Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Death Metal Tuesday - The End Complete

Obituary's third album, The End Complete is certain to divide camps among old school Obituary fans. It is arguably their most commercially successful release, their most instantly accessible, and the first album to feature full lyrics for each song. After the underground success of Cause of DeathObituary returned with original guitarist Allen West replacing Cause's James Murphy at the lead guitar. By 1992, the band had firmly established themselves as one of Florida's most seminal among Morbid AngelDeicide, and Death. They had also managed to carve a fairly distinct sound for themselves which presents them as instantly recognizable among their peers thanks to two factors: the guitars with tone knobs turned all the way to bass and John Tardy's ridiculously over-the-top voice which sounds like he's vomiting each syllable.

The other key component was Obituary's lack of traditional song structure which changes drastically onThe End Complete. At the very opening notes of "I'm in Pain," it is clear that Obituary has refined to verse-chorus-verse song structure along with straightforward and somewhat boring lyrical content. Tardy's voice is also somewhat affected by being preoccupied with enunciation rather than just making ghoulish noises. Thus the polarizing factor is this: do you think the refinement of song structure and the addition of conventional lyrics help or hurt the band?

"I'm in Pain" will likely do little to sway anyone either way, but "Back to One" is decidedly savage and full of new found energy. And though Obituary could hardly be placed among the fastest of OSDM bands, they are certainly one of the most adept at hanging a slow groove, which they obviously became acutely aware of on this album. "Back to One" starts with a punk-like charge which eventually settles into a 6/8 chug that truly highlights what is so great about this band. They also have a tendency to just sit back and jam on a riff, without vocals or leads, until the song comes to its natural end - few other OSDM acts were so patient in their approach. Halting breakdowns and tempo changes throughout show that Obituary had a firm grasp on their appeal. The riffs are among some of the best in the bands catalogue here and Allen West's leads easily outdo anything he did on Slowly We Rot. John Tardy also delivers, as one expects, with doubled up vocals and savage force. Yes the actual lyrics do change his dynamic, but the jarring change lets up after the opening track.

Towards the latter half of The End CompleteObituary really seem to find their niche. After the somewhat forgettable "In the End of Life," "Sickness" announces the albums second side which all but erases side one. Atypical for most releases, the best tracks on here lie towards the end. The absolutely groovy "Killing Time" may just be one of the band's tracks that they ever wrote. This along with the album's single and title track are the most convincing moments of this release.

The production is adequate, though a paper-thin and overly compressed snare plagues Donald Tardy's machine-like performance. That guitar sound may also be wearing a little thin, as the heightened production values elsewhere really show how weak a sound it truly is. 

Production flaws aside though, The End Complete made a strong statement for Obituary's place in OSDM history. This is what a third album truly should be: a combination of the rawness of #1 and the compromises of #2 which creates a logical step forward in musical maturity and artistic progression. The follow up to this would be a rather hard pill to swallow, so this may just be the band's true peak as a death metal giant. Being one of the founding fathers of death metal, it's good to see the boys are back to writing traditional DM, some 20 years after this release... Man, that makes me feel old! 4.5 out of 5.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Death Metal Tuesday - Khaos Legions

Guitar player Michael Amott was a key factor in Carcass' morphing from Goregrind to melodic death metal. After his departure from that band, he formed Arch Enemy in 1995, playing a similar sounding breed of melodeath  that easily compares to the early In Flames and Dark Traquillity stuff. Along 2000, the band acquired a female singer named Angela Gossow, and suddenly they got a great deal of attention. The reason for this, is Angela sounds plenty brutal - her gender difference nearly undetectable by the uninitiated. My beef has always been that her vocals sound overly processed - like they doctored them up to sound more "male" in the studio. 

Stepping away from the vocal gimmick for a second, Arch Enemy is a Swedish melodic DM band with a allegiance to the heavy aspects of the genre. While their genre mates were going softer and softer, Arch stayed allied with the thrash and DM camps. This brings us to the 2011 album, Khaos Legions. By this point, the band were a commercial success and thus in the crosshairs of critics and genre purists. I can't profess to be an expert on this subgenre, particularly post 2000, because I haven't heard enough of it. That being said, there are enough old school nods to make this particular record enjoyable. There are guitar flourishes juxtaposed with good ol' fashioned thrash riffs (similar to that mid-era Carcass stuff, come to think of it). Amott is a guitar hero in the traditional sense - playing leads that would work on a Skid Row or Motley Crüe record. The cool part is when they go from that to a ripping riff like the openning riff on Vengeance is Mine

I will never like Angela's voice, but I think the band gets far too much hate / love based on her - there is certainly more going on here. This is definitely market-friendly with an aim to please the mainstream metal audience. It is instantly accessible and appealing. What I like about this over a great deal of other recent melodeath, is that Arch aren't afraid to kick the speed up. Hell, is that a blastbeat on Cult of Chaos? Yup. On the other side of the coin, there are plenty of market-friendly songs here - No Gods, No Masters, Secrets, and Through the Eyes of a Raven are all bit much for me. Again,  Khaos Legions  is mainstream metal made for the masses, but I still find it more palatable than anything In Flames has done in the past 10 years. Those lush leads alone are enough to warrant a listen or two. 3 out of 5.