Saturday, March 24, 2007

Sepultura - Morbid Visions (1986)


Morbid Visions is the first full-length album from Brazil's Sepultura. Not much had changed since Bestial Devastation, although they spent seven days in the studio rather than two. Released in November 1986, on Cogumelo Records, this record represents the darkest period of the band's existence. While some would erroneously label this as Thrash or Death Metal, it actually belongs to the First Wave of Black Metal. Their influences are extremely obvious, owing quite a bit to the old Venom, Slayer and Hellhammer / Celtic Frost records, especially.

This is the first Sepultura album that I ever bought, and it remains my favourite to this day. With the dramatic shift that they later took, most people are unaware that they ever crafted such dark and evil songs, but Morbid Visions is the first thing that comes to my mind when their name is mentioned. I remember many nights, all those years ago, listening to this right alongside the first few records from Venom, Slayer and Razor. It was difficult to share the brilliance of this release with anyone, as the only people that I knew who were into the band preferred Beneath the Remains and Arise. However, I always felt that their debut L.P. not only possessed so much more intensity and dark atmosphere, but also exuded a sense of sincerity and raw energy that soon faded with subsequent releases.

The music is a real mixture of their influences, taking the speed of Venom and Slayer while mixing in healthy doses of Celtic Frost's trademark mid-tempo sections. Despite later claims that the guitars were out of tune, the sound is perfect and the production is raw. The drumming is sort of hollow, which suits the razor-sharp guitar tone very well. It's hard to describe, but the differences between Morbid Visions and Schizophrenia are similar to those between Slayer's Hell Awaits and Reign in Blood. While the latter album from each features sound that is more in you face, the former still has a little breathing room that actually lends something to the overall atmosphere. It's almost as if the music was recorded in a cave, with the mics being positioned near the entrance rather than right on top of everything. Not the best analogy, but it will have to do.

The vocals are pure demonic evil and fit the music perfectly. Max lives up to his nickname at the time, as he sounds absolutely possessed. Sepultura really managed to go well beyond the levels of darkness inspired by the likes of Celtic Frost, as the vocals suit the music so much more than Tom Warrior's ever could have, and the music itself is far more lethal as well. To be honest, it is not very tough to see how Max's vocal style influenced bands that came later, especially Beherit.

As for the songs, themselves, the band really did a disservice to this album, by later claiming the only worthwhile piece of music on here was "Troops of Doom". While that song is fine, it is no more important than many of the other great songs that are found on this record. Judging by their later efforts, it's no surprise that they prefer something with a mid-tempo riff, but the truth of the matter is that Morbid Visions is dripping with evil atmosphere, reminiscent of Hell Awaits, in some ways. Tremolo riffs dominate much of the album, mixed in with some slower Thrash riffs, though the slow sections are usually utilized as intros or positioned near the middle of the songs, to add variation to the tempo. In particular, there's one hellish part, in the latter half of "Crucifixion", that embodies everything that this album was meant to convey. However, the highlight of the album has to be "Funeral Rites". After a slow intro, the speed picks up and some of the most visious riffs of the entire album are found here, as well as a very memorable (though brief) solo near the end.

Morbid Visions is an album that should accompany Satanic rituals. To best compliment the feeling that is contained within, it should be listened to in total darkness, or with only candles to illuminate the room. If you want something primitive, ugly and black as hell, this is highly recommended. It deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the early recordings from Venom, Bathory, Hellhammer / Celtic Frost, Destruction, Sodom, Possessed, Kreator, Sarcofago, Tormentor, etc. To call this album Death Metal or Thrash Metal really limits it and, of course, ignores the obvious Black Metal qualities of the release. If you are sick of modern garbage and its generic lack of atmosphere, you need only to look into the dark past. A demonic classic is waiting to consume your soul.

(Mar. 2007)