There can be no doubt that one of the best things to happen to death metal in recent years – and a more than necessary event given the increasingly technical and sterile approach to the genre in the last decade – has been the return of Autopsy. One of the most legendary names from the heyday of the scene, but one arguably appreciated more in the years following their demise than at the time of their original incarnation, their 2011 opus Macabre Eternal marked a much-awaited return and one that thankfully lived up to all expectations.
The good news is that The Headless Ritual not only reaches the standards of that release but exceeds them, in part due to a surprising deviation from the band’s core sound. While the members’ efforts in post-Autopsy outfit Abscess saw them increasingly deviating from their death metal template (one already heavily infused with doom overtones thanks to the influence of groups such as Trouble and Black Sabbath), Macabre Eternal played it relatively safe by drawing on the band’s ‘classic’ sound.
The Headless Ritual, on the other hand, is a wonderfully diverse listen that retains the utterly deranged overtones long associated with the group, and infuses them with a sense of drama and a genuinely liberated approach to songwriting. Third song She Is A Funeral is perhaps the first real point of departure, the melancholy yet surprisingly melodic – almost introspective – nature of its central riff giving way to an epic bridge that sees spiralling lead guitars supported by almost Viking metal-esque chanting. Yes, really.
The harmony-tinged minimalism of When Hammer Meets Bone furthers the theatricality with a hypnotic, almost funeral doom quality before Thorns And Ashes kicks off with a riff that could easily have been used by Angel Witch, with only the reliably depraved vocals marking this as unmistakeably Autopsy.
It would be wrong to suggest that the band have left behind their trademark sound – a point highlighted by the creeping dread of Flesh Turns To Dust and the twisting genius of Mangled Far Below amongst others – but this is an undoubtedly daring move and a more than successful one.