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Straight from the late 80s gutter. - 91%

hells_unicorn, July 22nd, 2013

In addition to being one of the most important prime movers in the early Florida death metal scene, Obituary generally tends to be one of the most misunderstood, at least in terms of their earliest offerings. Much has been made about how they pushed the envelope in a way not really experienced in the earlier days of death metal when it was still tied more closely to its thrash roots (think early Sepultura and Death's first few albums), but with this has come an implicit impression that their efforts paved the way for what became the brutal character of the later 90s. Contrary to this picture, Obituary presents something that is by all means intense, horrific, and worthy of an elongated screaming fit, but also something that is about as closely tied to their own mid 80s thrash metal roots as Death's "Leprosy", with a touch more sludge and nastiness to their production that is along somewhat similar lines to Autopsy. In other words, the grind-inspired blasting mayhem of "Altars Of Madness" and the extremely guttural gurgles of Deicide's formative albums is not to be found in Obituary's early days, particularly in the case of their rightly lauded debut "Slowly We Rot".

Nevertheless, it should be noted that by 1989 an album like this was definitely on the highest echelon in terms of intensity and aggression, it just wasn't quite to where Suffocation would be 2 years later, or where Morbid Angel had gotten to at around the same time. It's still very much tied to the same overall thrash metal riffing style that typified the mid 80s death metal sound, complete with a wild soloing style out of Allen West (who later put his 2 cents into Six Feet Under's earliest works) that is heavily similar to the Slayer inspired madness that the Hoffman brothers would contribute to the Florida scene via Deicide. Combined with a drum battery that is only slightly more double bass happy than the typical Teutonic thrash album and a vocal performance out of John Tardy that has more in common with the throaty, moderately low character of Chuck Schuldiner, and what emerges is an album that can be equally appreciated by old school death metal fans and harder edged thrash adherents who are looking for something a bit more intense than what was coming out of San Francisco in the late 80s.

Arguably the most unique aspect of this album is how short the individual songs are, in spite of coming off as longer than they actually are given the characteristically rapid switches between fast and slow that defines their formula. Be it the punishingly slow elements at play on "Deadly Intentions" that play off on a faster element that is pretty close to the chaotic elements of "South Of Heaven" and "Reign In Blood", or the generally fast and occasionally tremolo based work heard on "Bloodsoaked" and "Immortal Visions", the ongoing formula speaks heavily to an extreme dichotomy between doom and thrash metal that was not widely heard of. But the most wickedly exhilierating example of this effective use of extremes in tempo change matched with a muddy, vile guitar tone is heard on the slow trudging turned frenzied monster of a title song "Slowly We Rot". Interestingly enough, the principle riff of this song actually bears a slight resemblance to the later death n' roll craze that the band is largely credited with starting, having almost a NWOBHM character that is easy to identify as such apart from the morose character of the guitars playing it.

If nothing else, Obituary's pioneering debut does an astonishing job at vividly illustrating through musical technique the meaning conveyed in its very title. Matching together the intense switches in fast and slow often finds one seeing the slow fester of a corpse not unlike the one adorning the album cover, while the massive jumps in tempo could be likened to the rapid movement of bacteria and fungus at the mircoscopic level devouring the dead cells of the cadaver. The only real thing that this album has working against it is a somewhat limited riff set that sees a lot of similar ideas recurring from one song to the next, though it's about as small of an issue as it was on a number of thrash metal albums that opted for impact and aggression over flash and technique. It's definitely an essential piece of the early death metal puzzle that no fan of the genre should be without, and one that will probably appeal as much to those who took to the outer fringes of the 80s thrash scene, particularly the mid to late 80s work of Slayer and Possessed. Even after more than 2 decades of genre expansion, this beast can still send chills down the bones of any that cross its auditory path.