Review Summary: A brilliant death metal effort which combines the elements of the early death metal movement with guttural, excruciating vocals, gruesome lyrics, and heavy bass to produce a wonderful, if not also disturbing, piece of art.
When considering the early death metal scene, there are several key contenders with which most enthusiasts are familiar, among which are Death, Possessed, and Autopsy. Possessed is legendary among metal fans for their debut, Seven Churches, which introduced a brutal thrash metal whose growling vocals and extreme, morbid lyrical content earned it the title of the prototypical death metal album and laid the groundwork for the development of the death metal genre itself. Death, with their debut, Scream Bloody Gore, released the first true death metal album -with down-tuned guitars, heavy bass, thundering drums, guttural vocals and violent, dark lyrical content, Death consolidated the death metal genre. Autopsy, then, while not as great an innovator as these other two bands (Death continuing to develop their sound into an increasingly progressive, technical and melodic approach to death metal and their lyrical themes becoming more intelligent and philosophical over time), left an indelible mark on the death metal genre by expanding the musical themes introduced by Death and Possessed and by further developing the dark and aggressive tone which death metal already bore.
Autopsy's debut album, Severed Survival, is one of the greatest pieces of death metal's expansive oeuvre, and an album which has confirmed its standing as a classic of death metal. Severed Survival brought together all of the elements that made Autopsy's music memorable and enjoyable. Severed Survival's focus is on generating a dark and morbid atmosphere through the combination of all of the musical elements the band incorporates -bass, drums, vocals, guitars, lyrics, and production. Something that makes the album unique among death metal releases is its heavy and audible bass, which, in songs like Service for a Vacant Coffin, takes the forefront in the music and at times actually leads the riffs, a rarity in metal of all sorts. This album contains some of Digiorgio's best bass work, and it thankfully gets the attention it deserves in the production, which, although murky and clouded, does not detract from the album but adds to the dark atmosphere it is creating by - in albums like Slaughter of the Soul, the clear production allows for greater enunciation of melodic passages, which suits melodic death metal, as it is led musically by the melodies of the guitars; in an album like Severed Survival, however, that murkiness and the mixing and competition among all of the album's musical elements creates the oppressive atmosphere for which the band strives, an atmosphere that is successfully reproduced in nearly every song on the album. In terms of guitar work, the melodic (I use that term loosely) passages such as the ones found at the beginning of the title track, Ridden with Disease, and Gasping for Air are powerful and dark, with the mounting tension and rough, low tuning of the guitar producing a sense of intensifying horror in anticipation of future suffering, which is a key element lyrically in each of the songs. The drumming is not especially outstanding, but acts as a great backdrop to the guitars and bass.
Chris Reifert's vocals are among the greatest of all death metal vocalists in conveying a sense of suffering, horror, and misery. In songs like Severed Survival and Ridden with Disease, his vocals reach a level of excruciating intensity when unleashing agonizing, guttural screams that is unmatched by other death metal bands. Because of this, his vocals add a much-needed emotional component to the lyrics which is missing in many other death metal bands, who monotonously and incoherently belch the entirety of their songs (i.e. Cannibal Corpse). These vocals, which make a conscious effort to convey the suffering the songs are describing, allow the lyrics to transcend their usual gimmicky purpose to become a part of the songs' painful, horrifying narrative. Because of this, Autopsy's debut succeeds where other brutal death metal bands, such as Cannibal Corpse, fail; although Cannibal Corpse's instrumentals are not lacking, their lyrical content seems unattached to the overall musical atmosphere and their vocals are tantamount to monotone growling. Autopsy, rather than attempting to play as technically as possible and be as "brutal" as possible in the manner of other bands, actually puts sincere effort into generating the doom-laden atmosphere which ought, in my opinion, to accompany dark, brutal death metal.
In summary, Autopsy's Severed Survival is a brilliant album which succeeds in creating a horrifying atmosphere to elevate their music above the more generic efforts of other contemporary (both to the band and to us) death metal bands.
Ridden with Disease
Service for a Vacant Coffin
Gasping for Air