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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.