With his Static Abyss project now unleashed and a new Autopsy album in the works, death metal legend Chris Reifert is as busy as ever. And as he explained to Rich Holmes, that’s just how he likes it…

Seen it.

Done it.

Bought the t-shirt.

Normally a black one, splattered in grisly human remains.  

Yep, Chris Reifert should need no introduction to death metal heads.

The Californian’s kitwork graced Death’s genre-defining ‘86 debut, Scream Bloody Gore.

He founded the globally-influential Autopsy in ’87 and brought doom atmospherics to death metal.

He put out six albums with Abscess and embraced his inner-hardcore punk with Violation Wound.

Then there’s Siege Of Power, The Ravenous and more.

For nearly 40 years, his name has been synonymous with extreme music.

And the prolific drummer, vocalist and scene stalwart shows no signs of grinding to a halt.

Indeed, Autopsy are putting the finishing touches to their new studio opus, the long-awaited follow-up to 2014’s Tourniquets, Hacksaws & Graves.

“We are going pretty heavy on the Dream Theater influence this time,” he jokes down the line, when asked how their eighth album is shaping up. “Just kidding… if you like us, you’ll like it. If you don’t like us, it’s not going to change your mind. It’s like if you buy a Motörhead record: you know what you’re in for, in a good way!”

Autopsy had originally planned to record their eighth album in 2020.

Studio time was booked. 

But we all know what happened next…

“I still remember calling our engineers and saying, ‘you knew this call was coming, we’ve got to cancel the dates, because everything’s fucked up’,” recalls Reifert. “But it’s a common story, just as everyone else had to cancel their plans.

“There’s no sense in worrying about how things went and why they got delayed, the point for us is that we’re doing it now.

“We just had to be a little bit patient and now it’s happening.

“I’m just glad we’re one band and have our own situation to deal with. I can’t imagine being a promoter of a festival and dealing with 50 bands and having to repeatedly adjust, cancel and postpone things. I’m sure it’s probably more frustrating for those people.

“We’re just four dumb asses just waiting for a chance to do stuff.”

But while the new Autopsy record gestates and the ‘dumb asses’ dot the i’s and cross the t’s, fans can still get a new Reifert fix… thanks to Static Abyss.

Enter the Labyrinth Of Veins

A collaboration between Reifert and Autopsy bassist and studio engineer Greg Wilkinson, Static Abyss released their debut, Labyrinth Of Veins, this month on Peaceville Records.

The album is an eruption of ectoplasmic riffing, soul-crushing death doom, and raw, punky DM.

Songs like Jawbone Ritual and Morgue Rat Fever are shrouded in horror flick atmospherics and spine chilling sonics.

It’s a worthy addition to the duo’s canon… and fits snugly into the Reiferverse.

And in many ways, Labyrinth Of Veins is a child of the Coronavirus pandemic.

In 2021 Wilkinson – unable to work normally from his studio – was offered the use of the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, which couldn’t host shows due to Covid restrictions.

There was plenty of room for musicians to socially distance in the historic building… and for Wilkinson to man the mixing desk without jostling for space.

It was a unique opportunity.

“Greg asked me if I wanted to work on a project with him recording over there,” says Autopsy’s founder of that time. “And I was very interested. To record at The Great American Music Hall? Sure. I don’t care what you got in mind. Let’s do it. That sounds great!

“But in the back of my head, my one thought was, ‘please don’t ask me to play drums’. I hadn’t even looked at my drum kit for over a year. And he’s like, ‘I need you to play drums’…

“So it was up to me to go to the Autopsy rehearsal room and play drums a few times just by myself. I was able to pull it off, but man, it’s fucking boring playing drums by yourself. It’s like playing and looking at the walls. But it needed to be done.”

He continues: “I’ve never made a record like this before. I asked him if he had anything written and he’s like, ‘no’.

“I just showed up and he had a bunch of riffs and riff ideas, or he would just make one up. We just formed songs on the spot.

“As soon as we got a song down and got it memorised, he would just hit the record button. And then we’d do another one. We just did them one by one, writing them, recording them and then we did that enough times to where an album’s worth of stuff happened. It was really strange!

“We were just thinking, ‘oh, cool we’re going to make some music during this weird Covid stuff, let’s do it’. That was as far as the thought process went.

“We didn’t think about whether someone would want to hear it or release it. We were just doing it for ourselves. But it turned out really good. And we let Peaceville listen to it and they were interested even though they knew Autopsy was about to get busy. It was a good bridge.”

Wilkinson would eventually become Autopsy’s bassist, following the departure of Joe Trevisano last year.

The accomplished studio engineer and musician was already known to the band, as he’d produced their 2017 EP, Puncturing The Grotesque, and spearheaded Oakland acts Leather Glove and Brainoil.

But creating Labyrinth Of Veins gave Reifert the opportunity to really see Wilkinson in action… up close and personal.

“It was my chance to work with Greg musically,” he says. “I’d worked with him before, but I’d never made music with him. It was chance to see what that was like, to see if he was a good fit for Autopsy. And it was just great. No stress. He was a lot of fun to make music with.”

Reifert adds: “I got to see how his mind works when it comes to creating music.

“I got to see him actually write songs, which is cool, because usually we write songs separately for Autopsy.

“He writes fast and writes a lot too. So that was impressive. He’s just a fucking riff writing machine!”

Greg Wilkinson and Chris Reifert.

The legacy of Autopsy

Plug yourself into the new Undeath album, or check out Worm’s 2021 masterpiece Foreverglade, and you’ll sense the sickening aura of Autopsy beneath the surface.

The new wave of American death metal owes a lot to Reifert and his contemporaries, who bravely pioneered extreme sounds in the late 80s and early 90s.

Does it surprise him that 33 years after Autopsy released Severed Survival, emerging bands are still embracing death metal’s roots?

“I don’t know why people still like it, It’s kind of a crazy thing,” he replies. “When death metal first started happening, at least over here, it was seen as a joke, especially the Bay Area – like death metal was stupid, you know?

“I would catch so much shit from people in the thrash scene.

“When I joined Death I had friends who thought it was the dumbest move to make ever. They were like, ‘you can’t understand the lyrics and they’re stupid, why would you?’.

“So looking back on those times, it’s extra mind blowing for me to just see that people still like it and still want to hear it and it’s become something that has been passed on to a whole other generation.

“People from that early death metal scene have had kids that have their own bands now at this point, which is completely bizarre, but it’s great.

“I think it’s cool it’s getting passed on because eventually a lot of us are going to get too physically broken to play this stuff, or move on to other things… though I don’t plan on doing any of those things.

“I plan on dying with drumsticks in my hands!”

So what about the future? Is he planning new projects? Can his Wikipedia page even take any more?

“I never thought I’d be involved with more than one band at one time,” he admits – somewhat surprisingly, given his extensive output. “I always thought that was kind of kind of dumb. Like, ‘why would you do more than one thing?’.

“Now I’m inundated with projects, but it’s just a matter of timing. I can’t do everything at once, there’s just no way.

“Right now Autopsy is super busy because we had the two years of doing nothing, like every other band.

“And now all of a sudden, everything’s happening all at once. We’ve hit the ground running, basically.

“So there’s not a lot of time for other things. But you know, there will be….”

Photos by Nancy Reifert.

Labyrinth Of Veins is out now on Peaceville Records.