As a keen new convert to the original Floridian death metal movement of the early 90s, seeing Obituary in the flesh in 2018, as a fellow obsessive tells me at the bar, is “an honour”. With Cause Of Death solidifying them as genre mainstays nearly 30 years ago, Obituary are in a weird place right now. With some of their set classics having been written in the last ten years or so, fans hold them to a reverential status for nearly every part of their career. Despite this being a fairly small venue (800 cap), front-to-back, this strange, thick hue of expectancy stifles the room. Few groups of their stature can command this for as long as they have. But this is a truly special band.
Suitably pissed-off and feeling ground down by the unforgiving boot of capitalism (I was working), I arrived as second openers Exmortus finished the last sweeping flourishes of their axes and left the stage. Fortunately though, licensed Obituary aficionado John Matthews had a few words for them.
Ingested kicked things off and totally smashed it with some slamming, brutal death. Next up, Exmortus – how the fuck have I never heard these before? Classic thrash delivered with panache (not the perfume). A hard act to follow.
Then the lights went down for the final time. A smattering of shadowed, instrument-clad figures took to the stage as longtime set-opener “Redneck Stomp” began blaring through the amps. No head was left un-bobbed. Obituary are in the house. This tour is in support of last year’s self-titled record (their 10th to date). It was one that reached high spots in many end-of-year lists, including mine and as always it’s interesting to see how much faith bands put into their newest material… especially when you have the back-catalogue of a band like Obituary.
So, it was awesome to see the band fully animated in wheeling it out a good five or six songs from the record, taking up nearly half the set, beginning with “Sentence Day”. And so opens the pit. The audience, split seemingly as 50/50 young and old, lap it up and the band are on point, particularly John Tardy, who looks chuffed to bits as he grins over the barrier.
Another new song followed from 2014’s Inked In Blood, though it’s a medley of “Chopped In Half” and “Turned Inside Out” that sends people into overdrive. Tardy’s vocals are still some of the best in the game, shown as he decorates the Cause Of Death staples with his iconic slurred vocals. It’s bizarrely almost no different from the record. It’s probably an overused sentiment, but genuinely, Obituary are probably one of the most forefront bands that “sound as good now as they ever have”. It’s quite uncanny.
The more obscure cuts off the new record aren’t unappreciated. The likes of “Betrayed” and “Turned To Stone” are good but by no means as wildly received, strangely, as “Straight To Hell” and less strangely, album opener “Brave”. Those two, I hope, are going nowhere anytime soon from their sets.
The new stuff is awesome but the older material is where the band can settle into a groove and explore the stage more. It’s not like they’re on auto-pilot, but “Find The Arise” particularly is hulkingly powerful in the most effortless way. It’s hard at times not to stand still and just marvel at Donald Tardy’s drumming acrobatics, booming from somewhere in the dark. With his head down and feet repeatedly and evenly striking the double pedals, he’s a real powerhouse and excels in serving the songs and underpinning their performance. Guitarist Trevor Peres also seems like he lives for Obituary. He’s definitely in his zone here and lifts the show to no-end.
Whether they’re thrashing, in their weirdly laid back way or grooving at a knuckle-dragging pace, few are left unmoved. The unrelenting barrage of riffs just keep coming, leaving few moments of respite throughout the set. My one gripe? No “Ten Thousand Ways To Die”. Most bands would kill to have a song like that. If I wrote that, it would be all I would play!
In all seriousness though, on reflection, Obituary have nothing left to prove. Their contribution to metal is near inscrutable, and yet they’re still putting out some of their best music. They’ve absolutely reached a sweet spot in their career. I could watch this every night. Here’s to hoping this never ends.