Thursday, March 16, 2017

"Pure physical euphoric energy": Obituary's eternal gifts

Now live at Rolling Stone, a new feature on the mighty Obituary.

The seeds of this piece were planted back in 2011, when I wrote about the band for DFSBP. As I explained then, I'd been listening to them on and off for close to two decades by that point, but it was only after seeing them live that I fully comprehended how special they actually were. (A similar thing happened more recently with Crowbar, a band I wrote about for RS last year.)

I've since reached a new peak of Obituary obsession, and thus it was an absolute pleasure and honor to put together this piece. Obituary are the shining exemplars of an M.O. I've written about a lot over the years, fairly common in the metal underground, wherein a band establishes a signature sound early in their career and simply sticks with it, album after album, show after show, year after year, decade after decade.

It's not exactly true to say that Obituary haven't changed. Pore through their discography and you'll start to discern clear early-, mid- and late-period sounds: unrelentingly harsh yet at times surprisingly compositionally involved (Slowly We Rot, Cause of Death, The End Complete); tougher, leaner and bullishly groove-centric (World Demise, Back From the Dead, Frozen in Time); and, most recently, looser, rawer and more all-around rawk-and-roll–ish (Xecutioner's Return, Darkest Day, Inked in Blood and the new Obituary). Not every one of these albums is flawless, but every one is worth hearing, as is the robust, spectacular-sounding 1998 live release Dead.

This band's head-down consistency brings me inordinate pleasure. I'll turn the mic over to Andrew W.K. — friend and former employer of Obituary drummer Donald Tardy and, incidentally, a former co-owner of Santos Party House, where I saw Obituary back in 2011 — who had this to say in 2015 of his love of vintage death metal, specifically Obituary and their peers Napalm Death:

"To be able to listen to something so many times and only like it more, and I liked it a lot the first time, but now to be able to rely on that as an energy source, to be able to turn to that no matter what state I'm in and have it instantly take me to this place of pure physical euphoric energy, it's one of the things I'm most thankful for in life, it's like water or food to me, it feeds my soul in a very fundamental way, and I can't believe how lucky I am that it exists."

I relate to this sentiment completely. I absolutely rely on Obituary as an energy source, as food for my soul. For all its minimalism, I find their catalog to be inexhaustible, because it's just that goddamn powerful and true and decisive and real-feeling. The agreed-upon shorthand for what they do is "death metal" — a term that already falls so woefully short as a catch-all because all these great first-generation bands, from Death to Deicide to Morbid Angel to Cannibal Corpse, sound completely different from one another — but their output is so clearly born out of passion and love and life. The product of finding that one thing, that precise vision that you want, need, to realize and seeing it through, time and time again, over the course of the decades. Some music pushes outward; Obituary's gift is for burrowing inward, for becoming more and more themselves as time goes by. Stand by and behold and marvel and — if you're anything like me — rejoice.

Here are eight great Obituary songs. (I wanted to pick one from each studio LP, but sadly, Xecutioner's Return and Darkest Day, both very good, overlooked albums, aren't currently streaming.)

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