Best United States death metal band of all time? It isn't ANY band from Florida. The best American death metal band is from Concord, California: Autopsy. Formed in 1987 by Chris Reifert and Eric Cutler along with Danny Corralles, Autopsy began as a project that sought to highlight the themes that modern death metal is most known for today. These themes were rooted in gore, horror and the overall discourse on death itself.
Autopsy's biggest ace was their drummer / vocalist Chris Reifert who had previously served in legendary USDM act Death. Reifert joined Death at the age of 17 with Chuck Schuldiner, who had moved to Reifert's native California Bay Area. After the release of Death's acclaimed debut album, Scream Bloody Gore, Schuldiner returned to Florida leaving Reifert behind in California. Reifert took the departure as an opportunity to make something of his own. Along with Cutler, he formed Autopsy.
Autopsy is the best USDM band for a variety of reasons. The first being their broad influences that played a huge part to making Autopsy's sound so unique. Autopsy's early work utilized a strong thrash element (thanks in part to Reifert's background in hardcore punk, which would later be showcased in his side project Eat My Fuk). The second was Autopsy's emphasis on the rhythm section. Eric Cutler's guitar work is closer to an Iago than a Caesar. While most death metal bands place almost all of their stock in their guitars, Autopsy would beat you down with the rhythm section and, after exhausting you, would have Cutler tear you apart with cutting riffs and slicing solos. This is the third reason Autopsy is the best USDM band. Their sound was different. It was thrash, it was death, and later it was doom. The band's versatility allowed them to not lose speed. In eight years, the band released four full lengths, two EPs, and a barrage of demos.
Autopsy has two albums that are important to the modern death metal discussion. The first is their 1989 debut album Severed Survival. The album's heavy use of gore and horror themes would become widely influential in the death metal genre going forward. Earlier, there was mention of Autopsy's imposing rhythm section. On Severed Survival, this was both held back and showcased by the abhorrent production of John Marshall (of Metal Church). On the album, the drums were recorded badly. To the point where the kick drum can barely be heard on it. In addition to the drums being recorded badly, Marshall mixed the bass up way too high. In almost all cases, this is another terrible gaffe on the part of the producer. Luckily for Autopsy, then bass player Steven DiGiorgio (later of Death) put on a virtuoso performance. Severed Survival is an album about displaced body parts and fluids and the dreading of death. It is meant to make you feel dirty. Hearing DiGiorgio's bass the way it sounds on the album helps achieve this goal.
The second album is their 1991 follow-up, Mental Funeral. For this album, Autopsy uses a great deal of doom influence in the sound. Doom influenced death metal is not an easy genre to excel in. When we discuss it, we think of Bolt Thrower, Asphyx, Paradise Lost, Winter, Anathema, and others. Doom influenced death metal requires a certain kind of intensity and precision to the guitars. For Mental Funeral, Autopsy used it as a chance to make Cutler & Corralles' guitars drone as well as cut along with Reifert / Steve Cutler (on bass). The rhythm section continues to assault listeners. In death metal, it is rare to see a rhythm section assume so much control of a band's overall sound. When we think about death metal, we typically think of the biting guitars (read: Sunlight Studio).
Autopsy is the best USDM band of all time because of their ability to keep things interesting. Even when things were not necessarily good (notably the band's last album in 1995, Shitfun), they were still trying different things. When things stopped working in 1995, the band called it quits. Corralles and Reifert would go on to form Abscess which carried on the hardcore punk influences shown first on Severed Survival and later Shitfun. After a fourteen year layoff, Autopsy got back together in 2009 and began writing new music again.
Included is the Awakened By Gore which is a compilation of the band's early demos as well as both Severed Survival and Mental Funeral.