Abaddon magazine

Music magazine

Monday, October 3, 2022

Review: David E. Gehlke – Turned Inside Out: The official story of Obituary

Publisher: Decibel Books / Cult Never Dies

Date: January 28, 2022

I can still remember the day. Not quite the date, or even a year for that matter, but I was never any good with dates anyway. But the day, it still lives on in my memory.

It was late 1990’s or early 2000’s when I stumbled into “Felix music shop” with what was about two weeks allowance saved up to get myself a total of one cassette tape. A bootleg cassette, as “Felix” was a beacon of bootleg music in a country still getting over civil war, UN sanctions and hyperinflation. In other words, it was possible to get proper music releases, the original ones, but it was expensive and took a whole lot of contacts, trust and good faith in order to find them outside Serbia. And a fourteen year old kid had no way of getting any of those. Least of all enough money to satisfy his ever growing appetite for fresh sound.

Anyhow, “Felix” was the choice. Affordable, with a fine selection of relatively fresh releases, which were, of decent quality, sound wise and particularly on the visual side.

Speaking of the visual side, and getting completely sidetracked here… The epitome of a young teen metalhead’s crush used to work there. I cannot quite remember the name (yes, I’m lousy with personal names, too), but that small chain that connected her earring to her nose ring was a spectacle I’m still, to this very day, remembering clearly. Chain or not, she was easily half the appeal of the shop.

Plus, she knew her music. And we’re back on track.

Back in the day, when I was just getting into grip with myself (no, not like that, you perverts), extreme metal’s reputation preceded the actual sound. I was rather sure the delicate flowers adorning the sides of my head would literally explode upon contact with such nastiness. Also, bear in mind that, at the time, I thought Pantera was as extreme as it gets. Naïve, juvenile and dreadfully inexperienced, I was.

But there was this one tape. I couldn’t read the red logo, but that was beside the point. I thought to myself, how is it possible for a band to portray all of those monsters together on a single cover artwork? It looked brilliant! It looked like it would definitely piss off my parents. And I still stand by the following sentence: if it looks like it will piss off your parents, then it is the perfect pick for your early teenage stereo delight. This one did so. Swiftly and with spectacular style!

However, it’s what was on the tape itself that stuck with me for more than a couple of decades now. Of course, you have all figured out by now that I was talking about Obituary’s live record, simply titled “Dead”. Sure, the girl I mentioned above told me it was death metal. She explained extreme metal. She was so delightful that, should I have had more money, I would probably get myself about a dozen tapes which she would recommend.

Yet, there were no words that could’ve prepared me for what was about to hit my speakers later that very same day. I do not feel the need to elaborate on the “Obituary sound” here. You cannot quite call yourself a metalhead without being well aware of what “Obituary sound” stands for. Literally, if death metal was a vast ocean, Obituary would stand as one of only few islands making a distinction from the blue stillness around. What’s more, they would be something like Hawaii to the Pacific Ocean. Exclusive resort, highly acclaimed and a dream vacation. Only, the Tampa crew would be much more affordable, approachable and down-to-Earth. To accustom their individual personalities.

Almost four decades into this monster of a band, they’ve gotten their long-deserved biography. It was somewhat expected, considering extreme metal is now regular guest in literature. A whole lot of books were published in the past number of years, leading to cases that even the smaller, underground bands manage to pop-up in various publications, or even get to the biographical works.

The trouble is that most of them are not that interesting reads. Few authors have found a way to turn a story about a “regular” band, comprised of “regular” people into something that would inspire frantic page turning. Simply going from album to album, sharing a few anecdotes along the way, ending with tour dates and details, it gets a bit tiresome after a while.

Salvaging these books are the opening pages, where the author has it easy, to portray a bunch of kids with youthful glow in their eyes, looking to imitate their idols. Struggles leading to the “first million” are usually the most intriguing parts of these biographies.

It’s the same with “Turned Inside Out…” Unfortunately. As the book concerns one of my most favorite bands and one that got me into extreme metal, I’ve rushed to get it in pre-sale. It wasn’t cheap either, considering the added shipping costs. And at first glance, the book is well-worth the time and money. Exquisitely designed, colored hard cover. Neatly handled inside, with a whole lot of photos, though I would prefer a bit of color there too. Like those colored inserts with nothing but photos, which many biographies contain. Also, the page numbering promised an extensive insight into the band.

Foreword by Max Cavalera turns out weaker than expected. Mere expression of admiration, without further diving into the subject matter. Majority of the book is fairly uninspired, as well. It shows that Mr. Gehlke is primarily a journalist, while book writing requires an actual author. Though Mr. Gehlke is, without a doubt, well-versed in music and a real connoisseur, he fails to deliver a story. What is offered here is basically a feuilleton. Enhancing with a whole lot of interviews, with band members, friends and colleagues, doesn’t help in this particular case, as they all revolve around similar questions, only regarding different releases, tours or band’s inner dealings. They do not swerve a whole lot from the central topics, except for a chapter near the very end that handles Donald Tardy’s work with cat habitats. Which seems pointless with regards to the band. Should “Turned Inside Out” have been a biography of Mr. Tardy, it would’ve been a different story altogether.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all against the tabloid approach to writing about bands. Especially about bands that actually carry a message that transcends whatever paparazzi nonsense might come their way. Still, I’m convinced it is possible to write an interesting book even without the yellow press details. And not only possible, but necessary. We’re talking about bands that left a significant imprint on the world stage, so it really shouldn’t be too difficult to present them fully and comprehensively in a written manner.

Hence, I’m left with mixed feelings after closing the back cover of “Turned Inside Out”. On the one hand, it’s Obituary, a band that stands as one of the core foundations of a whole genre. Reading about them is as exhilarating as it gets, falling short only to the experience of a listening session with the likes of “Cause of Death”, “The End Complete”, “Darkest Day” or the most recent, self-titled record. Or any of the others, for that matter. On the other hand, the book should’ve been a whole lot better handled. The band deserves better.

Still, the book discloses one delightful detail. The brand new Obituary record is well-underway and can be expected in very close future. Fans all around, rejoice!

P.S. I got to thinking that if one day somebody attempts to write another biography on Obituary, and the band is retired by then, it could easily be called “Slowly We Rot”. I’ve actually thought of it, since “Turned Inside Out” is a fitting title, though there’s not much turning the band inside out within its pages.