Review Summary: The sophmore high
There are few names more revered in death metal than that of Morbid Angel. The Florida legends helped pioneer and refine death metal to the point where the genre likely wouldn't be where it is today without them. Their 1989 masterpiece "Altars of Madness" didn't so much make a dent in the then burgeoning death metal scene so much as it left an enormous crater, immediately catapulting them into extreme metal royalty. The following two years of relentless touring propelled the band into mainstream attention and helped expose death metal to audiences across the world. Naturally, the stakes couldn't be higher for their follow-up album, as in the two years that followed the release of "Altars," death metal had grown from a niche underground movement to a large scale, worldwide phenomenon, and Morbid Angel would have to evolve as well if they were to stay on top of the flock.
"Blessed are The Sick" takes the ultra fast, thrashing, death metal of their debut and refines it while expanding their songwriting to include new dynamics. The album sees the band slowing down to a brutal crawl on several songs like "Fall from Grace" and "Blessed are The Sick/Leading the Rats," perhaps taking influence from fellow Florida death metal band Autopsy, who were also experimenting with slow tempos around the same time period. "Fall From Grace" especially shows off the band's more dynamic approach to songwriting, beginning with a lurching doom riff before erupting into a cacophony of blast beats and high tempo insanity and finally slowing down again into a bizarre spoken word section. It's a hell of a way to open the record and right away it shows that Morbid Angel mean business. The title track also features some very odd riffs that would foreshadow the more experimental directions that the band would take in the future.
The album isn't all doom and despair though, as songs like "Rebel Lands" and "Day of Suffering" are short, direct songs that burst forward with the same sense of intensity as their debut. They add a good sense of variety to "Blessed" and remind you that this is a band who can play just as fast and hard as the many other newer bands they inspired. Morbid Angel have also chosen to rerecord a few songs from their first demo, "Abominations of Desolation," including the album highlight "The Ancient Ones." They do a very good job adapting these songs to fit their new sound, Pete Sandoval's hyper aggressive drumming especially makes them feel like a step up from the original versions.
Indeed the performances here are all absolutely top notch. Guitarist and mastermind Trey Azagthoth really begins to hone in on his unique, alien style of riffing while also delivering some of the best solos of his career demonstrating a strong influence from classical music in his shredding. Vocalist and bassist David Vincent has evolved too, deepening his growl significantly since "Altars." Lyrically, he continues the to write about the usual themes of satanism and blasphemy, nothing out of the usual for death metal.
"Blessed" also sees the introduction of brief instrumental interlude tracks, something that would become somewhat of a signature for the band. There's about 4 of them counting the intro and outro, and I can't help but feel that a couple of them could have been cut, as they don't really contribute much to the album's overall mood. Still, its a minor complaint, and the interludes don't disrupt the experience nearly as much here as they do on certain subsequent Morbid Angel albums.
"Blessed Are The Sick" may not be the revolutionary, genre defining, masterpiece that "Altars" was, but it still manages to capture all of its predecessor's energy while expanding the band's songwriting and delivering a near equally fantastic experience. It's one of those rare instances of a band avoiding the dreaded sophomore slump after releasing such a monumental debut. By expanding on their sound, Morbid Angel kept themselves at the forefront of the death metal scene and crafted another classic of the genre that's an absolutely essential listen for any fan of extreme music.