Obituary - The Xecution Protocols

Interview by Dr. Abner Mality

Even the dead have to rest and refresh themselves once in a while. That's what Florida zombies Obituary found out. Burned out and lacking inspiration, they returned to their graves in the late 90's, there to slumber peacefully until they heard the anguished calls of their fans urging them to return to life. That they did with 2005's "Frozen In Time". But it takes a while to shake off all that putrefaction and "Frozen In Time" was just a warm up for the REAL Obituary to swing back into action with the aptly titled "Xecutioner's Return", unleashed in summer of 2007.

Obituary drummer Donald Tardy is happy to walk the Earth again and is double happy about the morbid destruction unleashed by "Xecutioner's Return". In these days when many so-called death metal bands are obsessed with hyperspeed and noodling time changes, the easy to devour anthems of Obituary are a kind of welcome contrast and relief. If any death metal band could be said to be cuddly, it would be Obituary.

I was thrilled to recently speak to Donald on "Xecutioner's Return" and many other pithy subjects. Here is the result of my seance with him...

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: I've been listening to "Xecutioner's Return" and it certainly lives up to all the hype.

DONALD TARDY: Killer! Thanks, dude!

WC: One of the things I thought while I was listening to it was that maybe this was the record that should have come after "Cause of Death". Do you agree?

DT: (chuckles) Yeah, definitely. Thanks, man, we're really happy with this record.

WC: On the album title, you spell executioner as "Xecutioner". That was the name of Obituary back in the day. Is that your statement that we're going all the way back to your deepest roots?

DT: Yeah, I think so. We were always happy as Xecutioner. When we got signed to Roadrunner Records, we completed the whole "Slowly We Rot" album and the album actually had an Xecutioner logo. Then we were told we had to change our name back in 86 or 87. We were bummed out as teenagers, having to change our name. You can imagine, when you're young, you think you've got a great name for a band and then you have to go and change it. It was a bit of a bummer. We couldn't be more happy today as Obituary, but now that we're off the record label that we were on for so many years, we're moving forward. After we wrote this current album, it felt like back to the old school, it was a true classic old school sounding Obituary album. The name we thought was appropriate and we're really excited about it.

WC: Was it another band that forced you to change the name?

DT: Yeah, there was some other band, or maybe even a couple of other bands that had already released a record at that time. So we had to change.

WC: You lived through the glory days of the death metal scene in the late 80's and early 90's. Now it seems to be coming back again. How would you compare the two eras, having been active in both of them?

DT: I think it's coming back to where it is very close to what it felt like in the early 90's. We as a band are very excited right now, so maybe that's where that feeling is coming from. There's no question that metal is growing. A lot of young kids are out there looking for extreme music and they really, really need to find Obituary in their metal lives. I think the scene's close to what it was and I hope it grows even bigger, because there's a lot of young fans out there that think they know heavy music. But they probably consider Marilyn Manson or Metallica to be heavy music. Once these kids find out what Obituary is about, I think it's really going to open their eyes and minds to what really heavy music is.

WC: Your music is a step up even from stuff like Lamb of God. When a band like them claims you as an influence, as many of the younger bands do, that has to be very gratifying.

DT: It certainly is. It makes me feel a little old. (chuckles). But it is. It's a tremendous honor to know that there are people writing music now that is changing the scene and changing the face of metal. But for me to realize that they actually started listening to Obituary and that's where their influence and mindset comes from, that's an awesome feeling. It's good to know that we're actually changing the face of metal by influencing younger bands, I'm proud of that.

WC: With modern death metal, a lot of the emphasis is on technicality and ultra-speed. That's in a different direction than what you're doing. A lot of people call Obituary "primitive". How do you feel about that? Do you take it as a compliment?

DT: I think it's a good description and I think it's a compliment. We would be the first to tell people that we're not a technical band, but we are very effective at what we do. We write really, really strong mid-tempo groovy types songs that cannot be denied. A lot of people when they first hear an Obituary song, they already kind of "get it". They understand it and they like it right away. "Primitive" is one word to describe the point, basic and oldschool are other ways to put it. We take those descriptions as a compliment,too, because a lot of bands try but they can't emulate exactly what Obituary has, which is chemistry amongst each other.

WC: Another word that I would use is "catchy". It's something that you remember. I did a review of a newer band a while
ago. You can't ignore their musicianship but an hour after you're done with the CD, you're hard pressed to remember a riff or what goes with what song. Do you think things are starting to calm down now...that there's a trend towards getting away from super-speed and technicality?

DT: I don't really know.I can't answer that except just for our band. We don't worry about outside influences or what other bands are doing or what kids want. All we do is what we like...we write the kind of music we enjoy and that kind of keeps us simple. We are simple people, we enjoy the music we write and I think we do a pretty good job at it. After 21 years together, we're kinda getting the hang of this thing. It is what it is. Obituary is a basic mid-tempo really groovy type style. It';s not the most technical music but it's heavier than most.

WC: On "Xecutioner's Return", I noticed an increase in tempo. There was some pretty fast stuff!

DT: Yeah, you're actually right. The fastest song we've ever written is probably on "Xecutioner's Return".

WC: Are there any modern or second generation death metal bands that you admire or follow?

DT: I don't focus too much on bands. It's kind of embarassing to say that. I live for music...I'm constantly writing music at my house, so I don't listen to all that much music when I'm outside of my practice place. There are some bands I do admire. I like Full Blown Chaos, I like the Trivium album, I like Soilwork. I like a lot of bands but I don't listen to a lot of it. I have full appreciation of that style of music and I am a fan of that music. But becaue I write so much music, I try to stay away from other stuff while I'm writing. I try and keep my brain clear of anything but my own style of music.

WC: A lot of bands that have a distinctive style say the same things. They isolate themselves or they just listen to old stuff.

DT: That's good to know. I guess that means I'm not the only one who feels that way.

WC: Very much so! Celtic Frost comes to mind. They hardly listen to anything people consider extreme metal.

DT: I think I'm a bit extreme. I think the rest of my band members, especially Frank and Trevor, are music lovers. They listen to it all the time, especially Frank. He loves listening to all kinds of bands. I'm just a bit of a nut when it comes to writing and wanting to keep my brain fresh. Lamb of God and all those bands...I love that and I think they're as heavy as all get out. But when I'm writing...and I'm almost always writing...I try to stay in my own bubble.

WC: You had a song called "Second Chances" on the new one. Is that a kind of autobiographical thing, because the band seems like it's been granted a second chance.

DT: I don't think we approached it that way. It happened to be what John was saying in the song, that's why we named it that. There's no real meaning to it. But it does feel like we have a second chance. It almost feels like a third chance, in a way. We're going on 22 years together as a band and to be able to stay this excited about our career, it really does feel like a second chance to us and we're not taking that lightly. We're taking it very seriously. We did absolutely the best job we could with the recording of this record. We got Ralph (Santolla, guitarist, formerly with Death and Deicide--Dr. Mality) , who is one of the most unbelievable guitar players, and we really wanted to make our mark with this album. We know you get only a couple of chances in life, especially with a metal career, so we're really happy with this record.

WC: Is Ralph now a permanent member of Obituary?

DT: He is!

WC: One thing I noticed was that the solos on the new album had a real rock n' roll feel to them. One of them sounded like it could almost be on an AC/DC album. Ralph is known for a bit of a different guitar style than your old guitarist Allen. Will he be able to bring the same rock n roll feeling to the music or will he do his own thing?

DT: I don't really know! Ralph has his style from being a guitar player for a long, long time. It's like a rock and roll bluesy base that he grew up with. His base is in blues, rock and metal and that fits us pretty well. We're a metal band but we're more like a Led Zeppelin type metal band as opposed to a fast speed metal type band. The two styles mix together really well in my opinion. For the future, I really don't know what's going to happen. We are focused on today right now and this current album. Ralph is a permanent member as of now...that's all we really focus on.

WC: The personal chemistry is there, to

DT: It really, really is. He fit in from the second he entered the band. Musically it's been a dream and personally, for the band members, it's also been a dream. It's kind of a tough thing. You know, you're only on stage for an hour or so a day, but you live together the 23 other hours. That's the most important part, finding somebody you can get along with for those other 23 hours. That's hard, finding somebody who's a veteran, who knows how to tour and live out of a backpack and learning to be not annoying and be a good band member. That's why a lot of bands break up or can't stand each other after four or five years together. We're going on 22 years so we always take the personal factor into consideration.

WC: What was it that Candlelight Records brought to the table that the other labels who were vying for your services didn't?

DT: We fulfilled the contract with Roadrunner so we were complete free agents. We allowed every record company to approach us with whatever deal they had. We went with the one that was the smartest for the band. There are bigger labels than Candlelight who offfered us deals and there were smaller ones. Everybody has their say-so. Through a person named Stan Vincent, who looks out for us and is our management type guy, we found the deal that was good to us. We know now it's time to really look out for ourselves. Candlelight was the label that was ready to focus and put us at the top of the totem pole. We could have went with another label that had 45 other bands but we realized we would have been a statistic and been smaller on the food chain. So we went with the label that is going to put their heart and soul into it. They're depending on us as much a we're depending on them. That's what we even playing ground. We wanted somebody who was literally going to cut throats for us, to get people to buy the album, So that's why we went with Candlelight.

WC: Do you still keep in touch with Andrew W.K.?

DT: I do! He's still a good friend of mine!

WC: What does he think of the new record?

DT: He has not heard the new record yet. I told him I would be sending him shortly because I'm waiting for some promotional copies myself to send to my friends. I know Andrew, I know he's a huge Obituary fan. I told him literally a few days ago that he would freak out when he hears the new album, "you're gonna love it, it's gonna change your whole perception of metal." He's a huge Obituary fan so I know he's going to dig the album.

WC: During the time that you played drums for him, what did you pick up that you can apply to Obituary now?

DT: Well, I did close to 500 shows with Andrew for 3 years, so I definitely learned as a drummer. Every show that I played
with him, I played with a click in-ear system. I learned how to stay in the pocket while trying to really kill it. A lot of the times when you try to perform really loud and awesome, a drummer will often speed up because the adrenaline is flying. But when you play to a click track, you have no choice but to hang back. That took a little bit of discipline, because I never played to a click track before. But a few years of playing with Andrew taught me to stay calm and to know what you want in that song...not trying too hard or playing too fast.

WC: Your time with him certainly made you the most active of all the Obituary members during the band's down time. Now you must be getting yourself psyched up to take the new album out on the road.

DT: Yeah, we couldn't be more excited. I've been waiting for the world to hear this new album for a long time now, because I've spent a long time working on it and writing it. Me and Trevor wrote the whole album and whenever we finished a new song, we'd go, this album is going to be unbelievable. When it was done, we realized, My God, now we get to play all this live. We don't have to worry about playing all the old songs or songs that we don't necessarily enjoy playing that much anymore. There's not one song on this new album that I don't want to play live. I think the hardest thing is going to be putting a set list together because I want to play every song off this new album.

WC: Could you pick a favorite?

DT: God, I don't know, man! If an alien came down and asked to hear one song, I'd guess I'd have to play him "Evil Ways" because it's catchy, it's good, it's groovy, there's unbelievable solos on it and John's vocals to me are amazing. But I also like "Face Your God"...

WC: The one song that was an orgy of killer riffs was the long one, "Contrast the Dead". That had some of the best riffs I've ever heard.

DT: I agree with that. I appreciate that compliment because I feel the same way. Now that the September tour is actually booked, the reality is setting in that I actually get to perform that song in front of people. It's really exciting. The song is long, it's extreme, it's heavy. When it gets to that middle part, it feels like Celtic Frost meets Black Sabbath or something like that!

WC: I did notice a bit more Celtic Frost or Hellhammer type influence. "Face Your God" I thought was really that way...

DT: It's a good feeling to know that even if Celtic Frost is not holding it down oldschool, Obituary is doing what they probably wish they could still do. I don't mean that in a mean way or a funny way. That's how influenced I was by Tom Warrior when I was younger...I am still writing stuff now that sounds closer to what he did than what he does now. I'm very honored to hold that candle and keep that flame burning.

WC: I caught Celtic Frost when they were in Chicago. They played the older stuff perfectly. They started with "Proceation of the Wicked". That was one of the coolest moments I've experienced in a concert.

DT: Yeah, it is cool. It would be an unbelievable feeling to know that you were the owner of all those old songs because, my God, Hellhammer and the old Celtic Frost, those were written a long time ago and they are still all time classics.

WC: What bands or artists would you like to work with, that you already haven't?

DT: Slayer.

WC: Slayer?

DT: Slayer. (chuckles) I want to open for Slayer bad. They're my favorite band. Dave Lombardo is by far the best metal drummer on record and live. When you see him live, you realize just how damn good he is. Slayer are my heroes.

WC: I wish they would go out on the road with Obituary or Overkill or something like that rather than Marilyn Manson. Marilyn doesn't need that exposure.

DT: Exactly. And Marilyn doesn't need their help either. Marilyn's got plenty of fans and plenty of power. Slayer is their own kind of monster. They're a huge band and they're unbelievable. One day, I may have the opportunity to open for them, I think Slayer fans are like Metallica fans...they're very narrow-minded. When it comes to a live show, they are only going to see Slayer, they don't care who is opening. Obituary holds their own and I think we are one of the bands that might get through to a Slayer fan and get them to understand. We are Obituary, we are our own style and it's a style that's good listening and real heavy and I think kids would enjoy it.

WC: I'd like to see America get something like the European festivals...

DT: Yeah, I agree.

WC: Not one of these traveling festivals where they try to scam you in so many ways. Have it in just one place, have it last for three or four days. I don't what it will take to make it work.

DT: Hopefully one day, man!

WC: Does Obituary totally consume you or do you have any side projects you are working on?

DT: No, it totally consumes me right now! It's almost more than one man can handle, because I'm thinking so hard and so much about every aspect of this band...writing songs and preparing for tours and getting our merchandise prepared. It's a really exciting time for us.

WC: How about the other members? I know Trevor was involved with Cataclysmic.

DT: Right now, we have 100% devotion and commitment to Obituary from every member.

WC: What was the last CD you got because you wanted to check it out?

DT: Ummmm...that's a good question. The last one I actually purchased was Slayer's "South of Heaven" but that was because somebody stole my other copy. That's one of my favorite albums in the world. There was no question that when somebody broke into my car and stole it...I didn't even care about the stereo being gone! I just cared about my "South of Heaven" and I wanted it bad!

WC: In the same vein, what was the last concert you saw because you wanted to check it out?

DT: (chuckles) This is gonna sound cliche, but it was Slayer, just last week. Last week Slayer was here in Tampa.

WC: How were they?

DT: Oh, it was unbelievable! They were with Marilyn Manson and thank God Slayer went on first. When they were done, I sat through a little of Marilyn Manson, but man, Slayer is just incredible. Even in a big venue like that, they are an unbelievable band. That was just five days ago, so I'm still riding high on that!

WC: Is there any kind of a Spinal Tap moment in the long history of Obituary that you would like to share with the readers?

DT: No, not really! I think we're down to eartth kind of guys. I think a lot of the time people are ready to meet the band or if some kid actually stumbles back stage and gets to see us, people are confused because we are SO normal. They expect there to be candles burning, smoke and flames and metal going on. Instead, we're usually watching a NASCAR race and cooking hamburgers. The kids don't expect that. They expect us be wearing leather boots and thrashing all the time. Instead we're wearing flip-flops. We're more than normal.

WC: I remember one incident that might fit the bill. I saw it on Youtube. It was from years ago at a Milwaukee Metalfest. You almost blew yourself off the stage...

DT: (chuckles) Yeah...

WC: That looked like the mother of all explosions!

DT: It really was. It blew a two foot diameter hole in the drum riser, it completely shredded my right bass drum. Both the heads on my main kit were disintegrated. I ended up playing the rest of that song only with my left foot. We're lucky somebody didn't get injured or die because that was a massive explosion. It was stupid. That was in 1989. We were kids and we shouldn't have done it, but we were teenagers and we wanted to make a big point and a first impression.

WC: You would have been the first band to ever immolate live on stage!

DT: It was a scary moment, but now that everybody's OK, we can laugh at it.

WC: What a shame that Milwaukee Metalfest has gone down the tubes the way it has...

DT: Yeah, well, you know what? It's the fault of one and only one person. It's the promoter, he's a complete idiot. He's taken literally thousands and thousands of dollars from bands, including Obituary. He took $12,000 from us and still owes us money and has claimed bankruptcy. He still somehow in business. Each member of our band prays that one day we're going to literally walk into him because something not good is going to happen with that guy. He's ripped off one too many bands and you can only do that so long before people starting getting their money back.

WC: The only thing I can say is that you could fill a stadium with guys who feel that same way. Jack Frost is a great guitarist and a real nice guy, but that really gets him up, when you start talking about that.

DT: That promoter is a complete ripoff, he doesn't deserve to breath air on this Earth because he has treated so many bands poorly. It's unfortunate that, as a band, you have to do stuff like that. You have to give everything you have to play a great show and then you don't get paid. Maybe that's not a big deal to some fans, who will say "Well, it still had to have been a lot of fun!". It was fun, except, you know what? The expenses were so much that the band went in the hole for thousands of dollars to pay the crew, pay to get there, pay for the equipment. I don't even remember the show, I just remember how bad I want to kick that guy's ass. It left a bad taste in everybody's mouth. I hope one day I do run into Jack Koschick. It may not be worth $12,000. but I'd sure like to punch him in the face!

WC: This year was really unbelievable...

DT: From what I understand. But he's a piece of shit. That's what you get, that's why Milwaukee Metalfest is nothing anymore. I hope another promoter can step in and do something with it.

WC: The concept is good. It's just a scumbag running it...

DT: Instead of somebody with the knowledge to care, we got somebody with the knowledge to rip people off. In this industry
, people talk very quickly, so how he's gonna book bands and shows, I don't know.

WC: I couldn't believe how veteran bands keep falling for it. Like Skinlab or God Forbid...all these guys need to do is Google Koschick's name...

DT: That's right.

WC: Any last words to get the fans ready for the onslaught?

DT: Yeah, absolutely! Yesterday was the official release on iTunes of the exclusive song "Evil Ways" that they can buy for 99 cents. Then, if they like that song, when they go to buy the album, they'll get it at a discount so you don't have to pay for the same song twice. Also, we're in the studio right now mixing a bonus track for a limited edition digipak boxset that's got a 12th song on it. The only place you'll be able to check that out is on that box set. The song is literally called "Xecutioner Returns", which is a little different from "Xecutioner's Return". It's a really cool song, John did some very cool vocals on it and it's really catchy. That's a good things for kids to find as a bonus track. Then on August 27 or 28th is the official release of this album. Our official website is They can see all of John's updates there all the time.

WC: That's a really clever idea, that thing with the discount. That's a good way to get people pick up the CD instead of downloading.

DT: Absolutely. As a band, we live off of getting kids to buy the record. I would get on my hands and knees and beg them to realize how important just one album sale...just one kid buying one to us. It either keeps above water or under water. If everybody downloads, the bands drown and that means we can't write music and we can't survive. Without fans, we wouldn't be a band, but without devoted fans, we still might not be a band. I hope kids spend that twelve bucks to pick up an unbelievable album because it does matter a lot to us.

Obituary's Official Website