The metal remains the same

Death metal band Obituary has grown up, but still intends to play Tel Aviv like it's 1989.

Obituary 88 224 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Obituary 88 224
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The year 1989 was one of glorious change - George Bush Sr. brought a close to the Reagan years, the Soviet Union pulled out of Afghanistan and Chinese protesters in Tiananmen Square died in the name of democracy. But 1989 also heralded a minor musical revolution - the release of death-metal band Obituary's debut-album, Slowly We Rot. Amidst the pompous guitar ballads of Great White and Poison, who topped the charts with throw-away tunes like "Once Bitten, Twice Shy" and the ever-memorable "Your Mama Don't Dance," Obituary was spitting on graves and destroying speaker systems throughout Central Florida. "It's kind of an ideal we always had," says the band's bassist, Frank Watkins, in a late-night telephone interview. "We always wanted to bring [metal] to another level - we wanted to be something that no one ever heard before." With that goal, Obituary succeeded. Their violent mix of thrash-punk and Black Sabbath-style morbidity blew Satan-worshiping teenagers straight through the aging gravestones they hung out by. Now, after 19 years of blaring thrash, band members Watkins, vocalist John Tardy, guitarist Allan West, guitarist Trevor Peres and drummer Donald Tardy are finally heading to Israel. "We've never been there," Watkins says, almost shocking himself with the comment. "We just haven't been offered… and now we can't wait to get to Israel; we're totally psyched!" Watkins sounds surprisingly clear and on his game - there's no residue of the '80s rocker who guzzled Pabst Blue Ribbon and trailed women with teased hair. The matured rocker explains that the band is like a fine red wine - only better with age. "The best thing about us now is that we're tight," Watkins says. "It's better 'cause we're older and smarter." FORMED IN 1985 when bands like Death and Slayer were first sculpting the metal sound, Obituary shattered the genre's glass ceiling. Mixing whipping rhythms with slower, more melodic breakdowns, Obituary produced a ghostly soundtrack of reverberating chaos and doom. And while the band is notorious for its violent images and grotesque sounds, Watkins sounds nothing like the abusive, grave-robbing monster that some believe him to be. "I've changed," he said. "We've been through everything under the sun - being ripped off, robbed... you name it we've done it." The long years on the road took their toll and by 1998 the band was ready for a break. For six years the rockers pursued different musical avenues and delved into new lives in the private sector. "We really didn't do anything," Watkins said. "We didn't have a band at the time. We took a break for a long time." Sporting a monkey-suit and tie on a daily basis, Watkins revealed that he became a mortgage and stock broker during the band's extensive hiatus. "It was great," Watkins said, noting that he still runs an active and profitable business. But not even time could keep the long-haired rockers apart. In 2004 they began reuniting for live shows and by 2007 the band had released their eighth major studio album, Xecutioner's Return. And while they may have matured, the hard-thumping album reminded fans that it's always been about the music. "It's weird, man - I feel the same way I did as a kid, but I am smarter now," Watkins said of himself. "We appreciate what we do now." The bassist explained that while the Obituary of today can choke-hold the listener in the same gripping fashion, the band has gained a clairvoyance that was unattainable during the thickly hazed '80s and '90s. "We have respect now; we act better - we've mellowed," Watkins said, adding that the band even books its own hotel rooms to achieve the maximum amount of comfort while touring. Personal epiphanies aside, though, Watkins continuously returned to the music's newfound power. "It cuts through the crowd like a knife," he exclaimed, revealing a bit of his darker side. "It's always better live!" Obituary will charge the stage this Friday at Tel Aviv's Moadon Teatron. Tickets range from NIS 110 to 140. More information can be found at