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Death Never Rests: A Conversation With Chris Reifert of Autopsy

The latest in the legendary band's celebrated discography is a blood-curling good time.

Words by Luis (@HeaviestOfArt):


Death metal artwork has seen a great evolution alongside its musical counterpart, expanding in style, color palette, and intention with an ultimate result of making the genre among the strongest in cover illustrations across music entirely. For as much as there's been a push to do something distinct, there are those who know where their roots stand. Instead of alienating foundations entirely, they build upon a legacy that continues to frighten, exhilarate, and more importantly, influence. Enter Autopsy — trailblazing death metal talent that continues to deliver big on audiovisual horror.


The band's latest, Ashes, Organs, Blood and Crypts, has just hit shelves via Peaceville and like last year's predecessor, it burns slow and rips right into you from the moment one feasts their eyes on Wes Benscoter's blood filled and detailed cover. It's always a great time talking death metal with Autopsy mastermind Chris Reifert, and this Halloween, you can dive through an insightful Q&A to learn of his thought process when writing, his partnership with the celebrated Wes Benscoter, the artistic role in death metal, and more:

 

Autopsy is nine albums in and "Ashes..." serves as a culmination of the growth and impact you've made as a band and as a musician. There's a newfound energy that began with last year's "Morbidity Triumphant. In what state of mind does this new album find you in as a person and really as a band?


Chris: Oh, shit. Well, as a person, same as ever. Same scumbags.

Autopsy Interview, Autopsy Album, Dark Art, Wes Benscoter, Death Metal.
Cover Artwork by Wes Benscoter

Our state of mind was to get this done. Like we did with the last album, we booked studio time before we had everything written, so a lot of time was spent looking at the watch and looking at the calendar telling ourselves, "What we have done? Let's get our shit in gear." It worked. but then once we got in there, we got to settle in a little bit. The main thing was getting the rhythm tracks down, and those leads written and ready to go. After that, it was a little better because we could do a few things over it. Greg (Wilkinson), our bass player, has his Earhammer Studios, so you know, we get to loosen up just a little bit in there. We were definitely hanging on for dear life for the initial rhythm tracks, but that's kind of how we roll though. We get the deadline first and then figure out the rest later. Everything was cool, we felt great about it, and the vibes were good. Our fiendish plan worked again.


It never fails, does it? On that topic, does it ever get easier to pour yourself into a release over the years?


I don't think it's ever been hard, you know? I never really thought about it as like an easy versus hard thing. I would just say if we're doing something, it's because we feel like doing it, not because no one's putting a knife to our throat and forcing us to make an album. We're taking it upon ourselves to do this because it feels like the right move at the right time. We don't go on long, extensive tours or anything like that, so we have time to think about things like albums and shit like that. It's just what we do, we don't put a whole lot of thought into it. It's kind of like driving a car, you're not thinking about what your hands and feet are dealing with.



Great comparison, and regardless of how routine it feels, Autopsy is still very much passion driven. It shows in the fun projects you put out, like the "Rabid Funeral" video you just released. Looking back at the influential run the band has had over the years, what have you learned about yourself as you go through another stellar release for the band?


I don't know honestly, because I tend not to really think about things like that too much. As far as learning, just try and learn from mistakes I've made personally, not so much musically because we kind of have that locked in. We are very "go with the flow" in that regard. In terms of everything else, I think just learning how to conduct ourselves, whether it's booking shows or the non musical parts. That's the thing that we always have to learn from.


Definitely, but as far as non musical parts go, a big part of that is the visuals and you've nailed that down beautifully with Wes Benscoter this time around. He's been the band's visual partner for a few years now. Looking back at when that started, what drew you to his work and what has kept the partnership going? He's THE guy for this contemporary era of Autopsy.


Yeah, he's done most of our covers since we got back together.

Autopsy Interview, Autopsy Album, Dark Art, Wes Benscoter, Death Metal.
Cover Artwork by Wes Benscoter

What got us involved with him to begin with is how often we think of album covers that we liked by other bands. We think about artists that would suit us, you know? I remember just looking through my album covers at home, albums that he did for Deceased, Mortician. and Slayer, all albums that I had my collection. I reached out thinking he would do something very cool for us, and everyone else thought it was a good idea, so I got his contact and emailed him. Next thing you know, 12 years or so have gone by and we're still working with him. I've worked with some other people too that have done really cool stuff, but yeah, Wes is fucking awesome. When we got our copies our personal copies of the new album, seeing his art on the actual physical vinyl and CD is so cool.



It's something you'll want to own on vinyl, for sure. What were you looking for specifically in "Ashes..."? I'm sure the partnership has changed from having to detail specific needs to the point where you just trust Wes to do his thing.


We didn't have one. Like you said, we gave him very little to work with. What I usually do is I'll give him some titles, maybe some lyrics, and maybe even an idea that I have for him to sketch. It's funny because he usually ignores all that shit, it just never came his way. He just does something. Fuck, for "Morbidity...", he came up that whole concept at the last hour and all that is completely of his own imagination. We didn't even give him a title, you know? We had no idea what the album was gonna be called and he did that thing. Then, it was really hard to think of something because what do you even call that? We struggled for a long time arriving at that title.


For this one, we actually did have a title to give him and that was a struggle also, because we went through a lot of ideas before we arrived at that title. The reason we used that one is because it was one of the song titles. It seemed like the most likely candidate out of all the titles we had and so we just gave it to him and he ran with it. We offered a couple little tweaks on it, but not much. It's like 98% all his imagination.


That's actually a perfect segue into one of the following points: What is the relationship between you two like? You first have to establish a foundation and get a feel for the working style of an artist, and then go from there. It seems you really hit it off and pass on those duties without any strict direction.


That's mostly what it is, yeah The cool thing is nowadays, you can see things as they progress. If something's going down a direction that you don't like, you can make adjustments, take that out, and add this or whatever. In the old days, you just get your cover done and be like, "Here's your cover." Like it or not, this is what you get, it's finished. Now, we get to oversee things and stuff like that, so it's really cool just watching it take shape.

Autopsy Interview, Autopsy Album, Dark Art, Wes Benscoter, Death Metal.
Cover Artwork by Wes Benscoter

Nowadays, you could hop on a quick FaceTime call or email with some sketches and drafts and be involved from wherever you are.


The one exception from the old days, well, two exceptions actually, were seen on "Severed Survival" (1989) and "Acts Of The Unspeakable" (1992).

Autopsy Interview, Autopsy Album, Dark Art, Wes Benscoter, Death Metal.
Cover Artwork by Kent Mathieu

The original one with the guy getting ripped up, as well as "Acts Of The Unspeakable", we actually got to physically see those happen in real life because Kent Mathieu lived in Berkeley at that time, which is pretty close to us. We would actually go to his house and see his progress on the paintings. We'd go over there and smoke joints because he grew weed and shit, so we'd go over there to take a look and get high.

Autopsy Interview, Autopsy Album, Dark Art, Wes Benscoter, Death Metal.
Cover Artwork by Kent Mathieu

For those covers, he'd be like, "Here's what I have so far." That was kind of the exception otherwise. It's nice to see the progress, it's kind of a luxury.


Chris, you really set the stage for death metal artwork. Beyond Wes, you had the aforementioned Kent Mathieu, Kev Walker, and more. Gory visuals were at the forefront and death metal, to this day, has championed cover artwork. The genre's visual identity is strongly there. What role, if any, would you say that the arts play within Autopsy and death metal at large?


I think it's hand in hand honestly. I mean, if you have the wrong cover on a death metal album, it's going to diminish the power. It's got to look like it sounds, and you know exactly what that means. I can't speak for any other bands but I'll tell you our standpoint. It all stems from growing up and looking at our favorite rock albums when we were kids, you know? Growing up and discovering rock throughout the 70s as a kid, seeing Kiss album covers like "Love Gun" (1977) or "Destroyer" (1976). Come on, man, those things were great. I listened to it and just stared at the album covers, it's all just one one journey. You listen to the whole album and just goof out on the album cover. The same happened for classic like "Number Of The Beast" (1982) or any other classic cover. We like our albums to be like that. It's cool knowing that people are staring at the vinyl or even CD packaging and listening to the whole album, taking the ride. It's super important for us, you know?

Autopsy Interview, Autopsy Album, Dark Art, Wes Benscoter, Death Metal.
Cover Artwork by Wes Benscoter

Definitely. Would you say that you're kind of old school in that regard? You compose and put albums together with a physical intention in mind. With today's digital world, there's still a strong attention towards tangible, physical products.


Yeah, that's us. I'm not saying every one of our covers is a classic or whatever, because there's been a few head turners out there, but maybe it's our age demographic that helps us lean that way. We grew up with vinyl and cassettes and then later CDs, so I mean, there's no wrong way to enjoy music. People want to stream our album and check out the cover on the internet, which is totally fine, too. If it gets into your ears and eyes and brain, we're stoked. I will say that we are old school, just from our own personal standpoint, but again, there's no wrong way to enjoy it.


Accessibility is important, and that's one thing digitizing music has helped. The tangible product is still there for those who want it. Jumping a little bit more into the creative development cycle, you guys got right back into it following last year's record. There wasn't the usual post-release tour. Is it still as exciting as it was once was when you began? You're putting out material on a more consistent basis.


I would say so because if it wasn't, there'd be no point in doing it, you know? We'd be virtually just sitting around, bored, forcing ourselves to make an album. If we're gonna do it, we're doing it because no one's holding a knife to our throat saying make an album like I said earlier. We're definitely not making a fortune off of doing this. The only reason to do it is because we want to do it. I don't have an explanation for it, but technically, we should be tired and bored and jaded by now. Releasing an album every year used to be completely normal back then; everyone used to do that. Not that it has anything to do with death metal or whatever, but 60s, even 70s, bands were putting out a couple or a few albums out every year, and it was totally normal.

Autopsy Interview, Autopsy Album, Dark Art, Wes Benscoter, Death Metal.
Cover Artwork by Wes Benscoter

It's kind of odd now that everyone has all this technology at their fingertips and it slowed down. When you could be doing more of it, people are doing less. Everyone's got a fucking home studio now. You could be recording all day, every day, but no one does. It's a weird, interesting dynamic, for sure. Every band is different and everyone does things their own way. We do things our own way and we also don't go on extensive tours anymore. We traveled recently, but not for more than a few days at a time, so we have the luxury of more time to think about albums than some other bands who are just always out on the road. Don't get me wrong, you do get some bands that are always on the road but still cranking shit out, like Incantation or whatever. It's insane. There's no bad way to do it, just do what you want.


The common thread in all of your answers seems to be that you do what you want, when you want, the way you want it. That's the foundation for Autopsy and you have fun doing it. It never changes, even compositionally speaking, does it?


No, we're just kind of doing what we always do, and it's to write stuff that we think sounds cool at the time. My fallback, stock comment is that we're not going to go Dream Theater on you. My other stock comment is that if you didn't like us before, you still won't. If you did like us before, you probably still will because we're not reinventing ourselves, but we're not also recycling ourselves. We're not going to write throwback riffs to "Severed Survival" or whatever in order to please people who just want nostalgia. That would not be something that we enjoy. We want to keep doing new things that sound like us. It's a good challenge, trying to write new riffs and lyrics. We like to play fast, we like to play slow and some weird shit in between once in a while, something that no one saw coming without escaping from who we are. That doesn't interest us either. We like to be reliable, for our own sake. That's a great way to put it.


Despite how much the genre has chained, you remain true to the form. What do you take from this experience? Death metal has obviously changed a lot and you've changed as a person as well. As you sit back and take it all in, what do you take from it all?


You know what, I haven't taken the time to take it all in so far. We're always thinking about the next thing. We don't really like longing for the past. The next thing always requires a lot of attention and work and focus, so I just figure that someday when my body tells me to fuck off and not play this anymore, that's when I'll stop. I still feel great, we all do, but when that day comes, we need to gracefully not do this anymore. That'll be the time to look back and be like, "Oh fuck, we did hella cool shit," but not today. Right now, we better sharpen up the set and play live and not blow it. That's where our heads are at. There's Autopsy for years to come. That's the intent, until one of us drops dead or completely falls apart. It's not today and it better not be tomorrow.

 

Ashes, Organs, Blood and Crypts is available now via Peaceville (Listen).

Autopsy Interview, Autopsy Album, Dark Art, Wes Benscoter, Death Metal.
Cover Artwork by Wes Benscoter

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