Album Review: Autopsy - The Headless Ritual

I like to think of myself as being somewhat well-versed on metal and its history. But there are limits to anyone's capacity for knowledge, and when it comes to metal, mine is a mile wide and an inch deep. Only getting into heavy music after the glory days of the first wave bands was long over, my knowledge of the seminal roots of metal will never be as complete as someone who lived through those times, nor have I put in the effort to come closer. Especially when it comes to death metal, while I may know of the importance of the trailblazing bands and albums, I can't say I've heard very many of them.

Such is the case with Autopsy, a band whose name I have heard countless times, but whose music I don't believe I have ever spent more than a fleeting second with. They are surely one of the more important American death metal bands, which makes my ignorance seem all that much more regrettable.

Autopsy's age shows right away, which is not an insult. Everything about the album reeks of the old-school, from the fuzzy beyond need guitar tone to the vocals that predate the modern form of growling. This is raw death metal in its primal stage, which is far more interesting than what passes for the stuff these days. Autopsy doesn't amaze with technical skill, or with overwhelming rage, but their songs are able to ride the line between extreme and conventional better than the vast majority of bands that claim Autopsy as an influence.

I have said many times before that the reason the first wave of bands in any sub-genre are better remembered than those who come later is because their music retained enough of conventional structure and composition to appeal to more than just the die-hards who love noise and fury. Autopsy is in this class, their brand of death metal retains enough traces of classic heavy metal that even someone who listens to death metal only on occasion, as I do, can find something to enjoy.

Specifically, the elements of doom Autopsy brings to the table are the biggest selling point of the album. Whether the trudging tempo of “She Is A Funeral”, or the devil's tri-tone in the opening “Slaughter At Beast House”, the slower elements are a different flavor you don't get to hear much of in death metal, one that makes the songs sound heavier than another blast beat could.

“Arch Cadaver” is sort of a death metal take on the Black Sabbath classic “Falling Off The Edge Of The World”. The slow introductory riff has the requisite gloom, and then the riffs that speeds the song to life feels like a cousin to the one Tony Iommi plays on that track. Hearing that kind of playing was unexpected, and brought a bit of a smile to my face.

“The Headless Ritual” isn't a classic album in waiting, but it's an enjoyable trip down memory lane, to when death metal was first forming, and had yet to go too far off the beaten path. Autopsy may be veterans, but they don't show their age on this outing. “The Headless Ritual” is a fine bit of old-school death, and it shows the young'ns who have been trying to recreate this sound how it's really done.

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