Reviewed: June 2022
Published: Decibel, 2021
There are any number of books about extreme Metal but very few actual band biographies.
Author of the new Obituary biography, David Gehlke is really making a name for himself in Metal publications. This follows on the heels of his excellent biography about Noise Records (DAMN THE MACHINE, 2017) and his equally excellent biography of Paradise Lost (NO CELEBRATION, 2019). As a side note: I have reviewed both of those tilted here at Metal/Rules.com if you are curious. It is apparent that Gehlke broad tastes and a deep knowledge base to cover these diverse topics!
The book itself is published by the good folks at Decibel Publishing, the book division of the iconic and long running Metal magazine and is now a powerhouse in their own right. The 312+ page hard cover is top notch and comes with a Foreword by Max Cavalera and a brief introduction by the author but surprisingly no discography! There are dozens and dozens of black and white photos scattered across the chapters.
I think it is neat when a reader of a book can have some little connection with the book they are reading. The book starts with the band pulling out of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada in early March of 2020 (in a snowstorm!) and getting the word that the Black Label Society/Obituary/Lord Dying tour was cancelled due to the developing flu bug that was going ground. Little did we know! I had just seen the band in Calgary, a couple nights prior on March 7th. It was the last gig I would see in 2020 and it was always enjoyable to see Obituary in this rather odd bill.
After ‘the hook’ of having the tour chopped in half we pick up the story at the most logical of starting places, the beginning. What I found most interesting is that with these pioneering bands, like Obituary, how little awareness that they are in the process of doing something new and innovative. Like most bands at an early stage, they were just banging away in the garage/basement (in this case bedroom) making noise and having fun and it is only later that people; observers, fans (often journalists) come up with a term and/or definition that sticks. OBITUARY was Death Metal maybe even if they didn’t know it.
The narrative continues as the band plod along with Gehlke in full co-operation and conjunction with the band, paints a fairly vibrant picture of the burgeoning Tampa Bay Metal scene. Founded by teenagers all running in the same circles and same high schools l, noted a parallel to the story of Dublin High School in San Francisco, California a breeding ground for bands like Testament, Vio-lence, Exodus, Laaz Rockit, Telsa and many more. Tampa in the late 80’s (with a population of only about 250,000) and the larger Tampa Bay area churned out several bands; Savatage, Iced Earth, Kamelot, Monstrosity, Acheron, Brutality, Deicide, Resurrection, Death, Nocturnus, Nasty Savage, etc, and all these guys seemed to know, or know of, each other, trade members, borrow gear etc.
Quite often scene development hinges on a central point and in this case, it was a recording studio. The story of Morrison’s Studios gets ample time in the discussion and could probably be the topic of a book one day as well.
We follow the adventures of the band of good ol’ boys, a close-knit group, professional but always dedicated to the fun side of things. Gehlke covers all areas of the bands long and impressive career trajectory (with many ups and downs) with equal enthusiasm and energy. A lot of the early days has been told before but the Ralph Santolla era was especially interesting to learn about. He is also very comprehensive covering related projects/bands like Massace, Lowbrow, Andrew W.K. and the Tardy Brothers side project among others. The band is private but not secretive and I learned a lot the various members their careers, education and hobbies. I had no idea that Donald Tardy was a ‘crazy cat guy’ and there is a whole chapter dedicated to his feline rescue and care efforts. TURNED INSIDE OUT flowed well and was entertaining and educational.
As I alluded to in my opening paragraph, I could not think of a more deserving band in this sub-set of Metal to be the subject of a biography. Death already has a documentary film, David Vincent of Morbid Angel published his autobiography and there is a book about Cannibal Corpse so it makes sense that Obituary was up next.