Autophagy – Bacteriophage Review

After unrelenting, fruitless sojourns reviewing doom, grind and epic metal, I have finally returned to my one true love: death metal of the old school variety, caked in grime and crusted over with unspeakable muck. Enter Bacteriophage, the first full-length release of Portland, Oregon-based death dealers Autophagy. Spotted gurgling during a late-night promo sump dive, this one appears to have it all: an indecipherable logo, predicable themes of rot and decay, buzzsaw guitars, crushing riffs, guttural vocals not even fit for the gutter, and plenty of muddy bombast to spare. After spinning and reviewing several recent releases outside of my usual musical hunting grounds, Autophagy‘s latest felt like coming home – if that home sat so deep in a bog that even Blackwater Hattie would steer clear. But was it a warm homecoming? Did Bacteriophage welcome me back into the OSDM fold with open arms (with open sores), or was I sent packing with only a dripping bindle to keep my company?

Bacteriophage is death metal comfort food. No wheels are being reinvented, no new ground (as sodden as it is) is being broken; instead, Autophagy’s goal seems straightforward enough: to pummel you senseless with thick riffs, machine gun double bass, rumbling vox, and a strategic whammy bar assault, leaving you broken, bloodied, and trapped in peat for several thousand years. There are strands of Bolt Thrower and Immolation in Autophagy’s corrupt DNA, as well as several pours of Cannibal Corpse and a dash of Swedish buzz for good measure. And why not toss in some Undeath-adjacent grime? What you’re left with is one fetid concoction, sure to put hair on your back and a split in your skull. Bacteriophage is a lumbering beast who’s been working on his cardio, lurching from deathened freneticism to doomy crawls and back again. It’s an effective strategy, and one these Oregonians are able to use to solid effect.

They caught me with the Hellraiser quote in the atmospheric opener ‘Infernal Miasma,” but they pulled me in with the “Festering in the Crypt”-inspired riff on second track “Abhorrent Abomination.” Fourth track “Beneath the Moss, Between the Roots” is perhaps my favorite of the bunch, being both thematically and musically emblematic of the best this record has to offer. It’s gritty, grimy, and buzzy, delivering some of the best riff work on Bacteriophage as well as some satisfying pit-stoking chugs and just enough shredding to break through the muddy morass.

credit where credit is due: the gents in Autophagy know how to craft effective transitions, perhaps most notably on “Eviscerated Remains,” which opens with a sludgy crawl that trudges on slower than Artax in the Swamp of Sadness, before segueing into a punk-inspired crust fest that’s sure to singe your eardrums. By the time I’ve gotten to seventh track “Return to Charnel Hall,” though, I find I need to take a breather. It’s not that things are too heavy or too brutal, but as can often be the case with certain types of OSDM, things start growing a bit stale. Like out-of-date cereal, it’s still enjoyable, but you find yourself wishing for just a few more clovers and blue moons floating in the milk.

The big issue I have with this record though, isn’t about monotony; it’s the vocals. More specifically, it’s how they’re situated in the mix. As motorbreathed metalheads, most of us have gotten used to not being able to understand the majority of what’s being shouted, grunted, screeched or shrieked at us. But I still expect to be able to discern where the vocals are, and at times, the vox are mixed so low that they nearly disappear during a particularly heavy riff, screaming solo or cymbal crash. This decision not only serves as a distraction whenever the vocals are barreled over, but also robs the music of those essential percussive blasts that OSDM often relies on for that extra, brutal gut punch. This choice no doubt lends the album an additional murky quality, but relinquished some of the immediacy and forward momentum as a result.

So did Autophagy succeed in welcoming me back to the heaving death metal horde? I’d say so. They’ve delivered a fun, if imperfect debut that checks a lot of the right boxes. While my takeaway impression was ultimately a mixed one, Bacteriophage will grow on you after repeat listens, and I’m eager to see what these swamp men deliver on their next outing. Just leave some ooze for the rest of us.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Pulverised Records
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: September 30th, 2022

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