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The word ‘legend’ is quickly used nowadays. However, if there’s a Death Metal band that certainly deserves this label, it is surely AUTOPSY. In the late eighties, this band was one of the absolute pioneers of the genre and brought us “Severed Survival" (1989) and "Mental Funeral" (1991), two records that definitely left their mark on the genre. In 1995, after the release of “Shitfun” and the lack of success, frustrations rose and the band pulled the plug, only to continue in more or less the same direction with the new band ABSCESS. For the re-issue of “Severed Survival”, the band got back together again and a bit later the reunion of AUTOPSY was a fact. With "Macabre Eternal" the band recently released their first album in fifteen years. On a hot evening - just a few days before their gig in Tilburg at the Neurotic Deathfest - we called with Chris Reifert in San Francisco...

Chris, let’s first take a look back at the AUTOPSY-split in 1995. We have always understood that a very poorly organized tour in late 1994 was somehow the trigger to call it quits back then. Is that right?
"Indeed, that story is exactly correct. We were three months on the road in the U.S. and we lost a lot of money as well as time. That tour was too long, we didn’t even enjoy to be together on the road anymore. When the tour was finally over, we all had the feeling that we definitely had to put an end behind it all. However, we wanted to go with our heads up high and that’s why we still recorded one more album - “Shitfun” - and played one last show."

Since then, you’ve been active in ABSCESS and various projects (THE RAVENOUS, DESECRATION). In 2008, you got together again for the first time to record two new songs especially for the re-issue of “Severed Survival”.
"That's right, we had a lot of inspiration and therefore it was absolutely no effort to write two new songs. But that definitely was originally meant as a unique occasion, we were not planning in any way to go any further with AUTOPSY at that time. We just wanted to do something special for the re-issue because it was exactly twenty years ago that “Severed Survical” was released. We released those two songs later on also as a single - "Horrific Obsession" - which got sold out very quickly. Then we got the offer to play at the Maryland Deathfest, which was an offer we simply could not refuse. At that time, we also started working on new material since we were all very excited to get back together to do something. Clint Bower then decided at some point to leave ABSCESS in order to concentrate on his family. Clint has always been the sort of driving force in ABSCESS. I felt that the band could not continue without him. And so we put an end to ABSCESS and resurrected AUTOPSY."

In the past you often made a very clear statement that AUTOPSY would never ever come back together. Why did you change your mind?
"That was mainly the combination of all the circumstances which we just talked about. The last fifteen years, I have indeed always claimed that we never would do something again with AUTOPSY. And here we are again, luckily a person can still change his mind (laughs). “Horrific Obsession” has actually caused a sort of snowball-effect. There was suddenly an enormous interest in the band again, people were talking again about AUTOPSY, even more than ever before. The last time we played with ABSCESS at the Maryland Deathfest, there was a rumor going around that AUTOPSY would play. I always had to deny it but before you know it, we were indeed on the bill. We got booked for several other festivals, we were writing new material, ABSCESS split, … it all happened in a very short time. And suddenly there was the possibility to pick things up again."

AUTOPSY split fifteen years ago. Meanwhile, there is a whole new generation of Death Metal fans who grew up with your albums but never saw AUTOPSY perform. In the last fifteen years, you have released several live albums ("Dead As Fuck", "Tortured Moans Of Agony") and compilations ("Ridden With Disease”, “Torn From The Grave”, "Awakened By Gore") which must have contributed to the fact that fans stayed interested in the band or simply discovered the band.
"Without a doubt, you’re certainly right about that. All these young fans make me spontaneously remember the time when I was a teenager and discovered SLAYER and VENOM (laughs). Their music was the coolest thing I had ever heard. I can imagine that anyone who’s sixteen or eighteen years old and hears AUTOPSY for the first time responds the same way. The energy which is in the band right now, I really can’t specify where it specifically comes from. I think the whole part of timing also played a very important role. If we had just stubbornly continued in 1995, we would have definitely ruined the reputation of this band. We all stand one hundred percent behind this reunion, otherwise we would not do it."

One must say that somehow, you never seem to fear to start all over again or create something new. You have played in DEATH, later on you started AUTOPSY, ABSCESS, you've had a series of projects
"That’s a very good remark (laughs). Well, I just want to keep things interesting for myself. This is something we all really wanted to do and you should not really look for anything more behind it all. But you have a point with what you say, especially since not only we play concerts again but also released new material, something we had always said that we certainly would not do (laughs). I noticed that many people are still somewhat confused because we have made such a decisive turn in terms of our futureplans. But hey, we just follow our instincts, that's it. "

The last couple of months, several old bands reunited again, for example MORGOTH, DESULTORY and ATHEIST. What’s your opinion about all these reunions?
"Indeed, I also noticed that in recent months there are a lot of old bands back together. Even bands which twenty years ago only recorded a few demos are suddenly trying again. That’s really weird somehow. I can only speak for myself when I say that our motivation is absolutely sincere. If others also want to try again and feel good about it, the better it is for them. There are many bands that look extremely ridiculous and others manage to convince. We can only hope that with AUTOPSY, we belong to the last group."

When we heard the new EP “The Tomb Within” last year, we were pretty confident that the new material would work out just fine. Nevertheless, “Macabre Eternal" managed to blow our expectations.
"Thank you (laughs), that's nice to hear. It was our goal to start with some fresh ideas and write good songs and not to rely on our past. “Macabre Eternal" sounds cool but we feel you can still hear very well where we all come from. There are certain things we haven’t changed, obviously. For example, we have recorded "Macabre Eternal” together with Adam Munoz whom we have been working with since 2000. We also worked very quickly, we were exactly one week in the studio. Adam is a very flexible person and we know we can count on him. The way we recorded “Macabre Eternal” is the same way we have always recorded as a band. First the bass and drums, then vocals, the guitar and the solos in the end. “Macabre Eternal” has very much a sort of live-vibe, it sounds almost as if the band is playing together in your livingroom, that was very important to us. The new songs were also very easy to write, maybe even a little too easy, as the album is ultimately running over an hour (laughs). That was not our intention. At first, we were thinking about the idea to leave three songs out but in the end we left it all as it is."

I was very surprised when I heard 'Sadistic Gratification' for the first time, it’s over eleven minutes long.
"We were too (laughs). I could hardly believe it when Adam said that that song turned out to be so long. However, I can easily listen to without getting bored so it's okay."

Another song that really sort of stands out is 'Seeds Of The Doomed'. It is surprisingly melodic.
"There’s indeed an almost catchy melody in that song, 'Seeds Of The Doomed' is going to be our Heavy Metal anthem (laughs). This song was written by Eric and he has clearly put much effort into the melody. Something like that makes an album just more interesting, I think, it keeps your attention. It still sounds very heavy and brutal. Eric has also sung on three tracks: 'Dirty Gore Whore', 'Sadistic Gratification' and 'Spill My Blood'. Eric sounds really sick, he sounds almost like they released Leatherface of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” in the studio (laughs). We have the faster songs, slow songs, there's more than enough variety on the album. I am pretty sure that some people will have comments or remarks as always but we couldn’t care less. We believe in what we do and that's the main thing."

The cover of “Macabre Eternal" is also just great and was designed by Wes Benscoter (who made covers in the past for SLAYER, SINISTER, DECEASED and MORTICIAN just to name a few). It is perhaps his best work ever.
"We are very pleased with his work ourselves. We gave him only the title of the album, he was free to do whatever he wanted for the rest. He had no music nor any pictures to fall back on, he has only used his own imagination. I also think it’s really cool that Wes really made a drawing. It's not a cover that is put together very quickly with photoshop. It’s just screaming to be released on vinyl and we will make sure that that also happens (laughs)."

”Macabre Eternal " is obviously very inspired by horror, titles such as 'Bridge Of Bones' or 'Sewn Into One' are good examples. Can you find inspiration in modern horror movies or do you most of the time go back to the old stuff you’re very familiar with?
"AUTOPSY is simply asking for morbid and horrifying lyrics, we have to. The result will always have an element of horror and dark elements. I am not up to date with what's going on in the horror genre. I've seen very few recent horror movies that really managed to impress me, except for “The Human Centipide” maybe. I also prefer to invent and make up my own stories. The books of the writer Brian Keene have been an inspiration in that field. They are very brutal and written without any pity or compromise. Nothing is sacred in his books and I like that. Brian Keene is a modern writer I can definitely recommend. He goes way further than authors like Stephen King or Dean Koontz."

Besides “Macabre Eternal", there’s also a new DVD in the making, "Born Undead”.
"Indeed, we are still working on that. There will be footage of the shows we gave last year at the Maryland Deathfest, the Hole In The Sky festival and the Party San festival in Germany. There were professional recordings available, we could use them, so we would be stupid if we would not. Next to all that, there’s also going to be a documentary on there about the history of the band from the very beginning to the recording of the new album. This documentary will probably be around ninety minutes. Some people have done interviews with former bandmembers and bands we have toured with and are putting this all together. It will still take a while before everything is finished because it takes more time than we had originally thought."

Next week you’ll play as a headliner at the Neurotic Deathfest in Tilburg in the Netherlands. Are you going to play much new material already?
"No, just one single song to give the people an idea of what’s to come. “Macabre Eternal” will officially be released in May so many people won’t know the songs by then. We haven’t played in the Netherlands over twenty years, therefore we will mainly play old stuff. Once the new album is released, we will probably put more new songs in our setlist but not just yet. One thing’s for sure: in the future we will definitely not tour anymore for several weeks like we used to do in the past but mainly play at festivals. Our schedule is getting busier every day, soon we will soon play in Texas and San Francisco. In July, we have shows in Denmark and Finland and a show in Los Angeles. That’s more than enough for now, we don’t want to play too many shows."

Dan Lilker played bass on all the shows you did recently. Why is Joe Trevisano not playing?
"Joe is taking over from Dan from now on. Dan just replaced Joe last year for three shows, hence perhaps the confusion. When we did the three festivals last year which will be included on the DVD, ABSCESS was still together. We didn’t know whom we had to take to play bass, Joe or Clint. It was a little strange having to choose between the two, leaving the other one standing in the cold. We therefore asked if Dan wanted to play these festivals with us as Dan was more a sort of ‘neutral party’. ABSCESS split up shortly afterwards and Joe was actually ready and up for it but the shows were already booked with Dan so… Joe played on "The Tomb Within” and “Macabre Eternal" and is definitely going to play as a bassist during our shows from now on.”

Twenty years ago, you toured in Europe together with BOLT THROWER and PESTILENCE. Back then you also played at the Biebob in Vosselaar in Belgium. I still remember this gig very well as this was the first Death Metal concert I attended. If I’m not mistaken, that was the only time you ever played in Belgium.
"That’s correct, I also remember that show in Belgium perfectly because I turned twenty-one years old that day (laughs). (Somebody made the remark in the meantime that AUTOPSY played in fact twice in Belgium. The day after the concert in Vosselaar, they also played in Sint Lievens Houtem, you can find footage of the set BOLT THROWER played on that day easily on youtube – Steven). We did a second tour through Europe later on that year but that was a really small tour. Most of those performances were in England and the Netherlands, we were touring with PARADISE LOST back then. The tour you are talking about - the 'Blood-Brothers' tour - lasted for five weeks, BOLT THROWER was present in the first part of the tour, MORGOTH was replacing them in the second part because those shows were mainly in Germany and MORGOTH was quite popular in Germany back then. I can still remember all that very well. There was a very good atmosphere among the bands, everyone could get along just fine, we had tons of laughter (laughs)."

A couple of months ago, I wrote a very big article about Chuck Schuldiner as it’s already ten years ago that he passed away. I also tried to get ahold of you for that article because you recorded the demo “Mutilation” as well as the legendary DEATH-debut “Scream Bloody Gore" together with Chuck Schuldiner. Unfortunately I didn’t succeed back then. How do you look back on your collaboration with Chuck these days?
"Well, everything comes to mind very easily. When I was with Chuck in DEATH, it was very pleasant, very relaxed too. Later on, things got much more stressful for Chuck because of many problems with musicians and labels. But when we were just the two of us, making music, that was really nice. There simply was no pressure from the outside, we also got along very well together. I've never played live with Chuck in front of an audience, we've only played together in the rehearsal room and the studio. The joy of making music together always came first, even though we were serious about it. I was seventeen, Chuck was nineteen. We never had problems with each other. We also did a lot together: discovering new bands, listening to records together and just hang out. I haven’t actually played that long in DEATH, at most one year. But afterwards I always stayed in touch with Chuck, one year later after I left I even stayed at his place for a couple of days. AUTOPSY and DEATH were once together on the bill of a festival in 1990, that was kind of funny (laughs). And when DEATH came to play in the Bay Area, I always went to the show. I was very surprised when I heard of his death. I knew Chuck was very ill, still it hit me like a hammer. When I was still a part of DEATH, I stayed for two months at his home with him and his parents who all lived in Florida. Chuck's parents treated me really good, something that was not always obvious, especially if you keep in mind the mischief a seventeen year old is up to (laughs)."

Many people see AUTOPSY as one of the pioneers in Death Metal. It is also remarkable that especially many Swedish bands see AUTOPSY as an inspiration. Does something like that make you proud somehow?
"I would be lying if I would say that it isn’t flattering (laughs). If anyone enjoyed our music or if our music has inspired him or her, that’s always a nice compliment. But we are certainly not the first Death Metal band there ever was. We also have our influences, in a way we just pass the torch."

Steven Willems

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