Morbid Angel - Blessed Are The Sick
Earache Records
Death Metal
13 songs (39:41)
Release year: 1991
Morbid Angel, Earache Records
Reviewed by Goat

Depending on who you ask, Morbid Angel's second album is either David Vincent and co. messing up badly, a piece of shit between two slices of perfection in the forms of Altars Of Madness and Covenant, or it's a Death Metal masterpiece that threatens the band's debut in the quality stakes. Well, I'll tie my flag to the mast; Altars Of Madness is without a doubt Morbid Angel's best album, and one of those Death Metal classics without which the genre would look very different. Ownership of Altars is mandatory for Death Metal fans, and that's all that need be said about it.

Yet Blessed Are The Sick is undoubtedly a classic album. A big step forward from the intensity of the band's debut, it reflected the progressive and experimental mindset of its creators, broadening their musical horizons as well as showing off their instrumental and compositional skill. Admittedly, many prefer the return to intensity that is 1993's Covenant, sure to find itself a classic spot one day in the future, but Blessed Are The Sick (BATS from here on) has more than enough to hold its own. From the weird and creepy Intro onwards, this album simply writhes with personality and atmosphere, the first track proper's sludge-filled tones setting out quite a different path to domination for Morbid Angel.

Even the production is twisted - highlighting vocals, and perversely reducing Richard Brunelle and Trey Azagthoth's guitars to deep moans and Pete Sandoval's drums to a brittle clatter. Yet it works; if you allow yourself to get used to the change from Altars then BATS has such sights to show you... I agonised over whether to give this album a 'Progressive Death Metal' tag, given the complex structures at work and the usage of piano and spoken vocals, yet it doesn't seem interested in experimenting so much as simply existing; the blunt heaviness of tracks like Brainstorm verges on Punkish, it's Death Metal distilled to its base elements. Those who have heard later albums from Morbid Angel will know the ease with which the band can slip into a killer groove, but it's still quite a shock to hear something as modern as Rebel Lands all the way back from 1991 - modern giants like Behemoth are still repeating many of the same tricks first taught here, the rolling brutality, the stop-start structure with repeated motifs, and highly technical drumming holding the whole crazy thing together.

Of course, it's hard not to feel at least a little disappointed with Doomsday Celebration, a deceptively throwaway synth interlude stuck between Rebel Lands and Day Of Suffering, but it's still distinctly unsettling, and the sudden switch back to Death Metal when the latter track starts always makes me jump although I'm listening for it. Who could forget the moment when Blessed Are The Sick/Leading The Rats fades away under an Eastern flute before the album throws the unbelievable Thy Kingdom Come at you, a Death Metal track which it has been proven scientifically impossible not to enjoy? It combines progression with aggression perfectly, the viciousness of Vincent's vocals at odds with the audible bass rumble snaking around the riffs and blasts, the wailing, almost squeaky solo taking Slayer's much-ridiculed cliché and turning it into a unique strength.

I'd be remiss if I didn't tell you of the brilliant and intense way that Abominations builds up, spiralling deceptively simplistic riffing into a tower of Babelesque progressive power, topped with David Vincent as a muezzin of Hell, snarling an attack upon the gates of Heaven. Again, the songwriting here is little short of genius; Desolate Ways' acoustic wistfulness continues the atmospheric sojourn before the sudden, solo-led assault of The Ancient Ones surges forth, a rage that is almost Napalm Death-esque boiling in the background as your attention is taken by the upfront catchiness. Some readers may remember a thread on this site's forum where some trollish newcomer attempted to 'prove' that BATS had poor compositional technique, and the memory still makes my blood boil - this is anything but poor.

The artist who painted the cover art, Jean Delville (1867 - 1953), was a Belgian Symbolist and Theosophist who rejected evolution in favour of a mystical belief system whereby the body was a prison for the soul and man was capable of spiritual perfection through reincarnation; rejecting materialism and sensuality in favour of perfection of will. It's worth taking a moment to Google a larger version of "Les Tresors de Satan" - I had no idea of the piece's underwater setting for the artist's vision of Hell, for one, nor the fact that the stream of humanity shown seem not in torment so much as in thrall to each other's nakedness. BATS is something of a concept album, if you read the lyrics, and the spiritual elements are interestingly complemented by the well-chosen artwork - although Morbid Angel clearly held views somewhat opposite to M. Delville, Trey Azagthoth's esoteric leanings have always been obvious. For an art buff like myself this is all fascinating stuff; Death Metal is, alas, rarely this cerebral, yet BATS is more than enjoyable even if you ignore the extraneous stuff and focus on the base Metal, the highly important and influential music which took Death Metal from its primitive origins and set it on course to become a world-conquering beast. Not up to Altars Of Madness, perhaps, but different and still more than necessary in its own right - relistenable as hell, constantly revealing new depths; what Death Metal should be but rarely is.

Killing Songs :
Album as a whole, but Fall From Grace, Rebel Lands, Thy Kingdom Come, Abominations, and The Ancient Ones are all highlights
Goat quoted CLASSIC
Other albums by Morbid Angel that we have reviewed:
Morbid Angel - Kingdoms Disdained reviewed by Andy and quoted 76 / 100
Morbid Angel - Illud Divinum Insanus reviewed by Jake and quoted 86 / 100
Morbid Angel - Entangled In Chaos reviewed by Goat and quoted no quote
Morbid Angel - Formulas Fatal to the Flesh reviewed by Tony and quoted 84 / 100
Morbid Angel - Domination reviewed by Tony and quoted 81 / 100
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