Formation And Classic Era – Abominations Of Desolation To Domination
Trey Azagthoth formed Morbid Angel in Tampa, Florida with Mike Browning in 1984 and together they recorded the album Abominations of Desolation, including a few songs that would later reappear in more developed form. The underwhelming recording would remain shelved until 1991 by which time Browning, along with the rest of the original line up, had been jettisoned to make way for charismatic frontman David Vincent and extreme metal drum pioneer, Pete Sandoval; both of Grindcore instigators Terrorizer (Browning would later reappear in Death Metal mavericks Nocturnus alongside prodigious guitar talent, Mike Davis). Meanwhile, completed by second guitarist, Richard Brunelle, the stage was set for Morbid Angel to record their all-time Death Metal classic Altars of Madness.
Altars was a short, sharp shock of Slayer-derived riffs and chord progressions spun up to dizzying tempos and augmented by Azagthoth’s flailing guitar solos and Vincent’s growling baritone. The album, released in 1989 on the label that would support them through much of their career, Earache Records, is widely regarded as being one of the most important Death Metal records of all time. “Chapel Of Ghouls” alone provided a genre defining anthem that stood out like a putrefying thumb on the label’s Grind Crusher compilation, alongside luminaries such as Napalm Death, Carcass and the horribly underrated Bolt Thrower.
Morbid Angel toured the album extensively then re-entered the studio, delivering yet another benchmark, Blessed Are The Sick, in 1991. Blessed saw the band evolve almost immeasurably while retaining their occult and Lovecraftian lyrical themes, the intricate riffs and chaotic solos were still present, only now the whole thing was peppered with melodic interludes and atmospheric waypoints. This is no more evident than on the Brunelle-penned acoustic guitar piece, “Desolate Ways” or the intro to the title track. While the light and shade of the album alienated some at first, Morbid Angel’s fan base was growing and wider recognition was coming.
With their third album, Covenant, Morbid Angel paired things back and went for lean sinewy songs and breakneck tempos rather than the pomp and ceremony of their sophomore effort. If Vincent had previously hinted at the vocalist he could become, this time he left no doubt on ground breaking tracks “God of Emptiness” and “Sworn To The Black“. Brunelle was out (but would briefly return when the band opened for Black Sabbath), leaving Azagthoth as sole guitarist and the album was produced by Flemming Rasmussen; in demand since delivering Metallica’s Master of Puppets. Covenant went on to sell over 150,000(!) copies in the US after they signed with Warner Bros. imprint Giant Records, the smell of money attracting the bigger label but the landscape of Heavy Metal was changing.
1995 represented a worrying time for bands like Morbid Angel, Alt Rock had arrived and Metal bands were finding themselves increasingly marginalised. Those who had survived the death of Thrash must have wondered what, besides a P45, the future had in store for them. Morbid Angel’s response was to tag on a few contemporary tricks and dive head first into another flat out assault on the senses. Brunelle’s guitar slot had been given over to one Erik Rutan, who had the ability to hold pace with Azagthoth’s fleet right hand style and who’s exotic guitar leads sat beautifully next to the boss’ chaotic shredding.
Disturbingly though, front man David Vincent was beginning to take heat for his purported national socialist leanings. While some contest this, citing his lyrical interest in Ancient Rome and it’s themes of conquest, prejudice and orgiastic rites, the lyrics on songs such as “This Means War” and even the classic “Where The Slime Live” do make you wonder what exactly he was getting at. Accordingly, rifts began to appear within the band’s power base and Azagthoth would later dismiss Vincent’s lyrics of the time as “mundane”. After the live album, Entangled in Chaos in 1996, Vincent exited Morbid Angel for Industrial-Rock chancers the Genitorturers, fronted by his then wife.