Obituary Live: Death Metal From The Florida Swamps

Obituary entered my life a long, long time ago when I lived in my native Caracas. The first album Slowly We Rot had just been released. The first time I heard it, it paralyzed my blood and mesmerized my soul. I was in love! I had never heard such melted-chocolate guitar riffs, vocals sounding like hurling and gargling simultaneously with such fierceness as if emanating from the guts of Lucifer himself, and brutal drums that merged nice and tight with the bass line. It was crisp metal peppered with ethereal mysticism. Absolutely delicious. 

Back then, sitting in my room, playing the Slowly We Rot album over and over again, the thought of seeing them in concert was an abstract thought, like say, having a romantic dinner with your favorite actor/actress. As far as I was concerned, these five guys were aliens from a faraway planet. 

Fast-forward to 2013… 

We left Orlando early and headed to Ybor City to catch the Obituary show (yeah!). Our trip began with a typical June Florida-famous thunderstorm. It started to pour as soon as we merged onto I-4 Westbound as if ordered by Zeus himself (bastard!). The traffic was slow, visibility dim. Fortunately my friend in whose car we traveled proudly announced he changed the tires recently so the chance of water-gliding in the 2-door Japanese car was less likely than getting crushed by a semi. Goody.

The downpour continued for hours, even after we arrived at The Orpheum. People piling in were drenched like they had hit the shower fully clothed. But risking catching pneumonia is a small price to pay for experiencing the up-close and personal show of a world-class death metal band like Obituary. The mere memory of that night sends electric shocks from my chest to my core and back.

The show was streamed live through the band’s U-Nation page. Fans from all over the world could tune in for only $4.99. Generating revenue in this manner is a creative way for the band to obtain funds, and it’s a valuable service for the fans. Nowadays finding one’s favorite music for free is as easy as clicking a button. Bands need to find innovative ways of making money in order for them to continue writing awesome material instead of worrying about menial things like paying bills. We need to support our favorite musicians if we want more of their awesome music. 

The stage was ready. The gigantic Obituary backdrop threatened us from above! Donald Tardy’s drum kit sat on a platform neatly “miked” for the online streaming. Marshall amps on both sides of the stage waited to be ravaged. The band came out of the shadows and took their places. This is it! History in the making! The first professionally streamed Obituary show, and we were part of it! Image

The opening riffs of the dueling guitars poured from the speakers like the waters of Niagara Falls. The sound paralyzed my body. My eyes widened. I couldn’t believe it! I was witnessing the grand sound of a band I’ve loved for over 20 years. And so it hit me, the sudden rush of emotion I expect at every Obituary show. The tears welling and the lump on my throat. I’m getting faklempt writing this so go ahead and talk amongst yourselves.

 My nineteen-year-old self jumped up and down, moved by the spectacle playing out in front of her. She wanted to get in the pit and slam-dance the night away, so my feet started toward the pit while my brain screamed no! And as I got closer, a guy in the pit was pushed in my general direction. The people between us tumbled like dominoes almost taking me down with them, and my desire for slam-dancing dissipated faster than my beer.

In the previous two shows I had been to, the band played with one guitar player and although the mighty Trevor Peres holds his own at every performance, I longed for the second guitar like one longs a lover’s caress. This time they added Kenny Andrews on lead and rhythm duties. The sound was complete, at last! Alternating melting-chocolate riffs! Solos to pierce your insides! Mammoth dueling-guitar action!  

The show kept getting better and better. Most of the songs were from the first three albums. Although I’m a huge fan of this band, I’m embarrassed to admit I don’t know the names of most songs or know what songs are in which albums (same thing happens with Black Sabbath). Back in the day I listened to the tapes over and over again usually in my car. And it was difficult to sing along to Obituary. I heard or read somewhere that the lyrics were not included in the album sleeve because John Tardy’s vocals acted like another instrument. So without lyrics, I growled along to the music. Lyrics were an obsession so not having access to them was a bummer, although it left room for the imagination.

At one point the band paid tribute to Slayer guitarist Jeff Hanneman who passed away the previous month. Donald and the band raised their beers to the sky and the crowd began chanting “Slayer! Slayer! Slayer!” and I again choked up.

The pit didn’t stop for a second. Fans stage-dived at their leisure, almost bumping into Terry Butler (bass) at one point. After a while, the fans were getting a little comfortable on-stage and though they meant no harm to the band, they were asked to get off and not come back. The stage-diving stopped for the most part so the band could again concentrate on playing instead of watching out for a slam dancer’s elbow. 

The band played a nice and long encore, satisfying our thirst for more! Friends and I spent most of the time at the edge of the pit, as close to the stage as possible minimizing the risk of injury. I love you guys, you know who you are! 

After the show I was lucky enough to see and briefly speak to John and Donald Tardy. They are the sweetest, most down-to-earth rock stars in the planet (so is Trevor, who I spoke to at another show… ERMAHGERD!

So once more the dream of seeing Obituary kill on-stage came true. My batteries recharged, my young-self floating in bliss, another fulfilling experience at the hands of the delirium-inducing quintet. When Obituary hits your town, the wise thing to do is to check them out. Or stream the live show. And always show them the love they deserve. 

Formation of a Metalhead

Fellow metalhead/filmmaker Sam Dunn set about the world in his documentary “Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey” to answer the question “what makes us metalheads?” I am not sure I have an answer but I’ll give it a go. His footage shows that the love for heavy metal music transcends countries, languages, and religions. Kids identify with the aggressive sound even without understanding the words. So it’s not always about the message. It’s about the distortion. It’s about the dark, heavy, bowel-twisting, eardrum-piercing, ugly music.

Ugly you say? Yes, ugly as fuck. For example, compare songs like The Fixx’s “Saved by Zero” with Slayer’s “Chemical Warfare.” The refined nuances of the first song are soothing, almost angelic; the arrangement, divine. One feels like floating like a feather. In stark contrast, the merciless wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am pounding of the second song forms a cacophony made from destruction and chaos, at least to the untrained ear. Think of metal as a pug: damn ugly but you can’t help but love it. The only time I called my friend’s pug ugly it sneezed on my face right on cue. Now I’ll sit tight and wait on metal’s reaction to my name-calling. But I digress.

Listening to metal was an outlet to express my anti-social sentiment. Growing up in a male dominated macho culture pissed me off. I did not understand why women in general were expected to be submissive. The gender roles were clear. Men brought home the bacon (and could mistreat their wives); women had babies and took care of the household (and shut up and took it.)

To give you an idea of what it was like to be a female in Venezuela, there is a saying which usually applies to unwed married women in their mid-to-late twenties: she se quedó para vestir santos (is only good to dress saints – the statues in Catholic churches.) The jokes were usually on women. Local comedy programs portrayed them as stupid, irrational and hysterical.

Older women in an effort of pretending to bridge the gap between generations said things like “so-and-so is almost 30 and not married but that’s OK, times are different now.” But I wasn’t fooled. A woman had better found a “man to represent her” by the time she was 25 or she would elicit pity from friends and family. That however didn’t faze me. I wasn’t gonna wash some dude’s underwear until the day I died. Marriage could suck it.

But being a woman in a chauvinist society was not the only thing that wore me out. Being held at gunpoint several times did the trick too. My car got broken into many times, so were my friends’. There were nearly no international metal acts touring our country. Traffic was backed up always and everywhere (not an exaggeration). I had mediocre university professors whose purpose in academia was to flunk as many students as they could. I’d blow off steam by getting together with friends, blasting metal, singing along at the top of our lungs, getting drunk and passing out. It worked! After a headbanging escapade, we were ready to fight another day.

So if Mr. Dunn asked me why I became a metalhead, I would respond it was to drown the external voices of the status quo, to seek solace among an open-minded group of people. To vent. To escape. But why am I still a metalhead after all these years? Well, I don’t know. What I do know is that I get goose bumps when I hear a great metal song old or new. I feel renewed after hanging out with fellow metalheads at metal shows, they are the best people one could ever meet. We are part of a tribe of sorts linked by energy. To quote Diamond Head: “It’s electric!” Or something like that.

Up the Irons!Image