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Definitive Morbid Angel, Definitive Death Metal, Yes, Fucking Classic - 100%

FacUtGaudeam, May 9th, 2021

This album is relentless in approach and features excellent songwriting. Morbid Angel don't need to give you pizza death metal with McDonald's-level cheap gore lyrics. They also don't give you the kindergarten level of anti-religion found in a lot of black metal. No, Morbid Angel is far more sophisticated. They give you the occult, blasphemous yet intellectual and philosophical Covenant. Full of compelling lyrical ideas that embarrass their peers, this album also has some of the most brutal yet bizarre musicianship ever put on display. Yeah, random slamming brutal death band can be heavier because they play slower, have modern production, and tune lower, but that only makes them heavier in a narrowly technical sense. The blizzard of precise, relentless drumwork on this album and the unrelenting mix of chugging, alternate-picked, and tremolo riffs combined with bonkers time-changes and whiplash-inducing, psychedelic solos and snarling vocal delivery is something far more foreboding than most brutal death bands could ever hope to conjure up. Combine this with the occult, satanic lyrics and you get a real beast of an album that kicks the ass of most of death metal. And unlike most of the kvlt contingent of the time, Morbid Angel could actually play their instruments (and to say that is an insult to Morbid Angel, as they can MORE than play their instruments). It's easy for edgy teens to create "atmosphere" with shitty production and garage-band level musicianship, but it takes more effort when done by some of the best musicians at their craft in the top notch Morrisound Recording. But the band does just that here.

The way David says "Bow to me" alone evokes the image of an obscure ancient cult, which is basically what the Abrahamic religions are, except they somehow won out. It's really a good way to paint Christianity in a different way. All too often people associate Christianity with the suit and tie and the western world, but at its core it's an obscure, esoteric sacrificial blood cult, and this song paints it in that unsavory light with artistic master.

The opener, "Rapture," is easily one of the weakest songs on the album, which says a lot about how strong this album is, because it's a very good song. Where this album truly hits its stride is on "Pain Divine." From this song on to "Blood On My Hands" Morbid Angel absolutely lay waste to everything in their path. The punkish d-beat throwback 'Angel of Disease" changes it up, and "Sworn to the Black" and "Nar Mattaru" build up the atmosphere and anticipation to prepare for the climactic statement of a track that is "God of Emptiness."

"Pain Divine" is one of the most frenzied, manic performances I have ever heard. Just when you thought the blasting was as fast as it could get, the band switches to the most insane skank beat ever and sounds like they can barely keep up with themselves. "World of Shit" starts with a happyish sounding riff that is meant to be a sarcastic depiction of the bankruptness of Christianity and how all the goodness that it has been claimed to be responsible for is one big lie. The transition to a swampy, diabolical sounding riff after this puts the nail in the coffin. The song then speeds up with furious anger before deescalating into ethereal soloing and slowed down riffing again.

"Vengeance is Mine" and "Blood in My Hands" are two of the most brutal songs on the album, with some of the most violent sounding, abrasive riffage. Both of these songs also mix in the Swedish death metal technique of having some prolonged low chords articulate a melody. Both of these song's outros are amazing escalations in brutal fury as well.

"The Lion's Den" further depicts the hopeless futility of Christianity, and inverts the Christian persecution of others in the Inquisitions, the Salem Witch Trials, the KKK, etc. by depicting what happened to Christians in early Roman times. Naming it "The Lion's Den" especially since the Biblical tale of Daniel showed how Christians could survive is essentially saying, "your cause is hopeless, even with prayer."

If Altars of Madness is Morbid Angel bursting onto the scene with frenzied Satanic fervor, with all guns blazing, bystanders be damned, this album is a hardened, heavier, more punishing, more obscure, more disturbing exhibition of a band at its peak, complete with some of the tightest musicianship you'll ever hear, total control of the chaos, and, most importantly, unbridled belief in itself and its message. This album is very brutal, but not in the typical death metal way; it's not a slasher flick, it's more like conjuring an eldritch abomination mixed in with ancient Roman pagan aesthetics. The Roman aesthetic is backed up by the trademark Morbid Angel warlike triplet marching beats on "Sworn to the Black" and the triplet marching blasts on "Pain Divine" and others. I would like to point out that Morbid Angel is on a different musical plane than most of their peers, who still operated within either a rock or progressive framework. Morbid Angel instead utilize repeated incantations, constant churning rhythms that give way into other ones, evoking a constant sense of motion and sonic exploration that is unconfined by genre or musical constraints.

Whereas Altars of Madness felt like the band was possessed and channeled the power of demons or some external force, or that the record itself was recorded in the petri dish of souls depicted on the album cover, this album felt like the band were the ones in control, and instead they were willingly transporting to an abstract, higher plane of existence where the ideals of freedom, personal sovereignty, and enlightenment are explored, while at the same time, they transport you to the cruel barbarous past and present it for what it is.

The final track, "God of Emptiness," deserves its own paragraph. This song is the culmination of the themes of this album, but this time it lulls the listener into a trance and to a plane higher than any explored thus far. This song grapples with some of the fundamental critiques of religion, not merely for what it has done to the world as so many bands are obsessed with pointing out, but rather the very core philosophical errors religion makes and its total lack of morality. I personally believe the best way to combat religion is not to say, "Look at the bad things these religious people have done," because that can be countered with "look at the good things these religious people have done," and it ultimately falls flat as all people are capable of both good and bad. I also don't believe the best way is to say "you have no proof" either. Scientific evidence (and the lack thereof for religion) will never convince those who believe based on faith alone.

No, where religion needs to be attacked is at its core tenets, in particular the notion that humanity must submit in any way, shape or form, to any external force, and the notion that humanity is somehow at fault for merely existing. This is what Morbid Angel does so well. Instead of taking the inoffensive scientific approach, they take a stridently anti-theist one, treating religion (Christianity) as if it were true, but opposing it anyway. The idea that a god created people knowing they would disobey what this god said, and that the god would torture them eternally for doing so despite knowing full well what would happen., and then pretend that people "sent themselves" to hell even though this is no different from a mob boss offering protection and saying "it would be a shame if something happened to you." This is truly evil, and even though it is fictional, on a moral scale, no action committed by any person real or fictional has surpassed this in depravity and utter vileness. Picture the worst torture ever inflicted on a human. It came to an end. Now picture that happening forever, without hope of death or relief, just looking forward to ever-escalating pain of proportions unknown to life on earth. And all this, not for "sinning" but merely not believing in a sacrificial blood cult while being gaslighted into accepting responsibility for something you didn't even do, because your thousandth removed descendant supposedly ate an apple in pursuit of knowledge of good and evil, even though that's a perfectly good and decent pursuit, not to mention that this evil god knowingly placed the tree there knowing they would eat it and giving them a natural curiosity. It's comical how people even believe this shit. And not only this, but on the other hand people who actually do bad things like murder and rape don't have to take responsibility for what they did as long as they can blame someone else that was brutally tortured to death for it instead. Sounds real nice, real family friendly.

No, at its core, it's no different than what you would expect of primitive human societies struggling to grapple with the cruelty of life and trying in the crudest way possible to make some sense of it all, all the while being exploited by others who found a way they could take advantage of this. The core sentiment can be summed up with the apt line from this song "I offer fantasy, and you, Create the blind, with envy." By the end of this album, it is clear that the eldritch abomination MA were conjuring up and the Christian religion are one and the same. This is actually empowering in that if you consider that you are one of the privileged few (within the scope of history) who got to listen to this album and experience this enlightenment in all its glory, and that most of the people fell for the above rubbish hook line and sinker, or worse played into it at the expense of others' lives for their own benefit. Remember this: as someone who listens to this album, you are free.

Everything about this album- the cover artwork, the atmosphere, the vocals, the guitar work- it's all there. That's why this album is a classic and one of the best death metal albums of all time.