The fusion group of Death Metal and Hardcore have tightened the noose once more.
The thin line that separates the ‘core’ subgenres from the rest of the metal domain often becomes muddied with groups who have a strong foothold in both worlds. That itch for highly technical passages, combined with riffs heavier than a neutron star must be scratched, and when a group as rare and wholly enjoyable as FIT FOR AN AUTOPSY emerges from the depths with a new release, it's only polite to pause one's life, and listen. There's a lot of ground to cover here. For the uninitiated, their 2017 release, The Great Collapse, was a phenomenal piece of work that this reviewer views as a genre-defining benchmark and a glorious gateway to the technical side. With topics ranging from the Anthropocene era to worldwide pollution and all the way down to the humble monotony of the average workday, it's no shock that fans everywhere can find a part of themselves in the diverse discography of the group. The offering today is poetically entitled, The Sea of Tragic Beasts. Don't be fooled; there's nothing tragic about it.
For a song to utter its first words as bold and apocalyptic as, "INESCAPABLE AGONY!" there leaves little room to guess where listeners will go from there. To match those words to a menacing, lurching lick that props itself up on a trestle of double-pedaled slow ticks that crawl their way one measure to the next in a slowly building pattern of anticipation is a feat all by itself. The self-titled track is a ride, and while there are elements from all over the FIT FOR AN AUTOPSY catalogue present here, the traits that are most compelling about this offering are how effortlessly they've managed to blend sounds they encounter in the scene with their own. From the end of the first track emerges a kind of epic-sounding outro that features a spiral of sounds, ranging from roundabout drums that hit every part of the kit, an intermittent pattern of quadruplet notes that grant the same flair for the final and fateful that is often featured in a tour partner of theirs. This reviewer could speculate at the inspiration from groups like TRIVIUM who have had performed at length with this group before, and the amount of trace influence that has seeped in. It's a perfect combination, and audiences everywhere will see an instant payoff from this chemical formula. It's born to be heard live.
No Man Is Without Fear fades in with the trilling high-octave tune that is coupled with the same kinds of machine gun efficiency that fans are familiar with from offerings past; the individual pitter-patter of drum kicks balanced somewhere between a slew of recognizable, and impressively technical riffs that never obey the rule of simplicity. These are sprinting at a hundred miles a minute, and if any trio in the business could compete with Will Putney and Patrick Sheridan trading off in a tag-team of melody with Tim Howley providing a foundation of frets around the both of them, this reviewer would seriously need to think about it. Guitar teams are certainly a rarity and not the norm, but hearing the layering in this album, and more so this track, one could make the argument that there's so much more room for sound when everyone is bringing their own slice of musical mastery to the table.
Listeners familiar with 2017's The Great Collapse know that each amp-shattering riff was somehow eclipsed by a titanic drum sound. Whether in studio or on-stage, above and beyond the group was this unconquerable drum presence that consumed sounds and other groups in its wake. It was an impressive feat that Josean Orta accomplished and made his own, and would feel derivative from anyone else. It's a feature that has been significantly dialed back in The Sea of Tragic Beasts, and the fact there is still a full and rich sound from the back in every track stands as a testament to how conscious of production this group is, and how important they regard every part. As a fan, this change was appreciated and accepted reluctantly, but it's clear there was a plan all along. Clarity and a flat base for sound make this one of the most well-balanced releases of the year, and a stronger high range have really played into what makes this album so damn enjoyable.
Keeping with their line of changes this time around, Your Pain Is Mine takes notes from their hardcore scene. Chant-worthy choruses and wailing vocals from Joe Badolato rival his monstrous occupation on previous albums. What this track really surprises with is a catchy, and rhythmic bridge that pairs a melodic interlude with a river of tremolo riffs at the top of the scales that crescendo from virtually nothing to a strained, and oddly-pleasing mixture of grief and growl that really bring this fucking track home. It is a killer, and upon first listen, left this reviewer thunderstruck by such a dynamic and different trendsetter from the previously grim and gruesome act. This is a track destined for the classics list. Be sure to pay attention to the soaring and up-front solo work that fits like a glove before the second chorus build. It is a sign of all the things that make this album work like a charm, and those who were unconvinced by The Great Collapse will want to take another glance at what these boys have been working on in the past couple of years.
A haunting medley with the gentle taps of a march set a course from the start of Mirrors, a track that all at once shows off more of the layer game. In your face are the wholly wicked vocals Joe Bad is known for, in all their glory. A subtle face of the man can be heard in the background though, as the calm and soothing voice of the monster follow along just below the surface. For a song a called Mirrors, there's an odd duality that can be heard from start to finish. Whether it's the glacial, melancholic passages that bring this track up speed, or the flowing, detached measures that jump from a quick pace to a careful drum roll, audiences are hearing two sides of this group across several years that have made them into what they are: the old world and the new, the hardcore and the death metal, the subdued and the abhorrent. It all ends only when the mirror is shattered, a machine gun ending that is hushed only by the call of "LET ME GO!"
A brutal sample of this album is tucked away at the back of the package. This one is titled Warfare, and it's really exciting even to talk about. All substance with none of the concessions. You are asked at face-value in the first few measures a question that undoubtedly many people ask on a daily basis. "When the fuck did everyone decide to become a politician?" This song is a cleverly abbreviated version of several riffs that trade off between each new section. Like a stalking predator, this song's rhythmic charm is a collection of fragmented triplets that inspire some shoulder shaking groove in a way that this band has effectively trademarked. Fans of the old approach are going to be incredibly pleased with the results, and know that this group will never give up the marrow of who they are. They can slay with the best of them, and make it sound really hateful.
One of the many talents this group excels in is album arrangement. They know exactly how to tell a story without a concept, and build anticipation in a way that makes the last half of the album fly by at the speed of your enjoyment. Such is the nature of this next to last track. To state that this reviewer was floored by the song is an understatement. It's content like this that edges a group out over the top of others. For five and a half minutes, FIT FOR AN AUTOPSY strangles all other competition in a race to the top of the album of the year lists. This track, known simply as Birds of Prey, is a blur of fun.
It's not the chugging that immediately follows up a funereal opening. It's not the chanting that sounds as if the entire group has stacked their combined voices over Joe's. It's the fluttering of your heart when a furious fret attack paints a picture of eagles tearing apart a helpless rodent. It's the surprising breakdown at two and a half minutes that climbs a set of arpeggios, leading immediately back to the fury of previous verse. So many moments are painlessly captured in so short a time, and they're all just paving a path of bodies to the crème de la crème of the entire piece; a full-form and lengthy dual guitar solo that harmonizes well across the board. It just feels right, and this reviewer can't help but feel the group has taken a new sound for themselves that deserves more attention. There is too much to love here, and the album was powerful enough before this track to merit the highest praise. With this next to last track, it can't be overstated how far the group has come in two years. It's a whirlwind of sounds that all work in cohesion, and it's one of the best fucking things you'll hear this year.
In perfect form, Napalm Dreams sweeps this album up and away, a melodious closer to an ocean of hits that just keep coming. In what is destined to become a crowd-favorite, the words "All I wanted was a way out" repeat endlessly into the oblivion of the fade-out that offsets a bleak message with a hopeful tune. It's a contrarian track that mimics that duality of the rest of this album. It's clear, direct, and gives listeners a reason to keep coming back.
The Sea of Tragic Beasts is not only the most ambitious album from FIT FOR AN AUTOPSY, it is the strongest of their musical contributions — which was a difficult feat to accomplish with how prolific their catalogue is. There are a variety of sounds on this album, and some callbacks to the highlights of their previous works. For once, we're even treated to a few select moments from bassist Peter Spinazola, who gets to show off his speed and technicality this time around.
For those who have yet to taste the beauty of death-core, this is your gateway. There are few finer examples of what the genre has the offer, and even less with this degree of instrumental and vocal mastery. It's exactly what we needed to shake up the the end of year lists. From their consistent death, black, and doom pattern to the forty-five minute playtime, listeners everywhere will be calling back to this album's standard of excellence for years to come.
FFO: Lorna Shore, Thy Art Is Murder, Trivium, Aversions Crown, Oceano
The Sea of Tragic Beasts is out October 25th via Nuclear Blast. Pre-order yours HERE, where you can also find dates for the band's upcoming album release tour.