Tampa, Florida's Obituary were instrumental in helping to define the death metal movement of the late 1980s, and the band has been at it ever since, never compromising on their style or execution, releasing a string of brutally heavy records since their 1989 debut, Slowly We Rot. The band's first three albums are hailed as classics in the genre, which they will revisit for their latest tour, consisting of fan-chosen tracks from their earliest records, including 1992's The End Complete, which has sold over 500,000 copies. For the latest edition of Tell Me About That Album, we chatted with singer John Tardy about the record, the band's upcoming tour and how he takes care of that death metal growl of his. The band play Studio Seven on Sept. 23rd.
How have the records held up for you? Is it an enjoyable process to go back and listen to them again or is it painful? Especially the first two records, we were so young and we had no idea what we were doing. It's kind of like having some friends of yours going into your parents' house where there's old pictures of you up on the wall with braces and a strange haircut. Sometimes when I listen to it it feels a little like that. But at the same time, Slowly We Rot is what it is. You've kind of got to live with it. But it'll be nice to go back and pick some of these songs that we haven't played for a while.
The End Complete is your best-selling record and also the most divisive amongst fans. Why do you think that is? When we were asked to do Slowly We Rot, we just kind of recorded some songs [we had], and that even kind of rolled over into Cause of Death. It really wasn't until The End Complete that we wrote a complete album. Our third trip to the studio was a lot more relaxing. We weren't in shock and awe about everything. Our first album we had no idea what we were doing. Our second album we had all these ideas and things we wanted to do, but didn't know how to get comfortable and go after them. The End Complete was actually a good-sounding record and one that we actually sat down and wrote as one whole album.
On The End Complete, some critics complained that the song structures were more traditional and the vocals were actually understandable for the first time. Were those conscious decisions? That was natural progression. On Slowly We Rot, there isn't really a full set of lyrics. There are plenty of times where I was just making up something and growling. I don't really know why I did that to begin with. Keep in mind, we were in high school when we were writing some of this stuff, so it was a little weird for us too. By The End Complete there was more of a thought process about the lyrics and what I was saying. Clearer pronunciation is just kind of the way it goes.
You guys have managed to stay true to one style of metal over the years, never straying too far from your core sound, which some people appreciate and others might not. We're all stuck in our ways with the music that we listen to. I still like throwing on the old [Celtic] Frost and the old Slayer albums and Venom. That's just what I enjoy listening to, and I think when we approach our music it's just the same way. Donald, Trevor and I have been writing together for a long time and we're all similar in our ideas and we don't really change that much. Like you said, it's six of one, half a dozen of the other. Some kids don't think it's enough different and some kids like it to sound the same but we like to think we go after each album with the thought of being Obituary first.
Would you say your taste in music hasn't evolved over the years? Pretty much not. I still listen to my old Lynyrd Skynyrd albums and stuff like that.
Do you have a favorite song on The End Complete? "Back to One" is one of the ones that has a lot of that fast singing. I grew up on Slayer and Tom Araya is the master of being able to ramble on endlessly in a song. That's kind of a cool song. "Killing Time" is one that we've played for a long time.
What makes one death metal song harder to sing than another? The amount of singing in a song. "Don't Care" takes a lot of air and a lot of force to do that, especially live.
Do you do anything to take care of your voice by doing any vocal exercises or anything? A lot of kids will ask, "How do you do that?" And I tell them to treat it like any other muscle in your body. Start off slow, build up strength slowly and rest in between. In my case, it can be pretty easy to get into some hard partying every night, but I've got to lay back on some of that and get into a quiet place.
Can you talk about putting together the cover for The End Complete? That was the first time we used Andreas Marschall to do artwork for us. When he did that album cover we were like, "That is pretty cool!" Nowadays it kind of stinks because people just download the record and get a little thumbnail, but back when we had album covers coming out, these things were pretty cool. That artwork has so much detail in it and then he came up with the idea of the creature for the T that sort of comes and goes from our albums also. Since then he did the Anthology cover, he did the Frozen in Time cover.
Have you ever hurt your neck from headbanging? No.