Obituary – Cause of Death
Obituary's Cause of Death turned 20 this past weekend, according to metal-archives.com and Wikipedia.
Many call this Obituary's magnum opus, and I'm inclined to agree. My heart lies with predecessor Slowly We Rot. But if that record were a monster crawling out of Florida's swamps, Cause of Death is that monster zapped with a mutant spark of intelligence - namely, lead guitarist James Murphy. (His myriad guest appearances tended to do that.) Filling in for Allen West, who left Obituary temporarily due to his wife giving birth, he laced the record with leads that were fluid yet jagged. Elegant lines arched over Floridian filth, only to bare their teeth with palm-muting and spicy harmonies. Murphy's style is deceptively un-flashy. He favors actual notes over the divebomb, and often stays within conventional scales. But often what he's doing is setting the listener up for the kill. Such deliberateness is rare, and I wish Murphy were more active as a player now.
For me, a big part of this record is Michael Whelan's artwork. That eye! His website calls the original painting "Eye of Cthulhu". Wikipedia says that it was supposed to adorn Sepultura's Arise, which boggles my mind, since (a) the actual Arise artwork is burned into my consciosness now, and (b) the Lovecraftian horror of this cover wouldn't fit Arise's apocalyptic bent. Speaking of Whelan and Arise, has anyone else noticed how he basically plagiarized himself for the cover of Evile's Infected Nations? (Compare Arise with Infected Nations.)
Listening to this record now makes me a little sad. Death metal once sounded so fresh and raw. This record just oozes pus and horror. Few bands today would think of of matching a lead guitarist like Murphy with these riffs. (The closest analogue I can think of is Ralph Santolla's stint in Deicide.) John Tardy is instantly recognizable - as were his contemporaries: Schuldiner, Benton, van Drunen. Why is it so hard to tell death metal vocalists apart now? Cause of Death's riffs remind me of parts of Metallica's "The Thing That Should Not Be", also inspired by Lovecraft. Back then, death metal was the thing that should not be. It was ugly and unwanted, and it was the shit.
. . .