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Like a Phoenix Perishing in Apocalyptic Flames - 77%

bayern, June 8th, 2021

I’m semi-ashamed to confess that it was with the album reviewed here that I got fully exposed to Obituary… yep, prior to that I was certainly aware of the band’s existence, but apart from the “The End Complete” video that I’d watched at a friend’s house, I’d never gone the extra mile to check any of their earlier output. Death metal wasn’t a very essential part of my music diet at the time, and also having in mind that reading the obituaries glued to the columns and building walls all over town wasn’t really my favourite pastime (a friend of mine was very fond of that), I had no urgent issues to settle with the art of John Tardy and Co.

But back to said video: the earth-shaking, ultra-heavy rhythms and the infernal apocalyptic shouts of Tardy must have left quite a trace in my mind as I bought the cassette here almost instantly, on impulse, when I saw it in the shop. I mean, what’s not to like, the band name… or the bleak pessimistic cover… or the promises for a few seismic down-tuned death metal tunes to disperse the thickening agro/groovy clouds in the mid-90’s…

however, the time was hardly one to meet the fans’ expectations, with every second practitioner rushing to please the numetal audience with more or less humiliating cosmetic alterations. The thing is that by 1994 one already knew how to treat the new vogues in music, with three fan types already consolidated: those who loved the groove to bits, those who didn’t mind it but seldom listened to it, and those who hated it with all the passion they could summon. The latter fraction was also a fairly unforgiving one, not hesitating to discard their idols even, if the latter had happened to surrender to said vogues. In other words, skin shedding was a very commonplace occurrence, largely causing exasperation and frustration unless you had the temerity to pull out a most black album some three years earlier.

Well, you can’t expect a display of the brightest colours out there from a band named Obituary, a misanthropic team who’ve bet on the DDD (death, demise, doom) trichotomy from the very beginning, and having made quite a living for themselves thanks to it. With “The End Complete” having sold nearly half a million copies, the band had quite a bit to live up to, and the greatest piece of news was that they didn’t have to sacrifice much from their style, this slow-burning, impossibly heavy at times, even anti-speed if you like, approach to song-writing which could pass for anything, from post-death to sinisterly disguised doom and everything in-between. So, if there had to be a band from the old guard to retain their entire fanbase during those gruesome times, it’d got to be Obituary.

If I had evaluated this opus on the spot, when I gave it a listen the first time, I was probably going to give it a score somewhere in the upper-80’s… I took it for what it was, a standalone statement, with no attachments to previous recordings, a heavy pessimistic slab of death art that had the anger, had the groove, had the trendy sterile vibe that had lastingly permeated the music industry… and yet it carried the Obituary brand all over; unmistakably. Even if Tardy doesn’t open his hellish throat immediately at the start of “Don’t Care”, you know what band you listen to, the volcanic steam-rolling rhythm-section engulfing you like a tank, the dirgy corrosive riffs the perfect musical match to the bleak life-denouncing lyrical stance, a steady monolithic avalanche that descends slowly but surely, sometimes enhanced by threatening thumping sounds (the title-track), sometimes dissipated by the odd fast-paced explosion (“Paralysing”). Diversity is out of the question, the message delivered simply doesn’t need fancy decorations, world demise is coming, the masses have to bow down, squashed by the ever-replenishing ultra-heaviness, this wall of sound which shatters the senses… nope, it’s not a hallucination that “Solid State” throws in a few more playful rhythms, including an urgent speedy section, a breath of polluted air that will help the listener survive the angry “Splattered/Final Thoughts” melee, a brooding doom-laden fiesta which also opens a groovy gap in said wall, the latter explored (“Boiling Point”, “Kill for Me”) a bit more towards the end.

This is it; when you don’t go bowing to the scene, the scene comes bowing to you, adapting itself to your stylistic whims. Obituary didn’t have to do much, if anything at all, in order to adjust to the new currents. They had already predicted way back how the music industry would evolve, choosing an approach that would transcend decades, and would cover the world with obituaries from top to bottom… they stood proud in the midst of a difficult period, without having to radically alter their music by hopping a playful goofy wolverine blues, or drowning their sorrow in sentenced-to-run-amok dark/gothic romanticism, or gathering all the children in their backyard with sprawling epic tales from the thousand lakes… nope; they didn’t have to do all these things. They had long since gone with the flow, even when said flow was just a trickle…

accolades aside, this effort doesn’t score sky-high when it comes to xecution… sorry, execution; it’s monotonous, it’s one-dimensional, it’s plain tedious at times… but all this has been chosen intentionally, and this is where the kudos come. If world demise is what’s coming, who needs flashy guitar work, a frequent change of tempos, and complex entangled arrangements… this isn’t a phoenix-like resurrection, for crying out loud! The moment you press the button, depression mode settles in and stays there till the very end (complete)… and this is probably why this album didn’t resonate as successfully with the audience; it failed to sell even half as well as its predecessor. I guess at this stage the fandom had gotten weary of the band’s message: they rotted slowly with them, saw numerous causes of death, nearly reached mankind’s end two years prior… how much more can one endure before throwing the towel, and starts seeing at least a tiny light in the tunnel? Even if that light could be just a figment of his/her imagination…

how well Allen West did to team up with Chris Barnes for the Six Feet Under initiative a year later remains debatable, but once he came back, he literally brought about the band’s demise… yes, it was supposed to be a “back from the dead” stint, the exact opposite to the guys’ preachings of old, but this 1997 instalment was a resounding disaster. With both the speed and the groove increased, this outing was simply too naive and pretentious to side even remotely with the earlier pessimistic odes, not to mention the downright terrible rap closer “Bullituary”… enough said. The band put their signatures under their obituary, and stayed dormant, by no means dead, for about five years. With five pretty decent opuses accumulated during the new millennium, it seems like the Obituary saga isn’t slacking… it will continue churning dark foreboding messages until the world’s inevitable demise.