Formed by ex-Death drummer Chris Reifert, Autopsy soon rose to the top of the death metal field themselves with the release of this landmark debut record from 1989, ‘Severed Survival’. Stylistically, however, Autopsy are much different than Death. While Death were always focused on break-neck speed to accommodate their grim visions, Autopsy were much slower. In fact, these guys became the leaders of what would become known as ‘death-doom’, representing a sort of marriage between death metal and old-school Black Sabbath-style riffing. Though they weren’t as fast as Death, Autopsy were just as mean-spirited and focused on the darkest of horrific fantasies.
Right off the bat on the opening track, “Charred Remains”, Autopsy make it clear that their love and admiration of Black Sabbath sensibilities isn’t something that can easily be shaken. A prevalent feeling throughout the full duration of the record, many of the detractors of death metal will no doubt argue that the record is too same-same, but when the power and conviction of the conditions within the format are this unshakable, those detractors would find themselves in an uphill battle. Whether it’s the following track, “Service for a Vacant Coffin”, or tracks further down the record, like “Impending Dread” or the title track, the blunt, doom-laden ferocity of this record remains fully intact from start to finish. What this record accomplished at the time was showing the metal landscape that the ferociousness of death metal could be palatable within a slower, more traditional metal format. It’s important to remember this, because at the time the vast majority of the metal scene was seemingly focused on how much faster and aggressive things could become. Thrash metal was merely the building block for the extremity of things that were to come later on, culminating with acts like Napalm Death and Carcass. So when a band like Autopsy comes on the scene and slows things down a bit, people take notice, and Autopsy were the first band to come on the scene with this style. This record feels like a menacing marriage between Death and Candlemass.
This record maintains quite the legacy in the annals of the metal underground and with good reason. It’s daring, provocative, horrifying, transgressive, and in its day a truly unique and singular piece of work by a band that dared to be different. The only thing preventing this from being a perfect record is that it occasionally struggles to breathe clearly, perhaps the rust of a band in their early stages. It goes without saying that this record isn’t for everyone. Falling under the extreme metal umbrella ensures that your listeners will be only those who have extreme tastes; and though Autopsy aren’t nearly as blatantly explicit as their death metal contemporaries Cannibal Corpse, they’re pretty far to the extreme scale of death metal bands in terms of subject matter. They aren’t nearly as archaic or mysterious as Morbid Angel, but they do best represent what is probably best described as a matter-of-fact approach to subject matter. While Cannibal Corpse’s brand of explicitness often revels in parody and obvious exploitation, Autopsy’s subject matter seems much more firmly planted in the realm of possibility. This makes them, in their own way, arguably the most menacing death metal band of all.