While Barely Alive rips out of the gate and it's not the only song with a fast section here, this new Obituary album joins the Autopsy album from late last year as a firm reminder that I've forgotten what the original death metal bands sounded like. I saw both of them live back in 1990 but I moved on from the genre pretty quickly and apparently three whole decades went by while I blinked. I'd forgotten just how much doom metal there was in Autopsy's sound and I'd also forgotten just how much Celtic Frost there was in Obituary's.
John Tardy's vocals aren't even a growl, which is practically mandatory nowadays in death metal. Instead he sings clean but with a tortured voice that often reminds of Tom G. Warrior and others who sang in what felt like a demonic voice in the eighties. That's only underlined during what I'm going to have to call a spoken word section in Dying of Everything, because it seems to be spoken by a demon. The point is that it was an extreme voice when Obituary started out. It seems almost tame in 2023.
I've read comments by younger fans who don't understand how bands like these can even be seen as death metal, simply because they don't conform to their expectations of the genre. I don't buy into that at all, because I remember how extreme Autopsy and Obituary were in 1990 and they're still true to their core sound. This was death metal and it's still death metal to me. These are some of the bands who created the genre and heritage is important.
Also, this is heavy stuff, even if the second half of Without a Conscience and the beginning of My Will to Live, to cite just two sections from ten songs, are as solid for slow headbanging as anything that Status Quo ever conjured up with their famous three chords. Of course, this is downtuned and far heavier than Quo, but the comparison isn't unfair in those section. The clearer nod is to Celtic Frost, because it's not only in Tardy's vocals but in the tone of the guitars and the churn of many of these songs.
Talking of heavy, another band that came to mind here is Metal Church, especially late in My Will to Live after Tardy has finished singing and the band keep the piece going as an instrumental, the remaining vocalisations almost serving as sound effects. There's Metal Church there in the power chords, in the mosh chug and in the guitar solo. It's slow stuff but it's somehow melodic and heavy at the same time. I kept waiting for David Wayne to start singing.
This is only Obituary's eleventh studio album but, with this one, they've now released more since reforming in 2003 than in their original run from 1988 to 1997. The line-up has remained steadier than most metal bands, with three founder members staying the course throughout from a brief spell as Xecutioner in 1984 to the beginnings of Obituary and all the way to the present day. Tardy is one and his brother Donald on drums is another. The third is Trevor Peres on rhythm guitar.
That leaves two newer members but Terry Butler, who joined in 2010, is only the band's third bass player, and Kenny Andrews, is the fourth lead guitarist. He joined in 2012, so has a decade behind him, and both these later acquisitions are playing on their third Obituary album. They both seem highly comfortable and they both do the business, even if I'd have liked some more solo work from Andrews here. These songs tend to go for that old school bludgeoning rather than adding much in the way of decoration.
That's not to say that there isn't anything unusual here. War has an intro that's, well, war. It's not groundbreaking in the slightest but it adds a different texture, especially as it isn't just confined to the intro. There's also a surprising drop into an acoustic guitar, even if only for a heartbeat or three. it works well. The most unusual song is The Wrong Time, which sounds fascinating from the very beginning. There's a simple and memorable drumbeat, in the vein of Reign in Blood, but it's accompanied by what sounds like maracas and hints at a Satanic orchestra, before it launches into high gear thirty seconds in.
In short, I like this a lot more than I expected to, albeit not as much as the Autopsy album from the end of last year. These new releases in an old style remind me of how much I've forgotten and how much I really ought to go back and ground myself afresh in where death metal came from. I'm too used to what it's become in all its various directions. I moved on from it in the early nineties when it seemed like it was stagnating. Hindsight tells me that it moved on too and it's a lot more varied than I've given it credit for.