Once upon a time, Obituary were a big band. In the early days, they delivered slab after slab of ripping death metal that shaped an entire fanbase and melted faces in the US and abroad. Rivaling Florida brothers such as Deicide, Cannibal Corpse and Morbid Angel, they were the cream of the crop when it came to raw and dirty performances, and got well-deserved attention with two of the greatest death metal albums of all time: ‘Slowly We Rot’ and ‘Cause of Death’. As the genre changed throughout the years, so did Obituary. But as death metal became heavier, the Florida natives were trying to ‘groove’ things up and/or make their sound thrashier. ‘Back From the Dead’ and ‘Frozen in Time’, for instance, were perceived as lackluster efforts by a once legendary and formidable band, now only a shadow of itself. ‘Darkest Day’ lifted things up a bit, but the Tardy brothers slipped once again in their last output, ‘Inked in Blood’.
This musical rollercoaster worried me when I learned that Obituary were set to release their 10th full length album this year simply entitled ‘Obituary’. Do death, gore, Sulphur, body parts and violence reign supreme this time around, or do they follow previous and not so overwhelming entries?
To quickly answer that question, I say that ‘Obituary’ is similarly ranked to its predecessor, ‘Inked in Blood’. While the instrumental proficiency is there, the songs don’t actually follow the band’s status of legend, and instead of being visceral, badass and headbanging-friendly, they all end up somewhat flat and forgettable. The two starting tracks, “Brave” and “Sentence Day” are actually very cool. The first one starts on a bang with a thrashy spectrum, while the second is surprisingly similar in the riff department, although not without its own thing going on. In fact, it is one of the band’s best efforts with killer leads and an absolutely awesome solo. If all the others were half as vicious and powerful as “Sentence Day”, we would have a strong contender for album of the year in our hands.
But here’s where the problems start: the mid-portion of the record is – like I said above – entirely forgettable, with the majority of the songs sounding too much alike in a mix of groove metal and pinches of thrash and death. “A Lesson In Vengeance” is a perfect example of the flatness and lack of inspiration that has stormed the Tardy brother’s minds. “End It Now”, “Kneel Before Me”, “It Lives” and “Betrayed” (all featured on that lackluster part of the album) all fit the profile of being what the entire endeavor is: musically competent, but deprived of any sort of inspiration. I caught myself more times than not wondering which song I was listening to, because – and I cannot stress this enough – they all sound too much like each other, both lyric and music-wise.
“Turned to Stone” and “Ten Thousand Ways to Die” try to escape the claws of indifference with a better vocal display by John Tardy and some toned-down, heavier guitar work by Trevor Peres and Kenny Andrews that almost flirts with the stoner genre. The guitarists also deliver a surprisingly good face-melting solo in the middle of the first and completely steal the show in the second one, the best song of the album. Those two dudes do provide a good amount of cool riffs and interesting solos, while the kitchen support by Donald Tardy (drums) and Terry Butler (bass, of Death and Six Feet Under fame) is decent but at times feel mechanical and automatic. Production-wise, the album follows the same mixing and engineering of previous Obituary records, which is satisfactory.
To sum it up, ‘Obituary’ is a hit-and-miss effort. The performance of the band is very pleasing in many parts, but feel utterly uninspired in others. The dragging, groovy songwriting works really well in two or three tracks but turns other songs into snoozefests. The overall quality of the album is good, as these guys still manage to kick some ass here and there, but this record is too forgettable and diplomatic. Clearly playing it safe for a long time now, Obituary ironically prophesied their own demise in their very first album, way back in 1989: they are, indeed, slowly rotting.