Almost every band has that album: you know, the critically and/or commercially reviled dud in an otherwise passable-to-radical back catalog. Well, once in a while, a Decibel staffer or special guest will take to the Deciblog to bitch and moan at length as to why everybody’s full of shit and said dud is, in fact, The Shit. This time Shane Mehling defends the album that marked the end of Obituary’s reign as one of death metal’s most distinguished pioneers.
I don’t even know why we’re here. Last time I wrote one of these, to defend Anthrax’s Sound of White Noise, I was inundated with people saying there was no need to defend the album -- that it was beloved by all. And while I personally think the album’s quite good, many of us remember that John Bush’s debut, with its grunge influence and absence of thrash, was highly controversial and routinely scorned.
Well, it looks like the tables have turned, as I am gobsmacked that I’m being asked to defend Obituary’s World Demise, a record that, in my mind, is nothing less than a classic extreme metal record which I assumed was pretty much universally respected. I was so surprised I had to go sniffing around for what these supposed flaws are.
And okay, it makes more sense now. The main issues I’ve gotten from its detractors are that the record tosses out nearly all of their faster DM parts, the lyrics went all earth-conscious and, most egregiously, they added some “groove metal” elements to the album. Also, this record is the bridge between The End Complete and Back from the Dead, the latter of which is admittedly a pile of puke. But let’s take on those other supposed problems:
The majority of this record is pretty mid-paced to downright glacial, and while I can see that being an issue for some, the band had already begun showing the payoffs of getting in touch with their doomier side. On World Demise they just push it even further and more successfully. “Paralyzing” has one of the fastest parts on the record and also one of the band’s heaviest riffs ever, a destructive slab of sludge that comes in halfway and also closes out the song. The band may not be shredding up to your standards, but there is no shortage of burly, brutal riffs.
Okay, so maybe there aren’t a lot of traditional death metal lyrics on here. No one is getting their limbs ripped off, and there is a notable lack of things rotting. But this isn’t like all of a sudden they took on some insufferable preachiness. At no point is John Tardy screaming, “RE-CY-KILL” or anything about how you shouldn’t water your lawn so much. For the most part they’re just slightly more abstract and seem to loosely involve how we’re killing the planet we live on. And since we’re still fucking doing that, clearly he wasn’t that explicit. But what is explicit is Death’s “In Human Form,” giving a shout out to scientists and shit, and no one says anything about Chuck.
Yes, out of 12 songs, 3-4 of them have these elements, but they don’t get completely sucked in. “Redefine,” for example, is 50% traditional death that just happens to be bookended with a quite groovy metal riff.
And also, I’m sorry, but what’s wrong with that? I know 20 years after the fact a lot more people feel like this was a stain on extreme music, and maybe you wanted Obituary to put out their own The Bleeding or Covenant, but this was an evolution that allowed the band to stretch their sound while never breaking away from death metal -- there are still shrieking solos; there’s still double bass; there’s dense, thunderous production that best brought out the band’s enormity. And Tardy was at the height of his delivery: he’s more powerful, more acidic, more downright nauseating.
I understand that those who are most going to disagree with me are those who think that Sepultura’s Chaos AD was the thrash equivalent of Dylan going electric, and that Obituary’s shift was a regression into something more bland and easy and mainstream. These are the people who have no qualms tearing apart Sound of White Noise and would mail me a box of cat turds if they knew my address. But for them, I have to chalk this up to an impenetrable, unscalable wall between our highly subjective opinions. I’ve always liked “Refuse/Resist” more than “Dead Embryonic Cells” and always thought “Splattered” on World Demise was superior to the title track off Cause of Death.
Now, it’s not like I’m saying it’s Hall of Fame material but… wait, you know what? I am saying that. Listening to this for the last few days on repeat has only solidified how goddamn wonderful this record is. I am not only asking you to like this album, but I want you to love this album. World Demise should both be considered one of Obituary’s best and one of extreme music’s most important albums.