Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Obituary - 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.