Autopsy: The Illustrated History (HOF Bonus)

In the latest issue, Autopsy joins our revered two-time Hall Of Fame Club, which includes metal stalwarts like Celtic Frost, Carcass and At The Gates. Make sure you check out Chris Dick’s authoritative history of Severed Survival in the September issue, which includes asides with both cover artists. 

We’ve always had dB readers covered when it comes to Autopsy; to commemorate the latest HOF we’re printing our exclusive “Illustrated History” of Autopsy with Eric Cutler and Chris Reifert from late 2013.  You can check out the Mental Funeral HOF by ordering the April 2009 issue. Enjoy! 

For the past quarter century, Autopsy has been one of the bands responsible for not just the sound of death metal but for the genre’s look and aesthetic. Beginning with their landmark debut Severed Survival they have worked with some of metal’s best known cover artists – and a few artists who went on to greater fame – to craft images suitable for songs about gore, death, madness and pain.

In honor of the release of Autopsy’s sixth full-length album The Headless Ritual, Decibel spent some quality time with Eric Cutler and Chris Reifert to get a visual history of Autopsy’s landmark covers from past to present. In the middle of our conversations, we unearthed the mystery of the Shitfun cover, possibly by accident.  A quick aside for aspiring cover artists: if you ever work with Autopsy, you will be asked to add more blood.

Severed Survival – Original (1989)

Artist: Kent Mathieu

Cutler:  The first cover was inspired by the movie Hellraiser where a guy was torn apart by hooks, blades and chains. Kent was living in Berkeley and we would drive to his house and hang out and watch him paint. That cover got banned. We were starting to get distribution in Europe and they didn’t like the cover in Germany. So, we just decided to do an alternate. We were young kids and it was fun to be able to do two covers.

Reifert: That was like 24 years ago! Kent lived in Berkeley and we went over to his place to smoke weed and watch him paint. I don’t remember how the design came about although we were obsessed with that Hellraiser scene — we wore out that part of the video tape. I’m not sure if we told him or it just came up in conversation. We got to see it come together in sketches. Peaceville caught heat for it but now even soccer moms have seen shit like this.

Severed Survival – Alternate (1989)

Artist: Kev Walker

Cutler: Kev Walker had an idea for an autopsy painting. We didn’t give him a lot of detail like we did for the original cover. Once we saw it, we liked it. But we never talked with him. Both Kent and Kev came up with such different ideas. (The cover) was just Kev doing his interpretation of a zombie autopsy. We were in Belgium in a pub the first time we saw it in about 1991.

Reifert: Peaceville was thinking about making an alternate to get more distribution, and we just thought it was cool to have more art. We liked the first cover but it was two for the price of one. I don’t know how (label founder) Hammy knew Kev. I think it’s the only album cover he’s ever done. Now he’s doing Spider Man and James Bond comics. I think I talked to him on the phone once or twice. I did relay that there was someone named Spike who had done a drawing with zombie doctors. He was this 13-year-old cool kid and we jammed in his garage.

Mental Funeral (1991)

Artist: Kev Walker

Cutler: Kev also did this. Again, he just had a title and he worked off of it. When we first saw it we said “what is this thing?” After we had a chance to look at it for a few days we decided it was different and weird and fit the atmosphere of the record. It was just Kev doing his thing and look what he came up with!

Reifert: We didn’t like it at first. We were like, what’s this dumb looking thing? But I didn’t give Kev much to work with, honestly – I just said think you are about to die in the midst of your worst LSD trip ever.  Now people have it tattooed on their legs and back.

Acts Of The Unspeakable (1992)

Artist: Kent Mathieu

Cutler: That came out of going to the torture museum in Amsterdam. We had all these ideas about torture and torture devices. Kent looked up the museum and started to paint. Then, he called us and said he had bad news: it was pretty sick stuff and he couldn’t do the cover. So we were like: it you can’t do it, don’t do it. We understood and figured we would get someone else. A few days went by and he became super excited and started going over all these ideas. He did a total 180, from hating it to loving the project. Again, we hung out with him and had a smoke and just absorbed the real painting because nothing was done on computer then.

Reifert: Eric’s memory sounds about right. He (Kent) might have been frustrated.  I think we were asking too much. Maybe it was too gruesome for him? We were probably asking for shit that was too outrageous. Then he started showing us paintings from a Bosch book and took inspiration from that. Next thing, he was doing things more disgusting than we thought of. He got over the phobia!

Shitfun (1995)

Artist:  Photo taken by Danny Coralles

Cutler: It was pretty simple. We had a lot of grungy songs on that record. The whole concept was excretion and sick shit. The idea was to have a simple cover, to have a guy eating shit. It has kind of a punk feel. The guy in the photo is actually a friend. The thing in his mouth is a really large Tootsie Roll molded into shit. Looking back, we should have made him eat a real one.

Reifert: We weren’t supposed to divulge the Tootsie Roll story! Now you know. The cover expressed how we felt which was, we’re out of here.  We probably wouldn’t do it again. When I hear that album I feel like I have to take my brain out and use steel wool.

The Tomb Within – 2010

Artist: Matt Cavotta

Cutler: We saw some of his covers and asked him if he wanted to do it. He was very responsible and seemed to have some good ideas. It was a little different originally and didn’t have as much blood. We made some changes to make it a little more what we were looking for, a little more brutal and redder.

Reifert: We always want something to be special and the fact that this was a comeback wasn’t any different.

Macabre Eternal – 2011

Artist: Wes Benscoter

Cutler: We were going to just do an EP but we wrote so much it turned into more than that. We wanted to do a cover with a different artist for each. Wes came back with the zombie holding a fist instead of a skull. We asked him to turn the big fist into a big skull. As soon as he did that it looked great and he added all of these details to the zombies. We’d seen his stuff for years because he’s worked with so many metal bands. Just seeing the covers he did – we liked what he was doing.  I think it’s our best cover, or at least up there with the new one.

Reifert: I love that cover, man. Wes has done how many covers? He goes with color themes on a lot of records like Deceased’s Fearless Undead Machines, which has a yellowish hue. His style definitely worked for what we were looking for.

The Headless Ritual – 2013

Artist:  Joe Petagno

Cutler: People know Joe from all of the old Motorhead covers. He actually got a hold of us and asked if we wanted to work with him. We couldn’t believe it – Joe was getting a hold of us. Joe sent back this rough picture but you could see the heads and the blades and cemetery scene on the bottom. We loved the direction. We just asked him to add more blood because there wasn’t enough at first.

Reifert: It was a mind blower that he got in touch with us. I got an email and didn’t think it was the same guy but it really was him. He said he was a fan of the band and wanted to work with us. Can you imagine reading that after growing up listening to Motorhead? We didn’t even have to think about it.  I just gave him song titles. I’ve heard that it looks like a (Lucio) Fulci poster. It just reeks of horror, pure horror.  We had to come up with a title that was worthy of it. Dennis Dread looked at the cover and he said “The Headless Ritual.” I rant it by the guys and got immediate approval. He broke the writer’s block.