Chris Reifert – Ex-DEATH, ex-AUTOPSY & ABSCESS
Interview by Luxi Lahtinen
Chris Reifert played drums on Death´s legendary debut album, SCREAM BLOODY GORE. Since he parted ways with Chuck Schuldiner in 1987 (when Chuck decided to move from San Francisco to Florida) Chris formed Autopsy together with Eric Cutler and Eric Eigard. Autopsy´s 1st two albums, SEVERED SURVIVAL (released on Peaceville in 1989) and MENTAL FUNERAL (Peaceville, 1991) are nowadays considered some of the most classic and finest Death Metal albums of the whole genre – and every devoted Death Metal fan surely subscribes that somewhat easily.
Since the Autopsy´s coffin was sealed by the band´s last official studio album, titled SHITFUN (on Peaceville, 1995), Chris has worked with several side projects and bands; from Doomed to The Ravenous to Murder Squad, etc. – and finally with Abscess, in which he has continued spreading his filthy and sick messages for the whole world. The band´s latest work, HORRORHAMMER, was just released through Tyrant Syndicate Productions (owned by Fenriz of Darkthrone), and the album is about all that the title kindly wants already to suggest.
I got in touch with Chris some time ago and he agreed to do this interview about his entire career from the days of his first band Burnt Offering (he was just 15yrs old back in the day when he played in that band) to the current times of Abscess. So without prolonging your curiosity regarding our conversation done via email, let Chris tell more about his long career for the readers of Metal-Rules.com. So, go ahead Chris…
“THE DAYS WITH DEATH”
First off, it needs to be asked how did you actually meet “Evil” Chuck Schuldiner back in the ´80s? When Chuck moved from Canada (he moved to Canada for a brief stint as he was supposed to play on the Canadian Slaughter´s debut album which eventually never happened, however) to Florida – and shortly after that to San Francisco, he met you sometime around in 1986, and both Chuck and you recorded Death´s MUTILATION demo. Anyway, you were just 17 when you met him – and Chuck was 19. But back to the original question, how and where did you meet him first?
I was still in high school at the time and had a friend who was a DJ for the school radio station. She told me she was gonna play an ad from Chuck who was looking for band members. I got his phone number from her, called him up and went over to his house. The deal was pretty much sealed right away as I jumped on the chance before anyone else could get a try… ha-ha! Also, I knew about bands like Sodom, Bathory, Possessed and Artillery which impressed Chuck. This was incredible for me because I had been buying Death demos for the past 2 years and was thrilled that not only would I be playing the songs I knew and loved already, but also some new crushers that went perfectly with the old ones.
With MUTILATION demo you landed a deal with Combat Records and recorded the legendary SCREAM BLOODY GORE album that was released in 1987. That album was one of those few albums that were released back in those days (along with Possessed´s SEVEN CHURCHES) that really set the standards for the whole Death Metal genre, how Death Metal supposed to sound in the first place – and building up the firm cornerstones around the whole genre musically.
Thanks for the kind words, man! I still love the sound on MUTILATION… It came out so dismal and dirty! As for SCREAM BLOODY GORE, we actually recorded an earlier version in Florida during the summer of ’86 that came out so shitty sound-wise, that Combat wrote it off as a mistake and sent us to Los Angeles to do it right. I almost wish I had kept my cassette of the old version to look back on, but I taped over it ages ago.
Death also had this second guitar player named John Hand – and even if he didn´t appear on SCREAM BLOODY GORE, he got his picture on the album. Can you remember why it happened, and how John overall was as a band mate?
Ah yes, the classic question… We had already recorded SCREAM BLOODY GORE and been hanging around with our friend John a lot. He played guitar, so we figured that not only would he work out just fine, but we’d put his photo on the album which was in the process of being put together layout-wise. Combat was supposed to state on the album that Chuck and I played all the music on the album, but they ignored our request, leading to confusion for years. Also, they printed on the inner sleeve: “This album is Don Kaye’s folly”, meaning that Combat saw us as sort of a joke even though they were putting out the album. Death Metal had yet to prove itself at the time and combat were skeptical about the whole thing, I guess. I have only one copy of the vinyl left and on the inner sleeve where the Don Kaye comment is, I scratched it out and wrote ‘fuck you!’ over it with a pen. Anyways, back to the John Hand thing, it turned out he didn’t work out in the band, but by then the album was already at the printers and it was too late.
After a short while, Chuck decided to move back to Florida once again, teaming up with the former band mate Rick Rozz, and two members from his band Massacre, Terry Butler and Bill Andrews. You decided to stay in San Francisco and form your own band, Autopsy. However, I need to ask from you next, didn´t you ever even consider moving to Florida along with Chuck, and continue playing in Death from there? Can you tell what were the most primary reasons for him to make that big decision and move to Florida eventually? How much actually both you and Chuck discussed about this back then, and do you believe that nobody could have turned Chuck´s head about staying in Frisco and about continuing Death from there with you?
Chuck really wanted to go back to Florida to stay. His family, friends and everything else was there, so that’s where he wanted to be. He said I could move there and remain in the band, but after living there for the summer I knew that I really didn’t want to do that. The heat and humidity was enough reason for me. That shit was brutal for a California guy like me, so I stayed home and started all over again with a new band, Autopsy. As fantastic as the Death experience was, the decision to stay here was easy for me.
Why didn´t you follow Chuck to Florida back in the day and that way getting a chance to stay in Death and make music with him?
As I said, I couldn’t deal with the heat there, plus my family and friends were here, so this is where I wanted to stay. I’ve never been afraid to start over and this was no exception.
Chuck continued doing music with a new line-up, and Death´s second album LEPROSY, was the first fruit of the new Death line-up. When the album came out, I assume you also were curious to check it out how it sounded like, correct? Did you like the album, by the way?
Yeah of course I was curious. I bought it and thought the songs were quite good. The only thing I thought lacking was some excitement on the drums. They were very good, but not a drum roll to be found anywhere. Still, a good heavy album to be sure.
After Chuck was located to Florida, did you still keep in touch with him from time to time? Or vice versa?
Yeah, we kept in touch here and there. We bumped into each other at shows a few times and I stayed at his house for a visit in ’88 (I think it was). Also, I talked to him right before he died and told him how great the latest VoiVod album was!
Chuck recorded 5 other albums after LEPROSY, and I guess it´s not any overstatement to say, but each of his albums was hugely praised by both the media and the fans of Death. How did you like his later era albums, like SYMBOLIC and THE SOUND OF PERSEVERANCE that were Chuck´s two last studio album with Death?
To be honest, they got a bit technical for my taste. I much prefer the more primitive and savage stuff.
What was for you the best thing for being a part of one of the most legendary Death Metal bands? I´m sure you have some good memories about those days, so would you mind sharing some of those experiences with the readers of Metal-Rules.com?
There are too many great stories to single any out. But we had lots of fun and partied a lot and had a killer time making brutal music. Plus learning about new Death Metal bands, recording the demo and album… The whole thing was a fuckin´ blast.
The back cover of SCREAM BLOODY GORE from L to R:
-> John Hand -> “Evil” Chuck Schuldiner -> Chris Reifert
The tragic news hit us in 13th of December 2001 when Chuck has lost his fight against a brain tumor he had for years. How did you personally take this sad news when you heard about it for the first time? I mean, the guy who used to be in your band mate in 1987, wasn´t there anymore, so assumable lots of different feelings crossed your mind when this news hit you, am I right?
Of course it sucked really bad to lose a former band mate and good friend. I was really bummed out that he and his family had to go through all that shit. What else can you say? Rest in metal, man!
“THE AUTOPSY YEARS”
Then let´s move on to Autopsy that you formed with Eric Cutler (guitar) and Eric Eigard (bass), and your first 4-song demo, was recorded with this line-up. Basically that demo introduced 4 songs that were a combination of both Death – and Thrash Metal, so I need to ask from you when you got that demo recorded back in the day, did you feel like something was missing from it, or it was just lacking something? I mean, when you recorded your 2nd, 3-song demo titled CRITICAL MADNESS with Danny, Eric and Ken (Sorvari), it was much heavier effort than the first Autopsy demo – and the CRITICAL MADNESS demo already represented all that musically what was soon to come from you on Autopsy´s highly acclaimed debut album, SEVERED SURVIVAL.
The key to the real heaviness was getting the two guitar attack going. The first demo was a great start, but we of course wanted things to be more brutal and saw to it that we made that happen. Song-wise, there’s not any difference on the first demo, mainly we just needed another guitar to fill it out and a heavier production as well. CRITICAL MADNESS had a real explosive sound which fit the mood quite well.
Two years later, AUTOPSY entered the studio again, to record the RETRIBUTION FOR THE DEAD EP which contained 3 new songs from the band. That particular EP also marked a slight musical change in the Autopsy -style; you had this doomier and slower musical approach in those three songs, and which was continued successfully on Autopsy´s 2nd album, MENTAL FUNERAL. Could you tell what made you to write slower and doomier songs with the rest of the band members at the time? Did it have something to do with the fact you dug the sounds of such bands as Paradise Lost and Trouble back then, and wanted to incorporate some elements from those bands into the sound of Autopsy as well?
Yeah, listening to lots of Trouble, Saint vitus and the first Candlemass album helped shape the doomy side of things. We played those albums to death. They still crush to this day! Plus the alcohol intake was really getting heavy, and we didn’t give a fuck what people were going to think about what we were doing. As long as it was heavy, we were pleased.
In Spring 1990 you hit your European tour together with the Dutch Pestilence and German Morgoth – and even played a couple of shows with Bolt Thrower. Aside from that tour, Autopsy didn´t tour as much as one could think. Anyway, you did another European tour, at least one U.S. tour and played even in Mexico with Autopsy, so I believe you must have some cool memories from touring with this band. Would you mind sharing some of your best memories from those days on the road?
Man, there are many stories to tell. I’d have to write a book to fit them all in there. Europe was fun as fuck, especially with Pestilence, Bolt thrower and Morgoth. They were all great bands and hilarious to tour with. The U.S. tour was not too fun as it was arranged like shit and was way too long. Still we made the best of it and I lived on whiskey and canned raviolis almost the whole time. There were some interesting police experiences that were crazy and at times, a bit concerning, ha-ha!
Back to Autopsy´s releases next. FIEND FOR BLOOD, the 6-song EP that was put out on Peaceville in 1992, marked basically a new step from Autopsy toward a more straight-forward and filthier musical direction; the songs on that EP were somewhat drastically faster than what you had done before. So, what exactly happened between the period from MENTAL FUNERAL to FIEND FOR BLOOD? Did you kind of get tired of playing these sludge and doomy songs, and wanted to bring Autopsy toward new territories to make things a bit more interesting for yourselves?
The way I’ve always seen it is as long as it’s heavy and/or brutal, anything goes. Songs can be fast, slow or in between, it doesn’t matter. There’s nothing more boring that a band that picks one pace for their songs and never does anything else. Some folks think that idea is weird, but I have always been weird and my musical taste and output has always reflected that. There is nothing brutal about a bunch of rules in metal!
Also the next two Autopsy albums, ACTS OF THE UNSPEAKABLE (released in 1992) and SHITFUN (released in 1995), continued that familiar musical direction that was already started on the FIEND FOR BLOOD EP. In other words, the songs became even filthier, nastier and more brutal sounding. Also, the same adjectives could be used for the album covers of those two albums as well that sort of reached some extreme ends as far as artworks for these two particular albums in question are concerned. As far as I can remember, a lot of shit was thrown against Peaceville Records because of the offensive, sick and gory album artwork that was shown on ACTS OF THE UNSPEAKABLE. Undoubtedly you didn´t have much love left for censorship issues after you got to know via Peaceville Records that ACTS OF THE UNSPEAKABLE was banned in many countries – just like SHITFUN, I suppose?
We never cared about censorship. We just did what we wanted and hoped to piss people off. The longer the band went on, and the more crap we had to go through we cared even less about things like that. Autopsy kept the middle finger held up high since day one and only got stronger in that philosophy ´til the band imploded.
What kind of relationship did Autopsy have with the boss of Peaceville Records, Paul “Hammy” Halmshaw? For my understanding, Autopsy was one of the top priority bands for Peaceville back in those days, just correct me if I´m completely wrong with this…
Things were fantastic with Peaceville until they sold the rights to the label to Music For Nations and then it all fell to shit and only got worse. It seems things are finally stable again over there which is a welcome relief, as Abscess is signed with Tyrant Syndicate who goes through Peaceville.
What kind of things made you to end Autopsy eventually in 1995? Did you kind of feel that you had traveled one road from the beginning to the end, and had nothing exciting or ´new shock values´ to offer with Autopsy anymore?
No, actually it was the last U.S. tour that did us in. It was 3 months long and complete hell. The funny thing is, now everyone talks about Autopsy like this legendary thing, but on that tour the attendances were so shitty and the circumstances so stressful that we just said fuck it and decided to do one last album, sicker than ever and do one last show and go out on a good note. The Autopsy legacy has grown much larger now that the band is over and gone, like a lot of bands from the time. Right before we split, we truly felt that no one gave a shit about us. We didn’t fit in with the current trends and still don’t!
In 2006 Peaceville Records put out this double-DVD thing from Autopsy, titled DARK CRUSADES. Did this idea come from their direction and do you think you got absolutely the best footage for this DVD compilation that was available out there?
It was Peaceville’s idea. It was a real headache putting that thing together. As for the quality or lack of on the footage, it’s the only kind of stuff we had. Autopsy never did any sort of pro-quality video stuff at all. We thought videos were lame and didn’t give a shit about stuff like that. I’ve heard people complain about that, but it even warns you and the back of the DVD case, so too fuckin´ bad if you don’t like it. Go buy something else if you don’t like it. If you want to see any sort of Autopsy footage, this is what’s available.
Just like I asked your opinion about Death, I wanna repeat myself a bit again and ask what was the best thing to be a part of one of the most innovative legendary Death Metal bands, Autopsy?
We did what we wanted regardless of if it was in fashion or not and loved everything we did as far as albums go. I think they still hold up and show a band who just wanted to make brutal music and ignore all the trends out there.
Have you ever thought of re-animating Autopsy back to life again as I´m sure many fans of the band have asked this from you several times already, haven´t they?
No! The reason it is held in high regard still is because we quit at the right time. If we kept going even though we hated doing it, it would have shown in the music and all our hard work would be for nothing. Besides that, when I hear people ask that, it tells me they want Abscess to break up and we don’t want to give them the pleasure! We’re not done making you sick yet, ha-ha!!
“The projects: From MURDER SQUAD to DOOMED to THE RAVENOUS to EATMYFUK to BURNT OFFERING”
The Swedish death mongers Murder Squad, was actually a sort of tribute band to Autopsy that was originally formed in Stockholm in 1993 by two members from Dismember (Matti Kärki and Richard Cabeza) – and two members from Entombed (Uffe Cederlund and Peter Stjärnvind). You contributed on Murder Squad´s second album, titled RAVENOUS, MURDEROUS, by screaming and yelling in many songs on that album – and even played the drums for a song called “Masterpiece of Morbidity”. Was this project that type of thing you might want to do some day again as I believe you had lotsa fun doing it with those drunken bastards?
That thing was fun as fuck to record. Much drinking, smoking and hanging out with old and new friends. I even played drums on spunk slut and threw down some guitar stuff as well. I don’t know if they ever want to do Murder Squad again, but I would probably say yes if asked.
You also had this project band called Doomed that recorded one demo (HAEMATOMANIA in 1991) and one 7” EP (BROKEN in 1993). The band also featured Danny Coralles on guitar and Petri Lahtinen (great surname, by the way!) On vocals. What killed that project actually? It would have been great to see a Doomed record out, too. Did you ever consider recording one?
Doomed was just for fun, really. It was never intended to be a serious thing. By the way, the first demo came out as a 7″ as well on Peaceville. We never wanted to do a full album, just a few bursts of raw craziness.
The Ravenous, featuring 5 mentors of all things sick & disgusting, namely Clint Bower, Danny Coralles, Killjoy, Danny Liker and you, must also have been a fun side project to do. The Ravenous´ latest album, BLOOD DELIRIUM, was released on Red Stream Records in 2004 already, so do you have any intentions to continue this project and release new material sometime in the future?
I have no idea. I haven’t heard from Killjoy in fuckin´ ages and have no clue as to what he’s up to. Once in a while I’ll get a short email note from him but that’s it. I wouldn’t count on anything from The Ravenous any time soon. But yeah, it was fun as hell and we had some great times recording and doing a few sick live gigs.
“Drunken Scum Metal and HC Punk for fans of G.G. ALLIN and very early VENOM”. That´s how EatMyFuk´s music has been advertised by some media some years ago. Eatmyfuk featured you, Joe Allen and Danny Coralles, and you guys managed to record even one album with this project, titled WET SLIT & A BOTTLE OF WHISKEY which Holland´s Displeased Records/From Beyond Productions released in 2004. How did this side project get started, and do you have any plans to continue this ´drunk-ish project´ some day?
As for that quote that was put on the album, we had nothing to do with that and I think it does not describe EatMyFuk well at all. Actually the album came out in 2002, I believe. We wanted to do some sleazy old style punk rock and see how much we could drink and still manage to record an album. It was a blast and there are a couple more unreleased EatMyFuk tracks coming out soon on a split 7″ with abscess. Kill city!
What many people assumable don´t know yet, you were also a member of a band called Burnt Offering (not to be confused with another Burnt Offering from Rivergrove, IL) between 1984-85, and you even recorded one 6-song demo (FRIGHTMARE) with this band. Huh, you were just a 15-year-old kid when you pounded the skins in that band. I´m curious as fuck to know what kind of stuff you were churning out back in those days with Burnt Offering? Do you still have a copy of that FRIGHTMARE demo somewhere?
Burnt offering did 2 demos, both in ’85 (I was 16 at the time). I still have the second one FRIGHTMARE on cassette, which is Thrash with a bit of Death Metal thrown in. The first song I ever wrote is on there and it’s called “Death and Violence”. We did a few shows, one of which was supporting The Accused when they only had a demo out. They were amazing!
“THE LATEST INCARNATION OF SICKNESS, FILTHINESS AND DRUNKENNESS: ABSCESS”
Abscess released almost just recently their 5th full-length album HORRORHAMMER via Tyrant Syndicate Productions which is run by Fenriz of Darkthrone. Your previous full-length record, DAMNED AND MUMMIFIED, was released in 2004 by Red Stream. What made you to change from Red Stream to Fenriz´s own label, Tyrant Syndicate in the first place?
Actually HORRORHAMMER is out 7th album. As for the label change, Red Stream was not too enthused about doing another album with us. They would have done it, but Tyrant Syndicate was really interested and we have a lot of respect for those guys as musicians and as people so the choice was clear. Red Stream is a great label though and I can only say good things about them. We had no problems with them whatsoever, which is pretty rare!
When taking a glance over the whole discography of Abscess, it can be admitted that Abscess have really been a very productive band over the years: 4 demos, a couple of demos, a couple of compilation-cds, 3 split albums and 5 full-length albums all tell its clear language that you guys have really enjoyed doing this, so can we sincerely read between the lines that there will be many more Abscess releases to come in the coming years? ;o)
We are still going strong and are busy with new horrifying material. We do enjoy this band quite a bit and intend to keep the filth flowing to be sure! We really enjoy being drunken maniacs together and making raw, sick and brutal noise!
What could you say are the most pleasing Abscess releases that you are personally mostly pleased with?
Always the latest release. The newest thing is always my favorite! That’s a good way to go, I think.
What´s been the funniest and most rewarding part of doing this band so far?
Lots of funny things happen all the time with us, whether it’s at rehearsal, on stage or in the studio. Again, I would have to write a book to get it all in there. The rewarding thing would be the fact that 13 years later we are still going and enjoying what we do, no matter what anyone thinks. There’s always people who don’t understand why we don’t sound like everyone else and they can pretty much fuck off!
Have you had any censorship issues, related to Abscess´ artworks or lyrical contribution the same way like Autopsy did? Anyway, talking about your lyrics, I found the lyrics for “Tattoo Collector” off your DAMNED AND MUMMIFIED album very hilarious:
“Saw a tattoo on a pretty young thing, A piece of art on her back, I don’t think she understood, When I said I have the perfect frame for that, Tattoo hunter, tattoo collector, i’ve got a wall of Kiss tattoos, And a room full of just Ozzy, From Black Sabbath to Randy Rhoads, i’ve got a space saved for his smiling knees, Tattoo hunter, tattoo collector, i’ve got lots of human skin, Covered in beautiful art, I’d like to add you to the collection, But first I must take you apart, Tattoo hunter, tattoo collector, i’ve got lots of human skin, Covered in beautiful art, I’d like to add you to the collection, But first I must take you apart, Tattoo hunter, tattoo collector”.
The black and sick humor seems to be your thing to express yourselves, really…
No problems with censorship. For the most part, we are kind of under the radar as they say. We are like the boil under your skin that doesn’t want to come up and pop, and instead just festers away, making you insane. It’s true we don’t take ourselves overly seriously, but we are serious about this band and our music. People who take themselves too seriously often end up seeming even funnier than those who don’t! There are lots of examples out there, wouldn’t you say?
In the beginning Abscess was banned by many club owners due to your ´general acts of mayhem onstage (inc. Broken equipments, odd and bizarre messes made on stage, etc.), so have you calmed down a bit since those years of ´chaos & confusion´, ha!
No, we haven’t calmed down at all, ha-ha! We are older, but not mellower. We actually just played a gig in San Francisco, and at the end we destroyed the stage, sending amps, drums, guitars flying all around. Danny’s guitar ended up smashing me on the head, causing me to be a bit confused for about 20 minutes afterward. It was good chaotic madness! We didn’t get in trouble that time though. The crowd really got into it! This band thrives on insanity.
You have known other of your band mates in Abscess for several years from different bands you have done together with them. Do you think that´s one of those major reasons that explain why you come along with each other so well in the band, having this strong spiritual (or whatever!) bond between each of you?
We all have the same musical philosophy. Sometimes we argue and all that shit, but we all agree on what we want from a band and truly don’t care what other people think. A lot of people and bands are concerned with how the reactions will be, and that can be creative death.
What are some of those countries you´ve received the most heart-warming feedback about Abscess from? In the same breath I have to ask from you, does Abscess have any haters?
It’s mixed pretty much. There are folks who don’t understand why we blend death/doom/punk together and there are some who only want Autopsy to come back and again, it doesn’t matter to us. We play what we like and don’t feel we have to limit ourselves to please fickle trendies or elitist attitude fucks. As long as it stays brutal, that’s what we are after. There is nothing brutal about rules in metal as I said before.
What about touring with Abscess? Now when you have signed to Tyrant Syndicate Productions, I guess we Europeans can at least expect to see Abscess doing some gigs on the European ground? Do you have any pre-made plans for a possible tour in Europe – even playing at some festivals?
We have no touring plans, really. We did a small California tour a couple of years ago and that’s about it, besides scattered shows here and there. Some bands tour all the time, but that’s really not for us. Living like shit and losing money doesn’t seem appealing any more honestly.
I guess you also have some plans to release an Abscess DVD some day as you should already have lots of killer footage available for such a release by now, correct?
We do have some insane shit on tape for sure, but right now there are no dvd plans. We’ll see what happens in the future.
You also got married in 2004 and have a son out from marriage. How do you share time between your family and band activities? I assume it ain´t that easy sometimes, or is it actually?
It works just fine really. My wife understands that the band is important and is very supportive. She did our website and knows that music is necessary to keep me from losing mind completely.
Are you going to teach your son how to become a true metalhead? I guess before he turns to 10, he´ll blasting many albums from your music collection – from G.G. Allin to Death to Dismember to Autopsy and so on, he-he! ;o)
He can get into whatever he wants. Right now he’s only 7, but loves Kiss, Elvis and all kinds of other stuff. When he gets older he’ll go crazy going through my music collection I’m sure.
I think that was it. This interview session turned out longer than I originally thought, so hopefully you found this conversation as interesting and entertaining as I did. Thank you Chris for your time and all the best for you for everything whatever you may do in the future. If you have any last words to finish this interview, feel free to spit them out now…
Thanks a lot, my friend. It was killer doing this interview. Cheers to all the sickos who support our music. Take it sleazy and ignore the trends. BE YOUR OWN MASTER AND FUCK ALL THE BULLSHIT!