Obituary – Three Decades Strong

Sunday, 5th March 2017

One of the most revered veteran death metal acts still coming up with fresh material, Obituary is one of the few bands that shouldn’t require an introduction. The band’s celebrated history, and that they’ve continued to stick to their guns, even in a death metal landscape that has shifted into who can play the fastest and most technical, makes them just as relevant after 30 years of existence. They’ve weathered label-changes, a hiatus, and some changes in line-up over the years and still maintain a consistency to their sound.

Their tenth, and self-titled effort is as strong as anything the band has done in their years, utilizing a formula where you can identify the band’s sound instantly, yet still allowing a few surprises to come out over the course of the album. Vocalist John Tardy was kind enough to chat with us one afternoon about the band’s lasting power (and challenges), a collaborative beer with 3Floyds, their iconic dragon, and more.

Dead Rhetoric: 30 years and ten albums in – what are the challenges that come about with playing death metal?

John Tardy: The amount of money that you make! [Laughs] My wife tells me all the time, “Why don’t you guys play country music?” Nah, it’s great. Donald [Tardy], Trevor [Peres], and I have been around from the very beginning – back in high school, just coming home and playing in the garage and writing songs, not even planning on doing that first album. I just never really even dreamed about it lasting this long, especially playing this type of music. It’s been a great trip and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. We’ve gotten to see a lot of the world and meet a lot of cool people and it’s been a fun ride, that’s for sure.

Dead Rhetoric: What made it feel right to give this album the self-titled treatment?

Tardy: You know what, I think every band is allowed a mulligan and you can just take it and get away with it, and we just pulled the card [laughs]. You know us, we don’t think too much about anything that we do. There were a few little things. We like the album cover. It’s a simple artwork and a new spin on our older logo. We liked the way that it looked by itself on that black background – we thought it was kind of striking and it just felt right to us. There are also so many good songs on here that could have been title tracks – to pick one out would have been difficult. It really wasn’t until we started doing the interviews that we started hearing that it’s our 10th studio release so that’s one more thing to add to the pile. Lots of little things that kept pointing to the fact that we should just leave it to a self-titled album, and now that it’s all said and done, it feels like the right thing.

Dead Rhetoric: Is there anything that you feel sticks out when you look at what went into this album compared to your previous material, even say, Inked in Blood?

Tardy: I’d like to think that with every album we get a little better at doing things. I think the production is one of the best that we’ve done. The amount of songs – all of the people that I’ve talked to asked about a few songs, and no one is picking the same ones. There’s a wide variety on the album. Another thing that really helped us is that we really started writing about a year and a half/two years ago but then we did a few tours and that stopped the process and then came back around to it. I think in doing that, it helps that so many songs sound different to each other, they almost could have gone on different records, so that’s kind of cool also.

Dead Rhetoric: Is it nice, with Obituary having a very established position, that you can take that extra time and record something that you really believe in, instead of the usual 1-2 year album cycle?

Tardy: I don’t think we’ve ever been a band that has felt we had to put out an album every 1-2 years. The first two albums were close together, but there was a long time between some of them. Frozen in Time was like 8 years or so, and Back from the Dead was like 5 years, so there was a lot of time between those albums. But there’s just no pressure – if we don’t feel like writing, then we just don’t. It’s not the way we do things. Especially nowadays, when we get so busy touring and the whole nine yards. We don’t do a lot of good writing on the road. Trevor is always picking at his guitar here and there and coming up with ideas and stores them in the back of his head, but we do our best work here [in the studio], as a band hanging out.

Me, Donald, and Trevor just get out in the room, have a couple cool ones, and we are just hanging out and jamming, that’s how we do the bulk of our work. So we have to plan out and schedule – we’ll tell them, “Hey look we can’t play any shows this month because we need to do some writing.” So we’ll take the month, and next thing you know I don’t hear from Trevor for a week and he’s busy, and when he does come over and we don’t feel like doing anything. We wind up taking the boat out instead and next thing another month goes by and we didn’t do anything, but that’s just the way it goes. That’s just the way we roll with things. We don’t put too much pressure on ourselves.

Dead Rhetoric: Was it nice to have a complete line-up back from Inked in Blood?

Tardy: There’s no doubt. Right now, a happy band is a good thing. We do a lot of touring and meet a lot of bands and there’s nothing worse than seeing a band that doesn’t really like each other and don’t want to hang out with each other. We are so opposite of that. We can be on the road for six weeks in a bus together and have a night off six weeks into a tour and I’ll call them up and ask what they want to do for dinner, and we’ll all go out to dinner together. That’s just the way things are going. Live right now, we are firing on all cylinders with the lineup we have. It’s really doing good for us. Hell, I’ve known Terry [Butler] since before I was in Obituary, that’s how long I’ve known him. When we were starting with Xecutioner, he was starting with Massacre back in the day. We were friends back then so it feels like he has been here the whole time. Same thing with Kenny [Andrews] – he was a friend for a long time, he was our guitar tech for a long time, and he filled on bass for Frank [Watkins] a couple times when he couldn’t go.

It was kind of weird, when things with Ralph [Santolla] ended, I don’t even remember us having a conversation about us having who was going to replace Ralph – it was just like, hey Kenny are you going to do this with us? He was like, “yeah” and that’s where we are. It’s a really good feeling when you get that lineup and you are happy with what you have. Kenny has been doing a great job – he can play enough technical stuff that sound like solos that maybe Ralph or James [Murphy] did, and enough harmony stuff to make fans happy. There’s a ton of good [whammy] barwork, like Allen [West] used to do – almost too much of but that was Al, he loved using his bar. I think Kenny does a great job of blending all that together and then adding in some of his own. It makes it really fit well for us. Kenny actually wrote two songs – one that’s on the album, and one that we gave to Decibel for the single they are doing [“No”]. It was kind of fun to write two songs with Ken too.

Dead Rhetoric: So I get the impression that things are back into a groove at this point with the band?

Tardy: I think we are doing enough. We are playing enough shows to keep things rolling and keep us having a good time. We are taking enough time at home and getting away from it for a little bit. We have a lot of cool stuff happening. The “Sentence Day” video came out, and we did a lyric video, which was really weird for us because we never published lyrics. To actually have a lyric video was kind of cool. You have to release singles, but nowadays you have to put some video in it. People don’t want to sit and listen – if they can’t stare at something. Put a pair of titties on the page or something to keep their interest [laughs] – you get them to listen one way or another. We have another video that we are getting ready to do, and of course, the album is coming out in a few more weeks and then there’s the Kreator tour. There’s a lot going on between now and then to keep us busy and keep people’s interest piqued to get the album or at least come see us on the road.

Dead Rhetoric: You mentioned the artwork before – the dragon has been on a number of covers at this point, do you think it’s synonymous with the band at this point?

Tardy: It definitely is. We love that creature logo, that’s what we call it. The creature, Andreas [Marschall] came up with that a while back, I think The End Complete album was the first one we did that on. He’s done a couple of versions – there’s a three-headed version, the Left to Die version, which has meat all over the place, which I love. We actually started off with another song, and instead of [self-titled] artwork, which we were trying to work on with Andreas and he’s really easy to work with, which is why he has done so much work with us and we get along real well, but we had an idea and a concept and it just wasn’t working. We all agreed that it wasn’t working. He asked for a few other song titles, and then we just got the idea and rolled with it. Everything about it just screams classic Obituary. Nothing super fancy about it, just classic Obituary. Ten albums into this thing, and it’s just another fun album to listen to.

Dead Rhetoric: What inspired the “Hopped in Half” beer with 3Floyds brewing company?

Tardy: That was awesome! First of all, we all love to drink – there’s no question about that [laughs]. We got asked to play a festival there, the Dark Lords Beer Fest, and it’s odd because multiple relationships came out of this one thing. We had never really heard of it, so we went up and played this festival and it was an absolute blast. These guys are totally into their metal, and totally into their beer. We played this festival and people clearly showed up to drink the beer, and the bands were kindof second [laughs] but we had such a fun time and those guys are really into metal and Obituary. So when they asked us to do it, it was kinda like “ok, let’s do it.” They were cool, because we said look – if you make some maple coffee amber stout orange-something, I’m not drinking it. I’m not the guy who gets a big ole nasty beer and just sips on it and tries 15 different beers in a night. I just like cracking open cool ones, and on NFL Sundays I will roll through 20 of those bad boys and that’s just how we like to drink [laughs].

So they were cool, and they weren’t going to give us exactly what we wanted but they were definitely good about making something that wasn’t too over the top, super hoppy IPA – something that will kill you with 20% alcohol or something – something that was a little bit smoother and you can kind of chug. That was a lot of fun. They stopped making it – it was tough, because you get 100 people asking us all the time where they can buy it. And unfortunately there was no getting it unless you lived in that area – there’s two states are wrapped around them that they actually distribute to. Otherwise it wasn’t going to happen, but that’s how they do things. They’ve done beers for a few bands, and that’s how they kind of do it – they have an idea of how many they want to do, vats or barrels – they hit that mark and sold every drop of it that they made. Once they hit that mark, they discontinue it and move on to new flavors.

To add to that, there’s a brewery here in Tampa called Cigar City. They have a lot of good beers and they are a small brewery and they are also doing really good right now. They are selling every ounce of beer that they can get the stuff out of their barrels, and they have asked if we would like to do a beer with them. So we are in the process of coming up with a concept and a beer we can do with Cigar City, because it would be nice to have a beer down in Florida that we can give to our friends and get for ourselves.

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