Whether or not you have enjoyed their output, nobody can deny that Obituary have been one of death metal's most recognisable faces over the last few decades. Their grim, straight-to-the-throat brand of groove-inflected extremity has always been hit and miss-more so for those who prefer versatility rather than a direct approach-even since debut effort Slowly We Rot
. Yet something seems to have worked, because ever since Obituary officially reformed in 2003, they don't seem to have stopped. Admittedly, the gears do seem to have become rusted. The 2014 effort, Inked in Blood
, for example, sounded more tiresome and weary than it did a justification of how Obituary made a name for themselves in the first place, and the sound isn't exactly known for its consistency. Nonetheless, the fact that Obituary are still around, in your face and ready to shatter eardrums seems strangely admirable.
So, 2017 sees a return in the form of the latest self-titled release. Bands which release self-titled efforts this far into their career tend to be aiming for aspirations or even seeking a deviation from the norm. Evidently, neither is the case for this album. Instead, from the get-go of rough 'n' ready opener "Brave", it almost sounds like Obituary haven't yet moved on from 1990. The rollicking, menacing groove inherent in this short albeit snappy first song is well-rehearsed, and never seems to halt until successive tune "Sentence Day" begins. If it wasn't for the irritating inconsistency of the album's rusted mid-section, you could almost call Obituary
a strong return to form. However, an album which has five or six great tracks out of eleven isn't that consistent, unfortunately. Sure, the first two aforementioned songs alongside "A Lesson in Vengeance" are fun to listen to and it's highly commendable that the solo work particularly sounds so fresh. Yet once "End it Now" starts, the hit-and-miss aspect of Obituary's otherwise direct death metal style rears its ugly head-and in quite a big way. "End It Now" seems affected by this in a bigger way compared to the rest of the filler material on Obituary
, especially given that it seems two minutes too long (at four minutes in length!) and merely relies on a far too repetitive groove, John Tardy pronouncing repeating the song's title until it becomes ludicrous in effect.
However, within these hit-and-miss moments are some trinkets to be found. Interestingly, much of the guitar work seems fresher and, dare I say it in Obituary's favour, more melodic. For example, the solo sections in "Sentence Day" and "Straight to Hell" are both powerful and almost dramatic, exceeding set boundaries which on previous releases halted Obituary from becoming a more versatile collective. "Turned to Stone" doesn't really do much until the last minute, when no control is given to the instrumental performance and the whole band let loose as if performing an ultra-fast, grindcore-influenced jam, inciting headbanging windmills to almost all who are lucky enough to hear it. Then there's "Ten Thousand Ways to Die", which is Obituary at their most technical and precise on this album. The intricate guitar work lets us hear some of the most fluent solo work the band have come up with, and the general rhythm, whilst still obeying Obituary's hard-to-break death metal style, feels right.
Obituary clearly haven't demonstrated a distinctive change in pace or tone here, but there are subtle additions which make this self-titled album a little more interesting, a little more active. Such a shame that only half the songs here are actually well-written and performed all the way through, whereas the other half only have a minute or two of true musical greatness. So, is Obituary
any better than the band's output within the last decade? Perhaps not, given the still inconsistent approach to songwriting, but it's a swift reminder that at least the band are still going.