Review Summary: Autopsy get everything right in a stellar performance on their debut album, although this remains an album that is by no means perfect
It has been twenty four years since its release, and the impact of Autopsy's stellar debut album Severed Survival is still being felt throughout the entire death metal scene. Around the time this album was being released, the scene was not as rich with great albums as it is now. In fact, the death metal scene was just getting off its feet and was in need of albums that would define the ugly, filthy sound that the artists involved aimed to create. This album would go on to be one of these releases that would inspire and influence almost every band to follow in its wake.
Severed Survival is an eleven track affair that clocks in at forty one minutes long and was released in 1989. The cover art should give a rough idea as to the sickening tales that unfold within this release, with a human body quite literally being torn apart by hooks. Each of these tracks is a gore-splattered example of how death metal should be done properly that isn't concerned with being as technical as possible (the mistake many modern death metal bands make) and is more focused on creating an evil, morbid atmosphere. As such, every aspect of each track is suitably grim and foreboding, and will have the unprepared fleeing. The tones of each instrument are very low and are also produced very crisply (although not to the point of being overproduced) so that the mood of this album remains intact and it feels suitably savage. This is an album that is unrelentingly heavy throughout, but never lets the listener forget its main focus-to really hit home with its evil sound.
Many of the songs here are driven by the bass guitar, which is rather unique for death metal. The bass has a nice tone and is placed right at the front of the mixing so that its low-end rumbling is constantly audible and sets the pace for the rest of the instruments. The guitars are as heavy as could be asked for and are also incredibly varied, from slower chord-based riffs such as the introduction to Disembowel to the tremolo picked guitar lines that are characteristic of death metal. The occasional guitar solo thrown in serves only to sweeten the deal with some lightning fast playing that adds to the overall insanity on display here. The drumming is also very well performed, with some awesome mid-paced beats scattered throughout but also some amazing fills that open up Pagan Survivor. It is moments such as these that show why Chris Reifert is right up there among the best in the genre.
Whilst speaking of Reifert, the man also performs vocals here and his performance is nothing short of fascinating. He jumps between cruel-sounding lows and hate filled higher shrieks in an instant, reflecting absolute insanity through his voice. The gore-soaked lyrics that spew from his mouth in passages of hate and bile are perfectly represented by the vocals to the point that the listener will begin to question whether Reifert actually committed any of the atrocities he speaks of in real life. Whilst the instrumental performances are stellar, it is the vocals that are the real icing on the cake and Reifert could rightfully be ranked up there among the likes of Lord Worm as one of the best in the genre. It is also quite a feat that some of his lyrics remain semi-understandable unlike people such as Chris Barnes who keep their vocals as flat and devoid of emotion as humanly possible.
The best thing about this release is the fact that it continually switches its pace so that a listener will never become bored. Impending Dread pretty much lives up to its name with a series of slower and mid-paced riffs to begin with, whilst the opening track kicks the insanity off with some ridiculously fast paced guitar work. Ridden With Disease kicks off with one of the better riffs here, and also has a very groovy beat to accompany it. This album is definitely one that fans of old-school death metal should consider checking out if they haven't heard it. Whilst Severed Survival is by no means perfect, it's definitely a strong record with a lot to love about it.