Morbid Angel

Formative genetic material of death metal, this band formed in 1984 and released its first album in 1987, being inspired by Slayer but eventually moving on to more progressive works with the genre-definitive Blessed Are the Sick in 1991. Progressive, rhythmic, complex and evil death metal with lyrics well-crafted from Sumerian and Lovecraftian domains. Not surprisingly, Covenant was the first death metal album released on a major label as even musicians outside the genre found the band technically and artistically impressive.
flag of the United States Morbid Angel - Abominations of Desolation(1986)
Morbid Angel - Altars of Madness (1989)
Morbid Angel - Blessed Are the Sick (1991)
Morbid Angel - Covenant (1993)
Morbid Angel - Domination (1995)
Morbid Angel - Entangled in Chaos (1996)
Morbid Angel - Formulas Fatal to the Flesh(1998)
Morbid Angel - Gateways to Annihilation (2001)
Production: Demo-quality production enhanced by the good judgement of its producers.

Review: Early versions of songs made classic on the first two Morbid Angel releases and one song of the third. If you are a collector these reveal several things: 1) the development of older rock style riffing (a la Judas Priest) mutating into more acerbic progressive styles, 2) the lead guitar of Trey Azagthoth in a more rationalistic mood, where it works through all of its phrases before concluding rather than elliding movements for listener clarity, and 3) where the development of strum-based riffing occurred (negative space from memory).


1. Invocation / Chapel Of Ghouls
2. Unholy Blasphemies
3. Angel Of Disease
4. Azagthoth
5. The Gate / Lord Of All Fevers and Plague
6. Hell Spawn
7. Abominations
8. Demon Seed
9. Welcome To Hell
Length: 40:19

Morbid Angel - Abominations of Desolation - Death Metal 1986 Earache
Copyright © 1991 Earache

As in all Morbid Angel releases, the point of focus is the fast and flagrantly complex guitar fiendishness from Azagthoth, both in the form of architectural, nihilisitc, Slayer-style riffing and in organic solos of massive complexity. Mike Browning plays drums and does vocals, while Sterling Scarborough handles bass, but neither of these players are as strong as their more familiar replacements. In some instances, Browning's vocal inflection of rhythm seems more polished than the later work of David Vincent, but overall the style is far less defined.

Starting with a nonsubtle introduction of evil chanting (and response) in the rain of a storm, this release also reveals the album-wide goals Azagthoth had for his albums in their introduction, agitation, statements and resolution. The invocation enters the listener into a new world of sound; afterwards it is a lightning fast filmstrip of different geometries in riffs marching past the listener, in ripping bridges or speedy verses. Amazing artistry struggling in its nascent glory, "Abominations" is a classic need for every Morbid Angel fan.

Altars of Madness
Production: Speed metal stylings keep production clear but bury the bass in high-end frequency guitar sound. Lead guitar is immaculately preserved and acoustic depth is reasonable.

Review: Raw origins of death metal carved from deliberately minimalistic power chord metal, inspired by both the roughest of the savage and primitive black metal bands and the most architected of modern music. In the style of death metal pioneers Slayer this band wraps a sequence of quickly-strummed notes into a phrase or melody, working the rhythms and atonal similarities to integrate chromatic and dissonant tonal combinations.

Strumming power chords in speeding columns of energy, guitars synchronize with bass to communicate multiple rhythms through complex and violent stroke patterns. Rigid precision percussion nails emphatic moments and gives significance to fills, otherwise lost in the speeding alteration of phrases. Of all the bands to attempt this ambient style of composition, where percussion becomes the matrix and the lead instruments change the rhythm in a "riff salad" of recombinant phrasing, Morbid Angel are the most eminently qualified in the simple wisdom of their phrase construction, the elegance of their minimalism, the patterned refractive complexity that gives evidence to their conceptual mastery.


1. Immortal Rites
2. Suffocation
3. Visions from the dark side
4. Maze of torment
5. Lord of all fevers and plague
6. Chapel of ghouls
7. Bleed for the devil
8. Damnation
9. Blasphemy
10. Evil spells
11. Maze of torment (Remix)
12. Chapel of ghouls (Remix)
13. Blasphemy (Remix)
Length: 51:23

Morbid Angel - Alaters of Madness - Death Metal 1989 Earache
Copyright © 1989 Earache

A strong narrative voice guides each song through its developments as its conflict is unveiled, leading through the seemingly chaotic front to the implications of what will be the revelation. Like black metal and some death metal to follow, Morbid Angel use extensive epiphanies to unify their songs much in the style of later Ozzy period Black Sabbath, although at a much faster pace. Their abilities to encode several rhythms into any part of a riff create songs of boundless potential, aggression and energy unified in a mystical force under a moving rhythm.

This release is foundational to death metal and highly influential on much of the underground music to follow, including unrelated genres. Trey Azagthoth's maniacal atonal lead guitar inverts symphonies into nihilistic and expressive masterpiece works of sculpture, using technique and composition in liberated ways at high speed and high density complexity. Rhythm, as liberated in this album, freed guitar to intermix the speed of chord changes (and the form of the main riff) with the hummingbird wings of strumming frequency, in which was interwoven the wrist motion of the player, adding another layer of whipping, driving tempo to the mixture.

Epic and meaningful lyrics depoliticize evil in favor of encoding darker more confrontational elements of the human soul, namely our weakness and destructability in face of the energy gained through the metaphorical "ancient ways" of mystical power. Complexity in lyrical meaning hides under metered verse with an intense study of metal vocal rhythm with elements of rock music titrated out, and meta-composition shows on the song and album level that through careful cutting and layering of work into the songs from their youth, Morbid Angel made a vast masterpiece.

Blessed Are the Sick
Production: Clear and rigorous with contrast-defined guitar and a generous, ominous balance of silence. Acoustical separation is well preserved and, although bass is sometimes flagging, a friend to individual instrument tone.

Review: Seeking to outdo the intensely conceived and designed "Altars of Madness," Morbid Angel moved their music from continuously flowing speeding death metal to counterpoint creations using rhythmic and textural offsets to reflect the cyclic conflict of epic battle.

Violent and contorted, these riffs use all of death metal's lexicon plus add muffled chords to end phrases, single-note harmonizations, and different types of chords in fast combinations to create an abstract, challenging, and ambiguously multifaceted sense of composition.


1. Intro
2. Fall from grace
3. Brainstorm
4. Rebel Lands
5. Doomsday celebration
6. Day of suffering
7. Blessed are the Sick / Leading the Rats
8. Unholy Blapshemies
9. Abominations
10. Desolate Ways
11. The Ancient Ones
12. In remembrance
Length: 39:33

Morbid Angel - Blessed Are the Sick - Death Metal 1991 Earache
Copyright © 1991 Earache

Like progressive rock bands of the previous decade, Morbid Angel use elongated and cryptographic song structures to repeat patterns occurring over a wide span of events. In the style of older witchcraft bands each motion in the song corresponds to an alteration in a vast world of ideas, and in that capacity can introduce a range of items corresponding to its structure and to the greater harmonic structure of each song. With respect to that mode of composition Morbid Angel acquit themselves brilliantly by extending the chromatic nihilism of a Deicide into a classical structural level.

Song tempos range from creeping decadent dirges of doom to rippingly fast infernal battles of blasting snare and riveting guitar riffing. Azagthoth's guitar establishes dominance from the beginning with an almost parasitic ability to manipulate the music around it, creating centerpieces of harmonic motion which overlay and resignify the rest of the song. Other individual performances are strong, from Commando Sandoval's endurance battering (a conglomeration of jazz and grindcore styles) to David Vincent's lucidly clear, strikingly savage and vividly distorted vocal to accompany his fearless of complexity bass playing, and the classical and lead contributions of second guitar Richard Brunelle.

Production: Fleming Rasmussen of Metallica fame did the production on this album, and it's good spacious acoustic material with attention paid to guitar sound but perhaps not enough to guitar distinction.

Review: Morbid Angel rocked the death metal world with their first two albums, each revolutionary, the first from death metal, the second from the first. With most of the genre being at the non-virtuostic stage, Morbid Angel, with their characteristic oddball progressive bach rock approach, are extremely distinctive. Noone else creates music like this and nothing quite sounds like it - a tribute to the playing of Trey Azagthoth, a guitar genius in his own right, but also to the talent and musical prowess of the other bandmembers David Vincent on vocals and bass and Pete Sandoval ("the man with eight arms") on drums.


1. Rapture
2. Pain divine
3. World of shit (The promised land)
4. Vengeance is mine
5. The Lions Den
6. Blood on my hands
7. Angel of Disease
8. Sworn to the Black
9. Nar Mattaru
10. God of emptiness
Length: 41:11

Morbid Angel - Covenant - Death Metal 1993 Giant/Warner
Copyright © 1993 Giant/Warner

This album almost continues the progression of the first, but isn't as daring as their second, Blessed Are the Sick (the first, Altars of Madness, is mostly straight-up death metal in the Morbid Angel signature style) although it is a strong and well-conceptualized theory of songwriting in its solidity and yet openness as demonstrated in these impressive works. If the first four tracks don't tear out your rectum, the rennovation of tone in doom metal of the final four will probably appeal ("dirge metal" is perhaps the best name for this style).

There are quite a few experiments, from the use of real sung vocals on "God of Emptiness" to the experimental guitar work of the first half of the album. The punch drops out of it toward the end, however, even to the instrumental, which is interesting but like many black metal experiments, lacks the punch of its metallic counterpart. Be wary, however, that the "happiest song in metal," Angel of Disease, is here after previously appearing only on "Abominations." While the power of conception and instrumentalism behind this work remains powerful, it is not as tangibly far ahead of the rest as its predecessor, but stands undefeated by time as excellent and satisfying death metal; highly recommended.

Entangled in Chaos
Production: A competently recorded live album that captures the tone and power of their instruments while maintaining the roughshod live feel which gives this album a sometimes vertiginous aspect.

Review: A competent live album spanning Morbid Angel's career to date, "Entangled in Chaos" is a tribute to departing bassist/vocalist David Vincent as well as one of the few worthy metal live albums. The recording is excellent, clarity making it worthwhile to hear, and the song selection reasonably favors the more influential work of the band.


1. Immortal Rites
2. Blasphemy
3. Sworn To The Black
4. Lord Of All Fevers & Plague
5. Blessed Are The Sick
6. Day Of Suffering
7. Chapel Of Ghouls
8. Maze Of Torment
9. Rapture
10. Blood On My Hands
11. Dominate
Length: 41:46

Copyright © 1996 Earache
Morbid Angel - Domination - Death Metal 1995 Earache Tracklist

1. Dominate
2. Where The Slime Live
3. Eyes To See, Ears To Hear
4. Melting
5. Nothing But Fear
6. Dawn Of The Angry
7. This Means War
8. Caesar's Palace
9. Dreaming
10. Inquisition (Burn With Me)
11. Hatework
Length: 44:41

Domination (Earache, 1995)
This album completely degenerates. Although the lyrics are evocative and hateful to a degree of emotional seizure in logical warlike completion of ideals, the vocal track is nearly monotonous and relies too much on textural technique while tone is reduced, tightening itself simultaneously around a consistent sound and eschewing the flaring bursts and seething pseudoharmonies expressed in the roaring shout, trademarks of earlier albums. Clearly designed to be more listenable, the style on "Domination" approximates a jazz-metal hybrid comfortable within the power chord techniques of death metal, emphasizing slowly building melodic and rhythmic collaboration with plenty of emphasis on traditional speed metal techniques. As such, songs resemble the friendlier tonal patterns of mainstream work, solos face the pentatonic in a new light, and drums rumble at pleasant tempos and lower bpm at their peak speed than ever before. Interestingly a powerful doom metal influence emerges as a result, in music evocative of the darker emotions of Black Sabbath and the accompanying reliance on familiar associations of tone and symbol. What has changed most on this album is a loss of focus and simultaneously, a desire to join the larger social structure above the band in edge mainstream heavy metal. Consequently, while this album can be instantly appreciated on a listening level its vitality declines over repeated listens, as its musical figures are joined to an uninspired on-the-fly poetry of convenience, where earlier epics had a passion unmatched by most career bands. These musicians are still top-notch, and the soloing on this album more conventionally controlled and worthy of purely musical academic analysis. so for any student of metal this is required listening; however, its intensity lags and thus does the degree of fluidity with which it is assembled, and through which it communicates.
Morbid Angel - Formulas Fatal to the Flesh - Death Metal 1998 Earache Tracklist

1. Heaving Earth
2. Prayer Of Hatred
3. Bil Ur-Sag
4. Nothing Is Not
5. Chambers Of Dis
6. Disturbance In The Great Slumber
7. Umulamahri
8. Hellspawn: The Rebirth
9. Covenant Of Death
10. Hymn To A Gas Giant
11. Invocation Of The Continual One
12. Ascent Through The Spheres
13. Hymnos Rituales De Guerra
14. Trooper
Length: 51:30

Formulas Fatal to the Flesh (Earache, 1998)
A massive improvement with a fatal failure that will cause it to not lead anywhere, this album shows guitarist Trey Azagthoth experimenting with previously unknown "studied" modes and scales in his solos and the development of a progressive heavy metal instinct in this band now that, through member changes and necessary administrative/public relations tasks, Azagthoth has become the decision-maker and his initial short list of targets is reduced. Comfortable now in the ideals of Tony Robbins and ancient Qlippothic mysticism, he and his band wander without a clear direction and so his work becomes strictly musical, with little conceptual unification except the abstract relationship of sounds. In this, Morbid Angel succeed with a potent album: riffs are powerful twists of phrase to render melodic similarity, drums a rigid backbone with concentric ribs, and vocals taughtly on each beat courtesy of newcome Tucker also punching out a faithful stream of eight notes. Songs individually are self-designed and disconnected from other songs, with a rate of incidence of sequencer/noise interludes increasing as the album progresses. The filler is not as obnoxious as the basic dearth of refinement in these songs, or in much investment into the artistic side of being a musician, but for those who appreciate the pure finesse of guitar the soloing of Azagthoth is as delicious as any guitar album.

Morbid Angel - Gateways to Annihilation - Death Metal 2001 Earache Tracklist

1. Kawazu
2. Summoning Redemption
3. Ageless, Still I Am
4. He Who Sleeps
5. To The Victor The Spoils
6. At One With Nothing
7. Opening Of The Gates
8. Secured Limitations
9. Awakening
10. I
11. God Of The Forsaken
Length: 44:25

Gateways to Annihilation (Earache, 2001)
This album borrows liberally from former tourmates Pantera, squeezing classic rock through a death metal filter and making bouncy, hookish, and easily comprehensible thunder music. Where there was previously some underground metal there is little left, but, like all output from such a talented group of musicians, this album has its moments of clarity and brilliance and can develop accordingly with power, but as a whole represents no significant challenge to the conscious mind and seems like a product, as if Morbid Angel have hit mid-life stages and averaged all of their internal settings to create a normative output. This is slower and richer in harmony than many earlier albums, with a reversal of the overly indulgent jazz-inspired guitar jam sessions, but often seems template cut with ease from the hands of these old schoolers. It is probably wiser to celebrate earlier works with a second purchase than to explore this album, but students of guitar might seek mp3s for as usual a display of excellent technique and musical understanding in lead guitar and certain rhythm portions of the stringwork here.
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