Saturday, June 17, 2017

Obituary, S/T (2017)

     Since their reunion, I've never really given Obituary a solid chance.  I play their classics Slowly We Rot, Cause of Death and The End Complete from time to time, but I was underwhelmed by Frozen In Time and Xecutioner's Return.  I kind of let the band fall off my radar for a while.  2014's Inked In Blood grabbed my attention and I actually was anticipating their self titled release.  Out of the gate I must say that this album offers you a heap of old school death metal riffs that are great but the record also has some songs with "death n' roll" elements, which in general are kind of hit or miss.  The vocals are still as great as they ever were and while Obituary isn't in the running for "Album of the Year" by any means, it is an above average release that old fans and new should enjoy.
     John Tardy is one of the most recognizable vocalists in metal.  His growls aren't as guttural as most death metal vocalists.  Tardy uses a wider range of vocal inflections and howls that really make the music move.  The lyrics don't just sit there, Tardy emotes and makes them come alive rather than merely grunting monotonously into the microphone as loud as possible (like Glen Benton does).  Another of Tardy's signatures is the way he ends lines and verses.  His howl expands on the final vowel sound in a way that is sort of reminiscent of a wild cat's roar.  It's a vocal inflection that sets him apart from most death metal vocalists and has always been one of my favorite elements to the Obituary sound.
     I've been kind of on the fence about the "death n' roll" approach.  Sometimes it's okay, but most of the time it comes across as kind of toothless (listen to latter career Entombed albums if you don't know what I mean).  On paper it looks like it could work.  Fusing death metal elements into a more traditional hard rock framework?  What could possibly go wrong?  Well apparently it is harder to pull off than most realize.  Most bands end up with either a boring death metal record, a somewhat decent alternative metal record (if such a thing exists), or something in between.  They are albums that are a jack of all trades and a master of none.  Obituary carefully dances around that line in certain songs.  But there are moments that I feel like I'm listening to a second-rate Pantera circa 1992, which initially sounds like it wouldn't be that bad, but hear me out..  That particular sound has not exactly aged well and slipping in bouncy rock oriented and bluesy riffs that sound like they were lifted from the cutting room floor during the Vulgar Display of Power recording sessions makes some of these songs sound dated.  Nothing against classic Pantera.  But the year is 2017 and Obituary has had their own thing going for them for decades already.  Retreading this particular style, that wasn't even theirs to begin with, was a mistake.
     What Obituary does well and what makes this record stand out in my opinion is it's simplicity.  A lot of death metal created these days tends to be on the technical side.  Obituary just lays out their riffs and beats you over the head with them like a club.  Cave man style.  Obituary is not a masturbatory wankfest thus illustrating that death metal can be brutal no matter how many notes you play or how little.  These are mid paced, chest slapping, chugging guitars that are somewhat of a relief to hear in an era where break-neck fast bestial black metal and technical brutal death metal are ruling the underground scene (at least here in California they are).  There are some glorious old school knuckle-dragging head banging riffs on here.  Kenny Andrews has some fantastic leads on this record and Trevor Peres and Don Tardy are great laying down the groove as always.  Essentially this is Obituary doing what Obituary does best.  Not overly flashy songs.  They are to the point and still brutal.
     This was one of the most difficult reviews I've had to write so far.  This is due to the fact that I wasn't truly that inspired to write it nor did I feel strongly about it one way or the other.  And that kind of sums up how I feel about this record.  This album is not going to knock your socks off.  It's a good record and fulfilled the minimum requirements:  Not sucking and giving fans something that they will enjoy.  But while it is proficient in this regard it lacks that special ingredient that would've made it an attention grabbing release.  This is something to play in the background while you're talking in the yard with a beer and cigarette watching the grill.  It isn't something you sit down, strap in and give your undivided attention to.  This music doesn't command that.  It could be playing or not playing.  But should music always command that kind of space?  Perhaps not.  Not everything recorded has to be a magnum opus of pretentious pomp and Obituary was never really about that anyway.  Obituary isn't a garbage record, but I wouldn't consider it a masterpiece.  It's just old school death metal played by one of the genre's legendary bands.  Nothing more.  But sometimes that is all I require in my life and I thank Obituary for delivering it.  Certainly worth a purchase and a listen.

Favorite tracks:  "End It Now" or "Turned To Stone".  These are songs that could've easily been on Cause of Death or The End Complete.  Chest thumping cave man goodness.  Classic shit.

Least favorite:  "A Lesson In Vengeance" and "Betrayed".  The riffs are repetitive and have that bouncy death n roll feel.  It doesn't sound like Obituary and I would've left them off the record. 

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