Review Summary: Domination. Slaughter. Satan. You know this, you love this, you need this album.
For some genres, there are pretty much albums that ensured they even existed in the first place. Then there are albums that pretty much just got them on the map. You know there are classics in heavy metal, like Reign In Blood
is for thrash metal, or Land of the Free
for power metal. Well, death metal had Death in the beginning, and when the Florida scene started evolving, they also got one of the most enduring metal bands of our time: the death metallers henceforth to be known as Morbid Angel.
If you wonder what death metal used to sound like before Cannibal Corpse took it and turned it into a gorefest (pun intended for those who love that particular metal band), look no further than Morbid Angel's debut record. This is the thing that got people to love death metal. This is the very essence, the studs on your leather wristbands, the spikes, the patches on your denim jacket, the beard to accompany your ass-long hair. These are the fingers on your heavy metal hand. That's just how classic this is.
And it's a classic because when nobody else was doing this, or just a few bands, Morbid Angel put out an album with riffs that grooved, solos that melted faces, vocals that scared the living bejesus out of little kids and old grandmothers, and drums pounding heavier than ten ton anvils. Death metal would be done faster than this later on (as the blastbeat got more and more popular), but no band uses it more tastefully than Morbid Angel, who thankfully realised death metal isn't all about blasting but also needs a bit of groove, chug and heaviness. There's enough technical madness for any metal lover, but there's also enough groove for everyone who isn't all about the instruments.
David Vincent would also be the inspiration for many vocalists to come. Influential musicians such as Mikael Akerfeldt have named him as an influence, and although he would be better on later releases, it's easy to see why the young David would be such an incredible persona for the people who came afterwards. His voice, though only a half-grunt (occasionally it sounds as if he were whispering his grunts), is scary as all hell, and the Satanic blasphemy he spits (yeah, yeah, it's overdone, but when these guys did it it was still cool) is vicious yet endearingly tongue-in-cheek. The mark of a good heavy metal musician is prevalent: they know when to be serious and when their music consists of so much self-irony they realise that irony and just build on it.
Trey Azaghtoth has always been the main MA songwriter, and thank god he is: thanks to him this album is blessed with riffs like the one on "Immortal Rites" or "Chapel of Ghouls". The most important thing about this album was always the heaviness; people always say "Trey's solos are so good", but they are pretty much just really scales played really fast, which almost amounts to high-pitched noise at times. He's technical, but his solos aren't that memorable. The riffs he writes, and the main hooks on this album are always winners, and it's no secret that any death metal band worth its salt has probably ripped off something from here. It's a bit of a bummer that this was recorded in 1989, and in Morrisound studios, because this could have used a bit more low end and punch, and it would have been even better were this released in say 2003. But then again, the album's rawness has an endearing quality, and the riffs would just have been sonically better; musically they remain at the same impeccable quality.
After this was released, there have been many worthy death metal releases (just think Cynic, Death, Suffocation, Deicide, your pick). But almost all of them owe a debt to this album, and almost all of metal owes it to themselves to have heard this record at one point. Because when it comes to discussing this album, even the logo and the cover are classic. Evil, Satanic, distorted, almost comic-book esque; it's so stereotypical, but it's just so good and it just works so well in context. If you like metal, you need this album, without a shadow of a doubt. Morbid Angel and death metal just don't get any better.