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Slowly We Rot

Obituary - Slowly We Rot ©1989 Roadrunner
1. Internal Bleeding
2. Godly Beings
3. ‘Til Death
4. Slowly We Rot
5. Immortal Visions
6. Gates To Hell
7. Words Of Evil
8. Suffocation
9. Intoxicated
10. Deadly Intentions
11. Bloodsoacked
12. Stinkupuss
13. Find The Arise (demo version)
14. Like The Dead (demo version)

Although Possessed brought the name and the growl to death metal and Death brought the music to a level of ferocity previously unseen up to that point, it was Obituary who provided the first moments of the genre as a fully realized concept with their 1989 debut Slowly We Rot. Churning, downtuned guitars, frequent tempo shifts that ranged from oppressively slow to frantically fast, and the distinctive sewage howls of frontman John Tardy all converged to form the basic blueprint from which practically all future death metal bands would in some way or another draw. To be sure, I am not suggesting that Obituary specifically invented death metal. However, in the same way that Darkthrone's A Blaze In The Northern Sky is to contemporary black metal, Slowly We Rot provides the first archetypical example of the genre in its most elementary form.

So yes, it's "important". But more importantly (and no less subjectively), is it good? Short answer: Yes. While this isn't exactly the most technical or cerebral death metal out there, what Slowly We Rot does deliver, it delivers well: Tons of cheesy, but totally but fun "evil" riffing, intense drumming that can speedily kick ass just as well as it can lay heavy on the slower beats, and a lead singer who quite literally sounds like he's puking up his soul, if one were to describe what puking up one's soul was to sound like.

Which, speaking of vocals, John Tardy had already by this first and rudimentary album proven himself to be a fantastic lyricist. Here are just some of many fine examples:
*(From the first track, "Internal Bleeding"): "UUUUURRRRRRRRRGH!" *(From "Gates Of Hell"): "You will ablail…RAUGH!" *(From the title track, possibly my favorite number on the album): "Volleyball, join me, slowly, we ROT!"

You know you've got to love a vocalist who, knowing that barely any of his lyrics will be comprehensible anyway, chooses simply to barf out nonsense syllables and phrases into the mic rather than go through the trouble of writing any proper lyrics. I've heard some people use this as a source of derision for early Obituary, but to me this just adds to the scrappy charm of this album. And really, let's face it: Tardy was nothing if not practical. As much as I like Napalm Death, I always thought is was hilarious how they'd present these songs on Scum as serious sociopolitical statements, despite the fact that most of the time they just ended up sounding like an angry leftist caveman barking "Asgah! Haghrah!" over cymbal washes. As it goes, the absence of real lyrics does nothing to hurt the mood of this album, and further contributes to the "hey, let's just go play heavy and kick ass!" vibe that I get from these recordings.

Which brings me to the most important reason as to why this album is so good: When it comes down to it, it's just plain fun. Keeping track of specific songs can be a bit difficult, since they all have a lot of the same components to them (super slow, sludgy, evil parts, sick, twisted fast parts, ugly guitar solos, mid-tempo galloping parts, intense tribal build ups, and gnarly kick-ass fast parts) and there's like six or more parts in every song, but despite being a bit front-loaded (most of the first seven songs are classic slabs of death, while much of the remaining five are just a notch below in quality), Slowly We Rot is nonetheless a consistently enjoyably romp though the delights of death, decay, and spiritual destruction, all delivered in warm, relatively lo-fi production via young upstart Scott Burns. (And good lord, what a long sentence that was!) But anyway, it (the album I mean, though I suppose the sentence too) all sounds very scrappy and pretty unpolished, but who cares? The title track has an evil church bell sound in it for chrissakes! Who doesn't love a nice evil church bell in their death metal from time to time?

As far as I'm concerned, Obituary were kind of like The Ramones of death metal. Although their "classic" period only spans three albums (as opposed to The Ramones' four), they were, like aforementioned band, original proponents of a nascent but then very exciting style of music. This early effort, like The Ramones debut, displayed something which seemed to have come totally out of left-field for the time, yet the music, while at once stripped down and innovative, was neither pretentious nor self conscious. Sure, many bands have come and come and gone since. Some have taken what these two bands did on their debut full-lengths into new and interesting directions, while many others ended up just diluting it. But at the root, Slowly We Rot and The Ramones' first album are both to me what great rock-and-roll is all about: It's fun, exuberant, and above all…simply put…it rocks!

Note: These days, it seems the only version of this album actively available in print is bundled with Obituary's second album, Cause Of Death, as part of Roadrunner's cheapo cookie cutter Two From The Vault series. Both this version, and the one I have reviewed above (part of the late 90s "The Obituary Remasters" series) contain the demo versions of "Find The Arise" and "Like The Dead" as bonus tracks, back when the band was (rather dumbly) named Xecutioner. I highly recommend getting a version of the album with these two tracks on it, as "Find The Arise" is a great slab of raw, reckless Obituary noise, and "Like The Dead" is good too, despite an annoying effect on the vocals which make it sound like John Tardy is singing from the bottom of a giant trash can.

Review by Hunter Brawer

Review date: 10/2009

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Cause Of Death

Obituary - Cause of Death ©1990 Roadrunner
1. Infected
2. Body Bag
3. Chopped In Half
4. Circle Of The Tyrants
5. Dying
6. Find The Arise
7. Cause Of Death
8. Memories Remain
9. Turned Inside Out
10. Infected (demo version)
11. Memories Remain (demo version)
12. Chopped In Half (demo version)

Continuing in the vein of writing music wherein wind chimes have no place, Cause Of Death finds Obituary continuing largely in the same manner as their groundbreaking debut Slowly We Rot. The songs are still full of ugly, evil, detuned slabs of chunky riffage, tempo shifts that run all over the place and back several times per track, and not a single cleanly-sung note or happy pop hook to be found. However, what makes this album more than a mere retread are three important points:

First, there was the coincidence of Obituary losing original guitarist Allen West to fatherhood around the same that James Murphy was ejected from Death (following the release of Death's Spiritual Healing album). A hook up from producer Scott Burns resulted in a one-time marriage of convenience between Murphy and Obituary, thereby providing the band with the benefit of Murphy's blistering solos and leads, in addition to his prowess as a great all-around shredder.

Secondly, Obituary's refinement of songwriting on this album sees them go from the scrappiness of their debut into a more musically focused outfit, incredibly tight with well put together arrangements. This still isn't anywhere close to being technical death metal (not Obituary ever cared to be), but both guitars and drums have been given to shaper and more complex rhythmic patterns than seen on earlier efforts. Over tight, interlocking riffs, double-bass weaves in and out, impressive without being showy. All in all, the band displays a noticeable degree musical progression here.

Finally, leaving behind the warm, if somewhat murkier sound of Slowly We Rot, Cause Of Death boasts cleaner, clearer (and some would say drier) production. The vocals have been given a far more equal place in the mix, and the guitars sound crunchier than before. The drums come off a bit boxy, but this is overall a minor complaint in the grand scheme of things. For the most part, this mix sounds a lot fuller than prior recordings, and as a result, the music itself sounds a lot more powerful.

While Cause Of Death may not be as groundbreaking as the band's first album, the significant strides they make in terms of performance and songwriting make this album highly recommendable. And considering that it's got such fan-favorites as "Chopped In Half", "Body Bag", and a rerecorded (though indeed tamer) version of "Find The Arise", this may just be the definitive Obituary album. That all said, if it wasn't partially true, I'd venture to say that naming your album Cause Of Death would be a pretty boastful gesture. Think about it: how about a Napalm Death album called "Beginning Of Grindcore"? Regardless, this line up would not last between this recording and the next (Allen West would rejoin the group, pushing out Murphy), and after recording one final "classic" death metal album (The End Complete), the group would move towards far a more streamlined sound, more often consistently midtempo and often far less vitriolic. Still, the moment of Cause Of Death represents Obituary at the absolute pinnacle of their career.

Note: As mentioned above, the most common version of this album still in print is bundled with Slowly We Rot. And like that bundled release, the version I have reviewed here (a stand-alone from "The Obituary Remasters" series) contains a few demo cuts as bonus material. The demos here feature Cause Of Death songs prior to James Murphy joining for the official recording sessions, and as such, lack his well crafted lead guitar work. That deficiency combined with the fact that the sound on these tracks are weak at best result in an inessential listening experience; interesting from a developmental standpoint, but ultimately not entirely important for enjoying the rest of the album.

Review by Hunter Brawer

Review date: 10/2009

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