Earlier this summer I immersed myself in the warm bloodbath of Autopsy's greatest hits compilation CD All Tomorrow's Funerals (be sure to check out that review here), and time-traveled through twenty-five years of dark, doomy and dangerous death metal from this Oakland, CA quartet. But that was just the beginning; this week the band unleashes the most comprehensive chronicle of the band's long and rocky history, their shocking musical creations, the lengthy hiatus and reunion, and even their impact and influence on many other prominent bands over the years. It was clearly a labor of love and a massive undertaking, so I spent an entire evening on a seemingly endless slay-ride of crushing music, interviews, candid footage, rare stills and artifacts from the Autopsy archives. Thankfully I survived this five-hour onslaught of brutality, and I'm here to drop you a little knowledge from that experience.
Most of the live footage segments on Born Undead are taken from 2010 performances, so you won't be hearing live cuts from the band's most recent album Macabre Eternal, but they do include one post-reunion track, the excellent “Human Genocide” from the EP The Tomb Within. The most extensive concert included on this disc is the 2010 Maryland Death Fest, including both the hour-long live set, and coverage of that show's warmup session. It's a comprehensive show, with most of the songs coming from their first two records: the title track from Severed Survival, along with “Ridden With Disease” and “Embalmed"; from Mental Funeral comes “Twisted Mass of Burnt Decay,” “In the Grip of Winter,” “Destined to Fester,” “Slaughterday” and “Dark Crusade.” The remainder includes “Deathtwitch” and “Voices” from Acts of the Unspeakable. (Unsurprisingly, no tracks from the mediocre '95 release Shitfun make an appearance.) The shorter performance pieces – of wildly varying audio & video quality – include the band's sets at Party San in Germany and Norway's Hole in the Sky fest; from Summer 2011, we get the band's set at California's Slaughter by the Water.
The companion documentary Autopsy: A History of Horror is a loosely assembled but ultra-detailed examination of the band's history and influence on the genre, featuring origin tales from each band member, including vocalist/drummer Chris Reifert and guitarist Eric Cutler – both of whom departed legendary band Death to form their own group – as well as most past & present Autopsy personnel. The interviews are intercut with studio and concert footage, and archival stills dating back to the band's mid-'80s inception – including shots of different musicians auditioning for the lineup. The backstory is probably nothing new to hardcore fans (I'm a sucker for band origin stories myself), but there are still some surprising revelations in there. Another plus is enthusiastic input from bands Cannibal Corpse, Exhumed and others, who not only sing Autopsy's praises, but often hold nothing back when it comes to colorful descriptions of their sound.
Aside from lo-fi production values – which fits the death metal aesthetic, so it's cool – the doc's only slight weakness is the loose, rambling structure, resulting in a runtime of two-plus hours, devoting a chapter per year to the band's quarter-century timeline, including anecdotes and footage from the lengthy period between the breakup after their 1994 tour to their eventual reunion in 2010 (including some members' involvement in the group Abscess), with an anonymous narrator stepping in to fill in any historical gaps left by the interviews. It's a little rough around the edges, but as a comprehensive document of a band's career, it certainly leaves no stone unturned, and I learned a hell of a lot.
Overall the bonus materials are pretty basic, but the jewel in the bonus features crown is definitely the band's guest appearance for horror movie host “Creepy Kofy” on Christmas Eve 2011. For entertainment value, none of the other extras can compete, but the official videos for “My Corpse Shall Rise” and the title track to All Tomorrow's Funerals are solid, particularly the latter, which you can watch here:
Lastly, even the packaging lends itself very well to the archive-level completeness of the whole project: the DVD comes in a slim hardcover book with colorfully gruesome cover art, as well as several glossy pages of black-and-white images from the band's performances. It's an impressive final touch to an equally cool tribute to one of death metal's most enduring forces, and no devoted fan of the genre should be caught (un)dead without it.