(This is Wil Cifer‘s review of the new album by Obituary, just released on January 13th by Relapse Records.)
In 1989 I first heard “Slowly We Rot” on a college radio station that played metal at midnight every Friday night. What struck me about Obituary was the deliberate grind of guitars and John Tardy‘s emotive yowl that separated them from the other death metal and thrash bands at the time. Their sound owed more to Celtic Frost than Slayer or Venom.
Those kinds of Celtic Frost like groove do not play as defining a role in their new album Dying of Everything, however I was also not expecting the thrashing ass-kicking the opening track unleashes. Any concerns regarding this album living up to their established legacy were squashed. The more Slayer-like attack is balanced out by Tardy‘s distinctive voice reminding you that this is Obituary. They bring back the headbanging grooves on “Without a Conscience”, and Tardy‘s sneer is given time to articulate the agony.
Photo Credit: Tim Hubbard
This is a great sounding record; the guitars have grit yet clarity in the dense violence they hit your ears with. “War” proves to be a fitting anthem for 2023. It stomps like a tank. They then maintain their sense of identity with the title track, the only song that streamlines their sound into something which hints at conforming to the current tone of the modern death metal sound, as they rage full speed ahead. This results in something more intense and marginally less hooky than the previous songs as it goes for the throat. Though this grew on me with repeated listens.
“My Will to Live” brings back the more expected sense of groove that longtime fans show up for. The fact that Tardy‘s spewed his scowling vocals in his more traditional manner brought me great satisfaction, and the main verse riff is chugged with a great deal of authority.
The line they balance between pleasing fans who grew up listening to them and appealing to the younger generations of metal fans who might have discovered them on MySpace, when finding they were friends with Chelsea Grin, is well-balanced, the big production value playing a large role in achieving this. A prime example is how “By the Dawn” finds the band doing what they used to but pumped up to contend with what the expectations of today’s metal heads might be. This can also be heard on “Weaponize the Hate”, which lyrically is a very telling commentary on the world today. Their lyrics are not obligatory metal tropes being reheated, but instead are thoughtfully penned.
“Torn Apart”is driven by a very powerful gallop once it kicks in. The guitar solos are more rock ‘n’ roll throughout the album, but most noticed here, and the last song “Be Warned” has more guts and menace to it, as it is also the more ominous in its slower crunch, which feels perhaps the most like their glory days of slowly rotting.
These guys teach the master class in how heavy riffs should work, and put songwriting at the forefront of their mission statement, rather than just hitting you with brutality for the sake of being brutal, which normally results in a quagmire of distortion with no hook in sight.
They have yet to release an album that is ineffective in this, having weathered the trends that came and went over the years. This album stands shoulder to shoulder with the band’s classic work and does not feel like it leans on nostalgia as it churns forward, without looking back to recreate the glory days. It’s only January and these guys have raised the bar pretty fucking high for what I am going to expect from death metal to come this year. This reignites the love of a long-time fan as well as proving themselves in today’s metal landscape.