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Slowly We Rot (1989)
 

Obituary began their career in 1985, as a Thrash Metal band named Executioner. Even from their earliest stages, one could hear influences ranging from old Metallica, Slayer and Celtic Frost. The following year, after realizing that another band was already using this name, they changed the spelling to Xecutioner. Also influenced by bands such as Venom and Possessed, the band's sound shifted to Death Metal and they went on to be signed by Roadrunner Records, based on the tracks that they contributed to the Raging Death compilation, on Godly Records. They then changed their name, one last time, to Obituary.

Slowly We Rot is the first Obituary album, recorded in Morrisound Recording and produced by Scott Burns. Hailing from Tampa, Florida this band was part of a new metal scene that included the likes of Morbid Angel, Death, Nocturnus, Massacre, Malevolent Creation and Deicide, among others. However, Obituary seemed even more vicious than these bands. This was, as Monte Conner put it, truly "the legacy of Venom, Bathory, Celtic Frost and Slayer reborn into something which was nastier, leaner and altogether more extreme."

It was back in high school when I discovered this band. I often engaged in tape trading with some acquaintances. I exchanged a tape filled with various Testament songs for one that contained Obituary's second album, Cause of Death. I was immediately hooked and I purchased the album as soon as I could. Becoming greedy for more, I quickly sought out their first album and it was even more appealing, being rawer and possessing a great old school feeling. The razor logo, dripping with blood, turned out to be very fitting, as well.

An ominous intro sets the stage for a classic piece of Death Metal history. As "Internal Bleeding" begins, John Tardy's unique vocals vomit forth, accompanied by the thundering drums and gritty guitars. It is like being hacked to pieces by blood-rusted axes. The guitar tone is pure Celtic Frost and the vocals are absolutely sick. It is sometimes strange to see how different bands interpret those that came before them. To listen to a Darkthrone album, such as Panzerfaust, you hear a well-done imitation of Celtic Frost, though somewhat darker. With Obituary, there is the same strong influence from this band, yet they do not simply imitate them; they take what they began and carry it forward to new extremes.

"Godly Beings" begins at full speed, though it features slower sections. The fact that this was recorded on a mere 8 tracks does nothing to hinder the power and force behind this music. The first seven songs actually sound better than the last few, recorded later on 24 tracks.

The guitars on "Til Death" are like scythes slicing through your torso and severing your limbs. Tardy's sickening vocal delivery is quite unprecedented, not really sounding like anyone that has come before him. The scathing speed is contrasted by slow doom riffs and eerie guitar solos. This imbues the listener with a feeling of morbid lust, luring them into the graveyard to walk among the tombs.

Possibly the best song on the album, "Slowly We Rot" begins with a slow and doom-filled riff that is very reminiscent of Celtic Frost, remaining true to the morbid and ghastly atmosphere, while the originators of that sound were busy trying to sell out and appeal to mainstream posers. The opening riffs of the song are very memorable, as are Allen West's lead solos. The song shifts to a blistering speed, showing influences from Slayer's Show No Mercy.

"Immortal Visions" opens as full speed before slowing down to a morbid crawl. The song features various tempos and even a wicked, yet brief, guitar solo. This song is slightly overshadowed by the one that precedes it, as well as the following song; "Gates To Hell". Beginning with high speed ferocity, this song alternates between slow and fast riffs. The vocal lines are completely insane. As the song slows down, John Tardy's screams are morbidly hellish.

"Words of Evil", despite a few screams, is more or less an instrumental track. The one complaint that I would make about the album, thus far, would be that the songs are a bit too short. However, Obituary manages to accomplish what they set out to do, so perhaps the songs are just long enough.

The difference in sound is immediately noticeable, once "Suffocation" begins. Yet, within a few moments, the excellent songwriting draws the listener in and erases any thoughts regarding the superiority of the production job accomplished on the first half of the album. It is odd that the 8 track managed a better sound than 24, but sometimes less is more. At any rate, the musicianship is still top-notch as heard on the following song, "Intoxicated". That song features some of the heaviest riffs of the album, completely crushing all in their path. As the song concludes, the Slayer influence becomes more apparent.

"Deadly Intentions" starts with more of a mid-paced approach. The riffs get slower as the song progresses, accompanied by John Tardy's utterly repulsive vocals. The song speeds up for a bit, as West's razor-sharp solos slice through your flesh, before slowing down once more.

The next song is "Bloodsoaked". Again, this song is mid-paced from the outset, but it gets a bit faster in a short span. The riffs possess sort of an epic feeling, preceding the lead solo. A sense of dread and tension is building, as the vocals become more desperate and the solos sound more tortured. The end is truly near.

This classic album ends with "Stinkupuss", which begins with Celtic Frost-inspired riffs. As the song progresses, one finds old school drum beats, common in early 80s Metal, before blasting at full speed for a brief time. The slow pace returns, as the drums roll across like a tank, destroying all in their path. As the song fades into oblivion, anyone with a keen ear will be able to recognize that they just experienced something rare. Unlike many bands that form one day and record an album the following week, Obituary labored away in the underground for years before recording a full-length and it shows in the quality of the musicianship and songwriting. Rather than simply imitating those bands that inspired them, they took the influences and forged them into something new and violent. With Slowly We Rot and the album that followed, Obituary created a musical legacy that will never be forgotten.
 
(10 Mar. 2009)

 
 

Released on Roadrunner Records, in September 1990, Cause of Death is the second full-length album from Obituary. Recorded and mixed at Morrisound Studios, this L.P. featured two new members, with James Murphy (freshly ejected from Death) and Frank Watkins replacing Allen West and Daniel Tucker on guitar and bass, respectively. The horror artwork used for the cover matches the atmosphere fairly well, though label mates Sepultura initially planned to use it for their 1989 release, Beneath the Remains. The band's sophomore effort took the intense and morbid approach of Slowly We Rot and added an epic quality that few others dared to attempt. The end result was a memorable record that stands as a classic of American Death Metal.

My first exposure to Obituary was through the track "Chopped In Half", which was only the tip of the iceberg when one thinks about the incredible songwriting found on Cause of Death. Some months later, I saw a kid at school with an Obituary shirt and started talking music. Since he lacked any real knowledge of Thrash, I ended up trading him a mix tape that featured a lot of Testament songs in exchange for a dubbed copy of Obituary's second album. The cassette hardly left my tape player for the next several months, as it completely killed most of the Death Metal that I possessed at that time, with the exception of the early efforts from Death and Morbid Angel.

From the opening moments of "Infected", the epic atmosphere begins to unfold. Some of it has to do with the intros and outros that are included in many of the tracks. This adds something to the overall vibe, but also connects the songs in such a way that they really seem to be pieces of a greater whole and flow well from one to the next. James Murphy's lead solos also have a lot to do with the atmosphere, coming off as much more ambitious than what his predecessor was capable of. John Tardy's sickening vocals sound possessed and filled with a deathlike hatred. The material is quite dynamic, with a good deal of variation in the tempos. This is done in a natural manner, as the songs develop and draw the listener in. One can easily hear the strong Celtic Frost influence in many of the crushing, mid-paced riffs. These, typically, lead into faster riffs that sound more inspired by the likes of Slayer. Of course, they go so far as to record a cover of "Circle of the Tyrants", from The Emperor's Return. Due to the style of songwriting, this fits into the album quite well and many may not even notice that it is a cover song, since it blends in so well. However obvious the bands heroes may be, there is still a sense of uniqueness to the songwriting that belongs to Obituary, alone. The band absolutely had its own identity by this point. Unlike many of their peers, they often let the music do the talking for longer periods of time than what many would consider normal, with tracks like the updated version of "Find the Arise" and "Dying" almost seeming like instrumentals due to the sparse vocal contributions. The feeling conveyed is like walking some ancient graveyard, with an eerie fog hovering over it and the moon prominent in the night sky. Yet something is not right, as many of the graves and crypts are open and the stench of death is ever-present. The melodic solos sort of give things an otherworldly aura, as if this realm of decay is inhabited by some malevolent force. There is a gloomy feeling and a sense of dread that chills your skin, at times. The material on Cause of Death is haunting and memorable, featuring some of Obituary's best work.

The sound is pretty clear while not being overproduced, at all. Having been recorded at Morrisound, this album possesses a very similar production to nearly every other Death Metal album that was recorded there, around the same time. During the faster parts, one could easily exchange the riffs for a similar piece of a song from Spiritual Healing, Deicide, Harmony Corruption, The Ten Commandments or any number of others and one would be hard-pressed to notice. While the band may have benefited from going to a different studio, the sound does not do much to damage the impact of the music and Obituary's superior songwriting still manages to shine through.

Cause of Death is an essential slab of early Death Metal. While The End Complete may have sold more copies, it was off of the hard work put forth by Slowly We Rot and Cause of Death that it did so. The band would never again reach this level of creativity or overall quality. This material kills what most other Death Metal bands were releasing during that same year and is an absolute classic of the sub-genre. This comes highly recommended and should be a part of any self-respecting Metalhead's record collection.
 
(12 Dec. 2011)

 
 

In 1991, Obituary returned to the rotten halls of Morrisound, in Tampa, to record their third full-length album. Produced by the inept Scott Burns, The End Complete was released in April 1992 on Roadrunner Records. While this is not a bad album, it was pretty clear that the band had reached the end of their creativity. Commercially speaking, this was a very successful release for Obituary and for Death Metal, in general. However, that does not reflect the quality of the material presented.

Musically, The End Complete offers nothing new and serves only to rehash the material from Slowly We Rot and Cause of Death, while lacking the vicious aggression of the former and the epic nature of the latter. Some of this may have to do with the playing style of the returning Allen West, which is more straightforward than that of James Murphy. His solos still possess character, much moreso than what a lot of other Death Metal bands were doing, but just lacks something when compared to Murphy's work. The riffs and arrangements are exactly what one would expect from Obituary, though slightly more simplistic than before. This may account for the high volume of records sold, as anything that is easier to digest will appeal to more people. Not surprisingly, the Celtic Frost influence seems to have increased, during the songwriting process. There is an abundance of heavy, mid-paced riffs that would make Tom Warrior proud. John Tardy's vocals even seem somewhat streamlined and restrained when compared to those of the last record. While The End Complete is solid, one gets the feeling of having heard all of this before, thus the material is unable to make the same kind of impact. The overall feeling is kind of dry, rather than the gloomy atmosphere that pervaded its predecessor.

The production features the same problems possessed by most Death Metal albums that were recorded at Morrisound, particularly the ones handled by Scott Burns. That guy sure knew how to drain something of any individual character that it may have had, otherwise. While the guitar tone is somewhat different than on the previous album, sounding more in line with the old Celtic Frost releases, it is still rather sterile and generic. Most all of the albums recorded in that studio came out with a very similar sound, which was a disservice to each band that got this horrible treatment. Then again, it may be their fault for going there in the first place. Either way, The End Complete could have been salvaged had the band opted for a different studio and gotten more of a raw and old school sound.

The End Complete is a solid, if average, Death Metal album and should please most Obituary fans. Just realize that everything here had already been done better on the previous albums. With this release, the band ended their time of relevance and soon descended deeper into mediocrity. Nonetheless, this one is worth a few listens.
 
(14 Dec. 2011)

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