Throughout metal history, the significance of a “self-titled” album has been anything but consistent. Often times, an eponymous release is the world’s formal introduction to a budding band plotting their takeover – for everyone from Slipknot to Rage Against the Machine to Iron Maiden to the genre’s earth-shattering inception by way of the mighty Black Sabbath’s 1970 debut, that was the case. In other instances, a self-titled LP is the asterisk accompanying a drastic stylistic departure – Metallica’s Black Album is one example, and that abomination of a new Suicide Silence record is, unfortunately, another one. Then there’s the third scenario – the one where the band just runs out of titles. In recent years, seemingly arbitrary self-titled efforts from the likes of Revocation and Whitechapel fit that category.
Which brings us to Florida death metal veterans Obituary. They are certainly not new, and on album number ten, they’re showing no signs of shedding their signature brand of chunky, thrash-indebted brutality. So it must be option three: that the well of album names has simply run dry (though to be fair, it’s futile to try and top a title like Slowly We Rot anyway). Luckily, the band’s musical well still has plenty to draw out.
The opening one-two punch of “Brave” and “Sentence Day” showcases the same no-frills approach that carried landmark albums like Cause of Death to iconic status. Both tracks find the band wearing the thrash influence on their sleeves, but elevating the menace and allowing frontman John Tardy’s savage roar to place the unmistakable Obituary stamp on it. While “Brave” whizzes by in a blur of pummeling rhythms, “Sentence Day” sets aside some time to showcase Ken Andrews’ lead guitar wizardry with a colorful extended solo section.
Towards the middle of the album, Obituary toss the thrash aside and opt for a pure early-‘90s death metal approach. It’s here where they’re at their most sinister. Cuts like “Kneel Before Me” and “It Lives” are furious slabs of quintessential Tampa death metal, chalk full of bellowing tremolo guitars and blood-soaked grooves. Where the band do depart from the M.O. is on “Lesson In Vengeance” – with its bouncy, Stoner Metal-influenced riffs – and on “Betrayed”, which features rhythms so catchy that they’re almost goofy. Distracting as these songs may be, they give the LP a much-needed variety, one that was sorely lacking on the Floridians’ previous outing, 2014’s Inked in Blood.
To that effect, Obituary is an improvement on its predecessor on all fronts. Not only is it more diverse and more well-rounded, but the tracklist is tighter and more compact. And it’s sonically superior to Inked in Blood too, with the guitars sounding more raw and less compressed, and Donald Tardy’s drums more immediate and in-your-face. For detractors of Obituary’s meat-and-potatoes approach to the genre, this LP will do nothing to stifle their complaints. It’s not technical, it’s not experimental (there’s nary an acoustic or clean guitar in sight), it’s not bone-rattlingly brutal, and it’s hardly essential listening, but for headbangers who prefer their death metal stripped down and groovy, these 30-year veterans have offered up one of their best in years.
Obituary’s self-titled album will be released on Friday (17) on Relapse Records. You can preorder it here.