If there’s such a thing as a household name when it comes to death metal, Obituary certainly fit the bill. Along with the likes of Death, Morbid Angel and Autopsy, the Floridian band pioneered the genre in the United States around the mid-to-late 1980s, remaining one of the most successful death metal bands of all time, to such an extent that I need not go into specific details regarding the group’s far-reaching influence across subsequent generations of metal bands. Having released their earth-shattering debut record, Slowly We Rot, in 1989, Obituary, amidst several line-up changes, continued to record pivotal albums for the genre’s growing popularity, before disbanding following the release of 1997’s Back from the Dead, citing relatively commonplace reasons, such as a growing tired of frequent touring. The group returned in 2005 with their sixth studio album, Frozen in Time, and continued to consistently release albums that sounded no less like Obituary than their pre-split material. Nonetheless, as time went on and the band continued putting out material, their once gut-busting brutal sound had gradually lost a lot of its impact, largely as a result of the contemporary musical climate in which the group was operating. Unfortunately, it seemed that, whilst Obituary were once considered as heavy as metal could get, their stagnation within the sound that made them such a force to be reckoned with in the late-80s and early-90s simply made them sound increasingly more tired and commonplace, which hardly helps convey a death metal band’s ferocity. Obituary’s previous album, 2014’s Inked in Blood, exhibited these issues more noticeably than ever before and made for a release that, whilst perfectly decent on a technical level, was nonetheless rather forgettable and failed to stand out amongst the bevy of other bands who were doing far more interesting and forward-thinking things within the death metal paradigm. On their latest, self-titled album, I honestly had no reason to expect these reservations to be erased and, indeed, Obituary seems to suffer from many of the same issues as its precursor, lacking in intensity, creativity and overall memorability. It really is rather unfortunate that Obituary are so content with resting on their laurels, as I’ve found this to have, over time, spoiled their once face-melting sound by seeing it gradually descend into something that I find to be, ultimately, somewhat generic. This is a band who have influenced an entire generation of metal acts, resulting in the emergence of plenty of artists who are incredibly reminiscent of the group, and, on their self-titled album, Obituary seem to blend in with the broader death metal scene more than ever before.
What’s noticeable about Obituary before even hitting play is the fact that it’s considerably shorter than any of Obituary’s previous releases, with the regular version barely exceeding the half-an-hour mark across its 10 tracks. Initially, this struck me as potentially a good thing, in that it could give the band enough time to bust out some ripping riffs with some entertaining performances from frontman John Tardy and then duck out before they overstay their welcome. In this regard, Brave initially struck me as somewhat of a compelling opening track for the record, in that it kicks things off with a fast-paced, seemingly thrash-inspired tune that boasts a relatively energetic performance from the band along with some of the album’s better guitar work. This being said, whilst the band’s performance is relatively high in drive and conviction, it’s far from their most cohesive effort, as they seem to convey what feels like an intentional, punk-inspired sloppiness to this song, although it is honestly quite hard to discern whether or not this was deliberate. It must also be said that, on this track, its shorter runtime lets it down slightly, in that it seemed like Brave would be a prime candidate for one of the crazy, left-field breakdowns that Obituary are known for, but unfortunately the song simply blisters through its speedy, thrashy main body and ends just as abruptly as it started. The second song on the record, Sentence Day, applies some similar principles to its preceding track, but in a more interesting format, whilst nevertheless reeking of Obituary’s usual style. The band remains impressively tight as they storm through the unconventional phrasing of the song’s main section, whilst maintaining the high-octane vigour exhibited on Brave. This being said, Sentence Day also seems to be slightly let down, this time by the production, which comes across, to me personally, as a bit too bland to effectively capture what I’m sure is a rather impressive performance from Obituary. Nonetheless, these first two tracks are most definitely amongst the stand-out songs on Obituary for me, in that they convey a notable amount of the elements that have made Obituary such an influential band in the death metal world, whilst not sounding as trite as I have found much of their recent material to be.
Unfortunately, however, from the third track onwards, Obituary displays few interesting ideas that haven’t either been covered by Obituary in a more exciting format on one of their previous releases, or by a plethora of other metal bands in recent years. What’s more, some of these songs convey some perfectly good ideas, but these are occasionally executed in a way that doesn’t quite bring out their full potential. As for the latter criticism, A Lesson in Vengeance comes to mind, in that it features one of the most memorable melodies on the record, with a rock ‘n roll-tinged groove, but the main riff is repeated almost ad nauseum, with few techniques being used to keep things interesting. Moreover, the song finishes with the same style of false ending that was used on Brave, which just feels tired the second time around, with all of this simply diminishing the impact that an otherwise killer riff could have had. Tardy’s vocal performance, too, is rather lacklustre, both in that it’s buried a bit too much in the mix and is far less filthy than the deliveries for which he was known in his heyday. As the album progresses, Obituary seem to fall into somewhat of a rut, particularly during the middle section, with songs like Kneel Before Me and It Lives being largely hinged on a selection of rudimentary and commonplace death metal riffs that lack a huge amount of punch and which are often repeated for far too long, with minimal attempts at throwing a spanner in the works like the group used to. Ultimately, that’s wherein my main issue with this record lies; it simply feels like a rather rudimentary release for the death metal genre in 2017, and I doubt it would see the coverage that it has received were it not for the fact that it’s an Obituary record.
Whilst displaying few glaring flaws, Obituary is nevertheless a mixed release, largely resulting from the fact that it’s such a plain and ultimately forgettable album. The characteristics that made Obituary such a remarkable band in their prime are certainly displayed on this self-titled record, but in very limited quantities, making for an album that is only minimally distinguishable from the bevy of other death metal records of this vein to have been released recently. Personally, I’ve never been of the opinion that a bland or boring record is worse than a genuinely dreadful one, but on Obituary, the results yielded by the band’s continued adherence to a cut and dried blueprint are so elementary as to seldom convey much that is particularly interesting or even memorable. Ultimately, Obituary are most likely a band who are so important to the history of death metal that most fans are happy for them to continue doing what they have always done without displaying any significant progression, but for me, given the myriad of artists and music that have subsequently emerged after the group’s primary era of influence, albums like Obituary end up striking me as rather stale and banal.
The Vinyl Verdict: 5/10