Review Summary: It's an album that will not change opinions, and worse still lose a few more fans, but Inked in Blood serves its purpose as yet another "Obituary-by-numbers" record.
Are Obituary beating a dead horse? That question comes to mind when listening to each of the band's supposed "comeback" albums, right from 2005's decent yet formulaic Frozen in Time
through to the latest, this year's lazily titled Inked in Blood
. They probably shouldn't be blamed for wanting to stick to a tried and tested formula throughout the last decade, but in doing so albums such as the half-hearted Xecutioners Return
have suffered from a considerable amount of average musicianship.
Nonetheless, Inked in Blood
does mark a career change for the band: It is the first record without bassist Frank Watkins since 1989's Slowly We Rot
, making way for two new members in lead guitarist Kenny Andrews and Watkins' replacement, Terry Butler, the latter of which having been a member of both Death and Six Feet Under. Yet however consequential this line-up change may have been in the last year or so for Obituary, it doesn't seem to have affected the band's confidence and musical aspirations all that much. Because throughout Inked in Blood
, despite the album's inconsistency and ineffectiveness towards the end, there's still something of a burning passion in each band member to bring out the best of death metal's early years. Songs like the short, razor sharp "Centuries of Lies", "Deny You" and the slightly more menacing "Minds of the World" all manage to contribute to a more or less effective death metal sound, which although still seem firmly rooted in the extreme metal scene of the late 80s, reminds us all that Obituary still have a little fire left in them. With some surprisingly good twin lead harmonies and well-executed solos ("Visions in my Head", "Back on Top"), the first half of Inked in Blood
is certainly more effective than the latter, but at least it's not hard to get stuck into the album from the start.
The rhythm section seamlessly flows through most songs with little effort, but there's only so much of the same riff and song structure one can take before honestly admitting to a tiresome listen. And that's part of one of two glaring problems. One is the dependency on the same, riff-led build up into songs which are so much longer than they should be, and the other is the obvious tiredness of John Tardy's rough, aged vocal delivery. Sure, he manages to do the job of keeping up with the somewhat lackluster instrumentation, but that's about it. There's nothing in his voice that really hints at exploring more than just one emotion, no fire in the belly, it's simply just going through the motions. Most of the songs are too long as well, even with an average length of four minutes. Songs like the title track, "Pain Inside" and the closing, monotonous "Paralyzed by Fear" all have a tense build-up before falling back into the comfort zone and producing the same rhythm, same riffs and the same effect on its listeners. This is all good stuff for people wanting a brief thrill from a death metal record, but the unfortunate reality is that Inked in Blood
will not age well, and worse still, be forgotten (or "frozen") in time.
Now for some, this is practically a good thing, given that most of us listening to Inked in Blood
will know what to expect (whether you like the band or not). Yet this album won't change opinions, and it's worse still for the newbies who haven't heard any of Obituary's material, given that the album will give a negative impression, more so because of the average second half than the punchier, more menacing first half. But we all knew this is what Obituary's last album would sound like didn't we? And that's why it's not just average, it's good in that respect. Why should a band, who laid down their legacy as one of death metal's most well-renowned acts over two decades ago, change their direction to please the naysayers? Inked in Blood
is formulaic, repetitive but still a damn good album for mindless headbanging.