DEAD FROM THE BACK: JOHN TARDY, SANTOLLA DELIVER OBITUARY’S DARKEST
Up to this point, the Obituary that reunited in 2003 only bothered to resuscitate their exasperating tendencies. After two, um, unsatisfactory outings, a third post-reunion album must feel like a potential strike three to many. And like the ’05 and ’07 albums, 2009’s Darkest Day can be painfully simplistic and inattentively performed. But unlike those dull albums that preceded it, Darkest Day has stretches of greatness (at least 24 bars of most songs), a pair of classics (“Payback,” “Your Darkest Day“), their best-ever album closer (The Crown-hinted “Left To Die”), and brilliant performances from the inimitable John Tardy and frowny lead guitarist Ralph Santolla.
It is thanks to these two that Darkest Day is the best Obituary record since World Demise, and the band’s most consistent since The End Complete. The difference, as always, is John Tardy and his banshee scream. While rhythm guitarist Trevor Peres boasts droidlike efficiency at turning out overly simplistic riffs, the success of Obituary records usually rests on the elder Tardy, who, in his 41st year on Darkest Day, again sounds like he could scream the piercings out of David Draiman’s chin. To brilliant effect, Tardy’s wail is dry and centered in the mix with little “Infected”-style overlapping. Again, this is Obituary’s schizophrenia: when their production dares work, the results are blunt and doomy (The End Complete) or old-school violent (Darkest Day) instead of low-budget (Xecutioner’s Return) or ripped from the womb (Frozen In Time).
And then there’s former Deicide guitarist Ralph Santolla, whose accents and bout of tapping on “Fields of Pain” compliment Peres’ tired chuggery so well – and there’s the album-justifying solo on “Violent Dreams” too – that one wonders why Peres is content to leave so many stoned riff ideas to clunk around like shoes in a dryer for minutes at a time. Maybe he’s just unaccustomed to having a capable co-guitarist since like World Demise. Still, it’s too bad that the set up for numerous Santolla career highlights is narcoleptic one-finger riffing.
The crazy thing is that Darkest Day’s other big failure is Donald Tardy, who throughout the album sounds like a drummer fighting the urge to play faster. His first impactful beat comes at track 12 (“Forces Realign”) and even more bizarre, that very song bears 80% of Tardy’s big fills, of which there are like a total of nine. By that song, his non-presence in the album is so total that the song’s big fill-gasm at the 3:50 mark feels perfunctory, like it was conceived and recorded covertly while the other 4/5ths of the band were on smoke break. But elsewhere, Darkest Day sounds like an angry veteran band that just noticed how many inferior bands are making better records than theirs, and even Donald’s indifference can’t sink what was built by his brother and a guy named Ralph: the band’s first post-reunion album that makes you wanna blast Obituary records from your speakers, not from a cannon.
(3 1/2 out of 5 horns)
Anso DF is a former music journalist who would like to retract allegations of a hidden neo-nazi agenda in the music of Austin, TX blues-rockers Dangerous Toys on daily metal news column Hipsters Out Of Metal!