Let’s get this out of the way up front: despite being named after Onset of Putrefaction’s opening track, Foul Body Autopsy doesn’t really sound much like Necrophagist. If you came hoping for a whirlwind of brutal neoclassical tech death, you’re better off reading one of Kronos’ reviews; for the rest of us, slightly techy melodic death metal is what’s on the operating table today. Sole member Tom Reynolds has been peddling this sound through a slew of EPs and a self-titled full-length since beginning the project in 2010, and though the man can riff like no one’s business, 2016’s Perpetuated by Greed EP was hampered by some seriously underdeveloped songs. Still, it’s hard not to be intrigued by what sounds like a melodeath Psycroptic with blastbeats,1 and thus it was with some anticipation I snagged sophomore album This Machine Kills Zombies from the promo bin.
Machine isn’t perfect, but before getting into my gripes, let me make one thing clear: Reynolds is a fucking riff machine. Songs like “Obliterate All Life” and “Outbreak” are harmonic minor heaven, riding on slick jumpy melodies that would make Dark Tranquillity shiver in their boots. Likewise “Chaos Reigns” and closer “Purified Ready to Reclaim” rock with peppy progressions that’ll make you feel like it’s 1999 and your pimply older cousin just burned you a CD-R copy of Colony. This sugary In Flames influence is complemented by short headstrong tracks like “The Unquiet Dead” and “Circling the Drain,” whose galloping thrash riffs sound more like Legion of the Damned than anything from Gothenburg. Through all these styles, Reynolds maintains a quick frantic energy that makes headbanging along feel as natural as rubbing one out in the shower.
Point is, the riffs are great. So great, in fact, that it took me several listens to figure out exactly what I wasn’t loving about Machine. The fact that “Obliterate All Life” is the only one of these 8 tracks with a solo is annoying but not a deal-breaker, and while I don’t like that opener “Ghost Ships” (and to a lesser extent “Total War”) is as short and underdeveloped as Perpetuated by Greed‘s songs, that certainly doesn’t ruin things.
No, the real issue is simple but debilitating: this Machine feels lifeless. In almost every way other than the riffs, Machine feels like it was made by… well, a machine. On first listen the songwriting seems simple but serviceable, on repeat listens it feels more like a handful of related riffs were fit together like puzzle pieces with no attempt to add a human edge to them. There’s no recreation or development of ideas and virtually no little twists or reinventions that make things sound truly alive. This, I guess, is what NPR meant when they said a lack of mistakes is the death of rock music, and it also doesn’t help that the drumming sounds robotic and was almost certainly produced by a drum machine. Likewise, Reynolds’ garbled staccato shout is serviceable but quickly wears thin with no change in pattern or inflection, ultimately making these 29 minutes sound something like a poor man’s Black Dahlia Murder.
All that aside, credit where it’s due: somehow, Reynolds must have figured out a way to exploit a glitch in our measuring software, because this motherfucker comes in with a fucking DR of 17. My fellow writers could hardly believe me when I told them, and despite an especially quiet mastering, it certainly doesn’t sound that low. In fact, it may have been to the record’s detriment: the sharp clear guitar tone fosters a bit of that techy edge but could use more oomph, and the drums feel underpowered and lacking punch. As a final quibble, the fact that many of these tracks feature several seconds of silence between them is irritating and disrupts the flow.
I’ve never deliberated over a score as much as I have for Machine, but despite how shit-hot some of these riffs are, I just can’t get over this record’s calculated ‘studio project’ feel. Reynolds is a great musician who clearly knows how to write a memorable song, and I really hope he either gets picked up by another band or adds more members to Foul Body Autopsy in the future. For now? Hardcore melodeath fans or those intrigued by the zombie apocalypse theme may enjoy; for the rest, this autopsy may be best left stewing in the cadaver locker.