Obituary is one of my all-time favorite bands.Â Period.Â I consider then one of THE definitive Death Metal acts, alongside Cannibal Corpse, Death, Six Feet UnderÂ and perhaps Deicide.Â That being said, I was excited when the group reunited with the ‘classic’ lineup of vocalist John Tardy, guitarists Allen West & Trevor Peres, bassist Frank Watkins and drummer Donald Tardy to release ‘Frozen in Time’ back in 2005.Â Upon hearing the album however, I have to confess as being a tad disappointed.Â It’s a good album, don’t get me wrong, but I was hoping for something that rivalled ‘Cause of Death’  – in my opinion, the best album they ever did.Â Nothing on ‘Frozen in Time’ stood out as strongly, their sound not quite as heavy as on the earlier releases and the melodies not as memorable.Â Still, it wasÂ good to have new material and to know that one of my fav’s was again producing new music & touring.
Now 2 years later, we have ‘Xecutioner’s Return’ – a title with a deliberate homage to the band’s original name ‘Xecutioner’ before they changed it back in the late 80’s.Â I took this as a good sign.Â If they were acknowledging their roots, perhaps they were looking to return even more fully to the down-tuned guitar crunch I’d come to love.Â I began to have hope.
Then I read about the trouble that Allen West had found himself in – once again being arrested for DUI, only this time the judge throwing the book at him andÂ sentencing him to prison.Â Â Unable to fulfill his recording and touring duties, the band temporarily replaced West with veteran axe-melter Ralph Santolla, who had just finished a brief stint with fellow Florida Death Metallers – Deicide.
And thus ‘Xecutioner’s Return’ was recorded.Â Lo andÂ behold, the Reverend sawÂ (or heardÂ rather) it was good.Â The mind numbingly heavy minor chords were back!Â Guitar solos, I mean REAL finger mincing, ear bleeding solos, were back!Â Obituary WASÂ back!!Â Hallelujah!!
Yes sports fans, this is a laudable effort indeed.Â Â Living up to their old claim as being the ‘heaviest band in the world’, theÂ boys haveÂ really laidÂ downÂ some sludge on this one, and it does my old heart good to hear it.Â Â The slower, doomier progressions that were lacking in ‘Frozen in Time’ have returned, and the guitar solosÂ are more elaborate & forceful – reminiscent of their early work.Â Tempos vary, as is typical for these guys, between dirge-like slow to mid-range and headbangable.Â Nothing super fast, which is my personal preference anyhow.Â My favorite songs are probably the driving ‘Evil Ways’ (which is one of the most oldschool of the bunch), ‘Bloodshot’ and the oppressive ‘Contrast the Dead’.
Vocally, John Tardy has lost nothing of his raw-throated sound over the years – how, I cannot imagine as he is legendary for not using effects.Â Â Compare his sound on this release to ‘Slowly We Rot’  and you’ll hear little difference – amazing.Â Lyrically, Obituary song’s are always violent & brutal yet constructed with obscure phrasing and unusual emphasis such that understanding exactly the ‘theme’ of a song can be difficult.Â This tracklist is no exception with songs like ‘Contrast the Dead’ and ‘Lies’, whose meanings remain submerged in their ownÂ murkinessÂ & gloom.Â The only real difference I noticed was a more flagrant anti-religious slant than usual, songs such as ‘Face Your God’ and ‘SecondÂ Chance’ seemingly venting in a darker, even Satanic vein, which I think would have been betterÂ left with their Black Metal brethren.
So honestly, it’s a great disc and bodes well for the future of this pioneering band, hopefully even moreso when West returns.Â And here’s the sticky part.Â ‘Cause of Death’ was also recorded while West was not in the band, lead fretburning being provided by the nomadic genius James Murphy (who’s been in too many bands to mention here).Â I’m not picking on West, in fact I’ve met the man and he was as geniune and fan-friendly as everyone else in Obituary.Â But itÂ seems to me thatÂ West’s demons have been holding him back, and I’m not gonna pull punches and say differently.Â His guitar work is adequate, but not nearly as aggressive or technically sharp as I believe he’s capable, or that he exemplified in the early days.
My hope is upon his release, he’ll return to his place on stage with his bandmates and channel his torment and rage back into the music where it belongs.Â So they can collectively reign as Death Metal’s kings once more.