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Years ago, back when I was getting into the genre as a young, naive metalhead, thrash metal was probably one of the most extreme forms of music I had set my ears upon. And like many other people I’m sure, the apex of brutality lay with Slayer, “Reign in Blood” was unlike anything else ever heard, the most brutal and maniacal sounding noise ever put to disc. Then came Teutonic thrash, Sodom, Destruction and the ilk and not long after Morbid Saint crawled out of the abyss of underground thrash and propelled it to a completely unheralded level of brutality and evil that few bands have ever come close to matching. Simply put, “Spectrum of Death” makes “Reign in Blood” and “Pleasure to Kill” sound about as offensive as the fucking Beach Boys.
The fact that “Spectrum of Death” still remains much of a mystery to many casual fans of thrash metal is due to a myriad of various reasons, they had their problems and most notably the lack of distribution and backing of a decent label severely scuppered their ability to get “Spectrum of Death” the recognition it deserved, and is still much of a problem to this day with even shitty bootlegs fetching crazy prices on eBay. If you were to try and pin a sound on “Spectrum of Death” I would say the closest thing would be that it was the fastest, most aggressive and homicidal thrash album never to come out of 80’s Germany, I mean this had about as much in common with American thrash at the time as The Beatles did. I’d maybe even go so far to say that “Spectrum of Death” could be filed in along with the likes of Possessed as a very primitive form of the early stages of US death metal, and it’s understandable when you realise Chuck Schuldiner was a huge fan of the band, bagging them numerous support slots along with Death.
Musically it’s an album that’s basically unrivalled in terms of vicious, bone grinding ferocity. Take the intro to the classic opener ‘Lock up Your Children”, the pulverising double kick and breakneck riffing is just flat out insane; and then you have Pat’s vocals, you’d almost believe that was Pat on the fucking cover, a demon tore up from the bowels of hell spitting blasphemy with an aggression that would rip the flesh from your bones. The shorter songs such as ‘Burned at the Stake’, ‘Damien’, ‘Crying for Death’ are all infested with an absolute mountain of face cleaving riffs and unbridled drum work that’s somewhat comparable to being caught in a furnace of broken glass; they’ll leave you utterly exhausted, blanketed in bloody lacerations and needing extensive neck surgery . If that isn’t a sign of a good thrash album then you’re probably better off listening to “The Black Album”.
With the drumming, it’s the ‘not-give-a-shit’ looseness of the timing that really gives the album that psychotic feel; it’s incessant, imposing and so punishing I’d rate this as the finest drum performance any thrash metal album in history, quite a statement. Similarly the guitar work spewed forth by Jim and Jay is a continual bombardment of saw toothed riffs and incinerating solos flailing wildly all over the place. It’s the longer tracks on the album that really set it alight though, ‘Assassin’, widely regarded as the best on the album has tempo shifts galore ranging from fast to hyper-fast and together with that break at 1:12 it’s enough to cause a seizure. The best thrash song ever? Probably. ‘Scars’ is similar in its execution, inhuman vocals expelled from the maelstrom of riffs and drums; it’s probably fair to say Pat Lind sounds like Mille Petrozza on crack. Oh and then there’s the breakdown in ‘Beyond the Gates of Hell’, a fitting closer to the album that in case there’s anything left standing makes sure it’s levelled to dust by the end of the album. Find me a chorus in the whole genre of thrash with as much wretched conviction as Pat screaming “Beyond the gates of hell, looking through the dark, forever I will be, beyond the gates of hell” and you’re a better man than I. Pure unadulterated evil.
Thrash has never and will never reach this level of ferocity ever again, many have come close, for me only Dark Angel and Demolition Hammer have threatened to usurp the throne of Morbid Saint in terms of sheer unhinged brutality. It’s everything thrash metal should be and unfortunate they never got the recognition they deserved when it mattered, when the album originally came out. What more can I really say about this iconic slab of thrash metal that hasn’t been already? It’s just been rereleased on vinyl by Relapse and CD by the band themselves, so now you’ve got no excuse.