CASH IN NOW: AUTOPSY ROT IN PEACE ON MACABRE ETERNAL
What’s the point in resurrecting your band if the resulting reunion album is going to be a flaccid state of affairs? To make a few more dollars so you can better pay for your kids’ school clothes and cover your rent/mortgage? Of course, and that’s a damn fine reason.
Alright, so, to REPHRASE the question, what’s the point in fans paying attention to a reunion album if it’s just a weak rehash of a band’s glory days? The answer, of course, is that there isn’t one. Decidedly non-metal band The Pixies have it right: an extended reunion tour with absolutely no new material, keeping whatever legacy they already had mostly intact (Judas Priest have it backward: no more touring but more new music no one will care about). Because for every new Suffocation album, albums that stand up to their iconic predecessors, there’s a dozen similar to new Sepultura records, albums that fully exhibit the leathery skin, newly-formed jowls, formidable beer guts, gray hair, and phlegmy wheezing of the band at the helm (or whatever’s left of the band in Sepultura’s case).
So for Autopsy to return in 2011, one would hope that they wouldn’t be doing it for the money, but instead because the band have more to say. Having watched the genre they helped refine go from lanky, unwashed social outcasts to kids in cargo shorts, flat brim caps, and 8-string guitars (as well as socially awkward weirdos indulging in guitar wankery on YouTube), a new Autopsy album better mean something. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, Macabre Eternal, the band’s first album since their rightfully-maligned swansong Shitfun, means quite a bit. It’s not a winded Autopsy stumbling through slightly-rearranged classics; this is new Autopsy in earnest, familiar-yet-uncharted. It’s also top-fucking-notch death metal, grimy in all the right places and nimble in the others. It goes toe-to-toe with most other death metal kicking around right now, and there’d be no purpose to a new Autopsy album otherwise.
The whole band is top-notch: Chris Reifert sounds loose but focused behind the kit, not afraid of speed but more concerned with shaping the beat correctly. And his vocals are excellent, per usual: vicious, unconventional, and necessary (he also does the best non-Austrian Death Machine Schwarzenegger impression on “Dirty Gore Whore,” albeit probably unintentionally). The band sound just as much as a force to be reckoned with as they did on Mental Funeral and Severed Survival. At sixty-five minutes, Macabre Eternal should run out of steam after a while. It doesn’t, though: it’s packed to the gills with riffs. All sorts of riffs, too: noodly thrash riffs, chromatic death metal riffs, obscenely dense doom riffs… They’re all welded together into a simultaneously monolithic yet varied whole. Grind is largely left out of the equation, but it works: these riffs are best taken in as a stomp or jog rather than a sprint.
There are, of course, more than a few elements meant to bug longtime devotees: an epic eleven minute long song near the end, the occasional use of acoustic guitars, and a somewhat professional presence. But even the “left field” elements sound perfectly in place. Sure, I wasn’t expecting the acoustic portion toward the end of “Bridge of Bones” (though I expected it a little in the first minute and a half of the aforementioned 11-minute “Sadistic Gratification”), but after they come in, it makes sense. The attitude of Macabre Eternal is extremely elastic: if something needs to happen, it will. That being said, it’s not like there’s rapping or goth-techno songs (unlike SOME long-awaited death metal albums coming out this summer…). There’s just rapid-fire death-thrash (“Born Undead”), rollicking groove (the title track), and a song ballsy enough to be rooted in a lumbering doom riff and have “Doom” in the title (“Seeds of the Doomed”). It sounds like things you’ve heard other bands do before, but slightly curdled. Even in the album’s more (well, relatively) stately moments, things are still a little sour. In other words, it’s primo Autopsy.
In the end, the most widely discussed change to the Autopsy sound? The fact that Macabre Eternal has actual production value. But while I understand the argument that Autopsy just isn’t as good unless it sounds like they were recorded in a basement sex dungeon, there’s something interesting about hearing the band’s sludgy assault in a pristine setting. Rest assured, it’s polished, but the grimy core remains intact. It’s like putting a drifter in an Armani tux: sure, he may look alright, but he probably still smells like dumpster juice and will possibly shank someone before the evening is through. All the Autopsy viciousness is still there, not losing an ounce of its potency after resting on the shelf for a decade and a half. But it still makes sense in the era in which it appears, perhaps because the schism in death metal — between obsessively-groomed technicality and murky, murky atmosphere — couldn’t be greater than it is. And Autopsy land right in the middle. There’s still a need for them, and they fill it quite nicely. Are they back because they’re interested in recapturing the magic or in cashing in? Truthfully, it doesn’t matter, because Macabre Eternal is excellent either way.
(4 out of 5 horns)