Review Summary: death metal was never the same
One of death metal’s earliest practitioners, Morbid Angel always appeared larger than the hell-spawned genre they helped create. They just always possessed a more profound understanding of what death metal could become – even if the initial vision wasn’t theirs, through the eyes of Trey Azagthoth and his cohorts Morbid Angel demonstrated the difference between taking a genre to its limits and playing as if the limitations didn’t exist. An unconventional band in an unconventional genre, Morbid Angel’s inherent weirdness was not only the means that separated them from the growing boom of death metal in the early 90’s, but it was also why they led it. Simply put, Morbid Angel was and always will be a cornerstone band for extreme metal, an awe-inspiring institution of how perseverance, practice and vision can see you doing the supposed impossible.
A hardworking band when it came to every aspect of their early years together (changing their own bus tires on tour, non-stop rehearsing, etc..), the members of Morbid Angel approached everyday life with the some vicious intent as they did music, very much living a “death metal” lifestyle. With these blue-collar ethics in hand, the progression between the band’s first album, Altars of Madness and their sophomore record Blessed Are The Sick is absolutely immense, a progression in every sense of the word. As intense and forward thinking as it was, Altars of Madness was still very much shackled to the thrashy-bounds Morbid Angel was founded on; Blessed Are The Sick forcefully discards these restraints, freeing the band and paving the way for Azagthoth’s bizarre genius to finally take fruition, pushing death metal in the abyss beyond reach forever.
Whereas Altars of Madness was crafted during a time when death metal was still all about achieving an undeterred terminal velocity by 1991 and the release of Blessed Are The Sick that air had cleared, allowing for a major growth to take place within the still fledgling genre. Far from a straightforward affair, Blessed Are The Sick finally started to display the hidden glut of Azagthoth’s influences, allowing elements of psychedelic and classical to permeate the album’s unwaveringly dense infrastructure. Finally implementing the “trippy” sound he really always desired, Blessed… is noticeably slower than its predecessor, but is in return more dynamic, exploring the contrasts between faster and slower sections and truly unorthodox song structures.
An apocalyptic wasteland decimated by the gargantuan riffs of Lords Azagthoth and Brunelle, Blessed… fully unearths the wizardry of these guitar sorcerers, showing the two summoning more and more hellfire-tinged riffs and solos as the album progresses. A Musician’s musician within a musician’s musicians community, Trey’s guitar style (first truly seen here) is one of Morbid Angel’s most distinguishing traits; the man invoked pure chaos, skewing conventional guitar arrangements to create a nightmarish glimpse of the many boundaries death metal had still yet to break. While thrash undeniably resonates from time to time (which can mostly be attributed several rerecorded songs originally from Abominations of Desolation) Azagthoth’s compositions are frightening looks into the past and present; vestiges of thrash will always remain in death metal music, but now they are contorted and deformed, a true display of just how far death metal’s ambitious spirit has pushed heavy metal into hideous extremity.
Adopting a doomy, slower groove-based edge, there are very few moments on this album where you won’t be compelled to band your head; improving greatly on the tinny production of previous records, Blessed Are The Sick’s ball-sagging heavy sound provides the rhythm sections tormented playing greater weight, a true asset when it comes to having ambitions of being the heaviest band out there. Perhaps to match the growing heaviness of the music, David Vincent’s once raspy bark has been replaced by thick, pronounced gutturals, decipherable but still malevolent enough to ensure your little sister WILL NOT be picking this up for a casual listen anytime soon. It’s almost hard to believe that when Pete Sandoval first joined Morbid Angel in 1988 he was unable to perform double bass beats - by 1991 he was not only one of the most technically proficient, but also creative drummers in death metal. Whether he knew it or not at the time though, that was his fate since his decision to join the band; with off the wall guitar-playing like Azagthoth’s, Sandoval’s evolution was undoubtedly forced upon him, in a do-or-die situation of keep up or get left behind.
Often remembered as one of the group’s best efforts, it’s in an album like Blessed Are The Sick that the extreme metal world has gained an undying respect for; pushing the limits during Its time, Morbid Angel’s second record was a groundbreaking release for death metal, giving it a clear dynamic perspective that few had yet to give it credit for. Released during one of death metal’s most successful periods, if 1991 was the year of memorable death metal albums, Blessed Are The Sick is just a bit more memorable than most.