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Inked In Blood

Relapse (2014)
Rating: 6/10

The first time I ever heard Obituary was via their blood-soaked 1989 debut album Slowly We Rot; it was an experience that has stuck with me forever. Never before had I heard something so bestial, from John Tardy’s truly ferocious display to the hostile buzz and groove of the guitars.

It was only natural that such a force could never be equalled, but over the years Obituary has refused to buckle. Sure, the Floridian death metal giants are not young men anymore and Tardy’s voice is certainly not what it once was, but many of these bands find themselves in an awkward position.

Fans are often eager for bands to return to the sound which made them so popular in the first place, but this is a nigh on impossible action considering how many years have passed, and then there are those disciples who want noticeable progression and even experimentation. Bands are rarely onto a winner to be honest, and Obituary have suffered flack for their last batch of releases, especially since re-emerging with Frozen In Time back in 2005. and then four years later with Darkest Day.

It’s been five years since 2009’s Darkest Day, meaning that the 12-track, 50-minute Inked In Blood is one of the most eagerly anticipated albums of the year. Unfortunately, these sort of albums often disappoint and sadly this one follows the trend.

Now, I’ll worship Obituary until the day I die, but there’s only so much repetition a man can take. And this is where the problem lies; if they attempt to experiment then they could end up burned at the stake alongside Morbid Angel, but if they stick to their guns then they’ll no doubt be perceived as lacking ambition. However, surely it’s not that difficult to find a middle ground? For me, Inked In Blood sounds a tad tired, ever redundant and predictable following pathways of aggression that no longer shock or mesmerise but instead labour.

John Tardy’s vocals have never been the same and that’s something I can almost accept but now they seem strained, at times unable to keep up with the semi-raging backdrop of nose provided by Trevor Peres’ rhythm groove and Kenny Andrews’ leads. Thankfully, Donald Tardy’s percussion is as solid as it ever was, but it doesn’t stop the overall sound from being one well tried but no longer trusted as opener ‘Centuries Of Lies’ comes scurrying out of its hole until to fizzle out like a dying firework.

I so desperately want more that I’m almost attempting to ignore the flaws for the sake of nostalgia, but as with Darkest Day we’re once again battered by something almost toothless. In fact, their inability to strike out sticks out like a sore thumb as the tracks roll on by in waves of mediocrity, and this saddens me. ‘Violent By Nature’ follows that same construction by which so many Obituary classics were built upon, but hearing that style of groove time and time again tends to wear thin, especially when John Tardy just doesn’t have that aggression within the throat and the overall menace lacks that frantic fever of years ago.

Although ‘Violent By Nature’ displays some decent levels of mid-paced catchiness I’m just not passionate about the track, and this applies to just about every hunk of flesh that flies my way. However, the lengthy ‘Pain Inside’ is one of my favourite tracks on the album. With its doomy, simmering intro of flailing chords and pensive drum rolls I am receiving transmissions from some distant era of just how great these guys were and still could be. On this track the guitar tone seems to work much better and the methodical menace of the drum instils a feeling of dread that is all too infrequent for Obituary over the last few records.

‘Visions In My Head’ is a belligerent jackhammer of a track fuelled by a battering bass and drum tandem assault, but again I feel uncomfortable with the vocal sneer – Tardy somehow slightly removed at times from the death metal arena when the pace is upped and only saves himself when the train comes to a mid-paced grind.

However, the saddest aspect from the whole affair is that Obituary clearly believe they are giving the fans what they want, but to me it’s a combo going through the motions; rarely attempting anything perverse in the riffage of finding that threatening streak that made them such a formidable force aeons ago.

I’m sure many will disagree, but for me there’s nary a track that rips the face off and for every half-decent fleck there comes a whole host of banality. For those who have enjoyed Obituary since Frozen In Time then maybe Inked In Blood will give you the fix you crave, but those in the know who grew up with these guys will hopefully see this album for what it is; a lacklustre affair from a band dwelling in the waters of the ordinary.

Neil Arnold

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