Over the past few months, there have been a slew of top-drawer death metal concerts for fans of brutality to really gorge themselves upon, my musings on which can be found elsewhere on the site. This particular evening brought Birmingham one of the daddies of DM, none other than Florida’s Obituary, who in the summer of 1989 unleashed their debut album ‘Slowly We Rot’ upon the emerging DM scene. It won them instant acclaim, with its fetid-sounding Scott Burns production earning it a reputation as one the most ferocious releases of its time. It’s churning, doomy riffs sounding like they were recorded on a dying walkman(made all the more remarkable considering it was recorded in standard tuning) and one-of-a-kind vocals akin to that of a vomiting zombie ensured it remained one of the most identifiable releases of the early age.
WARLORD UK opened the night being responsible for the attendance of many, having swamped cyberspace with flyers enabling punters to save eleven quid on the door price which in itself is laudable and should be a more common practise, certainly for shows with a few unsold tickets. Having being stalwarts of the local metal scene for a good couple of years, Warlord UK have always exuded a dogged determination and commendable work ethic. Sadly, it creeps into their music often, with very little in the way of variation between tracks and an omnipresent workmanlike air to them, despite the obvious conviction and enthusiasm with which it is performed. That said, it was certainly the best sounding outing I’ve seen from them, with the Academy PA really proving its worth yet again with a mix as crunchy as it was precise, and the band were tight and played pretty much flawlessly throughout. It’s just a shame that Warlord UK don’t grab me, as there are few bands more rewarding of a bit of success than these guys, although the fact that they are on stage at all having resolutely weathered recent lineup changes and personal tragedies is cause for praise in itself.
FURNAZE, from London-by-way-of-Belgium were next to take to the stage, and they were also blessed with a crystal clear, thunderous sound mix. Sadly, they also seemed to struggle to garner more than a murmur from the crowd. Playing a blend of melodic death metal with sizable elements of Slayeresque thrash, they laudably plugged away for their set with great energy, with bassist Andie Cayne in particular good-naturedly headbanging away for the duration of set in a mass of hair and smiles. Softly-spoken vocalist-guitarist Olivier Vermeersch performed with obvious care and love for the material (pulled mostly from latest album ‘No Stairway To Heaven’) although their roots as a covers band were exposed a little too often to really allow them to stand out, with constant nagging Slayerisms the main offender. An argument could also be made for a need for a second guitarist to really thicken the live sound, but for the moment they should focus on creating a more identifiable sound of their own to build upon the obvious charm and talent they possess.
If some of the more hardened death-heads at the gig thought that Furnaze brought the brutality levels down a couple of notches, then PERSEFONE had them weeping blood into their Deicide T-shirts, as the Andorrans managed to make little to no impact at all, certainly nothing you’d expect from a band acting as main support for fucking Obituary. Persefone peddled an uninspired melodramatic prog-metal sound which wouldn’t have been all that bad – albeit still undeniably ill-fitting on this bill – had it not been played with such an abject lack of stage presence and charisma. Granted, you could argue that the technical demands of some of the tracks needed 100% concentration to pull off, but when your singer is standing still with hands behind his back, we’re talking more about the star power of Tesco Value Pop than Iggy Pop. Demonstrating none of the hunger that both Warlord UK and Furnace displayed, the biggest reaction they received was announcing that the headliners were due next.
After what could be described as a lukewarm build up at best, OBITUARY really needed to liven up the crowd to avoid tonight’s show really falling short of expectations. Thankfully, John Tardy and the boys who, despite playing a set mostly weighted towards their post-reunion output, managed to keep the diehards happy and have us partying like it was the early nineties again. Indeed, with his signature mane dangling over his face and THAT voice, you’d have been forgiven for imagining that time had stood still for a few moments. Opening with a brace from their latest full-length, ‘Darkest Day’, the one-two of ‘List of Dead’ and ‘Blood To Give’ confirmed that whilst a member or two had changed over the years, the Floridians weren’t about to drastically start tinkering with all of the hallmarks that have made them so influential and beloved over the years.
With Ralph Santolla (ex of Deicide) replacing ex-guitarist and professional smash enthusiast Allen West, their guitar sound was as gargantuan live as it has ever sounded on record. Its patented slow-motion churn brought to mind the swamps of their homeland, that is, if their swamps were filled with the putrid sludge of a thousand human remains and the crocodiles the size of tractors. As mentioned earlier, the distinctively inhuman growl of vocalist John Tardy is arguably the most unique weapon Obituary have ever boasted, with vowels seemingly bouncing around his throat for weeks before they are belched out like phlegmy tennis balls. And with ‘Chopped In Half’ (or ‘Eeeyyobbbed in Hyeearrrve’ as Tardy would have you believe) belted out early in the set, it evoked a majestic roar as any fears the hits wouldn’t come were quickly dispelled and with ‘Turned Inside Out’, ‘Dying’ and a Celtic Frost cover coming in quick succession, it gave weight to the lofty status the band have as genre figureheads.
Whilst this was my first time watching Obituary, there was a part of me slightly saddened that this wasn’t just an hours run through of the classics, but such a selfish point of view was diluted swiftly by the way their newer material (that I have admittedly little to no experience of) meshed perfectly with material from their first four LPs. It was also encouraging to note that despite the tales of drunken sloppiness and in-fighting that plagued the first couple of tours after their reformation (most notably involving the aforementioned West), this was nothing like the ‘Rab C. Nesbitt meets Olly Reed and starts a band’ performance I was dreading. With a stable and professional line-up in place, they put on a show that a band as revered as Obituary deserved.
With ‘Final Thoughts’ and ‘The End Complete’ rounding up the latter half of the set, a drum solo heralded the encore, which flitted back to the later days with ‘Evil Ways’ leading into a climatic ‘Slowly We Rot’ with its funereal tempo bringing an atmospheric close to the night. In retrospect, tonight was only really memorable due to the headliners ,who really gave the support bands a few pointers on how to generate their own identity. Admittedly, Obituary were aided by the fact that they helped define the genre twenty years ago, but it was the one or two unique elements they possessed that helped them get to the level they are at today. Looking back, it’s really time to give the newer albums a serious listen, although I was still a little gutted they didn’t play ‘Don’t Ceeyaaare’.
Review – Duncan Wilkins
Photos – Helen Moss