Review Summary: Another extremely adequate death/doom release by some of the most consistent veterans of the genre.
Reifert and Co. have really been on a hot streak of releasing thoroughly decent albums over the past few years, and this EP is certainly no exception. Autopsy continues to make it clear that they will never truly try to emulate what they did with their first few albums, and that’s perfectly fine by me. In comparison, this EP almost feels fresh in a lot of ways as they are really playing to their strengths at this point in their career. We have their modern sound in full force here: Reifert spits out vile, twisted descriptions of corpses on top of a heap of solid riffs that run the gamut from doom to death metal.
The most interesting outings on this release are perhaps the first track (ignoring the unnecessary intro) and the last – a surprising indulgence into a sort of speed metal / death-and-roll aesthetic that combines the rather disgusting Autopsy approach with some real don’t-give-a-*** rock licks. Though rather untraditional for the band (and even for Abscess, in terms of the particular riffing style), I personally find these tracks quite enjoyable and would look forward to more stuff like this. It is nice to witness Reifert incorporating a lot of the attitude from early Abscess into some of the newer material -- the final track, “*** You!!!” would absolutely be at home in the Abscess discography. It’s unsurprisingly a punky, in-your-face skull hammer with some really banging guitar and drum work.
Aside from those tracks, the rest of this album does not stray far from Autopsy’s modern style of charging, straightforward death metal riffs interspersed with dragging, upsetting doom metal progressions. The riffs range from decent to great, and there seems to be some effort at not recycling anything too obvious or contrived, though there is certainly nothing particularly interesting about any of the riffs either. Unfortunately, there aren’t any songs that really string together a bunch of awesome riffs in an uncompromising fashion. Most songs have riffs across the aforementioned spectrum of quality, or are just thoroughly decent all the way through. Again, if you’re expecting some attempts at the old Autopsy material, you wont find it here, and it’s perfectly fine -- the sheer amount of taste and competency these death metal veterans have at this point is quite obvious. Rest assured, they know exactly what they are doing and what the current context for death metal is. The material might no longer be as dynamic or interesting, but they’ve also made it a little more rockin’ and straightforward by stripping out some of the stranger, more artsy compositional flairs they leveraged in the 90s.
Instrumentation is not surprising – Reifert’s vocals are as disgusting and unique as ever, with your bog-standard Autopsy lyrics about decay, death, and disease. His drums sound great and he meshes his beats very well with the guitar licks while not doing anything particularly technical. The twin Autopsy guitarists continue to be underrated and deliver extremely competent riffing in between the classic, shredding dual guitar solo tradeoffs that have been a staple since their first album, showing no signs of slowing down just yet. The bass is prominent and quite heavy, though it doesn’t do anything particularly interesting.
On that note, I really enjoy the production of this release – it’s not brickwalled and the reasonable amount of dynamic range really lets the drums pop and snap through the guitars in a very natural way – nice! The guitars sound great with a meaty, throaty distortion tone and enough clarity to clearly discern all the notes while not being sterile or isolated in the mix. The bass has a crushing amount of low end and really brings together the mix with a delicious heaviness that sounds great on headphones and speakers alike. Volumes between the instruments are just about perfect – the vocals aren’t too loud – and everything just sounds incredibly natural. I really appreciate that, and I could honestly cite the sound quality of this release as exactly the sort of audio engineering I’m looking for in death/doom metal.
I think the biggest thing about the production though is they could’ve spent a bit more time refining the compositions. There are some gratuitous repetitions and a few weaker sections that add very little the songs. For instance, “The Sick Get Sicker” has easily the best riffing on the album, and Autopsy seems to know this, because they repeat it like fifty times with every possible combination of vocal, guitar solo, lead melody changes, etc. The great main riff is thus thoroughly beaten to death by the end of the track and it’s a bit of a shame.
Overall, if you’ve been enjoying modern Autopsy this is another strong release in that vein. If you haven’t heard modern Autopsy, I think this is as good as a place as any to start – again, don’t go in expecting Mental Funeral Part II. It’s just solid death metal grooves sandwiched between frightening doom adventures that are narrated by a wild, depraved Reifert who continues to be in his prime. It’s great to hear these veterans still doing extreme metal the way it needs to be done, and while ‘Puncturing the Grotesque’ is not a classic or masterpiece of a release that I will come back to time and time again, it’s absolutely enjoyable to listen to in its entirety.