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Hellish_Torture, July 30th, 2014

Sepultura’s first full-length, “Morbid Visions”, released in 1986 by Cogumelo Records, is one of the most criminally underrated albums ever made by the famous Brazilian band. At those times in Brazil, a little thrash scene was beginning to spawn around Cogumelo Records. In that year, Sarcofago and Mutilator were releasing their demos and would have signed very soon a contract with the most known Brazilian metal label. Most Brazilian thrash bands of that current year used to flirt with most extreme subgenres that were being “forged” in those years, like death and black metal, and Sepultura’s “Morbid Visions” is no exception.

While “Bestial Devastation” was one of the most brutal “proto-death metal” releases of that time, “Morbid Visions” is ascribable to the so-called “first black metal wave”, along with some other contemporary speed/thrash bands like Sodom, Bathory, Sarcofago, Necrodeath, Poison, Mefisto etc. That was the year of the monumental proto-black masterpiece “Obsessed by Cruelty” - just saying. And also in this case, like “Bestial Devastation”, for death metal, I have to say it: “Morbid Visions” (as well as “Obsessed by Cruelty” and “I.N.R.I.”) overcomes every single black metal album of the so-called “second wave” (which is the proper definition of black metal for me), including timeless masterpieces of awesome bands like Dissection or Darkthrone.

So you’d be wondering: what’s so special about this album? The most common opinion is that “Morbid Visions” is a highly sloppy release that shows a band that’s still not exactly familiar with its skills, lacks personality, and songwriting ability. The last point is fucking wrong. Technically speaking, Sepultura in 1986 was still a sloppy and immature band - that’s true, but musically speaking, they were one of the most innovative acts out there. Surely not the only ones to play proto-black metal (I listed some other names before and I should add also seminal names like Venom, Hellhammer, Celtic Frost, and Mercyful Fate), but their contribution to the genre was factual (and also many death metal bands cite this album as a source of inspiration).

While “Bestial Devastation” sounded literally like an attack on the human race from an army of demons coming from the infernal depths, “Morbid Visions” sounds exactly like being actually inside the infernal depths as Satan’s prisoners and watching a band of devils playing extreme metal. The beautiful artwork and, most of all, the spine-chilling production amplifies this feeling. Yes, the production sounds pretty much in the typical “Cogumelo trademark style” with a quite “thin”, but at the same time highly “rough” and “raw” guitar sound, and on this album the result is even better than usual, fitting perfectly with the atmosphere they intended to create. It’s exactly how a band would sound playing inside Hell.

Do you think that the songwriting of this album is immature and derivative? Listen deeper. Without a doubt, the guitar work is the most remarkable thing on here, and in fact these riffs sound unbelievably evil and hellish like never before, like as if Satan himself decided to become an extreme metal songwriter in order to overcome all those bands that tried to come close to “Satanic atmospheres”. Really, even “Show No Mercy”, “Haunting the Chapel”, “Hell Awaits” and “Reign in Blood” sound less evil than this. Even “Bathory” and “The Return” sound less evil than this. Even “Welcome to Hell” and “Black Metal” sound less evil than this. Maybe, even “I.N.R.I.” and “Rotting” sound slightly less evil, in comparison. Obviously, the only band that overcomes Sepultura in “evilness” is early Sodom, but well, that’s another story.

The question is: how can these riffs sound so evil? Why is the atmosphere evoked by the riffs of songs like “Morbid Visions”, “Crucifixion”, and “Funeral Rites” so... “unedited” and groundbreaking for those times? Well, did you notice that Sepultura were some of the first (if not the first ever, but I’m not 100% sure about it) to use open strumming in fast riffs instead of the typical “palm-muted” formula that’s so common in metal? This is the main recipe of black metal riffing - sinister melodies and open-strummed tremolo picking. And Bathory’s third album had still to come out. Maybe it was just laziness about guitar techniques (that would have disappeared in the following albums, also thanks to Andreas Kisser’s skills), but with “Morbid Visions” Sepultura diffused a new technique that was destined to be highly used in extreme metal. Obviously, not all the riffs included here are fast proto-black stuff; in every song there is at least one mid-paced part where the palm-muting technique is regularly used. There are still some extremely sinister doomy parts, especially in the intros of songs like “Troops of Doom”, “Show Me the Wrath”, “Funeral Rites”, and “Empire of the Damned”, and obviously, the hellish atmosphere is guaranteed.

Another essential element of “Morbid Visions” is Max’s vocal performance. He keeps using his “devilish” growl already featured on the previous release, but maybe this time there is more space to hear and identify his future “trademark” vocal style. You can already slightly feel what he would’ve become few albums later, for Max’s potent and cavernous voice is already here. However, these vocals are more hellish than ever also thanks to the high and reverberated mix that makes them sound exactly like as if there was a badass demon behind the microphone. By the way, it’s easy to guess that Max was still inexpert about singing and playing guitar at the same time. In fact, most compositions here are perfectly designed to be surprisingly easy to sing and play at the same time. Listen to “Mayhem”; you can hear actual riffs just when Max doesn’t sing, and when he does there’s only one note played over and over in a pretty black metal fashion (very static and glacial, almost in the vein of “Transylvanian Hunger”).

It could be hilarious to say, but despite the sloppy musicianship featured on this album, Igor’s skills have monumentally improved since “Bestial Devastation”. Now, his technique is less approximated than before and he’s able to make several tempo changes without problems, switching from hyper-fast and hyper-blasted paces to more “canonical” thrashy up-tempos and in fact the songs are full of sudden tempo changes (to be honest, mostly guided by the riffs - just listen to “War” to notice several examples). His beats are also less repetitive than on “Bestial Devastation”.

If I had to choose an highlight in this masterpiece, the choice would go to “War”. Max’s vocals are totally sick, wicked, and depraved, and every time I hear that fucking refrain with that badass “semi-atmospheric” riff and Max’s insane shout (“WAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHRRR”), I go totally nuts. On the other hand, I don’t get all the hype for “Troops of Doom” above the other songs. I mean, it’s surely a great song, but it’s also one of my least favourites from this album. It has a lot more to offer beyond this track! Probably all this hype derives from the fact that Sepultura chose to re-record it as a bonus track when “Schizophrenia” had to be re-released by Roadrunner Records. By the way, the original version from “Morbid Visions” is absolutely better, no need to confront.

Anyway, there’s no need to complain after all. Whatever your favourite song, “Morbid Visions” is a timeless masterpiece of proto-black metal, worthy to be put aside other great “first wave” classics of other bands such as early Sodom, Schizo, Mutilator, Sarcofago, Necrodeath, and so on. Sadly, it’s often very underrated by most metalheads and even Sepultura themselves never judged it as one of their peaks (“Mediator” is better, huh?), but luckily it’s an album that found its cult fanbase along underground death and black metal circles. And by the way, some time ago I was browsing some past Soulfly interviews and I found a 2008 (“Conquer”-era) interview with Max Cavalera where he said that he was interested to make a little reunion with Jairo Tormentor (who used to play guitar in Sepultura in 1986) and to bring attention again around “Morbid Visions” - in his words, “a very overlooked album. The more I listen to it, the more I like it”. Yeah, despite his “nu-metal phase” (which I still love despite all the criticism around it), Max Cavalera never forgot his first years of insane music and he still remembers and gives the right recognition to his early legendary outputs like “Morbid Visions”.