On their ninth album, Obituary continue to deliver ash-blackened riffage and unintelligible, swamp-creature squeals straight from the bile sac.
When people add audio elements to their front-yard Halloween displays, they’re usually of the cartoonish variety – spooky sound effects, “Thriller", “The Monster Mash", etc. But this year, if you’re interested in truly scaring the shit out of your block, cue up track three of Obituary’s ninth album.
It’s called “Pain Inside", and it has pretty much everything that makes death metal exciting, frightening, and ultimately cathartic. First, an ominous five-chord dirge. Then, vocalist John Tardy’s growling rasp as he repeats “all we need is pain inside", his voice part shrieking cryptkeeper, part basso demon, sounding like James Hetfield if he was slowly choking to death. And finally, the third act shift that’s the mark of a great 1980s metal band, a jolt of energy in the form of a darkly triumphant riff, which sets the stage for Tardy’s horrifying coup de grace: “We’re coming to get you! We’re coming to get you AND YOUR SOUL!” This is more than just loud-ass nihilism. It’s biker music for Cenobytes. Even if you know that these guys are middle-aged Floridians on a lark, the brutality of their music is so convincing, it almost makes you wish you had a rosary lying around, just to be safe.
Add Obituary to the list of metal groups who nosedived in the ‘90s, only to be successfully reborn in the 21st century -- you know, that storyline that Metallica playacts every few years. Inked in Blood is the Tampa foursome’s fourth LP since reuniting in 2005, so it makes sense that it wouldn’t have the refreshing immediacy of something like Carcass’s 2013 comeback, Surgical Steel (the gold standard for death metal reunions these days). Yet the commitment bleeds through these songs, along with a meat and potatoes metal sensibility that’s the luxury of bands whose identity crises are far in the rearview. Obituary just wants to be Obituary, and that’s all we want them to be. So we get plenty of ash-blackened, catchy riffage, unintelligible, swamp-creature squeals straight from Tardy’s bile sac, and next to no studio trickery to leaven the darkness.
Well, by ‘80s Tampa metal standards, that last statement might be untrue. The band’s early triumphs like Slowly We Rot were so compressed to be almost make the bass player expendable. The guitars screeched and clamored like an AM radio transmission from hell; as your eardrums rattled, the walls were closing in. Inked in Blood has a low end to speak of; it’s the group’s first recording with metal mercenary Terry Butler on bass (Butler played on another Florida thrash masterwork, Death’s Leprosy). It’s a good move for 2014 Obituary as these songs aren’t foaming at the mouth quite like they were 25 years ago, and the (slightly) richer atmosphere goes nicely with the sense of older artists easing back into their well-worn plywood coffins.
One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is the subject matter. Death, violence, pain, and lies have been this band’s bread and butter for a long, long time. That they continue to take inspiration from it all is clearly, and ironically, life sustaining.