Released: 2014, Gibtown Music/Relapse Records
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
Inked in Blood marks something of a second comeback for Florida death metal legends Obituary. Since reuniting in 2003 and issuing the Frozen In Time album in 2005, it’s been a bit of a struggle for the band – who soldiered on nonetheless.
Obituary parted ways with founding guitarist Allen West (as well as his replacement, Ralph Santolla), longtime bassist Frank Watkins and longtime label Roadrunner. And after issuing 2007’s Xecutioner's Return and 2009’s Darkest Days through the lower-profile Candlelight Records, they found themselves as free agents.
But like a lot of bands these days, Obituary have used their independence to their advantage. They launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds to finance the recording and production of a new album, and were able to line up a deal with Relapse to issue it once they were done. They also solidified their lineup with Massacre/ex-Six Feet Under bassist Terry Butler and new lead guitarist Kenny Andrews, and were given the relative luxury of time to write the new material. Inked In Blood, their ninth studio album and first in five years, launched a new era for the band upon its Oct. 28 release.
To take a few steps forward, Obituary have taken several steps back. Right off the bat, the grisly armless, headless and violated torso that adorns the cover harks all the way back to the band's rude and crude 1989 debut, Slowly We Rot. The raw, natural – yet still undeniably brutal - production also recalls early era Obituary, before the relative success of Cause of Death allowed for modestly better recording budgets. And the overall sound will no doubt be familiar: the thick, groovy redneck stomp built around Trevor Peres' massive rhythm guitar that the band have honed over a quarter-century – give or take the five or six years of their late '90s/early '00s hiatus. This is more about rejuvenation than reinvention.
Inked In Blood has a fresher, more energetic vibe than Frozen In Time a decade ago. Andrews' solos – which are used sparingly and strategically - offer genuine bite here, and John Tardy's signature roaring vocals are clearer, cleaner and more coherent than ever, even though he still breathes fire every time he opens his mouth.
The songs have greater variety – relatively speaking – than they have in a while and are played with more intensity and fire. It's good to hear the band really cutting loose and kicking up the tempos, as on the brisk opener “Centuries of Lies,” “Minds of the Blood,” “Paralyzed With Fear,” the almost funky “Visions In My Head” built on Butler's quivering bass or “Violence.” It makes for a nice ebb and flow when paired with the smothering grooves and death march pace of the title track or “Back On Top” - even if “Minds” is a dead-ringer for “Back to One” from The End Complete. And the slog and slam serve and volley of “Pain Inside” and “Within A Dying Breed” show the dynamism the band are capable of when they feel like it.
While there are sections that plod somewhat aimlessly, and certainly some moments of redundancy or déjà vu, Obituary do what they do better than they have done it probably since 1994's World Demise on Inked In Blood. Where Frozen sounded tentative and the last two albums seemed somewhat labored, Inked is inspired, loose and breathes new life into the band. Again.