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There has been this ongoing debate between various parties regarding where thrash metal ends and death metal begins; some insisting that anything that came out before 1991’s climax of old school brutality (Cannibal Corpse, Suffocation, and others), others pointing back to “Seven Churches” and Death’s demos in the mid-80s as the starting point, while a third party might just merge the two schools into a Death/Thrash hybrid style. Right in the midst of this is Morbid Angel, whose occult tinged approach to the genre put them in a unique camp that tended to reach back towards the earlier proto-extreme of Venom, but with the virtuosic majesty of Slayer on speed, and a complex approach to song structuring that also looked forward to later technicians in both the death metal style and the Bay Area thrash explosion.
“Abominations Of Desolation” functions in much the same way as Schuldiner’s two compilations of demos “Scream Bloody Gore” and “Leprosy” do, as a portfolio of development of a style that was very different from its roots, yet also heavily immersed in them. It’s mystically esoteric subject matter and atmosphere do tilt it even closer into the realm of what would later define the 2nd wave of black metal than “Seven Churches“ or “Hell Awaits“, and particularly influenced Immortal’s middle era material. At the same time, the wildly technical soloing style exhibited by Trey Azagthoth surpasses anything heard out of either Slayer or Possessed at this juncture, and would be heavily influential on the slew of over-the-top Tech. Death bands who often confuse soloing with riffing. By 1986’s standards, which were far broader than the present day, this is the next logical step in pure death metal.
Although heavily revolutionary in many respects, this rather impressive manifesto of morbid occultism is not without its fair share of flaws. Mick Browning, though clearly a capable drummer, falls a bit short of really bringing the chaotic drum display needed to bring these songs home the way they were upon their rerecording on the better known follow up “Altars Of Madness”. Essentially what is heard is something akin to a slightly less proficient Gene Hoglan, lacking the tightness that would morph this into a somewhat muddier and more technical answer to “Darkness Descends”, yet otherwise putting forth a more technical response to “We Have Arrived”. His vocal performance on here is solid, although a bit closer to Quorthon’s sepulchral mutterings than the muddy ogre barks that Chris Barnes and Frank Mullen would later set as the standard for the genre, and even comes off as less deep as the dirtier shouts of Chuck Schuldiner and John Tardy.
From a song by song standpoint, this is among the more intricate and impressive projects to come out of the mid 80s, although as a whole it does come off as a bit disjointed and all over the place. Shorter offerings such as “Hell Spawn” and “Demon Seed” definitely look forward to the blurry swamp of decrepit chaos that would categorize death metal in the late 80s to early 90s, offering up an early version of the blast beat dominated quickie, drenched with rapidly shifting riffs and brief lead bursts. Longer songs such as “Welcome To Hell” and “The Gate/Lord Of All Fevers” tends to go back and forth between a harder edged version of early Venom and Sodom mixed with a slight bit of influence from “Haunting The Chapel”. At certain points, including the rather creepy intro right before “Chapel Of Ghouls”, things get theatrical enough to make one wonder how much Mercyful Fate was being listened to by Trey and company. Throw in a bass that occasionally gets active enough to upstage the guitar, and pure stylistic pandemonium becomes the only accurate description.
Along with “Seven Churches” and “Haunting The Chapel”, “Abominations Of Desolation” can best be described as a pivotal turning point in the development of extreme metal. The advent of bootlegging ended up giving it more legs than the band probably ever thought it would have achieved, seeing as the album comes off as pretty self-involved from a songwriting standpoint. It doesn’t possess the same consistency as other early offerings such as the aforementioned 84-85 pioneering efforts, or that of Death’s first two offerings, but it will likely sit just as well with other old school death and thrash metal enthusiasts who don’t abandon older innovations for an unquenchable thirst for this modern concept of brutality alone.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on June 5, 2010.