Sitting down with a new OBITUARY album is like putting on that old sweater you thought you lost somewhere along the way. It’s snug, very familiar and all that, but on closer inspection you begin to notice a few noticeable holes in certain spots and overall it just feels a tad worn out. Discomfort sets in. I’m sure you can see where this analogy is going...
I love OBITUARY, I own just about every album of theirs and they are pretty much the first name that comes to mind when I think of classic US Death Metal. Sure, they were never the most technical or inventive band around but when John Tardy’s trademark belched vocals and those utterly heavy detuned riffs kick in it all seems to come together somehow, if you know what I mean. Since reforming a few years back they have been fairly productive, bringing out two solid albums (“Frozen In Time” and “Xecutioner’s Return”), a live DVD (“Frozen Alive”), an EP “(Left For Dead”), as well as touring extensively. They were on a run, in other words, but after five intense listens to “Darkest Day” I’m saddened to report that their good run is about to come to a crashing halt. “Darkest Day” is simply not up to scratch. It has all the trademarks of an OBITUARY disc – the harsh vocals, groovy mid-paced riffs, simplistic yet tight drumming, and more than a handful of classy solos (guitar icon Ralph Santolla rarely disappoints), but when it comes down to it this album just feels inordinately lazy/uninspired. There’s nothing on here they haven’t done better before, and considering the distinct lack of any true album highlights this album feels like collection of “The End Complete” B-sides.
It’s not a terrible album though – the first half of the album is actually quite enjoyable, whether it’s the rapid fire opener “List Of Dead”, slithering groove stompers like “Blood To Give” and “Lost” (featuring nice Oriental-sounding opening leads), or the catchy “Payback”. They get the balance between crunchy grooves and faster bursts of aggression just right on these tracks but as soon as the slow monotony of the title track kicks in the quality begins to take a nosedive. The semi-instrumental “This Life” is not too bad (Santolla and Trevor Peres really show off on here) and “Violent Dreams” benefits from a faster tempo, but the rest of the songs rely far too much on lazy slow chugging, with “Truth Be Told” being one of the most insipid tracks they’ve ever penned. That dreaded “Back From The Dead” vibe rears its head far too much during the lacklustre second half and effectively kills the momentum built up during the decent first half of the album.
Ultimately “Darkest Day” succeeds in capturing the essence of classic OBITUARY but as far as actual substance goes the album is a definite step down from its two immediate predecessors. Kudos to them for still being able to perfectly capture that claustrophobic vibe of early Death Metal (mainly due to John’s vocals, which are absolutely spot on throughout), but I needed more than just a few arbitrary good songs to see me through.
(Online June 2, 2009)