Autopsy – “Severed Survival”

dB HoF No. 127

Label: Peaceville
Release date: April 24, 1989

All kinds of heavy shit happened in 1989. The Soviet Union crumbled; Salman Rushdie pissed off the Grand Iranian Poobah; the Exxon Valdez spilled black gold all over pristine Alaskan coastline; Pope John Paul II evacuated holy bowels in Africa; and Ron Hextall scored a goal in the NHL playoffs. Some other crazy stuff happened, too, but for sake of the Hall of Fame, Autopsy released debut album Severed Survival. To compare Autopsy to anything else that happened on a global scale in 1989 is perhaps hyperbole, but for us—death metal’s unending army—Severed Survival is a major milestone. A pillar, however foul, of significance. As the first album after Death exited drummer Chris Reifert posthaste, Autopsy’s debut ruled the underground.

From the moment Severed Survival kicks off with “Charred Remains,” it’s pretty much over. Whereas most death metal by 1989/1990 was moving into precision and professionalism— two Ps that cause lead medical examiner Reifert to cough uncontrollably— Autopsy were unapologetically not. They wanted to keep death metal’s ugliest and most destitute origins intact. Thrash had matured into endorsements, TV spots and major labeldom. Severed Survival was the opposite of thrash. “Gasping for Air,” “Ridden With Disease” and “Critical Madness” aren’t songs of change. They aren’t designed to inspire for the greater good of humankind. Autopsy were almost engineered to rot, to corrupt, to invoke fear. To be sick and heavy with no regard for policy or decrees.

That Severed Survival inspired a legion of bands—mostly of Swedish origin—isn’t really a surprise. It was a musical horror movie: X-rated, bloodthirsty and sexually offensive. Autopsy appealed to the primal urge. The switch we’ve long ago turned off. Whether to strum a super-distorted electric guitar or to eat barely cooked meat like a Neanderthal, “Pagan Saviour,” “Service for a Vacant Coffin” and “Impending Dread” made us feel alive again. It made us want to take fire and destroy with it. Severed Survival, in its minimalist trappings and beginner’s luck, embodied death metal, the genre in its entirety. Twenty-six years later, it still remains as pivotal, barbaric and necessary as the day Peaceville barfed it out to an unsuspecting but willingly influenced public— with two covers no less.

Back in 2009, we questioned Autopsy’s permanent addition to the Hall. With animal offal every-fuckin’-where, wet burrito farts abound, permanent (and debilitating) halitosis, clips of fungi-invested toenails on the kitchen table and unwashed groin perfume permeating everything in sight (Queensrÿche, Bad Religion and Failure weren’t too pleased that we didn’t inform them they’d be bunking with death metal’s deadliest funk), we still question our judgment in welcoming Autopsy. Well, turns out six years of Mental Funeral parading around in soiled underwear, reefer smoke and broken Trouble riffs hasn’t totally turned us off to California’s greatest polluter. With the nastiest zit popped and longest Aztec two-step on record enjoyed, we open the stalls of the Hall to Autopsy’s debut, Severed Survival. Turns out two wrongs do make a right. In our book of truths, at least.

 Chris Dick

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