Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Way's Best to Worst List of Morbid Angel Albums



Covenant (1993)

I was sort of a late starter with Morbid Angel. Sure, I remember when 'Altars of Madness' came out and everyone was going ape shit over it, but I was always into slower, low tuned death metal. To me, 'Altars...' didn't hold a candlestick to 'Left Hand Path, 'Realm of Chaos' or 'Cause of Death'. Besides, by the time I had heard the gurgled burps of Carcass and the raging, hateful vocals of Glen Benton, I was sort of done with the "witchier" sounding vocals of thrash. They certainly served their purpose but I had found something more to my liking. Now when David Vincent decided to drop his vocal pitch down a notch for 'Blessed...', I thought, "fuck yeah, now that's more like it!". On 'Covenant' he would drop it even further and the result is absolutely fucking bestial sounding!

Covenant is also the first Morbid Angel album to incorporate the bottom heavy sound that they've pretty much used ever since. The riffing here is just as bizarre as it was on the band's debut but there is also a generous amount of doomier, sludgier riffs thrown into the proceedings as well as a couple of stabs at what could loosely be considered "commercial hits". Not that there's anything gay going on here (although I could've totally done without the inclusion of 'Angel of Disease', a re-recording of oneof the bands older tracks), but you could tell that the band were making an honest attempt at writing more "straightforward" material, such as 'Sworn to the Black', 'Vengeance is Mine' and 'Lion's Den'. Oddly enough it would be the rather bizarre doom song (God of Emptiness) and Altars-friendly rager, 'Rapture' that would be both chosen for promotion.

Covenant is arguably the heaviest and certainly most well rounded MA album to be released and by far my favorite. This is where I began to really dig what the band was doing.



Formulas Fatal to the Flesh (1998)

In many ways, FFTTF feels like the rightful successor to 'Covenant'. Where 'Domination' was a hodgepodge of styles and ideas, FFTTF is a bit more focused (yes, there are weird little techno songs and tribal drum solos, but thankfully all of that shit is stored at the very end of the CD).

Though I'll always prefer David Vincent's sort of arrogant and cocky flair, I have to give (then) new guy Steve Tucker credit for being able to convincingly sing Trey's lyrics on this album. The pattern arrangements are ridiculously thorough and I can only assume were a nightmare to not only memorize, but sing live (never mind every night while on tour!). Trey certainly didn't do this guy any favors when he wrote the lyrics, of which I must say are surprisingly brilliant. Again, I've always preferred Vincent's more "poetic" entries, but here Trey really let his imagination run rampant and the results are among the best lyrics I've read by a death metal musician.

Also of note is the drumming of Pete Sandoval. I've never been on that dude's dick like seemingly everybody else. I always thought that, sure, he's definitely a good drummer, but far from the "best", or the fastest for that matter. On FFTTF, however, the guy is a fucking raging beast. Easily the performance of a lifetime. I'm not sure what exactly the guy thought he had to prove but boy oh boy does he make a lot of people look stupid here!



Domination (1995)

At first I was relieved that they still had that monstrous guitar sound used on 'Covenant'. I was also happy to hear that they were continuing to write more barbaric sounding death metal (as evidenced on the title track as well as the doom laden sludge-fest, 'Where the Slime Live'). Then came the third track and I began to worry. After the album ran its course and all was said and done, I didn't know what to think. There were obviously some great songs on here, but there were others that I was not too sure about. After repeated listens, I began to piece together the genius of this album. The total mockery of 'Where the Slime Lives' lyrical delivery by depicting the complete annihilation of the human race through the guise of a children's fable. Brilliant! Another worry that ended up being cast away was the intro to 'Caesar's Palace', which sounded rather cheesy, but in time grew on me, and then of course, 'Inquisition', which was easily the most troublesome piece on the album, until I realized that the structure of the song, as well as the lyrics, were just a perverted mockery of the more conventional style of rock & roll. MA rolled the dice with this album and the gamble ended up paying off, at least from a creative standpoint. Of course, the gloves would come off for their next album, 'Formulas Fatal to the Flesh'.



Altars of Madness (1989)

I have to say... while everyone was jacking off to this album, I was being enthralled by the likes of Pestilence and Obituary. Hell, I even preferred Deicide over Morbid Angel. Of course, years later the tables would turn around the release of 'Covenant', but during MA's much heralded debut, I just wasn't feeling it as much as everybody else.

Now, after 'Covenant' came out, I was forced to go back and reconsider the band's legendary debut and that was when I realized the error of my ways. I always preferred the side A tracks over side B (yes, my first copy of 'Altars...' was on vinyl, then cassette. In fact, it would be many years until I finally obtained a CD copy of this record). Side A obviously showcased the "newer" songs, written after David Vincent's addition to the lineup, while side B was primarily filled up with re-recordings of older material (ie Chapel of Ghouls). One way to decipher the older material from the new was by looking at the writing credits for the lyrics. Vincent's songs tended to be a wee bit more cerebral, poetic even, while Trey's reeked of teen angst and the desire to "offend" as most adolescents are wont to do during their formative years. The music, however, is seemingly beyond the capabilities and comprehension of of mere mortals, yet here it is... four guys from the Southern region of the United States, conjuring fourth perhaps the most twisted and spiritually abstract music that they themselves would rarely touch upon in the years since. Certainly no one else has been able to come up with anything as original as this. Sure, there are folks who have come close to capturing the vibe, but that is only because Morbid Angel laid out the blueprint long ago.



Blessed are the Sick (1991)

Perhaps the bands first "divisive" album. I remember when this came out, lots of folks didn't quite know what to think, what with the slower songs, Vincent's drop in pitch as well as the "dreaded" inclusion of acoustic guitars and keyboards. This was definitely the band's first "experimental" album and its funny that all these years later, the same people that decried the band for "selling out" are now the loudest to scream how this is the last of the "classic era" for the band.

As I mentioned above, this is the album where Vincent began to incorporate a deeper, more commanding sounding vocal presence and the band themselves were starting to write slower, almost Sabbath-like riff fluctuations such as album opener 'Fall from Grace' (of course you can count on a blast from Pete to embellish the Iommi-like rhythmic sequence, a stroke of pure fucking genius I might add!).

The only stuff that I'm not too fond of on this album are again, the re-recordings of old MA chestnuts such as 'Thy Kingdom Come (yeah, sue me) and 'The Ancient Ones'. Other than that, this is a pretty solid album and one that accompanied me through much of my late teens during the early 90's.



Gateways to Annihilation (2000)

In many ways this album reminds me of 'Blessed are the Sick' or even 'Domination' what with the slower pace, although this album takes that approach farther than anything the band had/has done throughout their career.

For the most part I like this album, a lot. I'm not terribly fond of Steve Tucker's vocals on this album. I thought he killed it on 'FFTTF', but this time around he just sounded goofy. You can forget about the arrogant flare of MA's former frontman here. Tucker on this album just sounds like any typical death metal frontman "trying" to sound demonic. Oddly enough, the albums strongest vocal performance comes from Trey on 'Secured Limitations' where he and "Tuck" run through a rather convincing and effective exchange with one another.

Surprisingly, this album is almost completely devoid of blasts, an ingredient that one could rightfully assume is inherent to Morbid Angel's sound, despite the band's rather colorful songwriting history regarding various tempo changes. On 'Gateways...' it's almost as if the band were challenging itself to write as much material without blasting its way throughout, to see if it could actually be done. I would say, for the most part, they succeeded. Unfortunately, while Pete gave a performance of a lifetime on the band's previous outing (FFTTF), 'Gateways...' showcases one of the most sterile and machine-like drum recordings in history. While I'm not one to bitch about a drummers decision to use triggers and the like, on 'Gateways...' it sounds painfully obvious and could easily have been the work of a nerd and his drum machine rather than a death metal drum god!



Heretic (2003)

At first, I thought that this album might be a throwback of sorts to the band's debut, and then as the album "progressed" I realized that A) the album opener was just a fluke, and B) this was going to be another one of those "experimental" Morbid Angel albums with a dumptruck load of kooky ideas haphazardly strewn about.

Again, ol' "Tuck" delivers a largely forgettable performance and as on 'Gateways...', his lyrics are laughable attempts at coming across as being "mystical" yada yada (barf).

The sound, at first, is not that great, but as the album runs along I find myself not paying much attention to that aspect, which is a good thing, meaning that although it's not great, it's not so bad to the point where I can't listen beyond it. Overall, the album's main flaws are in the songwriting itself. I'm not quite sure what the fuck was going on inside Trey's brain during the writing process for this album, but there are some bonafide snooze-fests on display here. After the first three or four tracks, things begin to get a little tedious and it's almost as if Trey is trying to give "old school death metal" a go as the song structures here are about as simplistic as they get. Laughably so. The third quarter of this album is loaded with a veritable onslaught of Trey's obligatory keyboard ramblings, none of which are mandatory listening endeavors.

Overall, 'Heretic' is a sloppy, unfulfilling mess with a few decent moments clustered throughout. Certainly not the worst thing I've heard, but they probably should've let this one "cook" a little more before pulling it out of the oven.



Illud Divinum Insanus (2011)

I for one am not one of the legions of Facebook hipsters that shit all over this album merely because it was the "in" thing to do at the time. I really tried to be as objective as I could when listening to this. I also did not get mortally butthurt and offended by the band releasing a collection of total duds, either. I've been a fan of this band, more or less since the beginning and have supported them throughout their victories as well as their creative misfires and other endeavors. With that being said, this album would have greatly benefited from a change in tracklisting. Starting the album off with an excruciatingly boring instrumental that clocks in at 2:28 is not a good idea, whatsoever. Then to follow it up with (what I assume to be) an industrial "techno" song hich showcases some downright embarrassing lyrics is to only dig yourselves deeper into the pile of shit that you you were determined to create and release. Unfortunately, by the time the "true" Morbid Angel comes rearing her diseased cabeza around the corner, the damage is already done.

Now mind you, I do not think that this album is without merit, however scarce it may be, but when this album is bad it is downright fucking embarrassing to behold.

I really actually don't mind 'Destructos vs The Earth'. Beneath Vincent's "chanting and marching" there are some really killer doom riffs going on, and overall I think the song's tribute to Robotech is a shade of the band's former glory in terms of cleverly weaving an audacious theme with the band's more bizarro and doomier riff surge.

To me 'Illud...' is more 'Into the Pandemonium' than it is 'Cold Lake'. Where 'Cold Lake' was a straight plunge into the realm of homosexuality, 'Into the Pandemonium' had its fair share of tracks that stayed true to the Celtic Frost vibe. Same thing goes with Morbid on this album. The one thing that goes against the more traditional MA fare here, is that the songs are not that strong. it sounds as if the band were more interested in experimenting with the weaker aspects of this album rather than concentrate on doing what they do best.

I certainly do not hate this album like most seem to, but overall it is certainly the band's weakest entry, by far, and hopefully they come back strong after this one.



Abominations of Desolation (1986)

Yeah, yeah, yeah... "how could you not like this album?? I mean, it's "necro" as fuck for Christ's sake!!" Yeah, that's probably why I don't like it. I've never been impressed with outright shit production values. Sure, some of my favorite albums, demos, etc weren't exactly recorded under the "best" circumstances, but nonetheless, I'll always prefer it when a band invests a little care into the proceedings. Now don't get me wrong, the production here is probably the thing that bothers me the least. First off, I am not and never was a fan of Mike Browning's voice. His vocals are mighty weak, even for the "witchier" variety of death/thrash singing. I mean, Mille or Angelripper would bury this dude in an instant. I'm also not a fan of the tempo of the majority of these songs. Unfortunately for 'Abominations...' I heard 'Altars...' first, so that' wherein lies the template, despite the fact that this album is home to the original incarnation of some of those songs. To me they sound lazy and anemic here. Browning's "skills" as a drummer are severely lacking here as well. There's a reason why this guy got the boot from not just one, but two legendary bands throughout his career. Sure, all the nostalgia freaks will probably motherfuck me til the end of my days, but I seriously couldn't give a fuck less. I know what sounds good to my ears and this does not. This sounds like garbage. It sounds like shit and I don't blame Trey for trying his best to sweep it under the rug. The only good thing about this album is the mindblowing intro, which just may be the greatest of all time, even managing to outdo Slayer's 'Hell Awaits'! Unfortunately though, the music that follows serves as the ultimate anti-climax.

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