Yer Metal is Olde: Mortician – Hacked Up for Barbecue

2019 saw Holdeneye shock the world by asking the time-honored question we’ve all at least passively pondered: what’s the heaviest record of all time? Kronos, for his part, appeared to answer a short while later in his review for Devourment’s Obscene Majesty. If you asked New York death metal institution and heaviest band in the universe Mortician, the answer would hopefully be a Mortician record. For my money, their heaviest material was House by the Cemetery, a gleefully gratuitous death metal masterpiece that may well be the heaviest record of all time, despite being an EP. Upon playing it for a friend, I was asked – by him – if it was “supposed to sound like this, or if [his] stereo was broken.” I can’t speak highly enough of that EP. Anyway, today we’re concerned with the follow-up to House by the Cemetery and Mortician’s first full-length record: Hacked Up for Barbecue.

The beauty of Hacked Up for Barbecue is that it has no pretensions of being anything but the most brutal record it can be. Nowadays, death metal fans are going bonkers for “blast beats and caveman riffs,” but decades ago Mortician was busy taking this idea to its greatest and most furiously entertaining extreme. This makes them the grandfathers of this little niche and, unlike Grandpa in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Mortician remains the best at killin’ decades on. Part of their success lies in being smart about it; when you crank the brutality up to eleven on a scale of one to five for an entire record and only really vary the speed, you can’t write the detailed, lengthy, and nuanced songs of NYDM bands like Suffocation or Morpheus Descends. Due to the sheer speed and relative simplicity at the band’s foundation, there’s a classic grind (Terrorizer, old Napalm Death, &c.) influence at work in Mortician’s sound that’s just as important as the death metal. Naturally, this means Hacked Up for Barbecue, like Mortician’s catalog broadly, is full of short songs which tend to have at least one fast grinding riff and one slower, sometimes slamming “caveman” riff. The songs are often introduced by horror movie samples which always relate to their titles and lyrics, giving them an identity and personality in a fun, simple way.

Highlights? Pick a song, all of ‘em are heavy as a gelded rhinoceros and all of ‘em rule. “Cannibal Feast” starts off with a brief sample from Cannibal Ferox, and from there proceeds to punish with extreme prejudice all wimps and posers in earshot with a great mix of ferocious riffs. “Blown to Pieces” is comprised of a gnarly grinding riff bookending a slam so brutal it makes Rob Zombie’s Halloween look soft and utterly terrible (though we didn’t need Mortician to show us the latter). “Necrocannibal” sees Mortician doing a “normal” death metal song, though they structure it interestingly by way of a largely linear progression that culminates in a riff so heavy it makes My 600-lb Life look like a Jenny Craig ad. “Inquisition” starts on a slam so beefy it’ll repel any vegetarians within a square mile, but the remaining carnivores will be pleased because it’s a fat-free prime cut. All of that said, don’t be fooled by the outward lunkheaded brutality – Mortician knows how to write great songs, and they do it consistently throughout this record.

Hacked Up for Barbecue, like all of Mortician’s work, is somewhat divisive among death metal fans, but I think it’s clear what side of that divide I’m on. Listening twenty-five years after its release, this record still sounds vital and fresh. It’s the heaviest thing you’ll hear today unless you listen to House by the Cemetery (or maybe Zombie Apocalypse). The drum machine should sound dated, but instead it’s charming and timeless. Will Rahmer’s growls make your favorite death metal vocalist sound like Ripper Owens, and his astonishing bass tone is absurd, brutal, and brilliant in equal measure. Roger Beaujard’s riffs continue to inspire new bands, including Frozen Soul who even covered a tune from this record (“Witches’ Coven”) on their Encased in Ice EP. For those chasing the ol’ brutality dragon, Mortician is one of its favorite caves to lie in. Hacked Up for Barbecue is a special kind of classic, one in the same vein as the horror and splatter flicks which inspired it: it’s not made for mass appeal, and you’ll probably get some funny looks if you tell people you like it, but that doesn’t matter – it’s part of the fun.

« »