When you say “death metal,” a handful of bands immediately come to mind, namely Tampa, Florida’s Obituary who were among the originators of the style in the late 80s and early 90s. With classic albums such as “Slowly We Rot,” “Cause of Death,” and “The End Complete,” Obituary assisted death metal’s evolution away from thrash metal with heavier, more distorted guitars, lower tuning, and a vocal style that bordered on the inhuman. Since the late 80s this style of music has evolved as well with several subgenres branching off and bands expanding on many of the stylistic elements of Obituary’s music be it slow, sludgy doom / death, groove-laden slam death metal, and gore-obsessed brutal death metal. With so many flavors in the death metal ice cream shop, the fact that Obituary’s ninth studio effort “Inked in Blood” manages to sound fresh is nothing short of incredible.
Although it’s a slow starter (the opening track “Centuries of Lies” sounding like a rather confused thrashing warm up / sound check), by the time the double bass grooves of “Violent by Nature” kick in the listener is immediately reminded what band is on the turntable. One of the best aspects of Obituary’s music is the consistent (albeit not flashy) drumming of Donald Tardy whose steady rhythmic double bass kicks add a layer of heaviness to Obituary’s notably low and thick guitar sound. Tardy’s playing on this record gives an added flavor to tracks and, in some cases, turns rather average riffs into lively jams. Such is the case on “Minds of the World” whose riff is perfectly accented by Tardy’s use of the ride cymbal in the hook. It is worth mentioning that this marks the ninth studio album in which Obituary has not utilized the blast beat, a stylistic standard in death metal. Despite this, Tardy’s drumming stands out still as characteristically flavorful, fresh, and heavy. Sometimes less is more.
Another aspect of this record that makes it stand out is the addition of new lead guitarist Kenny Andrews who certainly makes his presence known on the album in a way I consider refreshing. Andrews’ clearly adds a touch of melody and sophistication to a band not necessarily known for musical poise. The song “Back on Top” comes to mind in this case with its beginning lead guitar work more reminiscent of early Death than typical Obituary leads that went straight for the jugular rather than incorporate additional notes where other bands may have. Whereas original lead guitarist Alan West would have followed closely to Trevor Peres on many songs, Andrews plays more of a traditional lead guitarist role by actually venturing away from Peres and letting his guitar wander musically. This gives Obituary an added layer of sound and helps keep the listener interested. Also known for standing out in the vocal department, Obituary’s new album shouldn’t disappoint despite some subtle changes in John Tardy’s delivery. There is an added sense of clarity in his voice and a very slightly higher pitch to the vocal, but the overall grittiness and menacing delivery is still on point. It should be noted that the production on this album is also slightly thinner in comparison to albums like “Cause of Death,” but somewhere in between the thickness of that album and the generally flat sound of “The End Complete.”
While retaining so many wonderful elements in their sound on this record, something is lost, particularly in the speed department. Although not known for their thrashing speed, Obituary did utilize thrash metal in albums like “Cause of Death,” “Slowly We Rot,” and even 1998’s “Back from the Dead” rather well. This time around, despite “Centuries of Lies,” “Violence,” and “Out of Blood” picking up the pace, I would have liked the stop on a dime, out of nowhere thrash assaults found on older tracks like “Body Bag,” but the need for speed seems to take a back seat on this record to punishing groove making it more akin to “The End Complete” than perhaps any record in the band’s back catalog.
Overall, “Inked in Blood” marks a new beginning for a band that helped birth a style of music that has influenced countless musicians. I respect them for expanding upon, rather than trying to replicate, a sound that has influenced countless musicians with myself included.