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I want to kill myself now because I had been writing a review for 20 minutes and I accidentally pressed the backspace button and all was gone :(
Nevertheless, fuck that shit, Morbid Angel back in the early nineties were undoubtedly gods within the death metal scene. While most people seem to be more into Altars of Madness or Covenant, I'm definitely a sucker for the band's sophomore effort, which is like the transitional state between Altars' speed and aggression and Covenant's heavier and sludgier darkness.
So as far as the record itself is concerned, this is a fucking milestone. It begins with a noisy introduction and after a minute and a half, the opening riff of "Fall from Grace" sets the frame. Seconds afterwards, one of my favourite riffs of all time, which is also an "effigy of what's to come" - did you see what I did there? If not, go listen to Suffocation's debut NOW - for the rest of the album cracks the skulls of the feeble. All hell breaks loose and Pete Sandoval's blastbeats are immediately recognizable, and his drumming does not just stay to that, yet flows greatly through the album with insane drum fills and rolls that fit in greatly with the music. The above are naturally testimony to Sandoval's talent, skill, and musical intelligence. Furthermore, equally recognizable is Trey Azagthoth's guitar work, with the truly MORBID riffs and dissonant/atonal leads. However, Richard Brunelle's contribution is not to be overseen as more than half of the solos here are his. David Vincent's bass lines are complementary to the riffs and sound closer to Suffocation than to Obituary. The lyrics are about the ancient gods and all that occult stuff, and David Vincent's vocal performance derives growls adequately comprehensible so as for one to be able to hear almost every single word without being Kyle XY or possessing any superhuman powers in general. Finally, the band has put some orchestral tracks to create an ambiance at some points to close the disc. Especially "Doomsday Celebration" works perfectly as a calm before the storm that is "Day of Suffering". There are no actual highlights on the album since every song is brutally punctual, but I believe that my personal favourite would be one of these: "Fall from Grace", "Brainstorm", "Day of Suffering", or "Blessed are the Sick/Leading the Rats".
So, I believe there is not much more to be said about this unstoppable death metal beast. If you like extreme metal and you don't like this, you just probably don't really like extreme metal, but you're unaware of that fact. This is simply essential. GET IT!
With all due respect to Altars of Madness, if this was Morbid Angel’s debut, they would have had just as much of an impact they had with Altars if not greater. Most great metal bands have two, three or four albums that fans love, but not too many bands have two albums that instantly go in the top 10, if not top 5 of their particular genre. That’s the stuff Black Sabbath, Metallica and Iron Maiden are made of. And you better fucking believe that this album is top 5 for death metal.
What makes this album great? As usual, it’s variety. While I’m sure to most death metal fans, Chapel of Ghouls 10 times at 10 different fast speeds is all there is to metal, it’s much more impressive to me when a band truly expands their canvas and shows what they are capable of. You have your epic numbers like The Ancinet Ones; your fast face-ripping fuck tracks (to borrow a colloquialism) like Day of Suffering, Thy Kingdom Come, and Unholy Blasphemies (my personal favorite Morbid Angel song); your doomy slow songs like the title track and Abominations. Even the interludes are really awesome. The track “Intro” just might be the greatest non-musical opener to an album ever (and yes that includes “join us” from Hell Awaits), pieces like Desolate Ways and In Remberance are somber moody pieces that are quiet, but don’t overstay their welcome like Fluff, and hell I can even understand if there are fans out there who think you can’t play Day of Suffering without playing Doomsday Celebration first. Then there’s the albums real first song, Fall From Grace, which I put mid-tier for songs, but has this fine piece of poetry:
“I am Belial...I bend my knee not but for my selfish desires.”
Not only is the best line on the album, but it is probably the definitive statement for all death metal. Before this album, death metal was a slightly laughable cult following for those who wanted a little more rape and guts with their thrashy festivities. After this album, death metal was legitimized as an artform—whether it’s fans wanted it to be or not.
It is always interesting to review albums that are as old as your humble reviewer. Whereas others are able to make comments about the atmosphere of the music scene at the time, I am only able to comment on the music itself and how it affects me. So it is with an irreverent shrug that I continue this review sans the 'cold wind blowing in 1991' and 'I eagerly awaited the release of Blessed Are the Sick' style of commentary.
Blessed Are the Sick is an album that I have had an interesting relationship with for the past three years, ever since I became enamored with the death metal genre. Morbid Angel was one of my first death metal acts. I was air drumming to Maze Of Torment before I was even aware of bands such as Cryptopsy or Gorguts (and as an aside, air drumming to Maze Of Torment is a great aerobic workout -- try it sometime). So, when I was fishing for new albums to try in this exciting and brand new (to me) genre, Blessed Are The Sick often came up. I was told it was the personification of all that was death metal (presumably with the exception of the parts that were personified by Chuck Schuldiner, RIP). I was told that it was a masterpiece. And so naturally I sought it out eagerly.
My first listen elicited enjoyment only from the track Doomsday Celebration. Yeah, I liked the interlude; in fact, I only liked one of the interludes, because I didn't even get far enough into the record to hear the other two. The 'metal', I thought, was absolute garbage. Reflecting back, I know now that my opinion was predicated solely on the production. And what awful production it was! I don't mind lo-fi sound. I don't mind static. Albums like Death's Human, Asphyx's The Rack, and even the infamous black metal productions didn't turn my ears away. No, my eternal hatred was bestowed solely on albums like Blessed Are The Sick, with the sterilized and clicky drums; the weak atmosphere; the lifeless guitars; and the muddy, too-high-volume vocals. But it was only Blessed Are The Sick that was ever completely ruined by this kind of production. I could still listen to and enjoy albums like Obituary's Cause Of Death (another one of my firsts), despite their clicky drums. But this.. this was a horrible production that would've killed any album, no matter how great. And Blessed Are The Sick really is great.
I never did completely dismiss the album. At the constant urging of my fellow death metal listeners, I would give the album yet another try every few months, and every few months I would put it back largely disappointed. Though I must admit, each time I put it on, I would find a new part that I'd like, and I'd usually get further into the album before I had to switch it off and listen to something with meaty production, like Suffocation's Pierced From Within. Songs like Fall From Grace, with its relentless riff and meaty vocals, stood out of course.
And then -- today in fact -- I found the secret to enjoying Blessed Are The Sick. That secret is the 2009 release/remaster. It puzzles me how they managed to decrease the volume of the vocals without a remix, but they did it. I realized, "Holy shit, there really is a guitar in Brainstorm!" The drums, while still not the thundering madness on Pierced From Within, became enjoyable and listenable. Of course, the bass was never there, but the bass rarely is in death metal. Shame. But moving on.
Once I could HEAR THE DAMN THING, I found Blessed Are The Sick to be a truly unique and highly enjoyable album, and probably the best Morbid Angel has to offer (that being very hard to judge, considering jaw-dropping pieces like Altars of Madness, Covenant, and Gateways of Annihilation). I took off ten points, though, because the album is highly inaccessible. A newbie to death metal simply stands no chance of appreciating the fine time changes and intricate guitar work of the incomparable Trey Azagthoth. But that's okay -- send them to Altars of Madness first and let them enjoy that amazing gem of death metal before recommending Blessed Are The Sick. Standout tracks include the truly ominous and intelligently evil Fall From Grace, the sinful title track, and the melancholy acoustic piece Desolate Ways. Just do yourself a favor and buy the remastered album.
Now this album rocks my socks off. Sure, you could pretty much say the same for any of Morbid Angel's releases; from 1989's classic "Altars of Madness" to 2003's phenominal "Heretic", they have all been freakin' awesome, but this one is different. This one sticks on the mind like flat Ginger Ale would when spilled all over the new hard-wood floor. It's not that there is a specific element of this release that makes it more worthwhile than other such classics from the band, though there is a much more obvious focus on tempo-changes, with certain songs being all out thrash-fests and others being more subtle, death/doom numbers, as well as a more pronounced focus on "weird riffs" and a darker, more cerebral atmosphere. However, none of these elements are what make this album what it is. Rather, it's something deeper, and I know what it is...
Okay, I shouldn't have led you on like that. I don't have any fuckin' clue what it is, but what I do know, is that I like this album. I feel like it's one of Morbid Angel's most...well, most everything album. It's no doubt in possession of some of Morbid Angel's catchiest riffs (see: main riff to "Fall From Grace"), as well as containing some of the band's strangest musical ideas (though they are not even close to being as prominent as can be heard on "Heretic") (see: opening rhythm to "Abominations"). As well, David's vocals are far more varied on this album than on later efforts, featuring both the style we all know and love from "Altars of Madness" (as heard in "Brainstorm"), as well as the style he would later adopt for the bulk of "Covenant" (as heard in "Blessed Are the Sick/Leading the Rats"). He delivers both styles extremly well, arguably better than delivered on their respective albums! Come on, just listen to "Day of Suffering" and try to tell me those vocals aren't just fuckin' killer (note: this is not up for debate)!
The album is kicked off with it's most controversial track, the Intro. Pretty much, it's guitar distortion, some creepy industrial sounds (one of which sounds distinctivly like a steam presser), and some buried, infant screams (which add to the horror of it all, and serve as our first legitiment proof that Trey Azagtoth is actually a child molester). This is one of the creepiest intros I've ever heard, actually, (though Sodom's intro on "Obsessed by Cruelty" definatly gives this a run for it's money) and I can't begin to understand why so many people seem to think it's "retarded" (when I hear this, I think, have you ever heard of a band called Cannibal fucking Corpse? A song called "Meathook Sodomy"? Dare you to listen to that and tell me this is stupid!)
Anyway, this is when Trey Azagthoth really came into his own realm musically. Whereas on the previous albums, the riffs and solos had been done in a more traditonal sense, here he experiments more with other styles, namely thrash and doom metal, as well as some prominent classical influence in his solos and lead-work. And let's not forget those fuckin' instrumentals...the haunting "Desolate Ways", the disturbing "Doomday Celebration", the ominous "Intro", and the beautiful "In Remembrance". Rhythm guitarist Richard Brunelle is no weakling either, though. While most of the solos are done at the hands of Trey Azagthoth, every now and then the duo will trade off, leaving Brunelle to supply the shreddage while Azagthoth keeps the pace. A good example of this happening is none other than the unforgettable, yet painfully short solo which serves as the opening to "Abominations". What makes this so cool, is that there is such an obvious chemistry between the two guitarists, making it sound like they are really working together to create a cohesive work of art through the solos, as opposed to just pointlessly shredding way. As well, Brunelle is the man behind the utterly heart-wrenching acoustic piece known as "Desolate Ways" which appears towards the end of the CD (and is, unfortunatly, his only writing credit for the album). This alone should be proof that he doesn't receive even close to as much credit for making this band so amazing as he deserves.
Pete Sandoval's drumming is nothing beneath completly phenominal on this album. While most drummers simply blast on and on ad nauseum, Sandoval instead supplies a huge amount of variety, as well as still performing constant blast beats, giving us everything from groove-oriented odd-time signatures (as seen in "Fall From Grace"), to purist black metal blast beats (as seen in "Day of Suffering"). The aforementioned rhythm in "Abominations" is a good example as well, as is his all-around insane performance with "Thy Kingdom Come" (namely in the double bass department!). As far as tone goes, his snare has a distinct echo to it, which certainly adds to the epic aspect of the whole deal, and his bass drum...well, let me paint a vivid picture for you of how this bass drum sounds:
You're a solider in WWII. You're hiding in the shadows, in an alleyway, when all of a sudden you spot an enemy walk past a window in the building adjacent to your position. To get a better shot, you spring forth from the shadows and pull the trigger of your assault rifle. You watch as the bullets spray into the young soldier's body, throwing him to the floor in a violent blast of blood and guts. Before you can fathom what you have just done, that you have just sent a burning soul screaming into the void, you feel a sudden, sharp pain in your lower back. You fall down on your back, wounded but still breathing, shot by a sniper who was hiding in the church's tower, just a little ways down the road. Before the sniper can finish you off, however, a rocket is hurled in the tower's direction, sending bits of brick and cement flying through the air. However, before you can rejoice, a large chunk of the cement comes flying in your direction. Though it misses, it manages to hit a street light which is beside you, and as fate would have it, the street light falls, pinning you to the ground before you have a chance to get up. Then, you hear that familiar sound...that loud, mechanical, industrial rumbling which instills fear into the hearts of every soldier, regardless of which side they take. You turn your head in it's direction, and gaze upon the face of death itself. You see before you a tank, slowly rolling on, crushing all in it's path. You try to scream at the cold, demonic, monsterous thing, for it is all you can do before those metal tracks meet your flesh, and your burning, screaming soul shall be cast unto the void of eternity...
Now, imagine that the low, rumbling I mention there is the bass drum. While it is powerful and terrifying, it's a far cry from the fake, overly triggered bass drums of modern day drummers. As well, the tone fits the bass drum patterns like...like...like boobs fit the human hand. Yes, and I mean that sincerely.
Anyway, some people genuinly don't like this album, and while that makes sense, I suppose (I can see how some of these odd rhythms may confuse some of our more purist members, fuckin' sissies!), as a huge fan of this band I must say that I, for one, am in love with it. I feel like it's one of Morbid Angel's best albums, not only because it sounds fuckin' killer, but also because it doesn't try to make the other albums, like "Altars of Madness" or "Covenant", seem obselete. In fact, I think that this album makes me want to listen to those albums even more, as it contains significant elements of both albums fused together (the more "evil" elements of "Altars" mixed with the more purist death metal approach of "Covenant", for instance).
I suggest this album to fans of "Testimony of the Ancients" by Pestilence, "Human" by Death, "The Spectral Sorrows" by Edge of Sanity, "Nespithe" by Demilich, or any other Morbid Angel album. Fuck it, just check it out regardless of your musical taste. It's got a little bit for everyone.
One needn't comb very far into the depths of the Morbid Angel sophomore to recognize that this is a very different beast than the band's exhilarating debut. The Jean Delville painting used for the cover (which had, coincidentally already been used by the Danish thrash band Hexenhaus for their debut several years prior) hints at a more classical, if no less diabolic premise, but the real aesthetic shift comes in the composition. Where Altars of Madness was a day at the hellhound tracks, Blessed Are the Sick is a stroll through the abyss, utilizing far more controlled tempos throughout the track list, as if the band were sobering up from the massive hangover they received from the blasting, precision chaos of its predecessor.
The truth is, the actual change of pace is not what cripples this album. The band still pulls out the stops where necessary, allowing Pete Sandoval more breathing room as he swerves between taut and manic bursts of speed and slower, swaggering grooves. The ideas circulating through these tracks will continue to turn up through the band's career, fleshed out further through albums like Domination, Formulas Fatal to the Flesh and Gateways to Annihilation. Nor would I lay the flaws upon the doorstep of David Vincent, who experiments with a more stolid death grunt in tandem with his bludgeoning barks. Blessed is the Sick is a beloved album, and an important album due to its chronological placement. In 1991, a lot of people were turning towards death metal as it emerged from the thrash landscape as an alternative to the shoegazing, funk, grunge and rap explosions of the period. I wouldn't be surprised if Blessed Are the Sick (like Human, or Tombs of the Mutilated, or Effigy of the Forgotten) was the first death metal album many were exposed to, and it makes sense: this is far more forgiving, and much less overwhelming than the band's 1989 masterwork.
The problems I have with Blessed Are the Sick, and have held for nearly 20 years despite numerous attempts to let it 'grow' on me, lie in the fact that the album is too clean for its own good, and too short on memorable songs. As the album lacks the labyrinthine punishment of the debut, there is nothing here that forces its way to the surface upon repeated listens. It's all laid out bare and accessible for the initial consumption. This wouldn't be an issue if I found that the content was memorable, but I can't think of a single song here that I'd every turn to if I was in need of a Morbid Angel fix. When the instrumental adornments on your album, like the fluted and creepy "Leading the Rats" outro, the plucky acoustic segue "Desolate Ways" and the cheesy and pompous synthesizer march "Doomsday Celebration" number among its more distinct offerings, then certainly the metallic core is lacking for something...
That said, I could never accuse the Floridian demi-gods of lacking some variation here, because if the sophomore has any leg up over its monolithic predecessor, its the more even split between faster and slower climes. You still receive the rapid brutality of "Brainstorm", "Rebel Lands", "Day of Suffering" or the smaller bursts in "Thy Kingdom Come", which are all pulled straight from the altars, yet uninhabited by individual riffs of such quality. More intricacy seems to have been placed in the crawling compositions like "Fall From Grace", "Abominations", and "Blessed Are the Sick" itself, which alternate between the slower passages of the debut, simpler chugging maneuvers and a glaze of occasional propulsion to ensure that the listeners (and Sandoval) do not fall asleep. Often, the band will incorporate some nice atmospheric touch, like the low growl that casts a cavernous din over "Abominations", or the popping, copious leads that slice through "The Ancient Ones", but neither seems to amplify the quality of the track.
Morbid Angel tries a lot here, despite the fact that the sophomore seems like the grizzled reduction of a piece of fine meat, its beautiful fat evaporated and a less juicy and tasty sirloin tip left behind for the consumer. Blessed Are the Sick is not a poor album, nor is it even unpleasant to sit through a few times, but it's incredibly underwhelming when there were such exorbitant alternatives in the field, fully delivering on their riffing value and morbid, atmospheric motifs. The ritualistic lyrics, often from the first person perspective, are not all bad. If I had to pick favorites among the metal tracks, I'd probably run with "Fall From Grace", "Rebel Lands", or "Blessed Are the Sick" (though "Caesar's Palace" expands its lurching strides with delicious misanthropy), but these deliver only a fraction of the brilliant, shiver inducing madness of a "Chapel of Ghouls", "Suffocation" or "Maze of Torment".
Evolution and innovation are not foreign concepts to Blessed Are the Sick, and the novelty of its placement in the death pantheon seems to have granted it the status of the sacred calf, leaving not a marginal influence in its wake (certainly there are scores of albums mirroring its sluggish and varied dynamics). Alas, next to the eponymous transgression of the debut, and the potential ghastly feast I had desired from its successor, this was and remains naught more than Meals On Wheels. Tore off the plastic, put it in the microwave, got a nice bite or two and some essential proteins, but too soon was I salivating over the next morning's breakfast.
I’ve professed my love of Morbid Angel before. To this day, Altars Of Madness is always the first death metal album I recommend to anyone new to the genre. It just embodies everything that death metal should be in such a perfect manner. What I haven’t touched upon is the fact that Morbid Angel was also a rather diverse band, both for better and for worse. While I appreciate their efforts in trying something different with their next albums, I feel that none of them even hold a candle to their debut. In many underground death metal circles, Morbid Angel’s first three albums are considered to be all high quality releases. I disagree with this notion. In fact, while I like Covenant quite a bit for what it is, I just do not like Blessed Are The Sick whatsoever.
Where do I start? Well, one of the most glaring problems with this album is its utterly thin and sterile production. The guitars have absolutely no life to them whatsoever, leaving every single riff sounding lifeless. Normally, bad production wouldn’t be much of a deterrent, but it literally sucks the life out of the music to the point of no redemption on this album. That, combined with the fact that the riffs are nowhere near as heavy, catchy, and thrashy as before leads to a stark contrast between this album and Altars Of Madness. The bass is practically non-existent, occasionally appearing, but not really adding the punch that it should. The drums just sound like shit. The kick is too clicky and thin, and the snare is just too artificial sounding, leaving the drums at the point where they sound like a child’s first drum set. Listening to anyone trying to play blastbeats with this sound is just depressing. Lastly, the vocals, while sounding fine, are just way too fucking high in the mix. They’re just distracting.
Now, to the music. As I’ve said, the riffs just lack the punch they had on Altars Of Madness. Even when they sound like they have potential, such as on songs like ‘Brainstorm,’ they just feel so inferior by comparison. But a larger issue here is that Morbid Angel changed their style of death metal to a slower version of what they originally created. Frankly, this just sounds forced and empty to me. Some bands can pull off this slower style of death metal exceptionally well (Fleshcrawl immediately springs to mind), but Morbid Angel just isn’t one of them. Songs like ‘Blessed Are The Sick/Leading The Rats’ could have benefited so much from a bit of their old songwriting style. Really, these songs aren’t that bad, they’re just missing some of the essential core elements of their sound that they established on Altars Of Madness. Hell, that section at 1:24 of ‘Blessed Are The Sick’ is great, but it just sounds like so much more could have been done with it. Hell, a meatier guitar sound might have done the trick, or maybe a slightly faster riff beneath the slow one would have done the trick. Whatever it is, I just feel like the bad moments on this album are insufferably boring, and the good ones are hurt by the fact that it’s so painfully obvious that they could have been better.
Some songs, such as ‘Thy Kingdom Come,’ retain the glory of Morbid Angel’s debut. However, the songs that don’t do so just seem to fall flat on their faces in my opinion. Of course, some of those songs are the ones written long ago and released on Abominations Of Desolation, so the songwriting changes that I mention on this album basically don’t apply to those tracks.
Whatever it is, something about this album just doesn’t click with me. The non-Abominations-era songs just sound empty compared to Morbid Angel’s previous work, and the production just makes this point all the more clear. While some of the songs are genuinely good songs, others just aren’t, and those are ones I tend to remember most from this album. I know that a lot of the death metal-loving population likely disagrees with me about this, but I just have never been able to like this. It just feels weak. Luckily, they made up for this a bit with Covenant.
Oh yeah, fuck the cheesy interludes. They’re garbage.
In the early winter months of 1991, Morbid Angel entered Morrisound to record the follow-up to their seminal debut, Altars of Madness. By that summer, Blessed Are the Sick was unleashed upon the unsuspecting metal community. From the guitar tone to the vocals, the overall sound is much thicker, lacking the thin and sharp qualities found on the previous album. For some, this is the primary complaint; that the individual instruments fail to stand out as they once did, instead blending together and being somewhat flat. Regardless of this matter, the musical progression present on this masterpiece more than makes up for any such grievance. Whereas Altars of Madness bears an overtly Satanic approach and seems to be more raw and aggressive, Blessed Are the Sick takes you down to a darker place.
It was a dark and gloomy November night when first I obtained Morbid Angel's sophomore effort. Nearly a year had passed since I was introduced to the band, through their brilliant debut. I had absolutely no expectations, going in. Of only one thing was I truly certain; I was set to experience something very significant. Just looking at the cover art, I could tell that something was different. As opposed to the hellish, abysmal image that adorned the cover of Altars of Madness, Blessed Are the Sick greeted me with J. Delville's painting, "Les Tresors De Satan". From this alone, one might discern that a more atmospheric and sophisticated approach might be lingering within. As a result of the time period during which I discovered this album, and despite any failings with regard to the production, I consider this one to be on fairly even ground with the first one.
The first time that I listened to this, the darkness of night encompassed all. Only a few candles illuminated the room as the introduction carried forth sounds of screeching Hell, accompanied by random cries. Almost reminiscent of the early moments of Slayer's Hell Awaits, this set the tone for what was to come. You can almost feel yourself being flayed, as the skin is torn and burned from your tortured remains. The screams get louder until the realization hits that they're your own. A journey has just begun; one that shall take you through the darkest depths.
"Fall From Grace" begins with mid-paced riffs that convey a sense of doom and despair. Sandoval's drumming does well to crush any bits of hope from your withering soul. Just under a minute in, the pace quickens and it becomes apparent that David Vincent's vocals have altered, to an extent. They are still, easily, recognizable while being a bit deeper than before. The images that come to mind are not so much of suffering souls, burning at the fiery depths. No, here one gets the sense of damned souls reveling in the decadence of their own damnation. Trey Azagthoth and Richard Brunelle compliment one another's guitar-playing very well, as the solos flow naturally throughout the soundscape. Near the end, clean and ominous vocals make a sinister declaration:
"I ride the flesh and the sinners of hell
I am Belial
I bend my knee not but for my selfish desire"
Following this, "Brainstorm" unleashes its fury at top speed, hearkening back to the first album. Even the vocals possess more of a throaty rasp that on the previous song. Filled with searing solos and scathing vocals, one would hardly even notice that this track is as short as it is. The pace slows, very briefly, before returning to the blistering speed of before. Structurally, this song is comprised of all the same elements as the others, though the delivery is so lightning fast that it is gone before you know it. Yet, part of the beauty of this album is that the songs may or may not stand on their own. They can, if need be, but they form a cohesive work that serves the principal aspiration of the album, itself.
"Rebel Lands" appears to maintain the frenetic pace from the preceding song, though it quickly adopts a slower technique. For a song that clocks in under three minutes, it is amazing how well these musicians managed to infuse it with an epic sensibility. The solos are utterly brilliant, weaving through like snakes of fire, almost hypnotizing the listener. The hauntingly memorable melodies act as the perfect lead-in for the track that follows.
The title, "Doomsday Celebration", really seems to be like a mission statement for the album, in its entirety. What is heard here isn't so much an anger-filled war upon Christianity, yet the complete and total rejoicing in those ways which serve as the antithesis of those morals held by such feeble sheep. Trey Azagthoth handles the keyboards that sound very much like an old organ, creating some dismal atmosphere befitting of an old horror movie. Transiently, there is some strange imagery created of a war, long ago, but this spectre only burns like an old photograph, lost to the ages. The somber, horrifying feeling returns with the cold winds, as this interlude flows into the next song.
Commencing with, perhaps, one of the most memorable riffs of the album, "Day of Suffering" crushes all in its path. The heavy guitar riffs and pounding drums are accentuated by the deep and hateful vocals. After less than a minute, the speed increases to an almost frenzied pace, and the malice truly bleeds through.
"Lord of light
I will swarm against you now
Wickeds at my side
Thorns to lance your every word
Now I crown you king in pain"
This is followed by, what may well be, the finest piece on the record; "Blessed Are the Sick / Leading the Rats". Much slower than the previous songs, this one proceeds at a sinister crawl. The blood trickles from your eyes as this hellish atmosphere drags you into the murky depths. The refrain sums up the feeling conveyed by this record.
"World of sickness
Blessed are we to taste
This life of sin"
The song slowly drifts further down into the abyss, toward the realm of the suffering souls and the dreaming dead. Claw and grasp as you might, resistance is utterly futile. Leaving trails of blood behind you, it will only suffice as a lasting tribute to the frailty of the human condition. The song ends with a beautiful and serene flute passage, of some sort, no doubt another trick of Azagthoth's keyboards. It's like watching this terrifying spectacle of a damned soul being dragged beneath the surface, into the grave that shall lead down toward the realm of total suffering. Once the earth closes up, a bird lands on that very spot, unaware of the danger... just then, a hand reaches up and takes the weak creature without struggle. Such images that this powerful music conveys. The lyrics still echo within your mind, reinforcing the dark and grim feeling.
"My touch is inhumane
Nocturnal beast inside
Is void of light
And empty shall remain"
"Thy Kingdom Come" speeds things back up, though it consists of a variety of riffs and tempo changes. Being an older song (appearing on the Thy Kingdom Come demo), this one bears more similarities to the feeling that was imparted by Altars of Madness. This is evident not only in the lyrics, but in the musical delivery. The pace is faster than the demo version though, otherwise, it remains quite faithful.
The next song is "Unholy Blasphemies", which was first recorded for the Abominations of Desolation album, in 1986. Naturally, this version lacks the rawness of the previous one, though it is more streamlined and concise. It is about half the length of the original. Nowhere does it drag, though that impression may only plague the earlier recording only because I heard this one about six months earlier. David Vincent's vocal approach seeks not to match the raspy sound of Mike Browning, rather he continues with the deeper style employed throughout much of this album.
Now, we arrive at the real high point of the whole record. "Abominations" is a song that had existed for five years, already, being recorded for various demos by this time. This is really one of the most atmospheric songs found here, possessing a great amount of dark feeling. After a minute or so, the tempo changes in such a manner as to emphasize the epic nature of this blasphemous piece. One can hear the sound of cold winds, blowing in the background, adding to this feeling. The solos come forth from the abyss, wrapping around your brain and suffocating all thought from it. As expected for lyrics written earlier in their career, they bear more of a venomous sentiment than some of the others, building to a hellish climax.
"Liars in wait, priests of the night
Make images to burn by the moon
Robbing the spirit, raping gods law
Send up our hate, to burn heavens gate"
The sound of the blowing wind flows into the next piece, "Desolate Ways". This compliments the previous song, and truly functions as a part of it. It adds a sense of balance. This tranquil, yet very somber acoustic piece allows Richard Brunelle to showcase his genius for creating melodies that are capable of piercing your soul. This dismal song has a way of reaching into your very core and gripping those hopes and dreams that you cherish so much and sucking the life right out of them. There is a mournful essence, here, that drags your spirit down and leaves you empty. It forces you to relive every traumatizing moment of your pitiful existence and to wallow in the loss of all that you ever held dear. What you hear are not the beautiful sounds of powerful music, but the draining of your soul, to the point of darkness not before conceived of. Overcome with unbearable grief and despair, you are beckoned forth by the luring comfort of the grave. In that thought only do you find any sort of peace.
A chaotic eruption of lead solos destroys the quiet, peaceful feeling. "The Ancient Ones" functions much like a hellish epitaph, moving along at at energetic pace, without really being all that fast. The vocals seem to have returned to the raspier side, as the solos split your skull wide open. This version maintains the old school feeling that was found on Abominations of Desolation (where the song was known as "Azagthoth"). Having picked up your devastated remains, whatever was left after the soul-annihilation of the previous acoustic piece, this drives you on toward the end of all that you ever knew. Picture a withered figure that has fallen near the trail, not far from the conclusion of his epic journey. This song is like a carriage, drawn by black horses, that has stopped by to pick up the remnants of this traveler to deliver them to final damnation.
And, at last, this monumental album concludes with the somber piano instrumental, "In Remembrance". The feeling here is one of finality. It's all over. There is no turning back. No second chances, no resurrection. Sorrow is yours, until the end of your worthless existence. Even then, there is no salvation; no sanctuary to house your wretched soul. It is to the great nothingness that you will belong. Into the yawning abyss, you will fall until there is nothing left.
Blessed Are the Sick is every bit the classic that it is hailed as, one to be revered for the ages. If you don't own this, do yourself a favour and remedy the situation with haste. This album will forever stand as a testament to the brilliance that once was Morbid Angel.
When I first listened to this album, the first thing that struck me was the change in tempo. Not that this bothered me - I love slower, sludgier death metal songs, and Morbid Angel does them about the best of any death metal band, something that they proved with their next two records Covenant and Domination, both of which had at least one sludgy song, just like this album does, and those songs were great too. That isn't a problem at all.
No, the main problem with this album is this: the sheer number of non metal interludes. I find them to be more annoying, unnecessary, and interrupting than on any other Morbid Angel album, mostly because of their placement. Altars of Madness has no interludes at all, Covenant has only one, and Gateways to Annihilation has only two tiny ones. However, on Domination and Formulas Fatal to the Flesh there are also quite a few interludes - but on those albums, the interludes are not at both the start and the end of the albums. In fact, Domination both starts and ends with metal songs, while Formulas Fatal to the Flesh starts with a metal song and ends with an non metal track. This is ok on both counts. On this album, however, there is a non metal interlude at both the start and end of the album, plus two more in the middle, which can be extremely annoying to some, myself included. I love the song "Fall from Grace", the way it starts out sludgy, then builds to a faster tempo is great. But I have to wait through nearly 1 and a half minutes of weird ambient noises that make up the intro before I get to this great song, which can be really off-putting. And then, after the two songs following Fall from Grace there is another instrumental track! That is what I call instrumental/ambient track overkill.
That aside, the actual metal songs here are great as usual. Morbid Angel has always worked great together as a band, and this album is no exception. However, the production here leaves much to be desired. The guitar tone is actually thicker and heavier sounding overall than on Altars of Madness; however, the guitars feel much lower in the mix than they do on Altars of Madness, while the vocals are much higher in the mix. Too high, in fact. This can be really annoying, because you turn up the album to get it loud enough so that you can enjoy the guitarwork, and then David Vincent's voice comes in, and it is way too loud and is either deafening, or it drowns out the guitars. This is really irritating and quite a shame, because that aside, these songs are some of the best songs Morbid Angel has ever written. "Fall from Grace", the title track, and "Thy Kingdom Come" are all fantastic, but most of the other songs are great too.
Unfortunately, the number of interludes and their placement within the album combined with the weird production that makes the vocals louder than the guitars means that this is not an album I listen to very often. Covenant has better songwriting, only one tiny interlude, and some truly fantastic songs. This album is in some ways more interesting though I have to admit, and some of the interludes are actually good. The interlude track "Doomsday Celebration" is excellent, and sounds really creepy, spooky, evil, and satanic. I just wish that the interludes they had created were more in this creepy style, rather than mostly creating boring filler instrumentals. This interlude/instrumental is the only really good one on the whole of this album. The intro track is pointless, "Desolate Ways" is unnecessary, and "In Remembrance" sounds almost sad, something a death metal band should never do. Even worse, it's a piano track and it ends the album! Why did they do that? Surely the last metal song on here, "The Ancient Ones" would have been a good album closer?
This album is often claimed to be one of Morbid Angel slowest albums, but I wouldn't say that is an entirely accurate statement by any means. The four biggest songs here all have slower moments, but only one song on the entire album is pure sludge without a hint of real speed, and that is the title track. All of the other songs that have slower moments in them also have faster moments. And there are several pure speed songs. As such, I wouldn't say this album is particularly slow at all. Domination is in many ways much slower and Gateways to Annihilation is far, far, far slower.
The bottom line, however, is that regardless of this album's flaws(bad mixing in the studio causing the vocals to be louder than the guitars, too many interludes, and not quite long enough to match its 'epic' style), it is still a very good death metal album to say the least. Songs like "Fall from Grace" and "Blessed are the Sick" are famous within the death metal world for a good reason: they're great songs, and also extremely memorable. The faster songs are also extremely well written, fairly memorable at times, and very good overall. The whole album creates a great atmosphere just like its predecessor; it's whole vibe is one of scorn and hatred of humanity in general, as well as a desire to be free from the control of lying monotheistic religions and to experience all the carnal, physical pleasures of life. This album is by no means as satanic, vicious, anti-Christian, or misanthropic as Morbid Angel's next album Covenant; but it still has that vicious, scornful, and of course otherworldly vibe that pretty much every Morbid Angel album does.
This album is a piece of death metal history for a good reason. Although it's short length could be said to be a drawback, especially since four of the tracks on the album are instrumental interludes, it also makes the album more direct and to the point despite it's more epic vision and style in comparison to Altars of Madness. Besides this, it contains some of Morbid Angel's best ever songs, plenty of variety to keep things interesting from beginning to end, and David Vincent's brilliant growling vocals. The not quite right mixing in the album's production does not really take away that much from the album, and as long as you are prepared to put up with that, it will likely be a great listening experience. Any fan of Morbid Angel should definitely own this album. It's weaknesses, annoying as they can be, are not crippling, and the greatness of so much of everything else in the album more than makes up for them.
Man was I disappointed when this album came out. Like many others here on the Continent I got introduced to the phenomenon of Morbid Angel when Altars Of Madness came out. I played that album like a madman, eventually got my hands on the “Thy Kingdom Come” EP etc. Compared to everything earlier, “Blessed Are the Sick” was slick commercial crap. Listening back now after 16 years it actually has a few good moments preventing it from being bashed entirely.
First of all half the album was filled with old demo songs (“Thy Kingdom Come”, “Unholy Blasphemies”, “Abominations” and “The Ancient Ones” aka “Azagthoth”). Pretty weird it took them 2 years to come up with enough material to fill only half an album including a lot of obsolete instrumental intermezzos and intros. Sounds pretty much like writer’s block to me. To emphasize this, the old songs are also actually the best songs present.
Secondly some of the new songs were lame and doomy. Especially “Fall From Grace” and “Blessed Are the Sick / Leading the Rats” are weak sludgy songs which could be acceptable if Lord Of Putrefaction or Alastis (or some other really bad doom-death band) had written them but are very weak compared to the Morbid Angel standards. Other new songs like “Brainstorm” and “Rebel Lands” tend to sound more like Morbid Angel but are rather short, under-developped and immature compared to the compositional effeciency of their previous album.
Thirdly the vocals and production were cheesy. Dave Vincent does not sound like the Dave Vincent we knew from “Altars Of Madness”. His voice was less raspy and consisted more of low grunting. Rather disappointing and in those days generic already. His earlier raspy voice gave Morbid Angel such a character. This was now lost.
The production was too sterile and too clean for 1991 standards. The album just didn’t sound brutal enough. The drums were played with fury but they sounded harmless and triggered. The guitars sound deep, clean and the feeling of aggression and speed seems lost. This sound, together with the generic grunting by Dave Vincent made the album sound childish and radio-friendly compared to “Altars Of Madness”.
All in all this album sounds as if the band were trying to sound more mature. Did they try to prove something? Well, by trying to do so, they failed. Also because of the clear case of writer’s block of course. Morbid Angel are best when they are fast, furious and evil. Never change a winning team.
It still give this album 65 points because it features some great old songs which I love to have in my collection (even though the early demo versions sound more brutal and evil) but the rest of the songs, intermezzos and the production just doesn’t do it. The quality of their next album “Coventant” confirmed even more how weak “Blessed Are the Sick” actually was.
When one discusses the most overrated albums in all of death metal, Morbid Angel are one band whose work is usually exempt from the list. People will shit upon Death, upon Cynic, upon At the Gates, upon Cannibal Corpse, upon Wintersun, and upon a thousand others, but Morbid Angel’s first three albums are generally considered untouchable as far as criticism goes. Allow me to be the voice of dissent, then, against their second album, Blessed are the Sick. While both Altars of Madness and Covenant are complete, original, breathtaking spectacles of death metal finesse, Blessed are the Sick is a chronically overrated album full of half-ideas, boring sludgy passages, and an abundance of ambient instrumental tracks.
My first big complaint is with the severe unevenness of the album. A pulsing intro begins the album, building tension for a good minute and a half before anti-climaxing into “Fall from Grace,” a song mostly characterized by the sludgy riff set that begins it. The title cut is similar to this, in that it sticks to a slow tempo and never picks up. This by itself would not be problematic, except that the absurd production strips the guitars of their heaviness and leaves slower passages like these sounding incredibly hollow. The rest of the album’s first half consists of short, underdeveloped death metal that is anything but atypical and a cheesy sort of mood-building instrumental in the middle that’s completely out of place. Had the album continued in this fashion, they might as well have entitled it Blessed are the Suck, because that’s the only thing it really does well.
Fortunately, things pick up by “Thy Kingdom Come,” which is the first solid tune on the album up to this point. It’s followed by two more of a similar devastating quality: “Unholy Blasphemies” and “Abominations.” Anyone’s guess why these songs rule? Besides the fact that they’re all faster and heavier than the earlier tracks (and generally more technical as well), they all have the distinction of having been written as far back as ’87, a time before Morbid Angel felt that their albums required bullshit ambient tracks to make them interesting. As far as I’m concerned, the only one of the four (five if you count the little flute thing at the end of the title track) instrumental tracks that actually fits appropriately into the album is “Desolate Ways,” which serves as a chilling introduction to “The Ancient Ones,” the album’s other standout track (and another one that, unsurprisingly, was written back in the 80’s). It seems the band felt that adding these instrumental departures would allow them to create a truly unique album in order to stand out from amongst their peers. But wait, didn’t they already have that with Altars of Madness? I thought so, but apparently they felt the need to take their vicious and unpretentious style and fuck it up.
I’ve been writing this review for a fairly long time (since I acquired the album months ago), giving me plenty of opportunities to listen to it repeatedly, hoping to finally discern what gives it such grand appeal. Clearly people enjoy this for its atmospheric departure from typical death metal, which prior to this album’s release, had not really been attempted. Now, I’ll admit that repeated listening has managed to lighten some of my gripes (“Fall from Grace,” for instance, though mostly boring, has a primary riff-set that shows as intriguing a sense of abandon as some of the later tracks. Trey’s solos throughout create a similar effect. Consequently, the score I gave it is much higher than that I originally intended), but their potency still remains. This is a mediocre stepping-stone between Morbid Angel’s best two albums, evident from the riffs to the lyrics and even to David Vincent’s vocals. His delivery on Blessed are the Sick is pretty bland compared to the shrieky rasp from Altars and the pervasive growl from Covenant. Conclusively, Blessed are the Sick just lacks substance, praised for its artistry and influence rather than its musicality.
This album’s fans will insist that I “just don’t get it.” Now drone doom I don’t get. Ambient black metal I don’t get. This I get: it just ain’t that goddamn special. Even the better tracks on the album have much more sinister demo versions in existence (the old version of “Thy Kingdom Come” for instance). Blessed are the Sick is basically a poor first draft of what would eventually lead to Covenant. My suggestion? Just skip straight to that album and leave this one alone, unless you’re curious to hear Morbid Angel at their most pompous and nonlethal.
Originally written for: http://www.metal-observer.com
Well, after my life-altering experience with the previous Morbid Angel album 'Altars Of Madness', it's no surprise that I immediately purchased the rest of their rather extensive catalogue. Quite logically, I eagerly anticipated this album, often having heard of it being the best of the classic Morbid Angel trilogy ('Altars Of Madness', 'Blessed Are The Sick', and 'Covenant'). As one of the most revered albums in death metal history, routinely nearing the top of most lists of great metal albums, my standards were quite high. Unreasonable? Perhaps. Understandable? Certainly.
Even in the very first contact with this album, I realized that something had fundamentally changed with the band. A cursory look at the album cover will tell you all you need to know. While the art of 'Altars Of Madness' was professional but still had an endearing, amateur quality, 'Blessed Are The Sick' was much darker and, in a way, more serious. The comic-book style tortured faces had been replaced by a beautiful and grotesque painting that still seems to perfectly embody the spirit of this album. That spirit being the inherent sickness of the human condition, all of our excess and sin wrapped up in a package of flesh. The art flawlessly conveys it, with an unbroken chain of throbbing, nude humans drifting into a demon's horrific yet sensual maw.
In a way, the concepts of this album are direct reversals of those of the previous. Where 'Altars Of Madness' was a celebration of the metaphysical power granted by Satan, this album is quite worldly, celebrating sin not for it's strike against god, but for pleasure in and of itself. 'Altars' reveres strength; 'Blessed' reveres the weakness and infirmity of mankind, drowning on its disease and mortality. While Satan is the protagonist of 'Altars', crafting Morbid Angel into willing tools of his bidding, the band seizes control of its own destiny in 'Blessed', only worshipping a pantheon of H.P. Lovecraft's mythical demiurges for their own motives, not for an actual reverence of those powers greater than them. Even on the very first true song, David Vincent expresses is directly and succinctly: 'I am lord I take command!'
Speaking of songs, the album opens on an intriguing note, with an ambient 'Intro'. This is quite important for a number of reasons. First and foremost, this is the first step into ambience for Morbid Angel, where such experimentation would become a staple of their later albums. One should notice how every single Morbid Angel album after 'Blessed Are The Sick' has at least one if not more small intermezzos of this type. Secondly and more importantly, this represents one of the first major experiments in atmosphere in the history of death metal. While introductions and intermissions of this sort are now commonplace, this was at one point a very large departure from death metal, which had still mostly been concentrating on formulating precisely what the still-new genre of death metal would be composed of. Finally, this underlines the main emphasis of this album, that being atmosphere. While the first release had been one of sonic violence, 'Blessed Are The Sick' shows Morbid Angel functioning as a more cohesive whole.
One of the things that was such a shock to me upon hearing this LP was the immediate realization that Morbid Angel had entirely changed as a musical entity. While 'Altars Of Madness' was lightning-quick and perpetually overdosing on enthusiasm, 'Blessed Are The Sick' is far more professional and musically even. One might draw an aeronautical analogy, in which 'Altars Of Madness' is the speedy, agile fighter, while 'Blessed Are The Sick' is a slower, more deliberate, and, in some ways, more devastating bomber. One can hear this as early as the second track, 'Fall From Grace', with it's slow, menacing riff draped over bass-heavy drum work. Morbid Angel seems to relish in a build-up of this sort throughout the album, dedicating a full forty-eight seconds to this tension-laced uphill climb before the blasting begins on this particular composition. The overall tempo of this album is slightly lower than that of the previous, though with some clear exceptions; as Trey Azagthoth says on the linear notes of the re-release, 'Brainstorm' is faster than anything that occurred on 'Altars Of Madness'.
The production of this album is an obvious improvement over 'Altars Of Madness'. The sound now has a genuine low-end and has lost most of the original's thin, screeching production. While the textures of the individual instruments are diminished, it makes up for it in a thicker sound, appropriate for the general atmosphere of the album. Of particular note would be the drum production, which would set the standard for death metal for years to come. If one listens carefully to the sound of the bass drum, one can hear that same flat, wet, thudding tone like a hammer on flesh repeated in future albums. The lack of triggering makes everything sound more organic, especially when combined with the newly churning riffs that define this album. Overall, one could describe the production as 'fleshy', as most of the instruments have a very warm, soft, but still heavy, tone.
Performance wise, the band improves manyfold over their debut. The guitar duo of Trey Azagthoth and Richard Brunelle plays similarly to their debut, with the obvious exceptions of differing melodies and technical evolution. One of the central differences is a larger experimentation with the rhythm of the guitars, such as on 'Blessed Are The Sick/Leading The Rats', somewhat resembling the off-kilter groove of earlier classic 'Maze Of Torment'. The guitar tone, while not as sharp and venomous as that heard on the previous release is quite capable, with a similarly organic tone as the drums. Solos are not quite as manic in their intensity, although still as discordant as before. They, like most of the album, are more cohesive and studied as a whole, dropping the endless barrage of 32nd notes and savage abuse of the tremolo bar in favor of more dynamic rhythm and melody. Bass, like the first album, is mostly inaudible and follows the guitar, although this is not to the detriment of the album as a whole.
At this point, bassist/vocalist David Vincent now had a handle on his vocal stylings. A large change from the throaty rasps of 'Altars', he now adopts a simple yet unique growl. Interestingly, this seems to be one of the earlier examples of a technique that would be popularized in later years; namely, where melody is approximated through a less or more guttural approach, corresponding to a higher or lower pitch, respectively. This would later be used by vocalists such as Lord Worm of Cryptopsy or Mike Majewski of Devourment to great effect. Rounding out the squad is the inimitable Pete 'Commando' Sandoval, who's drumming is still world-renowned. One of the most distinctive features of Sandoval's drumming is his exquisite ability to match a guitar riff with his own rhythm pattern, and it is on this album where that skill takes center stage. Yes, his mechanical blasts and double bass are mighty impressive (the blasting on 'Fall From Grace' is terrifying), but when he slows down his performance moves into the section of sublime. Take the vivid, shuffling bass drums and hi-hats of 'Rebel Lands', or the grim, rumbling toms of 'Blessed Are The Sick/Leading The Rats'. The sound of his drums has also improved, with a clearer, thicker tone overall, fitting the increased production budget on this release.
Lyrically, Satan has been entirely left behind, as well as most anti-Christianity. No, the violence in this album is directed at the very humanity that Morbid Angel at once seeps in and despises, not unlike a sort of post-coital loathing, where one is filled with both absolute love and absolute disgust. Of course, some of their past remains (the savage 'Unholy Blasphemies' contains charming lines such as 'Ghouls who pray the death of god/Destroy Jehovah's church/Vomit upon the cross/And burn the book of lies', but overall, the album concentrates on the human experience. One might compare this progression to the Renaissance, where divine themes were rudely shunted aside to focus on the human experience. Often the lyrics express a joy of freedom and sickness, best expressed in the lines of 'Blessed Are The Sick/Leading The Rats', such as 'So many years, my seed condemned/Now free to soar!' or 'World of sickness/Blessed are we to taste/This life of sin'. Vincent makes no qualms about it: weakness and decadence are the whole of the law. Improvement will not occur, so one might as well make haste with the world's downfall. Humanity is fucked.
It would be somewhat amiss to speak of standout tracks, as they all retain a unique identity. However, if it came down to personal favorites, I would nominate thundering opener 'Fall From Grace' and it's ominous development, 'Day Of Suffering’s utter chaotic misanthropy, and the horror of 'Unholy Blasphemies'. However, the champion of this album is by far 'Blessed Are The Sick/Leading The Rats'. I cannot stress enough how well this song functions, not only upon it's own merits (which it certainly does), but as a mission statement for the album, as well as a flawless example of mid-paced death dirges in the early 90s that would be upheld by artists such as Autopsy and Obituary. As an adjunct, I would also submit 'Desolate Ways'. This acoustic piece is both heart-wrenchingly beautiful and deliciously decadent. Like an island in a sea of chaos, it functions as an anchor to beauty without sickness. I'd also like to commend Richard Brunelle on his guitar playing; anyone who has attempted it knows how difficult it is to replicate his stunningly clean performance.
Originally, I didn't particularly enjoy 'Blessed Are The Sick'. I found it lacking the spirit of 'Altars Of Madness', and musically not as direct. These are both legitimate complaints on my part. However, the latter is simply a matter of progression, (genuine, not artificial) which one should not antagonize an artistic piece over. The former, however, I still view as the album's central flaw. While the LP works very well and is by all means a brilliant piece of art, it inherently lacks the beauty and enthusiasm of the first release. While one might say that it was impossible to maintain that sort of passion for more than one album (which may very well be true) that does not mitigate the fact that the pure, balls-out passion of 'Altars Of Madness' is not present on this release. However, it has grown on me over time, and I now view it for what it really is: a beautiful and brilliant, if not flawless, album.
When all is said and done, one can see the leap that occurs between the first two releases of Morbid Angel. While I view the debut to be superior, I thoroughly enjoy this album, and agree that it should be recognized in the pantheon of great artistic achievements throughout history. Truly a brilliant work, and not one that shall ever be forgotten.
Since having changed the face of death metal with their debut and inspiring a clutch of pretenders in the process, Morbid Angel returned to make their mark once again. And what a job they did, as Blessed Are The Sick is the equal of Altars Of Madness in most departments and it’s better in others.
An odd programming note: for some reason the band decided to fill the album’s first side with “new” or at least current songs, choosing to pack the flip with elder songs from their demo tape days, most notably their shelved 1986 album Abominations Of Desolation. In truth, Earache records would actually give “official” though limited release to that most bootlegged of recordings in ’91as well.
But whatever the track order, Blessed is a masterpiece of both its deathly genre and of metal as a whole. Firstly, the production is deeper, darker, and more assured here, lending a bleaker tinge to the proceedings. And while the album actually kicks off with one of it’s weaker tracks (“Fall From Grace”) it soon regains it’s footing. “Brainstorm” and “Day Of Suffering” are quick and grinding tunes that provide the extremity Morbid Angel were renowned for, whilst the slow, churning, methodical title track is not only musically sanctified with one of Trey Azagthoth’s more cerebrally deranged riffs, but also impressive lyrics and a haunting flute outro entitled “Leading The Rats.”
On the flip we delve into the band’s lo-fi past. Now dusted off and powered by this band’s premiere membership. Azagthoth and fellow six-string blasphemer Richard Brunelle lay forth the structures, as Pete Sandoval’s machine gun drum assault nails the proceedings to an unmovable inverted cross of might. Elder and classic cuts like “Thy Kingdom Come” and “Unholy Blasphemies” streak by with impressive fury, but it’s the immortal, sublime riffs of “Abominations” that remain the highlight here, as they did in their original demo tape incarnations. And no kidding kids, “Desolate Ways” (one of many brief forays that dot the album) is one of the most sublime and haunting pieces of music I’ve ever laid ears on. An acoustic guitar piece that expresses remarkable forlorn woe, it’s the single piece of music I want played at my funeral.
As if it wasn’t enough to revolutionize death metal, Morbid Angel proved here that they would also become among it’s most accomplished composers as well, writing material untouchably in their own intimidating style. Change would be the watchword for the band going forward and not all of it being positive change at that.
Taking the foundations laid down by the speed metal of Slayer, Morbid Angel incorporate their own techniques to forge a highly influential record in the development of Death Metal’s heritage. The songs are based around recursive structures, flowing in and out of tempo fluctuations, combing both ultra-fast riffing and slow bludgeoning with amazing grace. A variety of tempos are employed in a non-procedural fashion. This makes provision for an eloquent template combining lessons learned from the aforementioned Slayer and the primal sludge riffing that Black Sabbath bore upon this world.
The riffs are often “interrupted” with counter sections or scalar fills, only to arrive back on the same path with precise fluency. Central motifs are concurrent, with composition being of a progressive nature, laden with soloing that concentrates on either atonality or conversely a flavoursome display of melody at selected intervals. The songs encompass riffs of contrasting natures against each other This development of style enabled later bands to move away from recumbent cyclic riff-sets, instead focusing on counter-point exploration and progression of themes within a song. Yet, “Blessed Are The Sick” does this better than most because of their precision, brevity and a caution not to waste a note.
The drumming fits in meticulously with these procedures, making use of deft fills to provide an excellent control of spatial feeling. The aggressive clarity of the vocals completes the repertoire, capping of a potent mixture that attacks the basis of modern society by promoting traditional values with the espousal of mythology.
By far one of the biggest highlights of the early Florida movement, this is a testament to the genre as whole and is essentially one of its strongest pillars – denying both time and later advances to remain a classic.
My word...this album is just as good as its predecessor, the beyond brilliant "Altars of Madness"! And that oughta tell y'all something, seeing as how I hold that album (well, the first three MA albums, actually) in VERY, VERY high esteem.
The production is not quite as clear as "Altars", but the added thickness in the guitar department really helps, as does the extra low end on the bass guitar. And speaking of guitars, Trey and Richard really owned on this album! Their signature wildly inspired soloing and crazed riffing was unchanged and in fact even more chaotic on this album--check out Trey's keening, Middle Eastern sounding whammy bar work in the first solo of "Rebel Lands", for example. RIchard's somewhat more restrained and melodic work offset Trey's more weird and atonal style very well, and his solo acoustic piece, "Desolate Ways", is very appropriately titled with its lonely feel and subdued picking.
"Ancient Ones" simply flattens everything in its path like a runaway tank, as does "Unholy Blasphemies" , due in no small part to Pete Sandoval's organized chaos approach to his playing. But really, pretty much the entire album slays with the exception of the ending piano piece, "In Remembrance"--pretty, but not the best way to end an album. But then again, that shows just how MA, back in the day, didn't give a damn for conventionality and made that approach work. Another classic in the canon of USDM, y'all!
After discovering Altars of Madness, I finally discovered what people found in Morbid Angel, since I had only heard post-Covenant before. Afterwards, I heard a few of the slower tracks off of this album and didn't like it, mistakenly thinking that Altars of Madness was the sole good Morbid Angel album and this was only a precursor to the Covenant-era stuff. I never liked the style on Covenant or later, with its chunky guitars, excessive blast beats that don't blast, and crummy vocals -- save for the song Angel of Disease, which is much more reminiscient of how much of this album sounds. However, after hearing the rest of this album at a later point, I realized that there were some killer songs on there I somehow stupidly missed, and that this album slays and I must have it. I listened through it as a whole, I learned to like the other ones though I still don't like Covenant or anything after, save for Angel of Disease.
The introduction is nothing more than a minute grinding noise with a few random whining noises thrown in. It's nothing remarkable, and I usually skip it.
I always seem to dislike first tracks, and as such Fall from Grace is just ok. It begins relatively slowly, with a doom-style to it. It begins to pick up, and at 45 seconds stays with the riff but has some blastbeats that don't exactly fit, but aren't too out of place. Vincent's voice is a bit deeper than usual, but remains powerful. The guitars are a bit slower and repetitive, and the drums don't blast. This song is the beginning of the style used on later albums, but is still far better than any of those. At 2:45, it slows down again, but is redeemed by an insane Azagthoth / Brunelle twin solo full of squealing and fast tapping.
Brainstorm -- something of a stupid name for a killer song about demonic empowerment through reading unholy books, in my opinion -- is where the album begins to pick up. The riffing is much faster and more creative, making great use of chaotic chromaticism and staying interesting the whole time. The vocals are sicker sounding and work perfectly with the great lyrics and its catchy chorus. The drums are fucking artillery from hell. It's short, but very memorable, and will bring on headbanging, even through the slowdown. This song owns.
Rebel Lands is heavier and still rather fast, with everything being absolutely vicious, though not out right insane like any of their other words. Doomsday Celebration is a very cool keyboard song, and is a nice break to add atmosphere put the album in perspective.
Day of Suffering begins slow, with deeper vocals and guitars, but quickly picks up half a minute into the song with insanely pummelling drumming and fast tremolo riffing. For roughly a minute and a half, it will beat the crap out of you and force you to headbang.
Blessed are the Sick is the slow song on the album, and is almost an evil doom song, with Vincent's growls and the occasional double-bass. The remastered edition even comes with a video of it, most of it being David Vincent shirtless, showing off his piercings after getting dragged off through the woods to some lesbian coven. Though I hated it at first, I've come to actually like this song.
Now, to the best of the album:
Thy Kingdom Come brings back the speed with a vengeance! Though it's not Bleed for the Devil, it contains chaotic atonal riffs, vicious vocals, ferocious drumming, and a great chorus. The soloing at 2:06 is straight out of hell -- screaming like a completely insane and chaotic maniac. This song is a total frenzy will kick your ass.
Unholy Blasphemies -- not to be confused with Blasphemy from Altars -- is a remake of one of their old mid-80s songs off Abominations, completely realizing its potential. The heavy and fast riffs and pounding drumming continue their rampage non-stop through out the song, and Satan commands to headbang to it. The vocals are deeper than usual in the song, but have the effect of being very bold when delivering the great anthemic lyrics: "Ghouls who pray [for the] death of God, destroy Jehovah's church, vomit upon the cross, and burn [the] book of lies!" It's a bit short, but a perfect length for stomping you into the ground.
Abominations is the perfect way to do a fast, heavy groove song. I generally don't like any groove, but this one does a killer job with speed, ferocity, and chaos. The drumming goes along perfectly. Vincent continues his vicious and harsh yet understandable vocals while pumping out solid bass work are more great evil anthems: "We spit on the virgin lamb and mock the words he spoke, his ways not worthy of me, we choose to burn in the pits of Hell." The lead guitars punctuate throughout the song, sounding like demons torturing souls in hell.
Desloate Ways is one of my favorite songs on the album. It's entirely acoustic, but is so ghostly, sad and... desolate, it's almost haunting.
Ancient Ones is a remake of the mid-80s Abominations song Azagthoth. It begins with a killer solo by Azagthoth that sounds unholy, as if it is the emergence of Ctulu from the seas of Absu over pounding drumming and solid and heavy riffing. The riffing, bass work, and drumming is absolutely crushing, the vocals harsh, evil, and the lyrics straight out of the Necronomicon with an indelible chorus that will make you rewind this song to listen to it again and again until your neck is sore. However, it wisely does not capitalize in on that and repeat it ad nauseam -- the middle two and a half minutes is entirely instrumental, but is still great. The chorus returns, but does not repeat itself for the rest of the song, and instead winds down for roughly another minute in the same fashion. I couldn't stop listening to this song nearly every day for something like two months.
In Rememberance is a piano piece that while not as good as Desolate Ways, is still very sad and forsaken, and is a great way to end the album.
Though it's not a perfect album or as good as Altars of Madness, it has some killer, absolutely classic songs that you should not live without. You will listen to them repeatedly. The rest of it is great as well, even if it took me two or three listens to appreciate it.