Interview: Autopsy Main Man Chris Reifert Talks Art, Atmosphere, and Other Disgusting Things
By Chris Krovatin
Chris Reifert, drummer and vocalist of Autopsy, is not a simple man. On the one hand, Autopsy have released The Headless Ritual, one of their greatest albums and certainly their most vicious in years, to thundering approval and rabid praise. On the other hand, on the phone, Reifert is beyond chill, an easy-going dude who doesn’t put too much needless analysis into doing the thing he loves. And for a man whose work—not only in Autopsy but in genre legends like Death and Abcess—has been so influential on the scene that he operates within, he shows no sign of ego or bluster. He’s a good dude who also happens to enjoy writing songs about brutal, horrific murder. A model metalhead.
When I call Reifert, he is happy to talk about death metal, pure horror, and his own band’s controversial history.
REVOLVER How has response been to the new album?
CHRIS REIFERT Really good. If you go in with low expectations, you never know what to expect. You just try to make a good record, get good and brutal, but this…it’s gone over really well, surprisingly well. There have been a couple of people who just call it a revival, like everything we do these days, but if that’s the biggest criticism, that’s cool.
Autopsy’s always had this mix of speedy old-school death metal and doomy, plodding sections. This one sounds grindier, more driven. Was that intentional?
Nah, we didn’t try to do anything different. It just came out. It was more that we thought, OK, the last record was pretty good, we’ve got to make this one better. We didn’t think of anything too deeply beyond that. Since the first demo, we’ve tried to do something different, add some variety. We don’t understand playing all fast or all slow, we like to do both. When a record’s all one pace, it can get a bit boring. We just wanted to make a brutal album.
This album is so creepy, so atmospheric. At this point, having done it for so many years, where does the horror come from?
It’s something that’s always there. It’s like lava beneath the volcano—it never dries up. You let it bursts once in a while, but it’s always bubbling below the surface. When we’re writing songs, it would be there anyway. It would come out anyway, in drawing or writing stories. And death metal’s the great medium for that kind of stuff. I don’t think any of us has ever had writer’s block. It’s quite the opposite. But yeah, man, atmosphere is everything. The sound quality, the song writing, all of that, you gotta achieve an album also. And we had that artwork before we headed into the studio. That was a great inspirational tool—we just thought, OK, we have to make it sound like that looks like. We didn’t even have a title for the album yet, either. We showed our friend [death metal artist] Dennis Dread the art—swore him to secrecy—and he looked at it and said, "Dude, the first thing that comes to my mind is…The Headless Ritual."
The artwork by Joe Petagno --who, of course, famously came up with Motörhead's tusked War Pig--is so cool, and it goes so well with the title and the album’s atmosphere. Did you communicate with Joe? Had he heard the demos, or was he a fan?
So, this is the coolest part. We all grew up as teenagers, loving the Motörhead covers and whatnot. And even before that, he did Alice Cooper’s Billion Dollar Babies cover. So one day, we get this e-mail that says, "Joe Petagno." And it says, "Hey, this is Joe, I really like your stuff, and I was wondering if you’d like to work together." To see that—we thought it was some kind of sick joke! But it was him, and he was big into the band, and as it turned out we were just starting to record the new record.
Did you give him a lot of ideas or concepts?
We didn’t give him much to go on. We just said, "Pure horror—no politics, no religion, no any of that stuff. Just horror. That’s what we’re about." We gave him some song titles. I think we gave him one or two very tiny suggestions, but it was 99.9 percent his idea.
On songs like “She Is a Funeral” or “The Tomb Within,” you’ve straddled a cool line between straight horror and using gore as a metaphor. How does that come about in the band?
Well, it depends on the song you’re talking about. We’ve got plenty that are just straight horror. But we also like doing things that are straight-up bizarre and misleading, and make people go, "Wait, what did this mean?" And there are other ones, like “She Is A Funeral,” that are more subdued lyrical pieces. But like riffs in music, you want to cover all the angles of weird and dark and gross and creepy and totally out of control. You want all of those things. Keeping it interesting really.
You mentioned gross—I wanted to ask about Shitfun. Was this the kind of album you were just laughing your ass off writing?
No, we…let me try and explain that album. We generally try not to explain everything we do, but that one deserves and explanation. We weren’t laughing at all. When we handed it over, Peaceville had just been sold to Music For Nations, and it was a really bad time for an album like that. If Peaceville were still in charge, we would’ve seen more promotion, but when the new label took over, they saw it and thought, Welp, we won’t be needing this one. Lyrically, Mental Funeral had been a bit darker than Severed Survival, so we’d started to get a bit more depraved, a little less traditional splatter. So we started going further with Acts of the Unspeakable—what about this subject matter? Well, that’s sick, what about this? And we did an interview with Terrorizer where the interviewer made it very clear, in the article, that they didn’t find us funny at all. So we read that and thought, Huh…well, if you thought that was nasty, what about this?’ It kind of just went from there.
It’s fascinating that you can write all these songs about dismemberment and murder, but an album about shit just repulses people more than one about violence.
Yeah, and then you match it with that album cover and songs about ripping people up and eating them, and there you go. But we took that album very seriously, even though a lot of those things are easy to laugh at. We were hellbent on making a really sick, disturbing album. It was full of conviction, not jokey at all. But then people get offended, and that is funny as shit! I think it’s a fucking great record—really heavy. Some great technical songs.
Is there anything that disgusts you?
I can’t really think of anything! I mean, death-metal lyrics have gone pretty far. Besides, in death metal, I know none of these guys are out there doing these things, because then no one would be out of prison, and then there’d be no death metal.