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If you're into metal then Obituary is a band that doesn't really need an introduction. They've been around for a long long time now and released their share of seminal albums.
Xecutioner's Return is the band's seventh studio album and the only change is the absence of long time lead guitar player Allen West. Replacing him is guitar slinger for hire and all round guitar virtuoso Ralph Santolla whose previous high profile entry into death metal was Deicide's Stench Of Redemption in 2006.
The album starts in typical Obituary fashion with Face Your God. The rumbling slightly sludgy sound of yore is retained and the song blasts out of the speakers. Evil Ways is another song with a groovy riff that bears some resemblance to early Six Feet Under. Bloodshot is classic Obituary being mid paced, heavy and with John Tardy's vocals gaining prominence. Seal Your Fate is a fast angry song with hints of Slayer where Santolla comes in for an extended lead guitar part and Donald Tardy turns in a stellar performance behind the drum kit. Feel The Pain comes closest to capturing the feel of the Cause Of Death era with a slow dirty riff and some mid-paced death metal rumbling. A good song but also at the same time it illustrates the problem i have with this album. Santolla takes two lead guitar spots in a song thats about four and a half minutes long. I think thats one solo too many. The very next song, Contrast The Dead is lengthy at over 7 minutes and sounds again like it could have been on any of the bands earlier albums but again, Santolla's lead guitar playing! There's just too much of it.
The songs on this album are all vintage Obituary. Not as good as 2004's superb Frozen In Time album but certainly better than Back From The Dead. The one thing about Obituary right through their recording career has been that the band has favoured simple groovy death metal songs to technicality. The band keep it simple and over the years have perfected a song writing formula that has delivered some truly memorable death metal songs. Xecutioner's Return doesn't really do too much to change that. The songs are groovy, John Tardy sounds as menacing as ever and Trevor Peres lays down some very nice riffs. The big change though is in the lead guitar department. Santolla is a virtuoso musician and not since Cause Of Death has the lead playing been this good. In fact i would say that the lead guitar playing right through the album while tasteful and fitting into the song perfectly is a bit of a distraction. I'd even say that the lead guitar playing on these songs is a bit better than the songs themselves. Not sure if that makes sense but it's what I think.
By the time the album came to an end I was more impressed with the lead guitar playing than I was with the actual songs. At the end of the day, this is an Obituary album. I want to hear down tuned sludgy mid-paced death metal with some sick vocals and not some guitar virtuoso wank of for a minute in every 3 minute song.
If you're a fan of terrific lead guitar playing in your death metal then i guess you'll love this album. For me though, I think Santolla seriously overdoes it. I think his lead guitar playing is detrimental to these songs. Obituary has made a good album. There's no doubt about that. Still, I can't help thinking how much better this album would have been if Santolla had shown some restraint in his lead guitar playing.