Review Summary: Like Morbid Angel's other two pinnacles, Covenant won't just kick you in the family jewels, it'll rip them off and feed them to the dogs.
Every genre has its pioneering bands, the bands that first perfect the sound that the genre will become known for. Death metal is no different, and Morbid Angel is easily among the most well-known of the first wave of the genre. With absolutely furious riffing, abnormally fast drumming for the time and demonic, half-grunted vocals, Morbid Angel's first album, 1989's Altars of Madness
became a trump-card within the wretched sub-genre. Slayer-esque riffs and religion-despising lyrics were all part of the package for this recipe, and it showcased the spectacular kit-work of Pete Sandoval, who swiftly became one of the most praised drummers in the underground scene. Between then and 1993's Covenant
, they released the highly touted Blessed Are the Sick
in 1991 and their previously unreleased demo, Abominations of Desolation
in the same year. The former of which, elaborated on the formula brought to the table by Altars of Madness
and set a new one for their next album, Covenant
Kicking off the album, "Rapture" gives listeners an effective, memorable vision of what the album generally sends up to the plate. One thing the victim (listener) will guaranteed notice upon first listen is the positively schizophrenic drumming of Pete Sandoval. He literally blasts out of the speakers with every pounding kick and snare drum hit. His infamous blast beats, psychotically active fills and unquestionably rapid double bass work propel the album forward at often lightning speeds and tempos. Even when the album slows down in pace, for instance on "World of Sh*t (The Promised Land)" and "God of Emptiness", Pete continues clobbering away at his kit, bombarding the helpless listener with his barrage of creativity and finesse. Moving along with the theme of the rhythm section, bassist (and vocalist, but more information on that later) David Vincent is partially masked by the rather shoddy production (it'd be nice if this had a re-master like Altars of Madness
), however, he does shine through at times, like through some of the passages in "Angel of Disease" and also where guitar solos dominate.
The fret-board abuse on this album is trademark Morbid Angel. Trey Azagthoth (who also performs keyboards when needed) maximizes rapidness and churns out often incredibly aggressive, hellish, Slayer-influenced licks, crazed tremolo picking and head-spinning leads that will make the listener dizzy. This guy has enough shred in him to cut Yellowstone National Park clean of trees, as in evidence by his maniacal, rabid soloing, which takes over several times throughout the album. Many will dismiss the demented shredding as mindless wankery, but they would be forgetting that it is all part of the Morbid Angel puzzle, and if fits the sound as well as anything else of the album. Not all of the riffs are pure skull-bashing as well, occasionally doomy and/or melodic riffs make themselves apparent, for an example of the latter, check "Pain Divine". Trey seems to know just what is right for the particular situation in which the particular riffs show themselves, enhancing the listener's experience greatly. Vocally, the record is mainly commanded by David Vincent's unhallowed half grunt that sends a chill up the spine. Spoken word vocals also make themselves known, particularly on Morbid Angel discography highlight, "God of Emptiness". Embraced by distortion and creating an almost bubbling sound, David chants out the lines, "Let the children come to me, Their mother loves me, so shall they, Woman, bleeding, ate my gifts, Man was close behind, Just like a snake I'm slithering, Thru my world divine, And like the cat I'm stalking, I'll take your soul and You'll, Be like me, In emptiness, free"
, which shiver to the bone and really capture all that the album stands for in one passage of malice. As in evidence by that aforementioned statement, the lyrics are often satanic, occult, anti-religious and assailing. They are unforgiving and are among some of the hurdles that listeners will have to overcome if they are to enjoy the full spectrum of a Morbid Angel record.
Highlights of Covenant
become rather obvious with repeated listens. The aforementioned "God of Emptiness" would probably come out on top in a top track argument. Its variety of crunching, sludgy, crawling riffs and speedier, razor-blade-like, precision-filled offerings of the drumming, combined with the previously noted vocal climaxes, it embodies the image of possessed presences and fiery chambers throughout. Other hell-hashes worth noting include the furious opener, "Rapture", the melody-tinged "Pain Divine", the fluid, yet riling tempo changes of "World of Sh*t (The Promised Land)" and the destructive, brash "The Lion's Den". Unfortunately, the album tapers somewhat in consistency towards the end of the record ("God of Emptiness" is an obvious exception), with several tracks, including the unneeded instrumental, "Nar Mattaru" showing signs of weakness. Thank god (or the devil, if you prefer) that it ends well.
As a whole, Covenant
is another exemplary showing from Morbid Angel, and perhaps the last truly essential album from the band. It was yet another example of why the band could bend the spine in several directions, and is an effective death metal album to this day. Pick this one up, if you haven't, death metal fans. Covenant
gets a 4 out of 5.