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I won this for free in a contest, which SLIGHTLY takes some of the edge off how badly it sucks. I can't be the only person to feel the irony of Obituary returning with a damned good album in 'Frozen In Time' just to crap out completely on the next LP. This sucks and I have only a faint idea of how so many people are honestly deluding themselves into thinking it's good. Maybe everyone bought this for like $20 at their local record store and are now desperately trying to justify their purchase. Really, though, I think there's another, deeper, and again more pathetic reason.
A lot of people operate under the assumption that oldschool = good, without any taste for quality. Even the worst oldschool death or black metal band will be better than the best modern brutal death metal band. A popular term for this group of people is 'retarded'. I'm not saying that new things are invariably better, but a significant number of times, a style has CHANGED FOR A REASON. It's not like oldschool death metal was the perfect form of music and everyone involved one day up and decided, "Well, this is just TOO good, let's make a shitty version of this music to get back in our comfort zone." There's plenty of stuff that sucked about oldschool death metal, and denying that is something only the most staunchly mongoloid among us would attempt. Of course there are numerous great and underrated albums in the field of oldschool death metal, but the forgotten bands and albums of the past were FORGOTTEN FOR A REASON.
'Xecutioner's Return' is what happens when an older death metal band decides to, after a period of reasonable modernization, 'return to their roots'. Apparently Obituary thought that the somewhat modern 'Frozen In Time' was a failure because it had, you know, good production and songwriting and was worth listening to. The thought process must have gone something like this: "I know! Let's make a really shitty, boring, horribly produced, completely listless death metal album that's also super, super oldschool. Everyone will love it!" And apparently, judging by popular opinion, they were correct. 'Xecutioner's Return' is a fucking laundry list of all the shitty things about oldschool death metal, compiled and codified into forty five minutes of complete ASS. Seriously, how much effort do you have to go through to actually pretend that this doesn't suck? There must be some multiple step program involved with believing such a dumb idea, because I seriously doubt anyone can believe it in and of themselves.
The title of this album is, as you could probably guess, supposed to indicate that the band is, in some way, returning to the old, thrashy sound of their material as Xecutioner. Apparently Obituary forgot that they were supposed to combine their new skill as musicians and songwriters with that oldschool aesthetic, because the result is really, really piss-poor, overtly clumsy writing in a desperate attempt to seem raw and true. This sounds like what it probably is: a bunch of middle-aged guys playing music they wrote when they were fifteen years old, like some douchebag at your work who's obsessed with showing you pictures of their kids. Here's a hint, Obituary: no one cares about the shit you DIDN'T include on any of your own albums. Maybe you find some charm in all the awkward, pathetic tracks you couldn't bring yourselves to put out, but they're not fine wine, they haven't aged gracefully, and you suck for actually putting this out and expecting people to drink your piss like it's champagne.
I'd like to point out that this is the first album that Obituary has recorded in their personal studio. I guess Erik Rutan hasn't taught people that musicians should play music and engineers should get to engineering, because holy christ is the production here horrible. Hell, not even the production, though the vocals and drums are painfully sterile and dry; the main issue is possibly the worst guitar tone in the history of metal. It sounds like a Guitar Pro track run through a dozen distortion filters and recorded through a fucking wall. It's muffled and overproduced to the point where it sounds like a really loud, slightly crunchy hum. For some reason, the whole album sounds like it was recorded at a super low volume, like they were trying not to disturb anyone by playing too loudly or aggressively, so, of course, everything comes out sounding restrained and boring instead of, you know, metal.
I don't get how Obituary has managed to make something that sounds like an Obituary album, but lacking the qualities of all the others. Let's take a look at riffing specifically, just to start. This release lacks the sludgy, horrifying sound of 'Slowly We Rot'. It doesn't have the really tough, brutal riffing of 'Cause Of Death'. It even lacks the gritty, vaguely urban sound of later albums. What remains are a bunch of riffs that are extremely static in nature and convey no meaning or feeling. It's just a lot of blunt, aimless tremolo riffing (or at least I think it's tremolo, the guitar tone completely eliminates any detectable rhythm), cranking out riffs that go on for too long and are repeated much too frequently. There's no sense that what you're hearing is death metal, because none of the riffs seem very metallic apart from in the strictest structural sense. The strangest parts are when it seems that Obituary has lost all their good, simple ideas, and instead just go for steadily more convoluted riff patterns that never seem to resolve, like in 'Feel The Pain'.
Despite how everything's uniformly three to four and a half minutes long (with the obvious exceptions), each track feels like it's takes a goddamn lifetime to complete. This is probably because every riff on the album (they all sound the same, by the way) is repeated to fucking death, as if they're hitting you in the head and saying "HEY THIS IS OLDSCHOOL HUH? HUH? HUH? DON'T YOU THINK THIS IS OLDSCHOOL?" Yes, it's very oldschool. It's also fucking terrible, rehashed kind-of-deathy-thrashy riffing that sounds halfway between Machine Head, mid-era Obituary, and an episode of 'The View'. The only memorable one is at the beginning of 'Drop Dead' because it makes no sense whatsoever to appear in a death metal song with it's overly happy bends. What the fuck, Obituary?
It seems that John Tardy's voice is getting more and more ragged with age, and I don't mean ragged in the sense of early Obituary's tortured cries. The vocals on 'Xecutioner's Return' lack power, particular rawness, or seemingly much effort at all. There are no long, yawning screams; it's like Tardy went for a sharper, more percussive style instead of the sloppiness he was known for, which is an admirable attempt at differentiation, but it comes out as just a bunch of shouting without any intensity. The drumming is similarly predictable and lifeless, treading the same ground that Obituary has tread a thousand times before and in much better form. Obituary has never had a literary masterpiece of an album, but the lyrics seem to make even less sense than normal. Apparently they can't even write a song about being disemboweled, because Tardy decided to go for a more 'psychological' (meaning really repetitive and incoherent) lyrical approach. It sucks.
Yet another crucial part of what ruins this album, though, is an utter lack of atmosphere. Early Obituary is some of the most atmospheric oldschool death metal out there, with a genuinely dark, ominous feel. This lacks ANY semblance of atmosphere at all. There's no dark sound, no ominous riff structures, no deadly-seeming drum patterns; the songs just exist to exist, and they carry no weight either individually or in the context of the album. Death metal is something that honestly relies on feeling like it signifies something greater, be that an idea, an emotion, or an image, but this album is so damned aesthetically scattershot that it can never deliver a cohesive vision. But then again, it doesn't even intend to; it's little more than a collection of only vaguely related notes.
The real killer of the album, though, is a complete lack of intensity for everyone involved. Did Candlelight tell them to 'not play so hard and fast' or some shit? Nothing ever feels fast or slow, just an endless division of completely unexciting midtempos. Nothing ever feels brutal or melodic, just 'there' with absolutely nothing to say for it. The songs half-heartedly play through before saying 'Fuck it, we've got nothing, just go to the next one' and promptly ending. This SUCKS. There is nothing interesting or memorable about it at all. I can't even say that it's an attempted cash-in, because I think Obituary was earnest about going for this sound, but just forgot to WRITE A FUCKING ALBUM along the way. This is painful to listen to, and it should be painful for everyone involved in it. Make another 'Frozen In Time' and stop embarrassing yourselves, holy shit.