2009 marks two decades since five kids from Tampa called Xecutioner changed their name to Obituary and unleashed a musical horror called Slowly We Rot. With Slowly We Rot, Obituary established a unique voice in death metal that to this day has proven inimitable. Obituary’s sound is metal stripped to its bare elements: Single notes and power chords are the band’s only melodic tools; no harmonies, no arpeggios, nary a hint of vibrato, not even a bent note (guitar solos excluded). The fruit of this Spartan songcraft is a sound that is brutally simple and devastatingly heavy, denuded of any compositional window dressing; Obituary is able to drive each note home with tectonic force. In the twenty years since its release, Obituary has strayed very little from the blueprint laid down on Slowly We Rot. While I have heard many fans both laud and decry the various albums in the band’s catalog, to my ears they have remained one of the most consistent bands in all of metal. Certainly, each album has its own unique vibe, but they are all built from the same box of Legos. The band’s eighth full length album, Darkest Day, has not broken the mold. Praise be to Satan.
Now that we all know what to expect sound-wise, the only real question is did the band come up with a decent batch of songs? The short answer is yes. Xecutioner’s Return had an abundance of fast paced material, and while speed has always been an important part of Obituary’s sound, it is in the slow to mid-paced groove that the band displays true mastery. Darkest Day does have a couple hard charging up-tempo tracks in the opener “List of Dead” and the two minute blitzkrieg of “Violent Dreams”. On the whole, however, the album is more balanced in pacing than its predecessor, giving the grooves more room to shine. One of the more notably devastating moments is Donald Tardy’s thunderous tribal pounding on “Blood to Give”, which harkens back to the classic “Kill For Me” from World Demise. Another standout track is “Your Darkest Day” which after a sublimely sinister intro, launches into a groove that hits so hard I am compelled to hurl furniture about the room. To further enumerate the album’s highlights would become tedious; suffice it to say that “Darkest Day” finds Obituary firing on all cylinders.
There are only a couple flaws I can find on this album and they are minor. First, there is the matter of Ralph Santolla: two records into his stint as Allen West’s replacement, I still feel that many of his solos sound out of place. West, it must be said, was a limited player; all his solos were essentially the same: a quick flurry of notes and then a bunch of whammy bar gymnastics, but his, screaming harmonics and dive bombs provided the perfect counter part to the tortured growls of vocalist, John Tardy. Santolla by contrast, much like James Murphy before him, is a far more accomplished and technically adept guitarist, and his solos do add a more dynamic dimension to the proceedings, but sometimes they just sound too pretty. Secondly, tacked onto the end of the album are the two new original songs from last year’s Left to Die EP. Both songs are great, particularly “Left to Die”, so for those who have not purchased the EP, they are a nice bonus. However, for those who have purchased the EP, you essentially spent ten dollars (give or take) for a cover song and a remake: not exactly a great value. Again, these are only minor complaints about an album that is otherwise overwhelming in its excellence.
With Darkest Day, Obituary has delivered what is arguably the best album since the band’s 2005 comeback, and quite possibly their best work since The End Complete. For those fans that were on board for the last album, there is certainly no reason to jump off the train now. For fans that lost interest somewhere along the way, “Darkest Day” may be strong enough to bring you back into the fold. Indeed, for all fans of classic death metal, I can recommend Darkest Day without reservation.