*** Go to our YouTube channel in the link below to see the video review of this record in episode #18 of the SBR Album of the Week.
Obituary are one of the unsung heroes of metal. They’ve influenced more bands than almost anyone in the last thirty-five years and shifted some impressive numbers in their time, including 250,000 units for 1992’s The End Complete. And yet for a death metal band they remain one of those artists nobody dislikes in the scene, but no one remembers to include in their end-of-year lists apart from the ‘Best metal albums of the 1980s’ polls that are so addictive. If you’re reading this and you know nothing about Obituary, you may need to leave the room. Now on their eleventh album with three original members from 1988 still driving the group, the Floridian legends go into 2023 with every reason to be optimistic. It seems everyone woke up in the last five years and remembered that Obituary are a force in contemporary metal that we should not take for granted.
The three things that distinguish the band as pioneers and as an inspiration for many others remain at the heart of Obituary – John Tardy’s unique vocal exhalation growls; Donald Tardy’s double-kick grooves; and the group’s determination to prove that death metal can still be heavy at a mid-tempo pace. And yet opener, ‘Barely Alive’, reminds you of one of the most curious developments over the last ten years, namely their influence on modern hardcore/crossover. The d-beats and rough guitar distortion support the vitriolic mid-range roar of John Tardy here. You could even call it metallic hardcore if you took out the anguished morbidity of Tardy’s voice. Let’s be clear: Obituary are not a hardcore band, but many hardcore bands sound like Obituary. The gushing sweep-picking solo of this song reminds you that this is death metal even if it’s a grimy version that has no interest in blast beats or low guitar tunings.
Like their 1989 debut, Slowly We Rot, album number eleven presents an immaculate first half that will not be equalled all year. Lead single, ‘The Wrong Time’, is like a stadium rock song defiled by the pessimism of death metal’s ugly outlook on life. ‘Without a Conscience’ is an instant classic that can stand next to ‘Chopped in Half’ and ‘Don’t Care’ in the band’s back catalogue. How many artists in this genre can squirm and groove at the same time? The latter is a statement from Trevor Peres and Kenny Andrews that they value their status as riff lords and will do everything to retain their pedestals. No wonder they toured with Prong last year – both bands share a unique ability to find a hook in their unfriendly music. Listen to the flying bullet noises and sludgy power chord filth of ‘War’ – you want to nod your head, raise your shoulders, and make a gun gesture with your index finger. Though he does it on every album, the way John Tardy imitates a disembowelled Samurai with his agonising roar never fails to astonish. Close your eyes and you could be listening to 1990’s Cause of Death album with the same sense of elation.
Skilful rhythms are the order of the day on Dying of Everything, including the second half of the album that almost matches the supremacy of side A. At a push, maybe penultimate track, ‘Torn Apart’, has some features of a filler track, and ‘My Will to Live’ could do better with the framework of Metallica’s middle eight riff in ‘Creeping Death’ as its foundation. But these are harsh criticisms. How can you overlook the death-thrash brilliance of ‘Weaponize the Hate’ or the Celtic Frost with sixteenth-note double kick patterns of ‘By the Dawn’?
Do yourself a favour and dial into this album through headphones so you can appreciate the iconic footwork of drummer, Donald Tardy. Nothing about the mix is overproduced or enhanced beyond recognition, and nothing turns the drums from pure muscle to steroid-injecting dishonesty. Closing track, ‘Be Warned’, is almost too aggressive in its crunchy palm-muted downstrokes, to the point where you believe your speakers might emit smoke. It’s the only song that touches upon the death-doom genre (of which Obituary receive little recognition for its development), and it sounds like the tortured dead pleading for their souls to be released from limbo. Tech death bands would do well to remember this aesthetic next time they shred through a million notes per minute.
You could argue that expectations with Obituary are manageable. Nobody wants them to change, and they seldom join in the mania for moving with the times. But that’s because their brand of death metal stands the test of time. Ask the heavy hardcore bands if you have your doubts. Dying of Everything proves that you can rock out, you can groove, you can destroy things, and you can still sound like a death metal band in the process.
Release Date: 13/01/2023
Record Label: Relapse Records
Standout tracks: Barely Alive, Without a Conscience, Be Warned
Suggested Further Listening: Slayer – Hell Awaits (1985), Vaulted – Left in Despair (2021), Celtic Frost – Emperor’s Return EP (1985)