If living under a rock is your thing, Obituary will mean nothing. Those on the fringes of death-ville may be more familiar, with a hazarding guess that ‘they’re probably from Florida’ being absolutely correct. That generalisation of locale for a music genre also brings with it the esteem of deathened music. The cream of the crop. The summit. Maybe even the dizzying depths of hell, in a good way!
Obituary have retained the title of reliable stalwarts, alongside Tampa cousins (not literally) Morbid Angel, continuing to push out numbers and having a bloody grand time in the process. Shown through throaty growls too, that’s quite the feat. John Tardy’s infernal wretch builds over the immediate blasting drums to Barely Alive. And yes, the titular chorus does go “baaaaaaaare-lyyyyyyy aaaaaa-liiiiiiiive” on repeat, which you’ll be groaning under your breath on the bus next to your uncomfortable co-passenger. They’ll be cautious of your whirling dervish of hair throughout the album’s course, over its moody chordal passages and weedly squealy solos from lead axe-slinger Ken Andrews.
Crafting the essence of speedy epic death came naturally to the Tardy brothers and co since Obituary’s ‘80s beginnings. In 2023, it’s just gotten more raw. “Nowadays, we do it ourselves and there’s not a single effect on Trevor’s guitar,” says John, “Plus, we’ve got beer cans piled high up off the ground. It’s great.” True say. A newfound appreciation for studio space, throughout the pandemic, and a reluctance to keep messing around with what’s good seems to have been the right medicine to push those relentlessly banging tunes forward. “The right mindset at the right time”, you might say, in direct opposition to mid-tempo rocker The Wrong Time. The lead single which comprises the “meat and potatoes” of Obituary. Dense and delicious.
Trebor Peres’ characteristic chugs emanate the groove-appreciation of Dimebag and even some dirty south styles that make Lamb Of God’s guitars so central (unbelievably so in the trampoline-levels-of-fun bops in War). It’s effectively playful, their mantra being to bundle into a room, plug in, sink cans, and thrash about a bit. It sounds as easy as it does listening to it, but it remains a masterstroke to make ‘angry music’ so darn catchy. It’s ultimately what’s reanimating a genre almost lost to its ‘90s heyday, through burgeoning talents Sanguisugabogg or Undeath.
Despite the fun, although not quite so reliant on the more heinous imagery of certain death metal legends, Tardy’s lyrics stand up to the darkened mood of the pieces rumbling beneath him. Battles for good and evil—depicted on the Mordor-esque cover art by Mariusz Lewandowski (who sadly passed unexpectedly last year)—make up Dying Of Everything’s fantastical version of a feeling strangely close to home. It would feel like a gnarly title if it didn’t so effectively portray the feeling of the current time…
There are frequent flashes here and there of fighting talk, too. The title track’s battle drums plod like a band march outside the Black Gate; By The Dawn’s introduction sounds like a tolling bell; Weaponize The Hate’s name says it all. The apple never falls too far from the metal tree lyrics-wise, but it carries a whimsical charm. You couldn’t quite have Tardy screaming the Teletubbies theme tune now, could you? (We wish.)
For fans of fast-paces slinging death metal anthems, Obituary have you covered. Torn Apart’s tremolo strings fizz over the rhythm section’s straight-talking, if not head-pounding, double bass simplicity. The doomy signpost to the album’s cruelly short end is Be Warned. Low bends are reminiscent of Iron Man, stonk-face reception included, acting as a plodding denouement, death metal soldiers leaving the battlefield for home if you will.
With that, Obituary are far from signing their own on their eleventh record, perhaps as strong as their genre-recapturing self-titled 2017 work. Tight, gnarly and oodles of fun, sometimes you have to concede that the originators are that for a reason. As long as they keep setting expectations from the younger guns, there’s (ironically) life in death metal yet.
For fans of: Obituary, Obituary, Obituary (there’s really no arguing with the press release)
‘Dying Of Everything’ by Obituary is released on 13th January on Relapse Records.
Words by Elliot Burr