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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