FIRST IMPRESSIONS, Volume 81: Morbid Angel – Covenant

220px-morbid_angel_-_covenantI’m a music nerd. You’re a nerd too (whether its about Make-up brands or Craft Beer, everyone nerds-out about something). Today in the spirit of being a giant nerd I’m listening to Morbid Angel’s Covenant album for the first time and describing the discovery in real time.

I’ve never been the biggest Death Metal fan. I’ve never been the kind of guy to say if it aint got blast beats or death-growls then its kiddie music. I’ve also never been one of those guys who want to like Children Of Bodom or Arch Enemy due to the guitar magazines but then throw the cd in the bin when they start to scream. Its not like Black Metal where I almost actively avoid it, but its also not one of my favourites.

My experience of owning Death Metal is fairly limited. I got into Cannibal Corpse like every 12-year old did at the time due to the funny artwork, lyrics and song titles, through friends who were also talking about it at the time. I eventually did become an actual fan (The Wretched Spawn is still genuinely one of my favourite albums) but not a die-hard, in fact their output as a whole is a little forgettable and its only the two or three stand-out tracks per album I actually care about if I’m being brutally honest.

In my early teens I got into Napalm Death in a big way; getting every single, compilation and album I could get my hands on back in the day. Napalm Death’s Harmony Corruption and Utopia Banished albums are basically old-school Tampa Death Metal even if magazines still want to call it Grindcore. I got a Deicide best-of and their two supposedly worst albums (Incinerathymn and In Torment In Hell), and the three Zyklon albums. I got one Decapitation compilation and my brother got two of their albums, but the only song I ever liked was ‘Spheres Of Madness’ for its catchy riff.

I also became a fairly sizable Entombed fan, although more of their later-day stuff than the actual Swedish Death Metal of their first two records. I mean, don’t get me wrong I enjoy ‘Severe Burns’ and ‘Sinners Bleed’ but my real love is for stuff like ‘Say It In Slugs’ and ‘That’s When I Became A Satanist’ …music that is bouncy, catchy and fun. So yeah, Entombed, kind of. Then from there on it got pretty slim; I remember also at different stages getting a lend of three Death albums, two of the later-day proggy ones, and their debut, Scream Bloody Gore which I didn’t really fall in love with.

I heard an Obituary song on MTV2 a few times (the one with the pollution themed video) and got the one song ‘Enshrined By Grace’ by Morbid Angel which I still love though rarely listen to, mainly because I don’t own a full album by them (until now). I’ve heard plenty of one-off Death Metal songs over the years but never really got interested. A Nile song here, a Dying Fetus song there, but no actual purchases, no fandom.

Reading all the books and watching all the documentaries I now have, I really have a sort of interest in the Tampa end of Death Metal. I’ve always had half a mind to pick up Like An Ever Flowing Stream from the Swedish end, but books like Choosing Death, or Cannibal Corpse’s excellent documentary really make you interested in bands like Massacre and Incantation. Also, there’s a big four thing going on.

In all of the other genres I listen to, I usually end up with the big four/big five band’s discographies… be that Metallica/Megadeth/Slayer/Anthrax/Exodus, or Nirvana/Pearl Jam/Soundgarden/Alice In Chains, or Motely Crue/Ratt/Quiet Riot/Posion/Twisted Sister, or… you catch my drift.

In my mind, due to the magazines at the turn of the century, its very much been sold to me that Death Metal’s big four was Cannibal Corpse/Deicide/Obituary/Morbid Angel. (Whether that’s true or not is irrelevant, my brain just wants to hear the first four albums by each of those bands now and there’s no escaping it)

Big fours are nonsense anyway. “Anthrax over Testament?” …you’ve heard it all a billion times.

That doesn’t stop me wanting to hear Obituary and Morbid Angel every time Deicide or Cannibal Corpse come on my stereo (or computer or phone).

A few days ago, I found a Morbid Angel cd pre-owned for £3 in a small local music shop (that was also a coffee shop and apparently also a venue for unsigned bands to play gigs somehow) and decided what the hell? Why not?

I’m not Johnny-Death Metal, but I do still like a bit, and it’ll tickle my historic/learning centers if not my actual enjoyment ones… and £3 is really rather reasonable.

So. Let’s have at it. Whether or not they’ve been supplanted by Black Dahlia Murder or aren’t as cool as Gorerotted or didn’t contribute to the genre like Death or whatever, they’re a big missing link in my mental-map of the music I spend so much of my life on, so let’s see what they’ve got to offer me:


‘Rapture’ opens up with what sounds for a brief moment like Slayer’s ‘Angel Of Death’ before the drums come in with patterned Double Kicks that reminds me of Darkness Descends by Dark Angel. A few bars later and the blast beats kick in; we’re very much in the territory of the first three Deicide albums then. Its a bit less frantic and messy than say, Butchered At Birth by Cannibal Corpse, and without the sort of Thrash charm of the aforementioned Harmony Corruption album by Napalm Death, but it is very solid, clean, well-produced for the time and genre, and easy to follow and understand. The guitar solos are in the Andreas Kisser/Kerry King mould rather than the Priest/Maiden mould (I guess Melodeath wouldn’t be a separate subgenre if it wasn’t different to regular Death Metal. ((Or as I understand it, the correct name is now ‘Brutal Death’)). Its very pleasant, not an assault on the ears at all. Sometimes, when listening to more modern Death Metal or even Deathcore, you just feel pounded, its just viscous and caustic sounding and very hard to take for prolonged periods, but this is fine. I also prefer their style of Blast Beats over Napalm Death’s. Napalm Death, especially due to the production just have this wall of almost static and it just makes me fell like I’m not listening to music anymore but rather waiting for the blasts to end (and when they do its awesome, because the riffs and beats and vocal patterns on those early-’90s records are amazing) but here it feels like a logical and necessary part of the music.

Next comes ‘Pain Divine’ which opens with blasts then a bunch of D-beats, and alternates between very Kerry King influenced riffs and what I’d call truly Death Metal riffs. The ones that sound like a spiraling drone that is somehow telling a story. Cannibal Corpse use them a lot on the early albums, they have a sort of ability to conjure images of old horror films or scenes of hell from old movies (maybe they’re inspired by the music from those movies, it wouldn’t surprise me)… a very famous example is the opening riff to ‘I Cum Blood’ or a less famous example is the riff ten seconds into Deicide’s ‘In Hell I Burn.’ If I knew enough about music I’d state that they’re downtuned and maybe atonal but I don’t know enough to confirm either.

I like the drum-fills and I really like the production on the toms. This song seems like an example of Death Metal in its purest form where it really found itself and separated itself from the precursor subgenres. Myself, I always like it when you can hear a bit more of the Thrash. I like a bit of chug in there. This song is fine for a deep cut but I wouldn’t go putting it on any compilations.

The slow riff that opens track 3, ‘World Of Shit (The Promised Land)’ really reminds me of Cannibal Corpse’s slow tracks. There’s something very similar, I don’t know what it is (Drop B tuning?) but I can hear a huge similarity. Also, towards the end of the song when its sped up and there’s guitar solos I can hear how they influenced Zyklon (which makes sense since Zyklon cover ‘Dominate’ on their debut album’s bonus tracks).

The next track ‘Vengeance Is Mine’ is fast as hell, its got that off the hook Sodom/Kreator thing in the verses, but when the d-beats stop and the double kicks come in its really impressive. How can his feet move that fast? The whole song is entertaining in a ‘wow, these guys are talented’ kind of way, and the guitar solos break it up nicely.

One thing I notice is that Dave Vincent is quite good at ennunciating his vocals. Its not just a nonsensical gurgle like Chris Barnes, you can hear every word much more clearly than you’d expect.

‘The Lions Den’ really reminds me of Deicide, the way the song structure twists and turns. I like the bendy riffs. I like when the guitars cut out but leave the kicks flying. I like all the fills. I like the low ratio of blasts (none at all). When the solos kick in you forget you’re listening to Death Metal and its more like you’ve got Beneath The Remains or Arise on instead. Towards the end, with the fun drum pattern, its just downright catchy.

‘Blood On My Hands’ goes a bit proggy with its opening, flipping between lots of different ideas in a very short space of time. When it finally settles into a verse, its quite Entombed actually, its got one of those slow buzzing spiralling drone patterns I was talking about over a Dave Lombardo-beat. As it goes on its not afraid to continue flipping between ideas and changing directions. Its a bit hard to follow structurally but entertaining nonetheless. There’s a really great riff towards the end but its not capitalized on. I’dve made a whole song out’ve something that good.

A surprise next, as ‘Angel Of Disease’ is very punk influenced. Its quick and bouncy and feels like it might be a novelty cover for a while until you notice its six minutes long, composed by Trey Azagoth and after a while sticks lots of more-Death and less-Punk parts in there. Its got a great slow jagged bit in the middle that could be Machine Head. Even the blast beats are slower than usual and feel like a cool build up rather than obligatory punishment. Then there’s a nice slow Sabbathy bit with very musical bass that reminds me of the slow parts on Biohazard’s Urban Discipline of all things! This song is a real winner for me. I wonder how the true Death Metal elitists feel about it? Do they think its a bit of a sell-out for being, y’know, good?

‘Sworn To The Black’ comes in next, its got that reverse-feedback suck-in sound effect that Deicide use a lot. Its quite rhythmic. The drums are nice and busy and complex and very non-standard Death Metal in style. A touch of the Portnoys about them even. At the two minute mark it takes a cool turn, going off on some guitar heroics you wouldn’t expect. I really like this tune too. I like this band in a groove. Blasts and speed are good in short doses and this album does a very good job of not over-saturating you with them.

‘Nar Mattaru’ comes next with a creepy sound effect filled intro. I don’t know what the title means, I’m presuming its latin and biblical but that’s pure speculation. Oh hey, its not the song’s intro. The whole song is an intro. A build up to the final track.

‘God Of Emptiness’ closes the album out. I remember that it had a music video back in the day, that I’ve never seen all the way through. I remember it being slow, and I thought it was one of the ones from later in their career with the different singer. Apparently not. This song, with its menace, is infinitely heavier than just growling and blasting. The processed vocals are a bit silly, they sound like a cartoon frog, like a primitive ‘Beware The Birchmen’ thing from ‘Circle Of Cysquatch’ by Mastodon, but only a little silly. Not song—breakingly so.

There’s a lot of cool ideas in this song. Its a bit complex. Very inventive and awkward, with some unique guitar moments and a very hard to air-drum to rhythm section. Its a good way to round out the album. A fitting closer. I like how they weighted the record with speed toward the front and groove and prog towards the back.

Hey, I liked this a lot more than I thought I might. I’m still a bit of a Death skeptic… I don’t listen to Tomb Of The Mutilated every day or anything, but I can still dig on this. Its not too dull, too repetitive or too brash.

Well played, Morbid Angel, well played.

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  1. That last song is such a weird track for a single.

    Also Sandoval is able to play that fast by doing that heel-toe double-tap method, which he might actually have invented. You’re right, he’s sensible with his use of blasts on this album. I really like this and may listen to more.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I really enjoyed this, both the review itself and the narrative intro leading into it. Unfortunately, I am one of those seemingly allergic to the gruff vocals so Death and Black Metal have been hard paths for me.

    I saw Morbid Angel at a festival a couple years ago and wrote the following lines afterward: The veteran death metallers seemed to be the most accomplished instrumentalists of the day, at least as judged by my own novice ears. I only wish I could have found a way past my disdain for growled vocals so I could have more fully participated in the Morbid joy. If and when Morbid Angel offer up instrumental versions of their tunes, I will not only be first in line to buy them, I will gladly become an international ambassador for their greatness.

    Your review once again makes me wish I could just get over myself and embrace the growls…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Covenant is a very important album, the most important one in their entire catalog, I’d say. Great album. I know you said you’re not the biggest death metal fan in the world – which is fine, of course! – but Covenant is as important to Morbid Angel as the album Human is to Death.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh! I knew I forgot to mention something in my last comment! You were discussing the tuning in “World of Shit” and whether or not it was drop B tuning. Nope. Trey used a seven string guitar tuned down a half step – so it’s really in Bb. He also uses the seven string in “God Of Emptiness”. Hope this helps.

    Liked by 1 person

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