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Ah yes, slowly we all march towards the inevitability of death.....and no one reminds us of this fact more readily than the mighty Obituary. In addition to its all too acutely gory titles, this particular release's artwork is topped off with a seemingly dead, presumably-drunkard-in-life, poor sap lying on the street, graphically rendered in the style of a cheesy 80s beat 'em up style video game. This only serves to accentuate and compliment Obituary's already over-the-top, sensational nature, as exemplified by John Tardy's unmistakable long-winded growls and simple, to-the-point lyrical content dealing with nihilism and the inevitability of our own demise. Everything about Obituary is catchy and easily retained after only a few listens, a rare gift indeed, as I've not ever heard any other band in death metal that is so easily comprehensible and yet has such endless replay value as does Obituary. Obituary has not changed hardly at all stylistically in the 25 years of their existence, and you can kind of compare them to the ancient creatures that have seen little to no evolutionary change, with their phenotypes being essentially the same for millions and millions of years, dubbed "living fossils," and such is the same for Obituary, a living fossil of death metal--resisting change--not needing it. And this is what makes Obituary so special, their consistency and uncompromising nature; they are what they are, and if you don't like it, they don't care (as a later song title would declare). Perhaps one of the remotely few comparable bands in this regard that comes to mind would be Jungle Rot in all their simple stupid splendor, but they don't have the magic of John Tardy on the mic or the riff construction skills of Obituary.
Each Obituary album has its own identity with subtle differences, yet still being unmistakably Obituary. Slowly We Rot has the driest, bone-crunchingest (I think I just made that word up), most cacophonous guitar tone they've ever utilized throughout their long career, with a touch more of their thrash roots showing through. I would say the most obvious comparison to Slowly We Rot in terms of guitar tone and riffing would be another Florida band with an album out this very same year: Morbid Angel. Altars of Madness reminds me a bit of Slowly We Rot mostly due to the dry crunchy thrashy guitar tone and riff onslaught that both albums erupt forth. However, the comparisons mostly end there between these two albums (and bands too, really). I don't know who is predominately responsible for coming up with Obituary's riffs, but I do know that the period when they had Allen West was when most of their best albums were made. His soloing is definitely the best of the guitarists they had, blending into their riffing style best and most naturally. I've never been too keen on guitar solos, often ignoring them, more or less, to focus on the rhythm and riffing (since that's what I love so much about death metal), but Allen West's soloing really meshes well with the riffs and enhances each song in Slowly We Rot (since the soloing is kept to reasonable amounts), as in the opening song "Internal Bleeding", which gets a lot of its character from his efforts.
In addition to some excellent soloing, there is also some excellent riffing, what a surprise--aye! As I said in my opening paragraph, Obituary possesses a rare ability to construct fantastic death metal that is easily comprehensible, and their riffing is the foundation of this ability--catchy, yet morbid as all hell riffing that sticks with the listener from the very first listen. Their riffing tends to be straight-forward, with simple sickly melodies surrounded by the grotesque rhythms of Trevor Peres and John Tardy. As mentioned in the introduction; Obituary is a living fossil, and so too has their songwriting changed little in those 25 years, being very formulaic, but that's not necessarily a bad thing and Obituary has made it work so well. They often start with a slow to mid-paced groove riff, followed by a pummeling double bass section, then transition quickly into an up-tempo punky section, utilizing tremolo riffs and skank beats to increase the intensity, and finally coming full circle back to the slow/mid-paced groove of the beginning. There are so many obvious examples of this, but one example of a highlight that sticks out far above and beyond would be during the middle of "'Till Death," when the song transitions into that slow, ultra-doomy riff that could come straight from a funeral procession for Satan himself, unholy shit! That is the highlight of this entire album, so unbelievably amazing....And to top it all off, this doomy mood carries over into the beginning of the title track; "Slowly We Rot," before it breaks out into a faster punkier section guilty of inducing the most wild moshing I've ever seen. I was there, during MDF 2010 (so old school), right in the pit! And I saw what this did to the people....it made them go so crazy, I feared for my life! And I haven't even gotten to the highlight of the album yet--John Tardy! I say this because the riffing here on Slowly We Rot is actually not the best the band has ever come up with. Regardless, all the classic Obituary ingredients are here, but now we're all just waiting for the (ironically) immortal riffing to come in on a release like Cause of Death, to make something truly and horrifically unforgettable.
"BLAAAAHHHHUUUURRRRRRR!" Tardy exclaims with gut-busting power on "Internal Bleeding," as it repeats until it fades out briefly--only to enter back in a few seconds later. And here you have what makes this album so god damn good: John Tardy's beyond sick and morbid vocal performance, which puts all these shitty new school pig-squealing bands to shame. If there is one aspect of Obituary that has always been consistently good it's John Tardy's vocals. Sometimes the riffing has been lackluster; sometimes the production and guitar tone have been flat; but John Tardy has always been there, spewing forth his over-the-top and instantly recognizable take on death metal vocals. His distinct style has a tendency to transition suddenly from low gutturals into piercing screams rather often--sometimes even on the same syllable, creating a sort of rhythmic progression--which adds lots of extra dramatic effect, and enhances the horrific nature Obituary is attempting to construct in their music. And Tardy is a master at creating these brutal rhythms under (and in the case of this album, OVER) the classic Obituary riffing. His performance here on Slowly We Rot is loud and totally in-your-god-damn-face, utilizing short and sweet lyrical bursts, ala his profuse growls of "Rotting, beneath, below!" at the opening of the song "Suffocation"--his catchiest vocals lines on the album. And yet, the entire album is chock-full of ghastly, brutal-as-fuck, yet catchy vocal moments like this, elevating the album to new levels of excellence not often heard in death metal at the time--indeed, Tardy's work here would play a big part in the development of early death metal vocal styles.
And there you have it--Obituary's early classic masterpiece Slowly We Rot in a nutshell. While similar in approach to and possessing the replayability of other notable classics of its day, such as Altars of Madness and Leprosy, Slowly We Rot ups the ante on morbidity and sick nihilism--just the way I like it. I've never been all that impressed with Death personally, and Morbid Angel took a rapid dive into mediocrity after their masterpiece Altars of Madness. Both of these bands are notable for changing up their style and approach with each successive album, and while I can understand their desire to try new things and experiment, their varying directions didn't work all that well, and I'm glad Obituary decided not to follow such trends, retaining their basic style throughout their career--forever remaining a living fossil. All I can tell you now, my dear reader, is this: If you happen to be one of the lucky few enlightened death metal enthusiasts in this world, but have not yet explored the grisly wonders of Obituary, do so now and waste not another minute of your decaying, rotting existence on this Earth and go buy ALL of their albums.... NOW!