Sound — 8
Currently in the metal scene, there's been a lack of overall directionality with the progression and movement of the genre, with most of it being saturated with new bands playing older music ('70s proto-metal, '80s thrash, '90s death and so on) or more playing all of the same sort of MetalSucks-dubbed "Sumeriancore" style of metalcore and deathcore. There's that bracket of golden oldies that still hold a flag for the creation of music, and it's become more and more apparent that they're being relied upon to keep this scene moving.
Autopsy have been given this flag for the simple act of existing because apparently we need them to pull our shit together. Their last release and major return in 2011 was a good indication that they know exactly what to do and "Headless Ritual" shows us that there's ample starting points for any new band looking for a sound or reason to go forward into the scene with their bright shiny faces and incredulous haircuts.
Autopsy have a good deal of cred behind them, this is mostly for their run during the early '90s that started with influential release "Mental Funeral" and the genre-shifting beat-em-up of an album "Acts of the Unspeakable," first being a mixture of gravelly death metal and oppressive and ominous doom metal, the latter being a hardcore influenced mosh-a-thon. This album is a continuation of that sound and contains a lot of interesting additions and twists to the core sound.
The first track is a strange opener to an album; it is one part crusty, catchy death metal and one part stripped down doom, but arranged in such a way that it feels like it should be somewhere else on the album and the movements have slightly disengaging transitions that could be smoother. The riffs are pretty good for this kind of old school sound, with a good ear for melody and intensity being applied to the right parts. For instance, the song "Coffin Crawlers" starts off with a layered dissonant lead line, giving impressions of Dillinger Escape Plan mashed over a core of '90s death metal. The main riff to the song has a Gorguts-esque arpeggio riff interspersed with bursts of burly hardcore and the overall effect could best be described as "creepy" and slightly disturbing. The song has an added bonus of a half time section being written in a Black Sabbathy vein with lots of pentatonic shred guitar and harmonized instrumentation.
"When Hammer Meets Bone" starts off in a really funny way (no spoilers) but shows how many bollocks it has with an Autopsy-meets-Motorhead style riff and structure. It's a great song that also comes with an addition of atmospheric sludge riffage for a bridge. "Thorns and Ashes" begins with a sort of black metal lead riff but the low bottomed guitars give it real weight and the chord progression is just epic. Personally, this song should've been the album opener, but given how it breaks into the thrashy, catchy and shreddy "Arch Cadaver," it has a good placement.
The songs then, are pretty good. Solid death metal base, add hardcore, dilute with doom. The production is pretty much optimum for this album: clear snares, riotous cymbals, punctuating kicks, dirty but not too messy guitar tone, distorted bass that bolsters the guitar, surprising clarity on the vocals and a good amount of attention the dynamics. This overall sound fits just right with this style of production, although I guess it's not particularly out-standing in the overall scheme of things.
Lyrics — 6
Chris Reifert is our main guy on vocals, and his old-school approach to death metal vocals is somewhat refreshing, where the emphasis is on atmosphere and suitability rather than replicated technique. His voice modulates from Demon-Lemmy to a Dave Hunt-ish offbeat snarl to Khanate style higher pitched cries. Sometimes it can sound slightly goofy in a way, and building tension with those kinds of vocals don't quite work when they're used on their own, but in song context, they work really well.
Lyrically? Well, they're called Autopsy, their album has "Headless" in the title and the album cover is a zombie skull face man thing. So yeah, lots of gore, and if it was anything but then we'd never forgive them for it.
Overall Impression — 8
Usually I'm sceptical of the experience I'll have when I listen to older metal bands, simply because back in their day everything they did was new and like gold dust. However, an album like this always helps revive or even kindle a like or at least an appreciation of old-school metal. This sounds like an album that would go down even better in a live setting, because it sounds a little constrained to the medium of a studio recording.
Songs to look out for: "She Is a Funeral," "Coffin Crawlers," "When Hammer Meets Bone," "Thorns and Ashes," "Arch Cadaver."