Album Review: Autopsy’s Skull Grinder
It might be misleading to tell a 2015 audience that Chris Reifert’s gruesome gang play death metal. That genre designation has come a long way since Reifert helped birth it thirty years ago, and recent death metal initiates might incorrectly imagine tight musicianship, guttural vocals and brutal attempts to communicate images of explosive ordnance barrages by musical means. Autopsy don’t play that kind of death metal. Instead, it might be more accurate to describe Skull Grinder as dead metal, a kind of stylistic corpse that decays as you listen, mulching any preconceptions about what to expect of a metal record and fertilizing your mental landscape with the fermenting remains.
“Strung Up and Gutted” and “Children of the Filth” appear to play into stereotypes with their immediately thrashy beginnings, but Reifert’s vomit-wet vocal style – like the Muppets’ Animal went through some truly dark shit and came out the other side scarred and belligerent – hints that everything will not lie neatly in the graves you assigned them. “Skull Grinder” is equally aggressive, with guitar leads and solos landing front-and-center like a circular saw to the forehead. Occasionally these songs point fingers at the band’s creepier, crawlier strain of death, but not until Side B do Autopsy work that angle of their sound to a fever pitch.
The second half of Skull Grinder feels almost experimental next to the two-beat bloodletting of the first three songs. “Sanity Bleeds” drops percussion altogether for a gooey slog through hauntingly harmonized guitars and a towering rolled-r’s rant. Insofar as it displays Autopsy’s desire to tear down the mold and stitch their sound together from scratch (and freshly plundered human limbs), this track is definitely a highlight. “The Withering Death” continues the club-footed shuffle across metal’s goriest terrain. Lazier scribes might call it “doom,” but that confuses pace with genre. It’s all putrid, open-sore-licking death metal, just played at tempos that make you feel every rotted chord and pus-slick lead. “Waiting for the Screams” is similarly slothful and corrupted, while “Return to Dead” gives Reifert’s throat a rest so that guitarists Danny Coralles and Eric Cutler can squeeze out some scraping improv over a cemetery melody.
Overall, Skull Grinder lands precisely where it aims, which is a triumph in itself. Not that it’s a surprise. These veterans have sculpted metal in their own image for years. The band members’ lengthy recess into Abcess (like what I did there?) has resulted in a dead sprint of high quality releases over the past several years that should satisfy any Autopsy fan. Skull Grinder grafts a punky we-do-whatever-we-wanna attitude onto OSDM’s stinking, restless cadaver gives its authors a new lease on their second undeath.