with 90s doom and death metal bands. Through their initial work with Death, and the pioneering noise produced on Severed Survival and Mental Funeral, Reifert and Cutler cemented themselves as outstanding citizens of this community. Of course their depravity of both lyric and sound betrays them somewhat, but their initial offering, Severed Survival, a whopping 25 years ago, stands out as a real watershed moment in the genre. It was a total annihilation of the listener. Track 4 was titled Gasping For Air, which is quite ironic, because at no point do Autopsy allow you even a moment where you could fantasise about a gasp of air. It's a muck filled melee.
However, there is a discernible trait the separates the good from the great in death metal. Walking past a local metal festival recently, (Soundwave in Sydney), I heard Trivium playing. Even at a distance of probably 200 metres, I could identify individual chords, I could hear the bass, I could isolate all the elements that were being pounded in to that overworked amplifier. Earlier, when I heard what I assume was Asking Alexandria, it sounded like a giant mess of noise that was aggressively boiling away. Autopsy have disgusted, they've denied basic human rights, one of their records is called Shitfun and one is called Macabre Eternal. But their sound is not just a wall of impenetrable noise. Whilst still remaining a highly technical band, they haven't ever devoted themselves to the art, the way Opeth or Cephalic Carnage have.
That is the triumph of the band, and the triumph of Tourniquets, Hacksaws and Graves. Opener Savagery is evocative, it's a visceral assault. As Drummer Reifert screams "The earth shatters" your walls really will quake, conjuring images of maggot-ridden corpses vibrating, shaken by the extreme bass and dual guitar mayhem. If you were wondering whether age mellows a man, the answer is written in dark red blood all over Savagery. Fuck. No. Don't expect Reifert and co to tire as the day wears either. A quick perusal of what's to come reveals King of Flesh Ripped, The Howling Dead, After The Cutting and the worrying Deep Crimson Dreaming.
Speaking on their last full length, Headless Ritual, Reifert explained, in about as much depth as we're likely to get out of the man, the bands process going in to recording. "Nah, we didn’t try to do anything different. It just came out. It was more that we thought, OK, the last record was pretty good, we’ve got to make this one better. We didn’t think of anything too deeply beyond that." This can attract the ire of the critical community, and it did somewhat, but the wonderful thing about the death metal community is they just plainly do not give a flying fuck what the rest of the music world thinks of them. As we sit in our Prius' and pump out Mumford & Sons, the fans are in pitch black rooms tearing shreds off each other, bashing their heads against walls and pulling their own teeth out for the fuck of it. Autopsy don't need to change anything, so they haven't. After The Cutting could've come off Severed Survival, all 4 minutes of it. When the boys break it down through the middle, it resembles a loose jam session, with Reifert booming words like 'death' and 'dying', before a huge riff returns with the speed of a heroin injection, and only snatches of lyrics are caught as his voice switches between sounding like it's rising from the deepest pits of hell to sounding as if he is descending from heaven, having just sprayed the blood of christ everywhere. Why change, when you're this ominous, this aggressive, this brutal, this bloody brilliant?
As mentioned earlier, these boys are pioneers. Reifert helped create what is widely regarded as the actual birth of death metal, Scream Bloody Gore (1987). Whilst bands used them as a cultural touchpoint during the explosion of death and doom metal in the late 80s and early 90s, they then spread their seeds in different directions, generally taking an approach they felt fit and working well within it. Autopsy are so well respected because they blend a multitude of influence together and create coherent, traceable music. Their punk roots are ever present, and tracks like After The Cutting and King Of Flesh Ripped utilise that ability to sound truly dangerous yet grounded in musical history familiar enough to almost nod along to. Then there is the atmospheric element they bring. All Shall Bleed, clocking in at 1:12, threatens the entire time to spill over in to a fanfaric murder ballad, but it's slow death march bleeds in to Deep Crimson Dreaming, which starts almost placidly, before Reifert groans with bloodied lungs. Then, a lovely little repose. It's these moments that define the Autopsy sound. Little touches, flourishes of normalcy in something so definitively dystopian, something that reeks of rotting corpses and the stench of old flesh stuck between teeth.
The drumming. Well, Cutler and Reifert are the beating hearts of the band, but Reifert is on a completely new level. He lists Keith Moon as a formative influence, and the zeal with which he attacks the skins is shocking. His perfect camber and ability to somehow personify death and destruction through his playing is actually slightly removed from The Who's erratic stick man. On Deep Crimson Dreaming he completely changes the arc of the song, repeatedly, by blending an off-kilter time pattern with a seemless switch to speed drumming. On Forever Hunger, the lifeblood of the track is housed within its percussion, his giant 808-sounding assault encompasses about 6 different kicks, and the bass he extracts is incredible. Death Metal is a highly technical pursuit, and this man is at the pinnacle of it.
If you were looking for a band who had begun to mellow with age, Tourniquets, Hacks and Graves spewed blood violently all over your ear drums. As the dust settles hours after your final encounter with the track Autopsy, the mangled remains of the dead still litter your thoughts and prayers. Autopsy helped create death metal, they moulded it to suit their depraved psycho-profile, they forced it in to ungodly positions and cut body parts off it with rusty, blunt instruments. Why in the name of the honourable Satan would they change?