Much as I discovered in the process of reviewing Cannibal Corpse‘s last splatter platter after a long absence from the scene due to car accidents, divorce, unexpected children, custody court, and an ex-wife that deserved treatment based on some Cannibal song titles, it seems Obituary ain’t as hip to some folks as they once were. With a career as long as that run-on sentence, a band can be expected to have more ups and downs than a $5 hooker on a Friday and many that go the Forrest Gump distance will fall into more than a few potholes. While Obituary never shit the bed, they’ve certainly tread their fair share of water in the middle years. I’m always confused when a band releases an eponymous album late in their career. Are they are declaring this their definitive release or is it due to a lack of inspiration? If the latter, does that void of creativity spill over into the music or is this, indeed, a mortuary slab so monumental they couldn’t name it anything else?1
That depends on which songs you judge it by. Opener “Brave” is a speedy little ditty with some surprisingly cheeky guitar melodies. The result is the least I’ve felt like killing myself and the most I’ve felt like going for a hesitant, obligatory middle age run after hearing an Obituary song. Throughout I kept waiting for their trademark breakdown where they take Celtic Frost and throw in some Metamucil and black coffee, but it never came. “Sentence Day,” is another quick pounding, capping off a refreshing one-two combo right out of the gate. It’s not until “Lesson in Vengeance” that things slow down with Tardy articulating like a pundit at the podium straight out of The King’s Speech. I had always kind of assumed he came into Florida from Cuba so it made sense that we had no idea what the fuck the man was growling about. He gargles out the grime but still manages to hold on to his nauseous gnarl. Unfortunately, his decipherable delivery is the most remarkable thing about this otherwise workmanlike song.
As new blood Lord Lucan pointed out in his review of Six Feet Under‘s Torment and our liege lord Steel Druhm indicated many painful times before, sometimes our heroes fall and fall hard. Chris Barnes has become the poster boy for legalization of marijuana, and also a mush mouthed motherfucker who sounds like a grizzly bear with a bad case of thrush, thereby unintentionally spurring the formation of the “Smoking Pot 24:20/7 Will Either Destroy Your Fucking Voice or Make You So Apathetic You Just Say, ‘Fuck It, Good Enough’ With Takes’ International Organization.” Or, as it is known to the layperson, “SPWEDYFVMYSAYJSFIGEWTIO,” which is about as decipherable as Barnes’s lyrics have been the past decade and Tardy’s for much of his tenure. Unlike Barnes, Tardy has retained his edge over the decades like a death metal Pavarotti. By that I don’t mean he’s Italian, fat, or dead. Rather, he has a voice so distinct that you immediately know it’s him. While he has refined his delivery and you can now understand at least 60% of what he says, the downside of being able to understand the lyrics is the realization how banal some of them are. “End It Now,” is particularly mind-numbing despite a monstrously massive middle section, with a whopping baker’s dozen words repeated ad nauseam.
Any creative process draws from a well and at times that well can run light. I can attest to that as a so-called writer. Obituary can still produce vital material as evidenced by “Straight To Hell.” A mid-paced chug comprises the first minute and a half and then things grind to a slow, suffocating sludge before a tastefully sparse and wank-free solo bleeds out all over the floor. The band then reprises the opening riff before launching into a breakdown right out of “The End Complete.” Unfortunately the four songs previous making up the middle stretch of this album fall into a rut, cruising down familiar roads and barely breaking school zone speed limits with the exception of the solo section in “Turned To Stone.” “Ten Thousand Ways To Die” off last year’s combination EP/live release ends things on a low note, and I don’t mean the D tuning. Three vocal lines are repeated over and over for the first two minutes. Throughout the band maintains the mid-pace to the point that I feel like Peter Gibbons trying to get to Initech by the time it’s over.
Death metal has been done to death and since Obituary are pioneers of the genre, they may have the right to be derivative of themselves, but ten albums in, some fresh air would do this rotting corpse well.