Interview: Obituary vocalist John Tardy talks about “Darkest Day,” his career in music and the band’s influence on death metal

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Although the Florida death metal scene was spawned in the early 1980s by bands like Death and Possessed,  many of the influential members of the scene are still actively making records and touring today.

John Tardy, vocalist for Tampa’s Obituary, thinks the seminal band has not only survived, but – with the just released album “Darkest Day” –  is creating some of the best music of its career.

“With the new album, I feel we’ve hit our stride,” Tardy said during a phone interview shortly before the band left for the European leg of its 2009 tour. “We accomplished everything we tried to do.  It’s just a very satisfying record.”

Obituary started as a garage band, inspired by Florida natives Nasty Savage and Savatage. Metal was evolving into something darker than Bay Area thrash in Florida’s hot cauldron, and Obituary built a heavier sound on the foundations of their local idols.

 The band got its break when Roadrunner Records signed them to a deal. “Trevor (Peres) and I were just jamming in the garage. We were so happy just jamming that we never thought about making demo tapes,” Tardy said. “When Roadrunner came to us … we just signed. That was a special moment when I got (“Slowly We Rot”). Now, when I look at the albums and songs, they bring back memories of what we were doing.

“For me – and keep in mind I was in 11th grade and D.T. (drummer Don Tardy) was two grades behind me – in our neighborhood we’d be riding bikes and the guys in Nasty Savage would be jamming in their garage,” Tardy said. “It was the same with the Savatage guys … Those two guys for me are what got us started. We just got heavier and heavier and we haven’t taken our foot of the pedal ever since.” 

The band’s 1989 debut, “Slowly We Rot,” is considered the blueprint for what later came to be called death metal. Further, the songs on “Slowly We Rot” were absolutely scary, as Tardy pushed metal singing to a new limit – sometimes using guttural sounds instead of words to convey the raw dread of the music.

After a string of acclaimed death metal albums, including “The End Complete” and “World Demise,” Obituary split up in 1997 and the band members went their separate ways:  Drummer Don Tardy joined Andrew W.K. for a time and guitarist Allen West went on to work with Six Feet Under. Tardy went into the private sector before eventually returning to music.

Obituary regrouped in 2003 and the reunited band’s first album, “Frozen In Time,” was released in 2005. West performed  on “Frozen In Time,” but a DUI arrest sidelined him just before the band had planned to go into the studio to record “Xecutioner’s Return.”

To complete the record on schedule, the band tapped Ralph Santolla, who had recently left Deicide, another landmark Florida band. Since then, Santolla has remained with Obituary, performing on last year’s “Left To Die” EP and “Darkest Day.”

“So far, things have been going great with Ralph,” Tardy said. “He came in at a time of need. Allen had been thrown in jail … it got to the point where (he would) be gone for a year and we couldn’t wait a year.”

While Santolla is not actively writing songs with the band, his prowess as a lead guitarist has expanded Obituary’s sound, Tardy said.

“(Leads and solos) were something we never felt were that important,” Tardy said. “But, because Ralph is so talented, we can bring him to the forefront. I think Obituary is still feeling out how we can use him” without altering the band’s core sound, he said.

“Darkest Day” was recorded in Tardy’s home studio, as was “Xecutioner’s Return,” “Left To Die” and John and Don’s long-discussed “Tardy Brothers” side project. “For me, it has been an absolute blessing,” Tardy said of the studio. “I can go out at 10 o’clock and sing half a song … It does make our life easier and explains why we’re doing so much” new material.

“We wrote and recorded (“Darkest Day”) faster than we’ve ever done,” Tardy said. “… It’s easy to overproduce your records, but that’s not us. When we write songs and record, we know what we want to do and we’re very laid back.”

Obituary’s impact on death metal – which later bled over into metal in general as other bands adopted death tunings, drumming and vocals – is difficult to overestimate. But Tardy said he was unaware of the band’s impact until Obituary reformed in 2003.

“We’ve met the guys in Slipknot and Down that are big Obituary fans,” Tardy said. “… When we came back, that’s when I noticed it, because a lot of people came up and said, ‘I’m glad you’re back.’ That was the first time it dawned on me that a lot of people had been influenced by our stuff.”

Obituary will perform at Headliner’s Music Hall in Louisville on Sunday, Oct. 4. Opening the show are Goatwhore, Krisiun, The Berzerker and Warbringer. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased at www.ticketweb.com

To hear tracks from “Darkest Day” and other Obituary albums, visit the band’s MySpace page here.

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5 Comments

  1. Hell Yeah! Awesome article on the guys that started it for me.Nasty Savage was super huge when I was growing up in Florida and Savatage too,It is strange to think of all the great death metal bands from the Tampa area were just local bands to us,guys we would go see play in shitty little clubs,hell even saw Deicide play in a parking lot once! We used to go to Aces records in the Oldsmar flea market and David Vincent( Morbid Angel) was just the guy working behind the counter that had a badass local band.Man I miss those days.

  2. waitin the concert of the great band OBITUARY in Lima – Peru

  3. your amazing the florida death metal…i like your album a world demise

  4. cool interview chap:
    http://wallernotweller.wordpress.com/2010/11/11/review-obituary-slowly-we-rot-roadrunner/

  5. I can’t wait to see them in concert Saturday June 8th with new guitarist Kenny Phillips. It will be live streamed works for me. http://www.unation.com/Obituary


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