Afterbirth - Psychopathic Embryotomy
According to the accepted lore promulgated by death metal historians, the subgenre of slamming brutal death metal had its beginnings with the seminal Suffocation classic from 1991, "Leige of Inveracity", codified 4 years later by the band Internal Bleeding, and cemented as a distinct style unto itself by the Dallas, Texas based outfit Devourment. This chain of events, while essentially accurate, is incomplete, as evidenced by the demo tape Psychopathic Embryotomy by the Long Island, New York outfit Afterbirth. This recording languished in obscurity for about 20 years, as Afterbirth disbanded, before a cult following for this demo inspired the original members to reassemble and give their cutting edge version of proto-slam another go, releasing their Foeticidal Embryo Harvestation compilation in 2013 and recording new material in 2014.
Any listener familiar with the genre of slam will immediately feel as if they are in familiar territory when the opening track “Aborted Christ” executes its aural attack. Gurgled and squealed vocals, drenched in reverb, rumble over the robotic riffage, complete with mid-paced mosh sections that one might argue are not true “slams,” as they do not fit the exact chromatic riffing profile of the genre defining track “Liege of Inveracity.” But to levy such a critique against Afterbirth would be simply splitting hairs in this instance. The snare has that signature ring to it, the overall production is raw yet imbued with the clarity necessary to make the 4 tracks offered on this demo listenable, the guitar tone is heavily down-tuned with a beefy distortion, and one refreshing feature are the prominent bass lines that provide a compositional foundation in consort with the drums, a feature that is unfortunately lacking in many contemporary slam bands that apparently skip bass lines in favor of the low register licks that 7 and 8 string guitars offer. Sure, a case can be made for Psychopathic Embryotomy not being “true” slam, but it’s certainly a spiritual ancestor to the genre and I think that the term “proto-slam” is more than appropriate when describing this absolute banger of a 4 track demo.
More of the same is offered up on the second track, entitled “Impure Conception,” which continues to be consistent in the conceptual subject matter presented here. The infanticide/religious blasphemy theme is carried through on this song, with ultra-low guttural growls and a sort of ebbing and flowing of tempos, from blistering speed to a painfully slow crawl and back again. The song features a nice tech-death inspired bridge section that almost falls apart under its frenetic pace, which is then brought back together in the closing bars of the track. The third track “Obliteration of Human Tissue” follows a more orthodox brutal death metal formula, bringing to mind bands like Disgorge and of course Suffocation. What stands out most on this demo however are the ahead of its time signature slam vocals. It’s all here: guttural growls, gurgles, inhales, pig squeals (or “brees” if you prefer), and high pitched shrieks. This type of vocalizing was not really heard anywhere else in the genre of death metal until a year or two later, and while I will not claim that Afterbirth were the first to experiment with such vocal styling (the origins were more likely found in the genres of pornogrind and goregrind), they were certainly the earliest adopters.
Closing track “Obstetric Bastardization” is by far the most experimental song offered here, with even more adventurous tempo shifts than “Impure Conception”, an eerie opening sample from some obscure interview with an expert on the topic of “sexual predators,” and some tasty, ringing bass licks throughout the track. I cannot stress enough how satisfying it is to hear discernible bass guitar in slam, as, like I have mentioned previously, far too many contemporary slam bands simply skip bass guitar to cut the costs of retaining yet another musician in a genre of music with such a sparse talent pool. As I said, the assumption must be that bass is not needed when modern guitars can be tuned to drop A with guitars affixed with 7, 8, or more strings. Slam bands today with the means, or at least the ambition, should in fact recruit real bass players, as it adds a rich dimension of sound that is sorely lacking. Anyway, the closing song is a bizarre, twisted, writhing mass of contorted riffs, punching bass lines, and rumbling guttural grunts. It’s a fine close to an overall enjoyable recording that clocks in at a mere 14 minutes and 16 seconds, which makes for easy listening for the attention impaired.
Overall, Psychopathic Embryotomy is truly a groundbreaking effort, that was several years ahead of its time. The demo does suffer from a lack of tonal diversity, which is a gripe I have with slam in general, and while I did spend several words above praising the inclusion of audible bass guitar, the sloppiness of the bass lines also stands out, what with the bass being quite high in the mix. The production is quite rough by today’s standards, with professional-sounding digital recording easily in reach for any musician with a decent computer, but sounds fantastic for a DIY demo recorded by an obscure death metal band in 1994.
The fact that this demo lay forgotten for two full decades has sadly robbed this demo of achieving true classic status, however it is a cult favorite, with good reason. With the date of the recording is taken into consideration, Afterbirth’s second demo is astounding for its level of innovation, and the production is top notch for being a DIY recording from 1994. As shown by the final score below, Psychopathic Embryotomy is an essential piece of proto-slam, one that no fan of the genre of slamming brutal death metal should skip in their day-to-day playlist.
Recording: Psychopathic Embryotomy
Replay value: 88%
Overall score: 84% - essential