Review Summary: Good musicianship + Incredible technique + Everything that concerns the occult = Covenant.
I like Morbid Angel. A lot. I know the majority consider Morbid Angel one of those bands that started death metal but nothing more. Apparently not too many people think Morbid Angel was even essential after either Covenant or Domination... but I'm one of those 'uber-fans' if you will. I also don't profess to be particularily un-biased or even a good reviewer at all, but I want to dedicate a bit of my time to write about "Covenant", the third Morbid Angel record.
This was recorded in a time when death metal was rather underground, but amongst the people who were aware of it, it could not have been a more popular or exciting time. Metalheads clamored any and likely all death metal they could get their hands on, and I'm pretty sure this was one album that EVERYONE had. It even got some mainstream media attention, which is pretty cool. That did not however, mean that Morbid Angel was becoming more accessible, no sir. Covenant is still as brutally wicked as any other Morbid Angel out there, if not more. Actually, this is in my eyes (and I know I'm not alone) the most consistently outstanding recording by the classic death metal pioneer. It's their highest and tallest opus; their record-setter; the big cheese of their career; the one 40 minute span where virtually everything clicked and turned out purely golden.
What I'm saying is, this album saw Dave, Trey, and Pete at their finest. They've written other great essentials, but what I'm telling you is that if you could only buy one Morbid Angel CD, buy Covenant.
Track-by-track time now?
Opening the best-selling death metal record of all-time is Rapture, a track of many talents. One of which would be the lack of a preface or intro. That's one of the things I admire about this entire album, is that Morbid Angel focused less on creating an attractively structured package and went for a more to-the-point approach, containing much less continuity than it's predecessor. Also apparent is a more polished sound to improve the listening experience, which I find to be great. Not much to say about the actual song since it's a classic and everyone knows it. One nice touch that is out-of-the-norm, is a very intense and sporadic guitar solo that I think adds to the overall chaos that Morbid Angel likes to depict in their music. Overall, it does everything a album-opener should: it summarizes "Covenant" spectacularly. 4.5/5
Kickstarting immediately after Rapture is what we like to call Pain Divine. The two beginning tracks go hand-in-hand, even if this one is a little less of a standout, it's still got all the substance that makes a Morbid Angel song excellent. Innovative guitar riffing and drums that beat the head to a pulp are in full-force. Not to mention we've got one of the most approachable choruses in MA's catalog. Fans of Morbid Angel probably growl along with it when they play this record, I would not doubt it or put it past them. 3.5/5
World of *** (The Promised Land)
Yeah we could all tell by now that the lyrics were heavily based on the occult and, what most people would consider 'vulgar topics', but I REALLY appreaciate that this track is essentially the culmination of all that. The lyrics are absolutely explosive and have the attitude of not giving a *** about anything anymore. What's more is that the music perfectly matches this concept, with some sludge influences. And oh man, do I ever get euphoric notions when Dave begins to sing. He sounds sloppy, but in the best way possible. Ugh, bottom line is that this track is awesome as ***. 4/5
Vengeance is Mine
The songs are getting shorter, but arguably are packing in more quality. The entire duration of Vengeance is Mine is spent on the pure essence of what makes Morbid Angel amazing. I do believe it separates itself from prior songs due to it's more technical approach and excellent drumming that holds the line and either flanks of the guitar/vocal onslaught. Every second is crucial and things like a neo-classical solo makes a brief appearance, and is one of the few times when you can understand the evil vocals. Finishing the song is probably the only time when the drums become center stage and the guitar really listens to what they have to say. A couple quickly-though-expertly executed fills ensue and the song closes. 4.5/5
The Lion's Den
The song, for all intents and purposes, is just another showcase of extreme death metal. However, what makes this a stand-out is it's excellent middle section. Neither a verse nor a chorus, but a breakdown. The words that Dave spits out work so ***ing well in conjuction with the quickly-paced drums that it actually just may motivate the most calm of metal fans to thrust their heads repeatedly in a vertical fashion. "KILL 'EM ALL, KILL 'EM ALL FOR SLANDER! KILL 'EM ALL, AND MUTE THEIR WAYS". Come on.. what else would come after that? A TREY AZAGTHOTH SOLO, THAT'S WHAT! So yeah, basically the song wins another victory for Morbid Angel. 4/5
Blood on My Hands
In comparison to the rest of this fantastic record, this song falls just a pinch short of greatness. That said, it's still a good song that circles around a revolving riff that is actually quite catchy and appealing even for death metal. I can't say much for lyrics, as they are basically just building upon already established madness. You COULD skip this song, but it isn't bad so I suggest listening to it regardless. 3/5
Angel of Disease
The album just keeps going. Our next stop falls upon this thrash-inspired track showcasing two really outstanding aspects: higher-pitched, and more demonic sounding vocals, and I'd have to say about seven or eight mini-solos by Trey. This guitar-work is nothing short of astounding. The composition is also fantastic, bringing in a slower middle section to keep the listener at bay, but then just before it gets tedious the soloing rips right through the carcass of the rhythm section again. So yes, it may not appeal to everyone for sounding so atypical to the rest of the album, but for those that appreaciate a little eclecticism here and there, this should definitely do it for you. 4/5
Sworn to the Black
The penultimate track brings nothing new to the table, but does bring the return of Dave's deeper vocals, as well as a more traditional song structure (though still peppered with a few guitar-solos). One part of this song that is really nice occurs in the exact middle about two minutes in; there is messily chaotic guitar-work that very much resembles something you'd hear on a late-80's metal record which is cool to have on what was considered at the time to be a more matured sound of death metal! 3.5/5
One of the largest Morbid Angel trademarks is having a less-than-two-minute track or two in an album. I believe Trey explained them as simple pieces of music to generate atmosphere for an oncoming track. This song definitely acts as a calm before the storm since 'God of Emptiness' is such an opus. I certainely like it, but all in all it's kinda' boring if you're looking for intensity or talent to praise. There is none here. 2/5
God of Emptiness
Epic. That's one word to describe this slightly-longer, more elaborate Morbid Angel track. A lesser known fact is that this song is actually split into two acts ('The Accuser' & 'The Tempter') which obviously lends one to believe that the song switches gears halfway through. That assumption is true although the song never feels like two pieces, it's defintely one large epic. The lyrics themselves act as dialogue between two opposing forces, and I believe it's safe to say these are the best lyrics on the album. The vocals that Dave uses for the chorus are highly reminiscient of the vocals on Domination, so that inspiration likely come from this song. They are rather good and have a warbled sort of sound to them.
But oh.. I haven't even talked about any of the other instruments.. don't worry, it's nothing new (albiet much less aggressive) and it IS well put together. The single greatest thing about this song though is the coda. Dave unleashes quite possibly the most unique and iconic singing I have ever heard in death metal. The devilish chant of "Bow to me Faithfully... Bow to me Splendidly!" is quite the pleasure to the ears. 5/5
Download worthy: "Rapture", "Vengeance is Mine".
Uniquely crafted standouts: "Angel of Disease", "Nar Mattaru"+"God of Emptiness".
This album refined on Morbid Angel's craft in an amazing way. Many consider it Morbid Angel's last great effort, while some believe it's just another link in the chain. With no notable detractors aside from maybe not being terribly different than other releases (sound-wise), or perhaps even losing the old-school production that gave Altars of Madness such an evil-sounding edge, I'd have to recommend this to anyone who partakes in listening to death metal on a regular basis.
And if you are interested in seeing what all the damn metalheads at your school are on about with their morbid appearance and uncomprehensible music, definitely give this sick-fire record a spin, to discover the genius that lies within.