Review by Lawrence Stillman on December 2, 2023.
An uncle of mine actually gave me his splatter-green vinyl of this album on my birthday this year after knowing how much of a death/doom nut I am. I never knew he was a collector of heavy music. Thanks, Uncle Justin!
Back in 1991, death/doom had just barely taken shape thanks to the pioneering efforts of bands like Dream Death and Winter, and Autopsy, coming off their experience from making an OSDM record (Severed Saviour, their debut), decided to make something similar to those two bands but keeping a bigger chunk of their OSDM influences. And from this fusion, Mental Funeral is born, or, as I like to call it, "the most fun one could have from a death/doom record. Although it is not saying much considering how much of a misanthropy-fuel or despair-fuel anything with "doom" in it can be, merely shifting lyrics away from those themes is enough to brighten the mood.
This album manages to keep the doomy feeling from most death/doom albums released before and since, but the leftover OSDM influences from their debut make the album groovy as hell; even during the doom metal portions, it has a pretty catchy rhythm that you can headbang to, and as a result, this album felt less of an "ode to despair" and closer to watching a slasher/horror fusion film. But the catchiness would not be complete without the guitar, and with that, we have to talk about the instrumentation. The guitars kept the incredible, filthy 80s OSDM tone, sounding like a chainsaw-wielding madman going on a massacre while his mental state is giving itself a funeral. It is full of memorable leads and head-banging riffs. The drums also deserve a mention, as Chris Reifert's drumming, while basic, is played in a plethora of styles that constantly shift how the album feels while keeping it entertaining and fun to listen to, and his vocals are less death/doom styled (low, beastly gutturals that sound like they came from the depths of hell) and instead are closer to regular death metal with the more aggressive growls and the occasional Warrior "ough" thrown in here and there, which makes the album even more unique among death/doom records. The bass here also has a more crunchy tone, which gives it a more menacing feel. Kudos to the people behind the mixing and mastering process for balancing all five instruments of the album equally and making them sound evil and gory as hell.
The songs here also got their fair share of variations; most of the longer songs here do mix doom and death to a healthy degree, sounding doomy enough to instill some degree of fear and dread while not too much of it that it completely exhausts the listener, and instead the lack of doom metal sections here are replaced by death metal sections that are here to revitalise the listener with catchy riffs and solos that really radiate the evil and morbidity that we love OSDM for. Although I do have a gripe with the songwriting, namely the short songs here, "Fleshcrawl'', "Bonesaw", and the title track, those could be integrated into another track with no hiccups and it would work fine, but I am honestly baffled at this decision, even if it sounds like a nitpick. To me, my ideal tracklist would be Fleshcrawl + Torn From The Womb + Dark Crusade + title track, then rename the song to the title track. But Bonesaw sounds too "complete" to be stitched onto any track, like a grindcore song, which is a shame because the material in it sounds great. Despite that, the rest of the album is genuinely awesome, like the groovy doom sections from Slaughterday or the rapid genre shifting between punk, doom, and death in Robbing The Grave.
Even the lyrics here are atypical compared to your usual death/doom albums; instead of focusing on your usual themes of despair, death, depression, or your occasional misanthropy, Mental Funeral went all in on the gore, which might hint into the theory that this album was death/doom by accident and the unusually fun elements of the album were due to the band treating this album as an OSDM record, just with some doom elements thrown in for shits and giggles. (Or not; the gore here is worse than some Cannibal Corpse albums like Butchered At Birth.)
Mental Funeral certainly went down in history as one of the best death/doom and death metal albums ever made, and certainly the best within the band's discography. It is full of primal energy waiting to cause some gory chaos, but at the same time, it is also a death/doom album that is surprisingly accessible and fun for death metal fans because it is not that demanding on the listener's patience, which is often the reason why people give up on death/doom. Every death metal fan should at least give this a chance.
Highlights: 'Dark Crusade', 'Robbing the Grave', 'Fleshcrawl', 'Torn From The Womb'
Rating: 9.9 out of 10514
Review by Benjamin on May 18, 2021.
Autopsy were always something of an oddity. A US death metal band that had more in common sonically with their Swedish counterparts than their compatriots. Preferring a rumbling, sloppy mid-paced bulldoze, in comparison to, say, Morbid Angel’s surgical, lightning speed precision, there’s something delightfully sick about their sound. The drums clatter, the guitars grind, and the bass thumps – no pro-tools here - and of course, there’s nary a melodic chorus in sight. Just how it should be.
Mental Funeral is their second album proper, and is nothing short of a fucking riot the whole way through. As Chuck Schuldiner’s Death continued their progression through ever more technical territory, in many ways their former member Chris Reifert took the "Scream Bloody Gore" sound to the opposite extreme.
'Twisted Mass Of Burnt Decay' is a superb opener, one of Autopsy’s quicker songs, even including a brief, but ripping solo. As the album progresses, there is a constant schizophrenic switching between the various personalities of the band, from the creeping crawling almost doom of '...Winter', to the tremolo-picked riffs of 'Slaughterday', to the ultra-dirge of 'Destined To Fester', and back to the 40-second blastathon that is the immortal 'Bonesaw'.
Autopsy have remained somewhat unsung heroes of the scene since splitting, but it’s not hard to trace the influences that this record must surely have had on bands like Entombed, who share Autopsy’s love of the demonic Slayer-esque split harmonies that pepper the album. Iron Monkey and their ilk owe a clear debt, and one can even imagine acts as diverse as My Dying Bride and Darkthrone taking frantic notes on this wondrous platter of splatter, as it snaked its way through their speakers.
Rather than making its impact through memorable riffs (not to say that there aren’t any – check 'Slaughterday' or 'Dark Crusade' for proof) or killer songwriting, Autopsy succeeds by creating a genuinely horrific atmosphere. Mental Funeral is an apt title for an album that really plumbs the terrifying psychological depths in a way that most other DM bands just don’t manage to do. If it wasn’t such a cliché, I might say that Mental Funeral is the soundtrack to a film that’s not yet been made. I’ll resist, but they make it hard by including a perfect acoustic outro, that would really make sense over the end credits of some gore-fest or other.
I should also spare a word for the awesome cover art, which treads the fine line between repulsive gore, and funny as fuck.
Overall of my favourite death metal releases of all time, from an era when Peaceville failed to put out little that wasn’t essential for any metalhead. It gets better and better as the years pass, and if you consider yourself any kind of a fan of Death Fucking Metal, but don’t possess any Autopsy, you fail.
Rating: 8.3 out of 10514