Autopsy is a name synonymous with death metal. Along with names such as Carcass, Grave and Obituary, Autopsy bore a morbid moniker that obviously denoted a “death” metal band. Forming in 1987, Autopsy helped pioneer this morbid musical movement. During that same year, vocalist/drummer Chris Reifert helped launch Death—the group many attribute as the first modern death metal band—when he played drums on the band’s debut full-length “Scream Bloody Gore.”
Reifert left Death after “Scream Bloody Gore” and Autopsy released “Severed Survival,” their debut full-length recording, two years later. The debut and their early ‘90s follow ups such as “Mental Funeral” pushed the limits of brutal, putrefying imagery.
Bands have definitely taken a cue or eh…a rotten limb from Autopsy’s lyrical sheets. While bands such as Cannibal Corpse and Suffocation have made a larger impact on the death metal scene, Autopsy’s slow-to-mid-pace rhythms surely inspired early death metal groups, especially the doom-death variety. Autopsy may have been an even bigger influence if the group had not broken up in 1995.
Between the years of 1995 and 2009, Autopsy members stayed active in other bands such as The Ravenous and Abscess. Since reforming, the group released an EP “The Tomb Within” (2010) and most recently “Macabre Eternal.” Vocalist/drummer Chris Reifert spoke with Metal Underground about the band’s reformation, new album and upcoming moribund visions.
Darren Cowan (Rex_84): Autopsy’s last full length “Shitfun” came out sixteen years ago. How does it feel to be back?
Reifert: Honestly, it feels the same as back then, but even better.
DC: Do you feel your song writing ability has gotten better?
Reifert: It’s kind of the same, but I’ve learned a lot more from previous mistakes, not necessarily musically but on all fronts. I would say it’s been a smoother ride this time around. Song writing works the same as it always has. That’s fortunately not part of the equation that is worrisome.
DC: Do you write all the songs or do the other members participate?
Reifert: Everybody gets to write something if they want. I wrote the music to five songs, Eric [Cutler] wrote the music to five songs, Joe [Allen] and Danny [Coralles] each wrote the music to one song on the new album. Eric wrote the lyrics to three songs and I did the rest. Everyone can throw in their two cents, whatever it may be. That makes a song complete.
DC: How did Autopsy reunite?
Reifert: We uh…felt like it. That was the most important part. That’s why we didn’t do it for fifteen/sixteen years—we had no desire, whatsoever. We talked about it here and there but nothing happened. It got to the point where we couldn’t ignore the interest, which is really only half of it. We did the “Horrific Obsession” single and we got pretty serious inquiries knocking at the door. We’ve been blowing those off for many years, so it’s not a big deal (laughs). We finally started talking about it more seriously.
We agreed to do a show at Maryland Death Fest. As soon as we made that decision, it was over. Song writing ideas started flying at us—more than we could control. Abscess ended up splitting up shortly after, not because Autopsy reformed, our guitar player Clint [Bower] really needed to take a break. He wanted to have a normal life. We respected that on every level, and wish him nothing but the best, but Abscess couldn’t be a band without him. We had to close that door and open another one, full time.
DC: Joe Allen is the newest member to Autopsy. You’ve been playing with him for a long time. What’s it like having him play in Autopsy?
Reifert: We’ve been working with Joe since ’98, so he’s certainly not the new guy. It’s great working with him. It made it easy when it came time to play with Autopsy again. We didn’t’ have to go looking for a bass player; we already had one. That was really nice. Things were a little confusing at first with our having Danny Lilker play live with us. We booked a few shows last year when Abscess was still around. We were technically still together. We didn’t want to ask Joe or Clint to play bass. That would have been too weird. We didn’t want any weirdness because of that, so it was logical to find someone outside of our little bubble.
Danny came right to mind. We’ve worked with him before. He is a close friend of ours. That was with the understanding that Joe would take over because Abscess split up right after we figured all of that out (laughs). We had to commit to working with Danny on bass. He had already learned all the material. It was awesome! He played the shows with the knowledge that Joe was going to take over as soon as the shows were done. As confusing as it may have seemed to some people, it worked out perfectly for us.
DC: You have a large network of musicians. You have worked with many of the same musicians for different project such as Ravenous with Danny Lilker (Brutal Truth), and Killjoy (Necrophagia). Does that make it easier to form a band or find members?
Reifert: In this case, when we needed to find a live bass player, Danny was the first choice. It was so easy. We had no problem and the three of us were already dialed in on Danny. It’s always been the three of us—Danny, Eric and me, and whoever is playing bass at the moment. We’ve been through quite a few bass players, but Joe is definitely rock solid. We’ve been jamming with him since ’98, so we don’t have to worry about what he’s like, if we’re going to get along or if he’s able to play the stuff; he’s locked right in.
DC: What do you feel is the major difference between Abscess and Autopsy? Did you use Abscess as a vehicle to go into more of a punk or grind direction?
Reifert: We certainly had the freedom to do different things with Abscess. The bottom line was if it’s heavy and brutal, then anything goes, within reason. We weren’t going to get funky or overly this or that and ruin it. Death metal: yes. Punk: yes. Hardcore: yes. Doom, psychedelic, hard rockin’: yes, yes, yes. All of that worked as long as it’s brutal, crushing, horrifying and disgusting. That was kind of neat. It could be different things. We got to branch out or digress a little bit.
Autopsy is straight-up death metal. There is no room for anything but death metal. Whether it’s fast, slow, or in between—it’s gotta be death, death, death, horror, gore and blood and guts. That’s pretty much the differences between the two bands, although they definitely share many similarities. I guess, it’s kind of a different mind set.
DC: “Macabre Eternal” has a louder and fuller production than the older material, especially “Mental Funeral.” Were you going for a better sound on this album?
Reifert: We intentionally wanted to have a good sound, so why not? It’s possible. We don’t have to fight the engineer anymore to try to get something good. “Mental Funeral,” “Severed Survival” and those older albums sounded good to us. That was the best we could come up with. We didn’t understand when people didn’t agree with us. Back then, we caught a lot of flack for our production. People thought it sounded like crap or was weird. There were people who loved it and a lot of people who did not love it. These people didn’t understand why we didn’t go to Morrisound or Sunlight, use Dan Seagraves for the cover and do what everybody else was doing back then. We were definitely a little on the sore-thumb side.
It’s just funny because now people tell us they love the sound of that album. After we finished recording this one, I remember saying people are going to bitch because it sounds too good. Sure enough: “Why doesn’t it sound like “Mental Funeral?” There weren’t too many, but I guess that was the main criticism. I guess I shouldn’t complain because there are all sorts of other things I didn’t know people were going to gripe about. That is the only one. We didn’t feel the need to imitate something that has already been done. That would be on the cartoonish side. It would make no sense, whatsoever, to do something we’ve already done. We did try to make it sound good, but not too good. We wanted to sound like a real band. We don’t go for the artificial, processed sound at all. I think we found a pretty good middle ground regarding that.
DC: Do you feel it’s an organic-sounding album?
Reifert: It is because it’s the sound of the instruments. The sound of the drums is what my drum kit actually sounded like in the studio. It was the same with the guitars and bass; we didn’t alter the sound. I could go on and on to annoying extents about our disdain to trigger-sounding drums. I stand by that, 100%.
I really don’t care for that sound, although plenty of bands record that way and I like their albums because I like their bands. There is no disputing that, but our own records have to sound like real bands. We don’t use any of the phony stuff. What you hear is what we sound like, only it’s a really good version.
For the first time, we mastered the album over here. We were part of that process. We’ll never turn back now. We went to a guy named Ken Lee. He made magic happen with the mastering. It almost sounded like it had been remixed. The volume has a lot to do with that. He had it blasting up. That’s how it should be. You shouldn’t have to totally stress your speakers to hear what’s going on. Now, we are spoiled and are going to make sure we are part of the process every time.
DC: Some would say your drumming style is more like punk than death metal. How do you feel about that assessment?
Reifert: I’m not offended. I play like I play. I like to hit all the drums and hit them hard. I’m not really sure how to describe my playing. I’m not offended by that comparison.
DC: Did any punk drummers influence your playing?
Reifert: I like all sorts of drummers. I don’t try to take direct influence from anybody. I like to do things my own way. There are drummers that I think are amazing. Number one is Keith Moon. I’ve never made a secret about that. He is the quintessential drummer for me, as far as sheer chaos on the drum kit. He was barely contained. Dave Lombardo is kind of a no-brainer. I like a lot of jazz drummers and a lot of punk drummers, too.
Marky Ramone is a great drummer. He can play anything. He doesn’t have to play just basic punk. He can play other things. The way he does punk drumming just kills ya, man. It’s so powerful; he has so much authority. I think he’s awesome! The Ramones have virtually no drum fills, but they are so intense. He was all over the kit when he did stuff in the early ‘70s with Dust. I don’t take too much from any of those people. I try to find my own way. There are lots of punk drummers that I admire.
DC: Drummers who play and sing are rare. How did you become a drummer/singer?
Reifert: Admiration for Karen Carpenter, of course. Honestly, it came out of sheer necessity. When Autopsy got together a million years ago, we tried to find a singer. We kind of half-tried now that I think about it. I think we tried out one friend or something. It just didn’t work. It seemed like it would be a lot less headache to just do it ourselves. The original plan was Eric and I were going to split up the vocals. He didn’t care too much for it, so I kind of got stuck with it. Funny thing about it, he’s enthused about doing vocals now. He did three songs on the new album. We didn’t try too hard to find a vocalist, so I figured I would get used to it.
He’s done things here and there. He did a song on the first demo called “Mauled to Death” where he sang. He and I do “Slaughterday” together on “Mental Funeral.” We split that one up, half-and-half. He’s no stranger to the microphone, but he doesn’t like to do a lot. That’s cool because his guitar does a lot of talking on its own. He felt compelled to do vocals on a couple tracks on the new album. It probably had something to do with the fact that he wrote them and had something very specific in mind for the vocals. Needless to say, we all trusted him to go for it and knock it out. He knew what he wanted and he did a great job. No complaints here.
DC: Does Autopsy have any upcoming live dates?
Reifert: We played a show here, in the bay area, a couple of nights ago. This was the first one since the last one, which was ’94. It was really, really kick ass! It was a great show. This Thursday, we go over to Denmark to play a big show over there—Roskilde. Two weeks after that we have a festival appearance in Finland called Hammer Open Air.
In August, we have a show in Los Angeles called The Gathering of Bestial Legion. That’s it for the year, so we have three more shows this year. Then we are going to start working on new stuff, full on. We are definitely going to start working on another album. There are reissues in the works. There are a lot of things going on right now. It’s a challenge to keep up with, not in a bad way.
Read the show report on Autopy’s recent concert in Austin.
Darren Cowan has written for several heavy metal publications. He has been a metal head for twenty years and has attended concerts throughout several regions of the U.S.