It has been over five years since the last Obituary album, 2009’s Darkest Day, and the band has gone through many changes in that time. Long-time bassist Frank Watkins experienced some kind of mid-life crisis and now he’s wearing corpse paint and playing bass for Gorgoroth. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, I just find it very odd. Replacing Watkins is Tampa death metal veteran Terry “Not Geezer” Butler, who was previously having his talents wasted in Six Feet Under. Also out is lead guitarist Ralph Santolla who was splitting time between Obituary and Deicide and eventually decided to split from both bands permanent-like. Here-to-for unknown Kenny Andrews is now filling Obituary’s lead slot. Amidst this roster upheaval, the band also decided to re-work its business model: Instead of having a record label pay for the recording of its next album, the group would self-finance the record in hopes of garnering greater control over the fate its own creative product. Self-financed, as it turns out, means, at least in part, fan-financed, as the band used a Kickstarter campaign to generate funds for what would become its newest release, Inked in Blood.
So, if you happened to shell out some hard-earned cash to bring Inked in Blood to fruition, did you get what you paid for? If you expected the band to churn out a career-defining classic twenty five years in, the answer is no, you silly goose. However, even if your expectations were more modest, you might be a bit disappointed. Don’t be overly alarmed; Obituary hasn’t done anything crazy, like add a keyboard player or make another “Bullituary” (If you don’t know what that is, count yourself fortunate.). Inked in Blood sounds exactly like an Obituary record, it’s just not a great one.
As to the new blood, they’re working out fine. If you had grown used to Ralph Santolla’s sweet-assed solos, Kenny Andrews’s work might be a let-down, as, stylistically, he’s closer to Allen West, than to Santolla. Andrews meshes with the group quite nicely, though, and his contributions are, largely, a boon. As for Butler, I’ll just assume he’s doing awesome, because as is usual on a metal record, I can’t hear the bass worth a shit. If Terry can handle playing on a Death record it’s a fair bet he can handle Obituary.
While the new recruits acquit themselves admirably, founding member, John Tardy turns in a substandard performance. On Inked in Blood Tardy’s normally fiercely expressive growl is all too often reduced to a clipped barking of the lyrics. There are still a few drawn-out “OOOOOOUH”s and “EEEEEEEEEEARRRRRGH”s here and there, but for much of the record, Tardy seems to be going through the motions. Whether this is a stylistic decision, as much of the material is up-tempo by Obituary standards and affords Tardy less opportunity to dig in, or a concession to an aging voice remains to be seem. Live shows will no doubt reveal the truth.
A bright spot on Inked in Blood is the production. Though self-produced, the recording is entirely professional sounding, equal to, and in some cases superior to, any of the bands prior work. Obituary, it seems didn’t spend all that Kickstarter money on Budweiser and NASCAR tickets.
The tunes themselves are underwhelming, though it is difficult to put a finger on exactly why. Obituary being a riff-based band, it’s would be easy to say that the riffs just aren’t good enough, and maybe that’s true, but the riffs certainly aren’t awful in any dramatic way; they still sound like Obituary riffs. In the end, I think it is subtle flaws prove to be Inked in Blood’s undoing. Too many songs are similarly paced, causing them to seemingly run together. At twelve songs and fifty minutes, the album does seem overlong. Granted, the band had five years to come up with material, but there’s some definite fat that could be trimmed here. Finally, the atmosphere just seems off, a little too safe and a little stale. I certainly don’t expect the band to recreate the magic of Slowly We Rot, but it would be nice if Inked in Blood sounded a little more rotten.
Despite the fact that I’ve seemingly spent most of this review bitching, Inked in Blood still has ninety percent of what you’d want out of an Obituary record. The missing ten percent, however, is crucial, as it separates a good album from a great one. The ill-conceived “Bullituary” notwithstanding, up until now the gulf between Obituary’s best and worst material wasn’t much wider than a crack in the side-walk, so Inked in Blood’s faults, minor though they might be, are all the more glaring in view of the bands track record of excellence.