It’s been five long years since Obituary’s last album ‘Darkest Day’ emerged to whack us round our skulls. In the meantime there’s been a fair amount of disruption in the band’s ranks. First Frank Watkins abandoned his bass role, defecting to Gorgoroth in order to fulfill his dreams of becoming a ‘Bøddel’; then Ralph Santolla did what he seemingly always does: a couple of albums before buggering off. It seems strange that the replacements for these two – Terry Butler and Kenny Andrews respectively – are only just making their recording debuts with the band. Two years ago this line-up was tearing up stages with sets dedicated to Obituary’s first three records. The inevitable question then was always this: would they be able to replicate the magnificence of that tour’s playing with this ninth, self-produced effort? Well, the proof that they could is now inked in blood…
‘Centuries of Lies’ leaps right out of the speakers with breakneck riffs, thudding kick drums and John Tardy’s inimitable roars barking over top. Before we go any further, it’s essential to emphasise the riffs and drums here, which plough away like a tempest and result in this being the best opening track on an Obituary album since ‘Threatening Skies’. In fact each time I’ve listened to this on public transport via headphones, it’s been an immense challenge trying to prevent my foot from pounding away in time with Donald Tardy’s leading kick drum. Attesting to lyrics about being “slapped in the face”, the opener is over before you know it. Over the course of the next couple of tracks, things settle into that massive trademark Obituary groove. ‘Violent by Nature’ grinds infectiously away with creeping riffs before showcasing the talents of Kenny Andrews on lead guitar. At first, the epic nature of the solo brought to mind James Murphy’s contribution to the band but after a few spins of the record, I think there’s also a nod or two to Allen West about the place.
In that respect of initial impressions, one other thing to stand out in the opening tracks is the production. Unlike the early years where bands like Obituary went to Morrisound for a particular hulking tone, today’s digital jobs don’t necessarily do full justice to a death metal record. In the case of ‘Inked in Blood’, there’s a particular drum head or two that sound conspicuously processed when the fills are flying. However, by the time you come to terms with the experience as a whole, such details evaporate into the mist of fetid zombie stench that the musicians collectively kick out. On the likes of ‘Pain Inside’, for instance, the sole focus is that combination of ghastly doom and John Tardy’s repeated intention that he’s “coming to get you… and your soul”. Some of the tracks here are classic Obituary and, dare I say it, among the band’s best to date. ‘Visions in My Head’ certainly fits this description. Its storming swamp-gestated groove, gnarled bass and hammering drums evoke images of being engulfed by flames and simultaneously beaten. If you know what I mean.
On the other hand, there are at least couple of numbers across the album’s twelve which don’t attain the same lofty heights. ‘Within a Dying Breed’ and ‘Out of Blood’ are little more than standard Obituary, so while not great, it’s hardly as if they’re bad either – and both do have their moments. Tracks like ‘Violence’ and ‘Inked in Blood’ itself are more what it’s all about. The former bangs out at speed with lyrics revolving around the narrator’s dark thoughts, while the latter emerges in the tradition of the band’s other title tracks; encompassing you like some insignificant being along with it. But these ones are building blocks for the masterstrokes of the album such as ‘Minds of the World’ and album highlight ‘Deny You’. Where ‘Minds…’ seems solely designed for incoherently bouncing off walls and furniture to, ‘Deny You’ inhabits another plane of existence entirely. This one begins with feedback before a HUGE, dense riff sets the tone for these five minutes of perfection. Yet more brilliantly assertive first-person lyrics are the icing on this death metal cake.
Come closing track ‘Paralyzed with Fear’, and it’s hard not to feel upbeat. With ‘Inked in Blood’, Obituary have delivered the most cohesive batch of tracks since their return. For me, each album has built on the last in one respect or another but this one shines. Not only does it keep up the general level of consistency, it also contains a number of tracks which are truly excellent. Like maggots which burrow their way into your head, the likes of ‘Centuries of Lies’, ‘Visions in My Head’ and ‘Deny You’, get in there and refuse to leave. Okay, so maybe the production could be enhanced (beefed up) in the guitar department and tweaked around the drums but otherwise, this is oozing with positives. Overall it’s fair to say that ‘Inked in Blood’ feels like the beginning of a special new era in the band’s existence.