posted on 8/2007 By:
You’ve gotta feel kinda bad for Obituary these days. Death metal’s built up a considerable head of steam over the last few years, fed by a renewed level of interest and excellent albums by long-dormant (or long-mediocre) DM heavy weights like Cannibal Corpse, Suffocation, Immolation, and Dismember. Obituary reformed at the beginning of this groundswell and released Frozen In Time, which was by most accounts a slightly subpar (though faithful) addition to their catalogue. Now that death metal has had time to expand and gain further momentum and popularity (Nile and Behemoth, both considerably brutal, are on Ozzfest this summer), the expectations placed on the genre’s classic acts have steepened considerably. In the face of this, it appears that John Tardy and company have decided to dig even further into their roots for their new effort; the very title—Xecutioner’s Return—is a reference to the band’s original name. It’s more or less worked out in their favor; though this slab of stuck-in-’91 lurching death metal is definitely stronger than its predecessor, it still pales a bit in comparison to their classics.
Now, it’s not quite fair to criticize Obituary for failing to progress; though they were innovative in their youth, technical flair and brains (the working kind, not the rotting kind) were far and away beyond the scope of the band’s interests. This is, after all, the band who first acknowledged that pure brutality takes precedence over any kind of cogence in death metal by flaunting the rock and roll convention of actually writing lyrics. Thus, the fact that this is another slab of thunderous, downtuned, Floridian swamp-thing death metal is hardly a surprise. The only real change here is the presence of Ralph Santolla on lead guitar, in lieu of incarcerated axeman Allen West. Santolla, who after his successful stint with Deicide seems to be making a hobby of revitalizing aging DM acts, is unquestionably a better lead player than West ever was. Though purists will prefer West’s squiggly atonal solos to Santolla’s more polished style, the latter’s vocabulary of licks is so much larger and his tone so much more emotive that he can simply light a track on fire. His work also contrasts nicely with the band’s far rawer, more gorilla like attack; though Santolla’s lead work is interesting, the focus is still squarely on the riffage and Tardy’s distinctive wildman bellow. The songs run the usual Obituary gamut; there are the Slayer-ed out thrashers (“Face Your God,” “Seal Your Fate”), the mid-paced gibberish shouting anthems (“Evil Ways,” “Feel the Pain,” “In Your Head”), and of course the slow-motion gutter crawler (the seven-minute “Contrast the Dead”). A few tracks, like “Second Chance,” even have a bit of a rock feel emphasized by Santolla’s soulful soloing. By and large, though, Obituary do what they know they do best—locking into evil, power chord-driven grooves. The slightly-too-dull guitar tone and loose production rounds out the squarely retro feel of the album.
That, ultimately, might be what keeps Xecutioner’s Return from being an awesome album. Though these guys have successfully recreated most of their classic sound, this one doesn’t really match the paradoxically youthful spark of releases like Shadows In The Light or Kill. One of the things that made Obituary so awesome in the first place was their absurd degree of extremity for the day and age; though this one will please a lot of their old fans, its recidivist nature dooms it to sound just a wee bit dated. This is still way better than the average death metal release, but still not exactly a classic.
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