In a year when we spent a lot of time and column space listening for something that was new and avant garde, it’s paradoxically refreshing to hear another record from those untouchable kings of guts and gore, Autopsy. While Autopsy has long remained a somewhat predictable bedrock of anguish and unquestionably over-the-top malevolence in metal, this new effort “Skull Grinder” drips with a few new entrails and gives us a fresher coating of coagulated slime in comparison to the usual proceedings. The album’s very style of release is testament to Autopsy’s dedication to the traditions of the old school, as the record is a vinyl-only release.
Before we get carried away though, let’s make sure to anchor firmly in the reality of Autopsy. For their particular audience, Autopsy has entered into that all but rarefied air of music that’s traditionally reserved for seminal acts like AC/DC and Motörhead – that lofty strata where the band has mastered their particular craft, they throw few curve balls, and the fans expect nothing more or less. “Skull Grinder” may have some slight deviations from what we know as the Autopsy straight and narrow, but make no mistake, all roads lead to the same destination.
One of those deviations all but leads the album however, as the breakout of “Strung Up and Gutted” appears early to wake up the listener and aurally shake them into Autopsy’s nightmare. The fury of the song combined with the simplicity of the riff alludes to Autopsy’s somewhat dormant but always existent punk roots.
Coming off of that, the real takeaway of “Skull Grinder” is the impressive guitar work of Eric Cutler and Danny Coralles. They bend solos into the corners of songs where normally Autopsy wouldn’t dare place them, lending just a little artistic flavor to the macabre groaning and imaginative if visceral imagery of Chris Reifert. The title track may thud along with the usual hardcore and doom pastiche that we’ve come to love from the band. but there’s an emergent overlay of six-string madness that lends some depth to the baseline and creates a more immersive experience.
As the B side picks up, we return more regularly to the boilerplate style of Autopsy. It feels like a sort of ridiculous homecoming to hear “Sanity Bleeds,” a plodding, merciless fugue with Reifert moaning about this horror or another.
That feeling persists until we reach “Waiting for the Screams” which best balances the two aspects of “Skull Grinder”: the crunch of Autopsy’s measured wailing and the riffs created by Cutler and Coralles. This is the cut most likely to move the pile, the one that will have the meat sacs bouncing into each other in a sweaty, stringy-haired mosh pit.
For those who have never experience Autopsy, “Skull Grinder” is as good a place to get on board as any, and actually might be superior to the last couple of EPs, splits, albums or whatever. For those who have followed the band lo, these nearly twenty years, it’s business as usual, with perhaps a little refresher of artistry in the hardcore doom vein. This record isn’t a world changer, but it is a fitting addition to Autopsy’s paradigm.