Few people know where Andrew WK has gone after two hard-partying album tours, but for the hardcore metalheads who attended those raucous onstage logjams, one thing was on their minds: Donald Tardy of Obituary was pounding skins behind the lunacy of it all.
Tampa Bay’s Obituary, one of underground metal’s most respected units, went on hiatus in the late nineties, though vocalist John Tardy mentions that the break was only intended to last six months. Following four records dating from 1989’s Slowly We Rot, Obituary’s 1997 album Back From the Dead and subsequent Dead (Live) album attempted to restore these thrash legends to their indulgent throng, but Tardy opines that a combination of a dying metal scene and a lackadaisical promotional effort by their former label Roadrunner Records was partially to blame for Obituary’s disappearance.
Obituary (once known as Xecutioner) was originally signed in the late eighties to Roadrunner’s original imprint Roadracer, also host to such notable artists as King Diamond, Whiplash and Znowhite. Tardy describes this pivotal moment:
“We were real fortunate to start with. We were just never a band that went out and played clubs, made demo tapes and tried to shop them around, this and that. Literally, we were just in the garage recording stuff. Some songs were never recorded. Roadracer just came to us and said ‘Hey, we want to release your record,’ so it was just a surprise to us, and next thing you know we have an album in our hands and that was the coolest thing.”
The love affair between Roadrunner and Obituary ended congruently with the growing success of the label, which is now regarded as one of the major forces in metal music. “It seems to me that once the Cause of Death record came out and The End Complete after that, I guess they just had better things to do than to bother with us,” Tardy quietly muses. “They paid less and less attention to us over time.”
In 2005, the band returned to a metal scene that wasn’t ready to let them vanish unheralded with Frozen in Time, in which the Tardy brothers were reunited with their Obituary comrades, but again, John Tardy will break no bread for his former label, which he feels “had kind of forgotten about us; they weren’t knocking at our door asking us if we’re going to do anything.”
Two years later, Obituary are back with a new record label, Candlelight Records, stirring a huge buzz with as much enthusiasm as they would Enslaved’s albums and Emperor’s tour schedule. Xecutioner’s Return has John Tardy talking as giddily as he probably did the first time he beheld the first pressing of Slowly We Rot.
“We had a blast putting this thing together,” Tardy says warmly of Xecutioner’s Return, “right from the get-go when we started writing the songs. Actually, we first put together the studio that we recorded it at, and it was an absolute blast from the first song we started practicing all through the mixing.”
Obituary’s claim to fame in a death metal scene discerned only by the very best or most unique is the fact that they were one of the first bands to mix meandering doom tempos within the construct of their brutal speed sections, sometimes ringing like a hybrid of Saint Vitus and Nuclear Assault. Even today, Xecutioner’s Return boasts a solid balance of varying beat patterns, which Tardy explains:
“All of us listened to such a different variety of music. Even through the years everybody kind of changed and we would just listen to a lot of different stuff, but we always just tried to get that good beat that gets your foot going, that gets your nose turned up and your head nodding with the music, then just mix just enough slow and fast stuff so that it doesn’t get boring. For me, it’d be hard to just write an entirely fast album. Somebody like Slayer or Destruction can get away with that and do a good job with it, but for most people that just play fast all the time, it kind of gets boring. Same thing if it just goes slow all the time. We like to really mix it up and get a good groove going and blast it out a little bit then slow it down and make it real sick, whatever makes it fun for us.”
Xecutioner’s Return was recorded on a Pro Tools HD Rig in a brand new 500 square foot makeshift studio inside of Tardy’s house, giving off a vintage eighties thrash sound that one might accuse of being recorded fully in analog.
“If I told you what we did to the record, it would take me about two minutes and then you’d call me a liar!” Tardy jokes. “Other than track it, we did next to nothing in the studio; it’s just amazing how little we did. Everything we learned throughout the years to make things sound better and better, every time we’d try new stuff, we’d all start looking at each other and would take it right back off again because it didn’t need it! So we just went straight back to basics and it really came out that great.”
While mastering Xecutioner’s Return, Tardy and Obituary ran into Jon Oliva and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, who were recording their next album. As Oliva is part of the same Floridian hometown turf as Obituary, Tardy notes proudly, “Savatage and Nasty Savage are what made us pick up instruments before we ever started doing anything, because we grew up in the same neighborhood and we saw them live all the time.”
In settling on their new deal with Candlelight Records, Obituary went through an exhaustive research period following their fallout from Roadrunner. “We spent a lot of time talking to a lot of people before we signed with anybody. We left all options open, considered [everything from] putting the album out ourselves to signing with some of the bigger labels that you could name, so we put together everything that we wanted to have done. We put a list together of all the things that we wanted, what we looked for, and we went to all of these different record companies that we thought would be interested and could do a good job for us. Candlelight went above everybody else and did everything we asked. So we’re really happy to be priority on somebody’s record label and be one of the bigger records that they have, and to get the amount of attention we’re looking for.”
The still-young metal label has commandeered a massive promotional campaign behind Obituary and Xecutioner’s Return, and while the wound-licking Tardy advises that his band won’t ever “strap in” again and sign up for a long-term, multi-release deal with any label, he does speak fondly about his new hosts and the treatment he and Obituary have been given by the label.
As if Obituary hasn’t had enough controversy to contend with, they were recently dealt a blow to their infrastructure when their guitarist Allen West was arrested and arraigned on a DUI charge. The timing of this event came in the middle of a worldwide tour that found Obituary in South America, London and Holland for the Walrock Festival. The band played a handful of dates as a foursome until former Deicide guitarist Ralph Santolla stepped in to help on the road as well as on Xecutioner’s Return.
Tardy gives Santolla high marks, noting that “Ralph was the guy who stepped in and we’ve known Ralph for a long time. His thing didn’t work out with Deicide and he was available; everybody kind of knows everybody and so now he’s coming over to the house and studio almost every day and just wants to do something, to play, record, just do something! He needed something to do and we definitely needed a guitar player, and it just seemed to work out really well.”
Also guitarist of Six Feet Under and Lowbrow, West’s incarceration has left his Obituary post in question. As the band attempts to find the prison where West is finishing his sentence in order to discuss the beleaguered guitarist’s future with the band, this grey cloud can’t overshadow the brightness smiling from John Tardy’s face. He cannot stop doting on Xecutioner’s Return and how much freer he and Obituary feel and sound with new digs and fresh perspective.
“Putting them behind us, we feel like we’re starting new and we felt like we could come out do whatever we wanted to. It was just a complete relief to be done with them and move forward with Candlelight Records.”