[Artwork by All Things Rotten]
The Great American Music Hall is a famous venue in San Francisco that launched in the early 1900s as a fine dining establishment / bordello before turning to music in the early ‘70s and showcasing everything from the biggest players in jazz—Dizzy Gillespie, Betty Carter, Duke Ellington, to name a few—to a full spectrum of popular artists spanning The Grateful Dead, Tom Waits, Slint, Roky Erikson, so on and so forth in perpetuity. It also happens to be the ground zero birthing point for a brand new death metal project involving two individuals responsible for songs such as “Destined to Fester” and “Seeping through the Shoebox.”
Chris Reifert: sewer lord, casual stance and terrifically pleasant photo inside Death’s Scream Bloody Gore, responsible for two of the greatest death metal records of all time in Severed Survival and Mental Funeral, possibly swiped his beard from Greg Wilkinson.
Greg Wilkinson: literal wizard, started a business called Earhammer Studios, the heaviest thin man on the block, Brainoil salesman, he put the capital V in DeathgraVe, currently investigating Chris Reifert as a primary suspect in the theft of his beard.
The Great American Music Hall // February 2021 – June 2021 // No live shows due to COVID restrictions. The facility opens itself for rent to musicians for recording purposes.
HOW DID THESE TWO FIND ONE ANOTHER. Was the portent of their convergence carved into some spindly, eeeeeevil looking tree as far back as the dark ages? Did their eyes lock in mutual alarm upon simultaneously reaching for the last copy of Good Housekeeping in a fated Kroger expedition?? A resounding YES to both, plus the fact that both individuals happen to be long-standing purveyors of filth in the same area, and Wilkinson was responsible for producing / engineering Autopsy’s last monumental achievement, 2017’s Puncturing the Grotesque EP. That particular engagement was apparently blessed enough that Autopsy simply absorbed Wilkinson into its already horrifically warped form. Hey, when the Lord closes one door—the departure of Autopsy bassist Joe Allen (ex-Abscess) in 2021—he doth open a window… that Greg Wilkinson apparently creeps through.
Anywho, the nitty extremely gritty: Static Abyss is a new project involving Chris Reifert (Autopsy, Siege of Power, Painted Doll, ex-Abscess, ex-Death, ex-other bands) on drums / vocals and brand new Autopsy bassist Greg Wilkinson (Brainoil, DeathgraVe, Leather Glove, owner of Earhammer Studios) on geetar / bass (the instrument, not the fish), and the two sewed Labyrinth of Veins together over the course of a relatively short interval that involved The Great American Music Hall and Earhammer Studios.
The first question simply has to be: “So tell me, you terrifically sensible savant, does Static Abyss sound like Autopsy?”
The answer is YES, with a twist. A very crawling, malformed twist. Are we really about to complain about having too much death metal inspired by the likes of Mental Funeral and a general sense of degeneracy? Not in this house, young man. As long as you live under this roof, you will appreciate death metal born from a sewer that puts a fitting soundtrack to having one’s limbs cracked in half by a contorted atrocity that gobbles blood and organs from multiple orifices as if the very fate of this damnable world depends on it. And yes, Static Abyss smacks of Autopsy simply by definition of being death metal born from Chris Reifert, nailing him to the drum kit, and hauling repulsively croaked vocals from his doomed throat as if they were entrails in some grisly field dressing event.
Coochie coochie coo! GAAAAAAHHHHHH!!! A peak inside the unsuspecting carriage finds “Jawbone Ritual” suddenly leaping at you like the baby from It’s Alive on bath salts. The opening moments flail wildly until the 40-second mark when a decidedly chic chugging riff clonks the song into a mid-paced gallop. A wonderfully doomy collapse finally hits at 1:20, and from there we’re treated to the sort of classic crawling misery fans of Autopsy have glimpsed for the better part of the last 30+ years. This does indeed feel different, though, as the melody here supplants those familiar weedlyweedly leads with a unique sort of tuneful anxiety that climbs and climbs and climbs until the closing moments return to the fury of the song’s kickoff. “JAWWWWBOOOOOOONE!,” howls Reifert, as whatever light previously beamed in your life suddenly poops its pants.
Indeed, this is the way of Static Abyss: Flail like Leatherface waltzing at sundown, but keep the ultimate goal tied to a collapsing variant of death/doom that drags the listener kicking and screaming into some sort of slow, thick, inescapable quicksand downfall. The separation from Autopsy may seem limited at first blush, particularly for those with more of an outsider interest, but it’s the underscoring of the crawling element and a reliance on a more skittish form of melody that makes all the difference when compared to the modern age of Autopsy. A rowdy punkish flavor is still present, but there’s more of a classic D-beat impression in songs like the opening “Feasting On Eyes” and scattered throughout the closing one-two punch of “Morgue Rat Fever” and “Clawing to the Top of the Dead.” Also helping to secure separation are the stacks of riffs that feel marginally more chugging in a modern Necrot sort of way—“Nothing Left to Rot,” the above-mentioned “Jawbone Ritual,” and within “Contort Until Death.”
Slooooow so often wins the race here, though, as Labyrinth of Veins does a wonderful job of forcing us to remember just how GROSS Chris Reifert’s voice can be when tacked to broiling, decrepit riffs and thick, leaden rhythms. The man sounds positively gangrenous on this record, gurgling and coughing and barfing F-bombs like a doomed Cronenburg protagonist following a botched cell replacement experiment. His, um, “singing voice” has always been ideally suited for decay, and outside of the 100% full charge of “You Are What You Kill,” there are countless moments here where grossness and a general sense of crumbling sanity takes center stage—the absolute rotter that is “Mandatory Cannibalism” (greasiest riff of the record just after the 2-minute mark), the steep doominess of “Tectonic Graveyard” (wear a helmet for that riff breakout 1:30 in), and certainly for the crowning centerpiece title track.
To be perfectly (and rudely) honest, I am a bit surprised by the level of awesomeness behind Labyrinth of Veins, only because so much of it seems founded on a premise of informally getting together largely because “Hey, the Great American Music Hall is up for rent this month, wouldn’t it be fun and delightfully unseemly if we…” Basically, it has all the markings of a quick and somewhat ludicrous spin-off record, but it in fact ends up delivering 40 minutes of “serious” grade-A death/doom that, yes, certainly recalls a record like Mental Funeral, but not without its own unique and modern twist. Now, whether or not the record ends up eclipsing what’s yet to come in 2022 from Autopsy obviously remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: A crucial segment of our strange population very much looks forward to being killed twice in the same year by these gifted garroters, and Labyrinth of Veins does more than its fair share of the initial slaying.