It came as a surprise to me to read some of the lukewarm reviews to Autopsy’s 2011 comeback album, ‘Macabre Eternal’. Although easy to understand both how and why fans would have such unrealistically high expectations, personally, I was blown away by the fact that there was actually a new Autopsy album. On top of which, I thought it was great. With ‘The Headless Ritual’, I think there’s absolutely no room for anyone to have any doubts about what a grotesquely deformed and immense beast they have snorting, drooling and steaming away in front of them. With a band as seminal as Autopsy it’s easy enough to lose sight of formalities like objectivity and analysis in the first place; with this album there is no option but to respond to the raw emotion it evokes and inspires. I’ll just come out and state it now: ‘The Headless Ritual’ is a classic.
From the abrupt opening stab of ‘Slaughter at Beast House’ the quality of this assault is clear. Not only does the music bear the hallmarks of Autopsy at the top of their game, the thick, dirty production articulates their disturbed nature perfectly. In fact it’s like being swallowed up in a vortex of depravity and sadism as heavy riffs tear the listener in different directions while bass and drums beat relentlessly away. The icing on the cake is naturally Reifert’s insane caveman vocal styling, which subtly shifts tone to reflect the level of his schizophrenic rage at any given moment. Of particular note is that grim doom section in the opener, where unhinged guitar ascends and morphs into a characteristically weird solo; almost reflecting the state of a psychopath’s mind while plotting his next outrage. No sooner have you gathered the scattered pieces of your brain back together following that frenzied, battering last minute of ‘Slaughter…’ and the twisted groove and hammering kicks of ‘Mangled Far Below’ take over.
There’s one particular scream around the 1:30 mark of the second track which is guaranteed to send chills down your spine but perhaps the most interesting aspect of all is the bluesy vibe following it. This feel also carries on into the longest offering on the record, ‘She Is A Funeral’, where a range of moods – like nostalgia, resignation, pure hatred – emanate through Autopsy’s fetid brew. It doesn’t end there however, as an atypical air of majesty also infiltrates proceedings during that godly tapped solo. By their standards, this is an intricate composition, and one which I’m glad to write is also the standout moment on ‘The Headless Ritual’. Beyond these interesting features, it is still 100% groovy, tortuous Autopsy, with the vocals resembling a zombie as he gurgles his crazed anecdote through a mouthful of rancid black blood, semi-masticated worms and deathly rotting stench. The tale becomes yet increasingly morbid as the coffin crawlers go about their obscure business on track four, inspiring lunacy, crushing doom and frantic squealing outbursts.
Of the many moments on this album which have me scratching my head, the one that consistently has me wondering ‘what the FUCK is that?!’ would have to be the beginning of ‘When Hammer Meets Bone’ – which you’ll have to experience for yourself. It’s the kind of instance which both reaffirms everything you ever loved about Autopsy and also confirms the level of unhinged genius at work here; often imitated but never equalled. Yet another excellently conceived curveball is the brief, weird melody of ‘Thorns and Ashes’, which provides an unexpectedly pleasant aside in the style of early Maiden. For the remainder, things are pretty much as you would expect. ‘Arch Cadaver’ is a slow dirge-fest, full of anguish before shifting pace to more of a furious Neanderthal headbang. You know, that thing Autopsy does which makes you want to stomp around with a big chunk of raw meat between your teeth. Again, there’s a scream (around 3:15) which is both terrifying and absolutely life affirming.
‘Flesh Turns to Dust’ probably reflects very accurately how your average person would feel spending the night alone in a morgue; while the magnificently titled ‘Running from the Goathead’ has a raging main riff that absolutely nothing will stop. Consistent with the unpredictable nature of the album throughout, it goes out with its relatively short instrumental title track. This one pounds away, providing one last intimidating reminder that there is no room for comfort here.
Ultimately ‘The Headless Ritual’ is a more morose statement of death worship than any of the band’s past releases, and is also its most sophisticated piece of art. It goes without saying that if ‘Macabre Eternal’ was the hors d’ouevre to Autopsy’s reappearance so far, then this is the five-star main course; tender and dripping with blood, just the way you expected it to be. It is hands down my album of the year so far, and after a few listens, has become almost as meaningful to me as ‘Mental Funeral’, my gateway to this most warped of death metal bands. Accordingly, it receives the highest score I’ve given an album in my time at Ave Noctum.