Full disclosure: the first time I ever heard Obituary, I fucking hated it. I did, I admit it. A mate lent me an Anthology of theirs when I was about 14, and I couldn’t stand it. Fast forward about 14 years and they’re one of my favourite death metal acts. Strange how life turns out. Inked In Blood is Obituary’s first album since 2009’s Darkest Day, and their first for Relapse Records. Sounds like a partnership made in heaven, but considering past masterpieces like Cause Of Death and Slowly We Rot, anything less than brilliant will not do.
We open with Centuries Of Lies, a bruising two minute assault that contains everything an Obituary fan could want. A grinding riff with relentless vocal vomiting over the top, complete with thunderous slower sections capture what make Obituary essential. A lot of early death metal bands were almost just extreme thrash to start, but Obituary’s slower, more crushing assault became so influential.
The rumbling stomp of Violent By Nature brings to mind latter day Bolt Thrower, particularly the intro crescendo. Thick production and huge propulsive riffs make this a new classic. Donald Tardy creates a tribal foundation for parts that work really well in bringing the heavy, and his brother’s iconic vocals are just pure evil. John Tardy has slowly gotten more understandable over the years, but yet hasn’t lost any of that classic ‘word vomiting’ style he pioneered. It fits Obituary like anti-Christianity fits Deicide, or gore fits Cannibal Corpse.
What always set Obituary apart from other pioneering death metal bands, other than their inhuman vocalist, was their tendency to rely on slower, heavier songs rather than a systematic battering. You were much more likely to get crushed by songs like Pain Inside or the ludicrously heavy Inked In Blood than a lot of faster bands. That approach has always appealed to me. I prefer the crawling chaos of this or Autopsy to the razor attack. When an injection of speed is taken, on the barrelling Violence for example, it works well, but it seems a bit more forced and less natural.
A nice change to their sound is some more guitar melodies, particularly solos, which are cropping up. The tasty licks of Back On Top are a great example, a display of restrained virtuosity within steamrolling riffs. It’s a potent mix, one that bands should take heed of. Deicide took a similar approach on The Stench Of Redemption, and it shows that death metal can sacrifice none of its extremity and still have excellent melodic moments.
Tracks like Visions In My Head and Within A Dying Breed showcase what a potent force Obituary still are, even nine records and 26 years into their career. While Inked In Blood may not match up with their essential early work, it is a solid reminder to all young pups out there that the big dogs can still slay better than you. This is simple, solid death metal; no guitar pyrotechnics, no double bass explosions, just big riffs, hard drumming and a truly unique vocal performance. Obituary are still putting bands to shame, 25 years after they taught everyone how to do it in the first place.
Scribed by: Sandy Williamson