It’s been over four years since Obituary last graced these shores. Then, they were the opening act on the final Slayer world tour, which marked the end of the Thrash titans. Granted a mere 30 minutes, I know of many who missed their set due to the early start. In their 30-plus years, the Floridian Death Metallers haven’t been the most frequent visitors to these shores, so any headline show is usually greeted with fevered anticipation.
Electric Ballroom, London – 23 February 2023
Words and Photography: Paul Hutchings
This date, their only UK visit after a European tour with Trivium, Heaven Shall Burn and Malevolence, is sold out and the queue of fans winding their way down Camden High Street, much to the interest of curious tourists, evidence of the band’s lasting appeal.
The Ballroom is rammed, with fans crushed against the barrier. People strain for a view, with many reluctantly forced to catch glimpses of Obituary through gaps and cracks. It isn’t the best venue when sold out, and it’s almost impossible to move around. That doesn’t seem to bother the central pit area, though.
House lights drop, and the strains of the band’s now regular intro blast out of the speakers. Pat Traver’s Band’s Snorting Whiskey is about as apt as you can get for a band who recently posted on their social media about the volume of alcohol they had consumed on that Euro jaunt.
These are hard-living rockers whose music is just as no-nonsense.
The mist swirls, the band are on stage, mysterious shadows in the background. The intro finishes, and the first blistering riff bursts forth. It’s Redneck Stomp, the instrumental first salvo that sees the front rows erupt in an absolute frenzy.
Obituary stalk the stage, moving back and fore, their buzz saw riffage doing exactly what they’ve been doing since 1984 – delivering unrelenting Death Metal of the highest order. Its impact is immediate. As the crowd surfers begin to cross the barriers, the pit that has been active all evening is in full swing.
Sentence Day follows, and with it the arrival of vocalist John Tardy. The founder granddaddy of the band, he hasn’t changed, apart from maybe a few extra pounds on the girth. He’s at the front, pacing, delivering his guttural roar, but in a way that is unique for the genre. You can actually understand his vocals, something not always the case.
He’s in fine form, road-hardened from weeks of touring. His usual outfit of shorts and long sleeve tee, and his hair hanging long. He’s flanked by guitarists Trevor Peres, who has been with John and brother Donald (drums) since the band’s formation in 1988, and Ken Andrews and legendary bassist Terry Butler.
The setlist is drawn from more recent releases. It would have been a crime not to have given several songs from the excellent Dying Of Everything airtime, and the band ensure that this happens. We get five from their new record, including a snarling Barely Alive and the infectious groove of The Wrong Time. The songs sound sharp, they sound powerful, they sound, well, Obituary.
Alongside new songs, Obituary plunder deep into their discography. They have a lot to choose from but pull a ferocious set list together. They drop tracks from seven other albums and draw heavily from those earlier releases, which built their reputation as masters of their art.
The tempo doesn’t slow, apart from the brief moments of darkness between songs. John keeps his chatter brief, introducing the odd song and promising that the band will be back soon. Apart from that, it’s an avalanche of riffs that cascade from the stage. It’s brutal, bruising, and exactly what was expected.
Three from Cause Of Death isn’t a surprise, but the blistering delivery of Dying, and two of the four tracks in the encore, Turned Inside Out and Chopped in Half, still make the pulse race. Obituary also throw in a cover, one that they’ve played many times. Circle Of The Tyrants, the Celtic Frost classic, gets the treatment. It fits neatly into the set and works well.
After an hour, the band exit the stage. You know this can’t be all. It’s not, and they return to blow any remaining cobwebs away with a crushing four-song encore that concludes with the immortal Slowly We Rot. It’s the classic that would be criminal to omit, and as the band smile their thanks and exit the stage, the exhausted but contented crowd emerge into the cold night air, moist but happy that 35 years since Obituary formed, some things are as strong as ever.