Review Summary: The pain of being misunderstood, your most daring effort unrewarded...
German death metal seems destined for oblivion these days. Atrocity
’s surreal take on early technical death metal and Dark Millennium
’s equally unique approach to death/doom rarely get the full credit that they deserve. Fleshcrawl
’s filthy sound and heaving grooves are not as beloved as similar churners coming out of Finland. Jumpin’ Jesus
and their riff salads remain overshadowed by American counterparts such as Ripping Corpse
. And who’s even heard of Vomiting Corpses
and their take on 90s twisting, techy Pestilence
? Nevermind Anasarca’s hodgepodge of brutal/tech death with a uniquely melodic sensibility.
Out of the whole scene, Morgoth might be the most well-known these days. Ironically they seem best remembered for their early output - finely crafted and well-written Florida-style death metal. Europe’s own Death
as some called them, as their music didn’t just wear its influences on its sleeves, it practically got face tattoos of them. In fairness, they did genuinely manage to realise the style’s potential, putting “authentic” bands like Massacre
to shame. But Morgoth never intended on being your average death metal band recycling what the pioneers were doing, nor did they ever really intend on being your other average death metal band recycling their own material over and over. They sought to take their sound to the next level, and a great first step towards this end was their second album, 1993’s Odium. It was for the most part still a death metal album, elevated by the integration of industrial and gothic influences that gave it a unique sound and atmosphere. It was a more mature effort, inspired and deliberate, but perhaps not what their followers expected or wanted…
I feel sorry for the fanatics, I really do, but more than that I feel sorry for Morgoth themselves. Because they took a chance on their own creative ambition, unwilling to be held back by expectations. They pursued this in earnest and with conviction and the effort was largely wasted on an audience that either failed to understand or refused to appreciate it.
Feel Sorry for the Fanatic is in fact Morgoth’s third album, released in September 1996; their last album of the classic era before the 2010s reunion, their least beloved, their most forgotten. It completes the shift away from death metal territory, fully embracing a more industrial and alternative sound without hesitation, without pretense and without sacrificing intensity, integrity or songwriting. Trend-hopping this is not; it is a confident realisation of Morgoth’s artistic vision.
On Odium, the band introduced their new ideas carefully and gradually, almost as if seeking to bridge the gap between the death metal of old and their new direction. This is not the case here. A brief clang of machinery is all you get before being thrust right into angular Voivod
-esque riffs, a far cry from previous bludgeonings and chainsaws! Guitars ring out as if seeking to envelop everything in metallic noise with frantic tremolo-picked shreds nowhere to be heard, while Marc Grewe trades his Schuldiner-esque ferocious rasp for a more gravelly shout recalling Jaz Coleman of Killing Joke
. Rüdiger Hennecke still provides a steady percussive assault, more hypnotic in how it drives the music forward than overwhelming, and the production continues to strike a great balance of clean and deliberate but not sterile. It hardly sounds like the same band, yet the way everything coalesces into a coherent and cohesive sound is undoubtedly Morgoth. And this is all plain as day from track one.
Last Laugh is a slower alternative metal affair whose mid tempo grooves and somewhat anguished vocals wouldn’t sound out of place on Prong
’s The Cleansing, and while we’re drawing comparisons here the angular post-thrash stylings and jangly guitar chorus on the third track are strikingly evocative of Coroner
’s Grin. What follows is sure to ruffle a few metal feathers seeing as it is essentially a fully electronic interlude starting with a subdued techno feel before building into a more electro-industrial sound. With that said, synths barely feature on the album, only reappearing briefly on the next two tracks. In other words, Morgoth’s take on industrial metal draws less from the likes of Ministry
and Front Line Assembly
than it does from 90s Killing Joke
Guitars switch effortlessly between moody ringing and slower crushing riffs; tom drums are used expertly not only for rhythmic diversity but adding weight and emphasis at the perfect moments; the singing is coarse in a way that projects not death metal aggression but a more hopeless sort of anger mixed with angst. Everything meshes together seamlessly and organically, contributing to a bleak, vaguely oppressive atmosphere in tune with the broader gestalt of 90s alternative music.
What we have here is not your average metal album, nor by any means a commercially-motivated one. It is the well-crafted product of both genuine passion and attention to detail. It is neither overindulgent nor overlong, and manages accessibility without trading away depth. Fans may have disavowed it, but the band members themselves have not. In a more recent interview singer Marc Grewe draws a loose comparison between the trajectory of Morgoth’s sound and that of Voivod
. Considering the way both bands embraced change throughout the 90s and even some of the specific influences they both drew from, it makes sense. They could have stagnated for the sake of pleasing fanatics, but chose bold new directions instead. And to the less narrow-minded, it was absolutely worth it.