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Band of the Week: Morbid Angel

Resident sound-nerd Tom Killingbeck thumbs through reams of musty vinyl so you don't have to. Here are his weekly recommendations...

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#28: Morbid Angel



Who: Trey Azagthoth, David Vincent, Richard Brunelle, Pete Sandoval.

When: 1980s-Present.

Where: USA.

Why: Last year, the 'Big Four' bands of thrash metal (Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax) were recruited by notable percussionist, tennis player and Napster-botherer Lars Ulrich to play a series of seven shows. Excitement for the union of these four horsemen of the heavy metal apocalypse was palpable, and the final show was even broadcast in cinemas. But while the headbanging riffs n' Satan method of those bands is still as remarkably popular as ever, the band who took that formula to its apex - Morbid Angel - are still largely unknown to the mainstream metal fan. That's a shame, because Trey Azagthoth's epically maned warriors single-handedly outplayed, out-eviled and out-headbanged all of the decade's most worshipped bands with time to spare. Formed in the muggy heat of Tampa, Florida - a hotbed for death metal - Morbid Angel took the musical foundations laid down by Slayer, Venom and Metallica and performed reprehensible rituals to take them to the next level.

After gaining a reputation as a ferocious live act, mutating through numerous line-up alterations and pressing now highly sought-after demos, Scream for Blasphemies and Bleed for the Devil, Morbid Angel spawned their debut, Abominations of Desolation, in 1986. Ever the perfectionist, Azagthoth (possibly not his birth name) was dissatisfied with their efforts and fans would have to wait until 1989 to hear their eventual first LP Altars of Madness. It is, for me, the defining death metal release. It essentially sounds like Slayer in the middle of a bacchanal in which the main hallucinogen is dimethyltryptamine. Azagthoth's guitar work is cyclopean in scope, reminiscent of gnarled Dantean wastelands, and, referring to an encyclopedic library of grimoires and horror stories, their lyrics are some of the most erudite in metal. Azagthoth was heavily influenced by misanthropic cosmic horror author HP Lovecraft, and the band join the likes of Rudimentary Peni and Electric Wizard in successfully conjuring the ancient, gibbering atmosphere of those weird tales.

The success of the album led to a place on the Grindcrusher Tour alongside Napalm Death, Bolt Thrower and Carcass that winter. Those four bands would essentially become the new Big Four, taking extreme metal to its zenith over the coming years. Beginning the alphabetical titling that would become tradition for the band, Blessed Are The Sick was wildly ambitious, combining classical overtures with hypertempo blastbeats, chunky low-end riffs and frenetic atonal soloing. Azagthoth's cacodemonic vocals became yet more throat-shredding, becoming the template for the hordes of death metal vocalists emerging from the US and Sweden in the early 90s. As the biggest death metal band in the world, Morbid Angel, along with the UK's Carcass were the original bands in the genre to go major label. This was an incredible achievement for an underground metal band, and the LP that it resulted in, Covenant, would yield tours with Motorhead and Black Sabbath. Videos for 'Rapture' and 'God of Emptiness' featured on MTV, the latter featuring a seven-string guitar and honoured with an appearance on 'Beavis and Butthead'. Since those heady days, the band has continued to sporadically release albums - there's one due this year. Anyone who's a fan of the figureheads of 80s thrash should really check it out, if only to see just how much more heavy it gets.

Influences: Death, Metallica, Slayer, Venom, Discharge.

Influenced: Nile, Cryptopsy, Vader, Akercocke, Zyklon.

Sample Lyric: 'Sickening life ends but the horror has just begun / Vultures moaning a funeral dirge'.

Which Record: Altars of Madness (Earache, 1989)

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