If death metal first came to life during the mid- to late '80s courtesy of bands like Florida's Death (Scream Bloody Gore), another Florida band, Obituary, brought it to fruition in 1989 with Slowly We Rot. These five guys took what groups like Death and the San Francisco Bay Area's Possessed had done to a new level of deathliness. The music of Obituary wasn't simply an extreme form of Slayer-esque speed metal with ghastly vocals; it was full-fledged death metal, with down-tuned guitar riffs of monstrous size, painful-sounding growls and moans for vocals, and distinct tempo changes that often brought the songs down to a lumbering doomy tempo rather relentlessly breakneck speeds à la thrash. These innovations don't seem so revolutionary now, given the innumerable death metal bands that arose during the '90s and beyond, to the point where the style practically burned itself out, spinning off into a variety of substyles. But in 1989, Obituary were blazing a new trail, along with other Florida peers like Morbid Angel and, a bit later, Deicide, Malevolent Creation, and Cannibal Corpse. The guitar riffing of Trevor Peres (rhythm) and Allen West (lead) is downright pummeling, especially when they slow the tempo down to a crawl and chug along. But it's John Tardy's unearthly growling that stands out most and attracted the most attention at the time. Put simply, the guy sounds like he's in pain, as if a knife were stuck in his stomach or something. It's Obituary's trademark sound and what set them apart from their legion of followers. Add to this the production of up-and-comer Scott Burns, and you have the blueprint for a generation of death metal bands to come. Granted, Burns' production isn't quite as brutally crystalline as it would be in successive years. In fact, it's downright lo-fi here, lacking the high highs and low lows that would later become his trademark, but these were the early days and budgets were small. A few songs here stand out, mainly the first few, the title track especially, yet Obituary never were a singles band and their albums were better experienced from beginning to end rather than in pieces. And Slowly We Rot certainly stands up well to beginning-to-end listening. Given the intensity of the music, it's a mixed blessing that the album runs short, as do most Obituary albums, though there are a lot of songs here, some of them just a couple minutes long. Relative to what Obituary would accomplish in the years to come, Slowly We Rot is one of their best albums, certainly their most inspired, though the production values mar it a little. Still, it's a historically significant album all the same, not only in the context of Obituary's career but, more importantly, in the context of death metal in general. This is partly where it all began -- here and across the Atlantic, where the grindcore bands of Earache were carving out their own niche, one that would soon overlap with that of Obituary and their peers.
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AllMusic Review by Jason Birchmeier