Friday, July 24, 2009

Unanimated - In the Forest of the Dreaming Dead (1993)

In May 1992, Unanimated entered Unicorn/Moose Studio and then finished recording in Noble House Studio, the following month. The result was a lethal dose of Swedish Death Metal known as In the Forest of the Dreaming Dead. Released in 1993, this record was a bit different than many of the other albums coming out of Stockholm, in the years that preceded it. Somehow, the atmosphere was more bleak and the sound shared small similarities with Black Metal. Of all the Swedish bands, Unanimated was more closely related to Necrophobic, rather than Entombed or Grave. That said, this band has a sound of their own, which is easily identifiable.

"At Dawn/Whispering Shadows" begins with a somber intro piece, including an acoustic melody and some whispered vocals. The feeling is quite depressive and mournful in these opening moments. This drags the listener down, deeper into the great nothingness, before unleashing a violent assault. After a minute or so, you are plunged into a merciless maelstrom of blasting drums, tremolo riffs and raspy vocals that convey a sense of death and agony. The vocalist possesses a good sound, giving the impression that he is half-rotted. The song has its faster moments, but the main pace is a little more subdued. It is melodic, while being forceful as well, and serves as a powerful opener.

"Through the gloomy night
The silent shadows
Reach out in the cold
And tear the dawn away"

A distant tremolo riff begins the next song, "Blackness of the Fallen Star". This is joined by a louder one, before transitioning to a completely different riff and a deep solo. Peter Stjärnvind keeps things together with the drumming, complimenting the guitar playing of Bolin and Mellberg. Daniel Lofthagen's bass is not a major factor, here. Of course, Micke Jansson's vocals adds a deathlike quality to the whole album. They're difficult to fully describe, as it isn't a high-pitched approach; rather, he utilizes a lower range but maintains a severe corpse-like raspy sound. There's a lot of variation in the temp, including faster moments and more mid-paced ones.

"Fire Storm" is next, beginning with the sounds of a funeral organ. This adds a nice effect, and is most likely the doing of Jocke Westman, the keyboardist. Following this brief intro, the song really blasts forth with an intense pace. By the time the first verse hits, things are a little more restrained. One can, clearly, hear similarities with some of their fellow Swedish Death Metal peers. It's not terribly obvious, but their origins are never in question. By the middle, there's a break where a keyboard melody is accompanied by a tremolo riff. It is reminiscent of the Phantasm theme, but not an exact replica, as used by Tormentor, Entombed and others. After this, there's a pretty decent solo. It's neither the best nor the worst; in other words, it works but there may have been some room for improvement.

A somber atmosphere is present in the earliest moments of "Storms From the Skies of Grief". It starts with a sorrowful lead solo, with an acoustic passage played underneath. This is, more or less, an instrumental. There's a single verse that is whispered and screamed, simultaneously. All of the solos serve a purpose, as does each acoustic note. An aura of sorrow and regret permeates your mind. At this point of the album, the whole atmosphere darkens.

"Through the Gates" begins with intense drumming and furious tremolo riffs that possess a cold feeling. This is a total contrast to what came before. They keyboards are utilized more than on the other songs, to add to the dark aura. As the song progresses, the pace slows down a bit. This is only for the refrain. Production-wise, the album sounds fairly clear, though not overdone. It's not quite as professional as an early Tiamat album, but it's done well enough. As the song reaches its conclusion, the pace returns to full speed.

"Black clouds in the sky opening my eyes
Dark reflections dancing before me
Light of the moon caressing the sky
The air that I breathe is so cold… so cold"

"Wind of a Dismal Past" has a slower tempo, in the opening moments, along with a sorrowful lead solo. This atmosphere doesn't last long, as the pace becomes more intense, for a bit. As the track goes along, it alternates between fast and mid-paced. The beginning and end possess more melodic elements than the song as a whole.

This is followed by a brief interlude, "Silence Ends". This is a keyboard piece, serving to create an eerie feeling. There are some strange sounds, giving the impression of damned souls wailing in the depths of the abyss as freezing winds cut through them and others, condemned to servitude, labour away for eternity.

"Mournful Twilight" wastes little time in getting right to the point. One of the riffs seems reminiscent of American Death Metal, of the Florida style. This is counteracted by the pure Scandinavian style with the razor-sharp tremolo riffs and even some horrific keyboard section to add to the wicked feel. There's a lot of tension in the riffing, and one almost wishes it could have been expanded. The track then ends with the sounds of thunder and rain, fading into nothingness.

Next is "In the Forest of the Dreaming Dead", which picks up where the previous one left off. It begins in an atmospheric and melodic manner, before increasing in intensity. The lyrics are almost more in line with the Black Metal bands of the era, rather than many of their Death Metal contemporaries. There is, definitely, something darker about them than the approach that some bands had adopted, by that point.

"See the candle of life
Burns out before your eyes
Like a mirrors reflection
Death is what you see"

The last song on here is "Cold Northern Breeze", which features the lyrics and vocals of Johan Edlund, of Tiamat. This one possesses a slower, more epic pace than some of the previous tracks. The atmosphere is one of sorrow and death. Johan seems to wail, in the distance, in a clean and anguished voice. Some of the riffs seem almost appropriate for Doom Metal, as the lead guitar adds some very nice touches. If this same mentality had been utilized throughout the entire record, it would have been even more enjoyable.

All in all, this is a good debut album. There are some moments where the band seems to hesitate to pull the trigger on an idea, moving on to something else before it was fully developed. However, that's only one person's opinion. In the Forest of the Dreaming Dead is one of those forgotten albums that you rarely hear about, these days, but certainly one worth seeking out.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Samael - Blood Ritual (1992)

In the grim year following the release of Worship Him, the musical landscape had changed, greatly. In particular, Black Metal was seeing some sort of rebirth, in the frozen land of Norway. Darkthrone, Burzum and Immortal had all released their debut albums, and the underground had taken notice. At a time when many musicians were jumping on the bandwagon, Samael simply continued down the darkened path that they had set out on, long before. They went to Germany to record their second album, Blood Ritual, which was produced by Waldemar Sorychta (already becoming known for his work with Unleashed and Tiamat). With Worship Him, Samael established themselves as the darkest band to ever come from Switzerland, earning their place in Black Metal history. Released in December 1992, Blood Ritual did well to solidify this.

Discovering this around the same time as Worship Him, I remember recording them both to an old 90-minute Sony cassette and wearing that thing out. Initially, this was my favorite of the two albums, and it accompanied me on many cold nights. This one joined Endless Pain, Persecution Mania and The Somberlain in marking this particular period. This album is just as dark, though a bit slower, than the first one. There are less fast songs / sections to be found, here. This is all about the murky atmosphere. It has its moments, but the overall impression is that it is more methodical and calculated in its assault.

The album begins with "Epilogue". It is quite brief, consisting of screams coming from some darkened dungeon, a horror-inspired keyboard theme and a brief spoken piece. Like any good intro, it sets the tone. In this case, the tone is much like that of an old Universal horror film, except that you are living this nightmare rather than watching in safety.

"Beyond the Nothingness" opens with a lethal, yet subdued, thrash riff. There is no urgency required here, as there is no escape. It is not necessary to go for the throat, right away, as you are trapped in the deepest dungeons, set to be tortured and slowly drained of all blood. The opening riff is similar to something from Slayer or Kreator, in a way. The vocals still retain the same obscure quality from before, with also some tortured qualities. Most of the rhythms are in the old school manner of things, having little to do with contemporary sounds. The pace never quickens, nor should it, remaining consistent throughout the duration of the song.

Next is "Poison Infiltration", which is also mid-paced and threatening. The raspy, torn-throat screams suit this sound, perfectly. The production is clear, but not overdone in any way. It still retains a dismal sound. There is an epic quality to some of the riffs, truly adding to the atmosphere.

"After the Sepulture" is one of the most memorable songs on the record. Introduced by a brief keyboard melody, you are soon crushed by the heavy guitar riffs, like pieces of a glacier crashing into your skull. The pace gets even slower, near the middle, as some might anticipate a burst of speed to follow. However, this never happens. The main riff returns, along with the increasingly-agonized vocals.

"The sun will turn in black
You will see the dark...
After the sepulture"

A sorrowful acoustic passage begins "Macabre Operetta". Slowly, miserable guitar riffs move in to extinguish all hope from your feeble heart. Tortured screams emanate from the distance, almost wailing in anguish. After a few minutes, a mid-paced thrash riff takes over and the first verse begins. For the first time on this album, the pace appears to pick up a little bit, though never quite breaking into a full run. It's more like the pathetic stumbling of someone who has been mortally wounded.

"Life can't be infinite
Only pain is eternal"

The song ends with another acoustic passage, accompanied by the sound of cold winds blowing over a frozen landscape, littered with the deceased. The aura here is that of complete desolation.

"Blood Ritual" sees the pace increase, and you now realize the brilliance in its placement. This one brings a much-needed energy, to sustain the listener through the rest of this grim ordeal. It can be likened to taking a break from torturing someone, giving them a bit of food or water, so they can survive to suffer even more. Samael's intention is to make this a long and slow process, and it would do no good for the listener to give out too early. The contrast between the previous track and this one only adds greater dimension to the overall atmosphere. This is the art of creating a great album, rather than simply throwing together a collection of songs in any random order.

"Death is the only way to escape the misery of life
Death is the only way to reach the supreme power"

This intensity is followed by a somber piano piece, called "Since the Creation". There are only a few lines spoken, but the message comes through quite clear. Lasting for only half a minute, this one is more like an intro for the next track.

"With the Gleam of the Torches" begins with melodies possessing some epic feeling. Even when it speeds up, this effect is not lost. A heavier thrash riff comes from the murky fog, like a scythe, slicing through your torso. This seems to be one of the more complex compositions on the record. While the Hellhammer influence is still present, it isn't very obvious this time. Samael have truly come into their own, by this point. It is at this point that one might contemplate the possibility that the aforementioned band was only so influential because they came close, but failed, to creating something special. It was left to others to pick up the pieces and continue what was started, so long ago, and to see it through. Despite some faster moments, the overall tempo is mid-paced, making for a cohesive atmosphere throughout the album.

"Total Consecration" is another piano piece, creating a sense of dread and hopelessness. It is like going down a twisted staircase into some unknown pit, deep beneath a ruined castle. From the distance, you hear the raspy voice summoning evil spirits. Inexplicably, you are drawn forth, though in your heart you wish only to seek some sanctuary from the horrors that await you. Like a moth to the flame, you descend into the darkness.

Starting with some of the most lethal and forceful riffs on the whole album, "Bestial Devotion" assaults you from the shadows, like a nocturnal predator. There is an added sense of malevolence in this song. It creeps at a slow pace, though remaining as deadly as ever. It becomes, somewhat oppressive, as the pressure begins to squeeze the air from your lungs and to prevent your heart from beating properly.

The ritual is complete with "...Until the Chaos". Vorphalack's vocals are at their most miserable here, hearkening back to "Into the Pentagram". The lyrics are sparse, yet the feeling put forth in these screams is undeniable. About midway through, the tempo changes a bit and there's a brief section that includes and old school galloping riff. This is like the final spasms, as the body is in the throes of death. The soul-crushing riffs return, along with the tormented screams, leaving you cold and dead. The final seconds of the album see a quick tease of the title track, though it fades away...

Though the band means nothing today, Samael was once a group capable of brilliance. Blood Ritual shall forever remain as a testament to this genius of songcraft. If it is absent from your collection, hang your head in shame (or simply hang yourself) and seek this out.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Tiamat - The Astral Sleep (1991)

While Sumerian Cry was more of a direct continuation of Treblinka, The Astral Sleep is the first record with a more distant feeling. For their sophomore release, Tiamat chose to record outside of Sweden and the well-known confines of Sunlight Studio. Instead, the went to Dortmund, Germany to record at Woodhouse Studio (the same place where Unleashed recorded their debut album, earlier that year). The location and producer were not the only things to change; Tiamat's style had undergone quite a progression. No longer did they play Black Metal. The music on this album is actually somewhat difficult to label. To call it Swedish Death Metal would be pretty misleading. There are more traditional metal elements found here, as well as an atmospheric Death/Doom approach. Released in September 1991, The Astral Sleep would be one of the first albums to begin the process of 'maturing' that many Swedish bands would later do.

This is actually a fairly difficult album to review. I acquired this very late, actually, during the most pleasant period of my existence. Listening to it brings back memories of peaceful times, yet it is now stained with sorrow as this period is gone forever. At the time, I listened to this over and over for quite some time. Probably, within the first couple weeks of owning it, I had made up for the lost years of not yet possessing it.

After an atmospheric intro, that really sets the tone for what is to follow, "Lady Temptress" erupts with furious thrash riffs. This is one of the more up-beat songs on the album, possessing a lot of energy. There's a lot of variety in the vocals, going from deeper growls to near-tortured screams. The tempo varies, as well, slowing down near the middle, just before a killer solo emerges. The drum beat underneath this is total old school and really gives away the band's 80s roots.

"Mountain of Doom" couldn't be more appropriately titled, as it is exactly as described. Beginning with some keyboards and an acoustic guitar, this slowly builds up. From the earliest moments, there is a sorrowful feeling present. As with the album as a whole, this song has an epic sensibility as the structure is more complex than one might expect. The general pace of the song is slow, but it is not static. In the latter half of the song, the speed picks up, briefly. While many of their contemporaries were seeking to emulate Entombed, Tiamat went in a completely different direction and created something quite unique.

"Now I'm there
Enjoying my peace of mind
In this lair
Death is what you'll find"

"Dead Boys' Choir" is more of an interlude than a real song, clocking in under two minutes. The feeling conveyed is dark and dismal, still maintaining the mood from the previous piece. Lyrically, it is fairly close to earlier efforts.

"They are gathered here in the fivepointed star
To close up ritual of a time so far
End what was not ended before
To meet the lord Satan they highly adore"

The pace picks back up with "Sumerian Cry Pt. 3", which is a very dynamic song. Not only is there quite a bit of variety with the vocals, going from deep growls to raspy ones and then insane screams, but the drumming includes brief blast beats and the guitar riffs are vicious yet quite melodic at other times. There's even some strange keyboard effect added in.

"On Golden Wings" sees the furious energy completely drained. It begins with a sorrowful acoustic section, reaching into your brain like a icy claw and pulling terrible memories to the forefront of your mind. As the song really gets going, it is not quite as doom-laden as one may have expected, though it has its moments. Later in the song, there is a quiet acoustic piece accompanied by a brief and wailing guitar lead that fades into oblivion.

The next song is "Ancient Entity", which is the longest one on the album. It begins with a murderous scream, joined by more energetic guitar riffs. This is one of the more epic compositions on the record, being quite memorable as well. The atmosphere is still dark, though not utterly oppressive. Lyrically, this one tells quite a wicked tale.

"Beneath the fullmoon
Covered in gloomy clouds
Obscure funeral spirits
Evil shadows on haunted ground"

From slower sections with keyboards and a brooding atmosphere to faster parts that include wild lead solos, this song really has it all and is a very good representation of The Astral Sleep. Some of the riffs would not have been out of place on Sumerian Cry, or even the old Treblinka demos.

"The Southernmost Voyage" creates a very somber atmosphere with use of keyboards and acoustic guitar. This is a hint of the style that would become dominant on the release that followed this one. Vocally, it is more of a spoken word piece than anything else. There are some dark whispers to accompany this, but no singing of any kind. A miserable lead solo floats in the background, giving this song the feeling of some cloudy nightmare.

The bleak feeling carries over into "Angels Far Beyond", which begins with a slow doom riff. Keyboards are, again, utilized to accentuate the atmosphere. They always seemed to fit more naturally into Death or Doom Metal, as opposed to Black Metal. Perhaps that is because their use was, generally, more complimentary rather than being the sole source of feeling. This track also includes a nice, old school galloping riff as the speed increases for a few moments. A soulful lead solo shoots out like hands from an old grave, pulling you toward the moist ground. However, this passes before you find yourself below the surface. Demonic laughter ends the song, almost as if to remind you that you can be taken at any moment.

"I Am the King (of Dreams)" is more straightforward, featuring a blast beat and more intense riffs. The vocals are a bit deeper, also. This song is another that would have fit nicely on their debut album. Its placement displays the brilliance of the album, as none of the songs are in the wrong spot. Everything was arranged in the proper manner, so as to take the listener on quite an epic journey. By the later part of the song, a hellish guitar solo rises up from the depths, before fading into nothingness.

"A Winter Shadow" starts out as a song would usually end, giving a unique feeling to it. This one, also, makes use of some sparse blast beats, before going into more of a mid-paced riff. For the most part, this song has a more relaxed tempo. As it fades, the outro gives the sense of awakening from a surreal dream, learning that the life you thought you had was the dream and a new reality awaits you.

The best comparison I can make between The Astral Sleep and its predecessor is to liken it to the change Morbid Angel made from Altars of Madness to Blessed Are the Sick, in a sense. However, in this case, the progression went even further. Tiamat's second album is more epic and melodic than their previous material, though it still retains a vicious side as well. This would, finally, be eliminated on their third album.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

My Dying Bride - Symphonaire Infernus et Spera Empyrium (1991)

In 1991, My Dying Bride followed up the Towards the Sinister demo with Symphonaire Infernus et Spera Empyrium. This E.P. was vastly superior to the demo, in terms of sound quality (though the fact that my copy was a third-generation cassette may have played some role in this). While the basic ingredients that were found on the demo were still there, the overall result was refined and the doom element had come to dominate the sound.

This E.P. became known to me, some years later, in late 96 / early 97. It was a short time after being turned onto 'The Haunted Mansion' and my best friend and I were being exposed to a wide variety of Black and Doom Metal, as well as some Death Metal that we were not yet familiar with. My Dying Bride marked the beginning of my foray into the sub-genre of Doom Metal. In particular, the title track of this very release. Despite being well-versed in 80s metal, I had managed to miss out on even Candlemass. It was this five-piece from the UK that introduced me to such melancholy sounds. From that point on, all of their albums served as a sort of soundtrack to my most dismal moments. Oddly, it was mostly at the darkest points in my existence that I turned to these records. There's no telling whether it was simply because the miserable sounds matched my own mood, or if I was feeding the wretched feeling and making it worse. Whatever the case, the early works of this band captured those haunting moments and retained some flavour of the pain as good things faded and passed into the realm of decay; as those close to me died and went below the surface of the earth. In some sense, it's almost difficult to listen to these albums, due to the dark periods that they hearken back to. However, these days, this existence is such a bleak and dreadful endeavour that past suffering is looked upon with nostalgia, by comparison.

The E.P. begins with the title track, "Symphonaire Infernus et Spera Empyrium". It begins with the woeful sounds of Martin Powell's violin. Even from these initial seconds of the piece, a dreary sense of sorrow and loss descends upon you, like the darkness from an ominous cloud, blocking out the light. Even more strange is that the atmosphere almost wakens images of medieval times, creating a vast distance between the listener and the modern world. One can envision ruined battlements underneath a gloomy sky, as unspeakable torments are being suffered in the cavernous chambers below. The music is very slow-paced, and is the epitome of Death/Doom. The production exceeds that which they had previously achieved, though this did not require much effort. The guitars and bass are soul-crushingly heavy, as the violin wails in despair, slicing through your flesh, like a fresh razor. You begin to wrap yourself in this shroud of misery, letting the darkness swallow you, whole. Blood flows freely, then turns into crimson serpents of malice and hatred, turning back toward you as you descend into the black abyss... Falling, ever faster. The blood coils around your neck, like hands of ice, as you gasp for air. A few minutes in, and the pace briefly picks up, though not much. Like all things in this cursed world, it is ephemeral. The rawness and power of the vocals is complimented by the funeral bells that begin to chime. Doom is upon you. Your existence is dominated by grief and anguish. Nothingness is all that awaits you. But the path toward the endless sleep is fraught with afflictions that you cannot possibly bear. Some minor relief seems to be on the horizon, as a mid-paced thrash riff leads into more typical-sounding Death Metal. In a strange sense, this allows you to breathe. Though, in truth, it is more like some chaotic free-fall that you cannot control. You only wish to land somewhere safe, but you know better. Deep within your twisted mind, you realize what fate has in store for you. And then... it happens. The slow, suffocating pace returns. In the depths of the abyss, you are utterly devoured by spirits of torment. They feed upon your black suffering, having long ago set you upon this course. As the pig that is fattened up prior to being slaughtered and eaten, so you have also been fattened up on pain and agony the likes of which you have never even dreamed of. But that was the point all along. This was always your fate. The frail hopes that you have been clinging to since birth were but an illusion.

Why is it that humanity is so drawn to darkness and negativity? Why are sorrowful events so much more poignant that any other experiences in life? It is because those are the instances when we are closest to true reality. The fantasy of an existence of peace and happiness is so easily shattered, like the glass windows of the feeble Christian churches; like bones crashing down on jagged rocks. People do what they can to numb themselves to this; they lead lives of excess, decadence and debauchery. Those that possess wealth seek to fill the void with material things or by traveling or surrounding themselves with others that go along with their delusions. The rest simply seek out whatever substance they can, be it drugs or alcohol, as they desperately struggle to escape this harsh reality. Yet, in the end, we all find ourselves in the same place; rotting in the stinking earth. And whether or not we are surrounded by loved ones or we face this inevitability in solitude, we all must face it alone. Successes, achievements, past glories... they're all meaningless. It's all a big nothing. There is absolutely no way to defy this one truth.

As the E.P. continues, the Death Metal influences take center stage. "God Is Alone" still manages to possess some tinge of despondency. Certain mournful melodies weave throughout the song, passing like a shadow. This would function as one of the earliest examples of My Dying Bride's use of religious themes.

"De Sade Soliloquay" concludes this recording. Possessing a slower pace than the previous song, it seems to bear some strange serpentine quality as it slithers through your mind, injecting its venom into your very being. Before this can fully take effect, the pace quickens, mixing some thrashier riffs into the song. Still, there remains some essence of depravity. Aaron's vocals take on almost a sickening tone, momentarily. A couple decent guitar harmonies creep through the soundscape, though one may miss them if not paying full attention.

Symphonaire Infernus et Spera Empyrium marks the beginning of the mournful rise of this UK Death/Doom Metal band. Of the three songs present, only the title track warrants repeated listens. The other two are not without merit, but they each pale in comparison to the epic sense of misery conveyed by the opener. This E.P. is extremely difficult to obtain, these days, though the material was re-released on the Trinity compilation, so it is easily accessible.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Morbid Angel - Blessed Are the Sick (1991)

In the early winter months of 1991, Morbid Angel entered Morrisound to record the follow-up to their seminal debut, Altars of Madness. By that summer, Blessed Are the Sick was unleashed upon the unsuspecting metal community. From the guitar tone to the vocals, the overall sound is much thicker, lacking the thin and sharp qualities found on the previous album. For some, this is the primary complaint; that the individual instruments fail to stand out as they once did, instead blending together and being somewhat flat. Regardless of this matter, the musical progression present on this masterpiece more than makes up for any such grievance. Whereas Altars of Madness bears an overtly Satanic approach and seems to be more raw and aggressive, Blessed Are the Sick takes you down to a darker place.

It was a dark and gloomy November night when first I obtained Morbid Angel's sophomore effort. Nearly a year had passed since I was introduced to the band, through their brilliant debut. I had absolutely no expectations, going in. Of only one thing was I truly certain; I was set to experience something very significant. Just looking at the cover art, I could tell that something was different. As opposed to the hellish, abysmal image that adorned the cover of Altars of Madness, Blessed Are the Sick greeted me with J. Delville's painting, "Les Tresors De Satan". From this alone, one might discern that a more atmospheric and sophisticated approach might be lingering within. As a result of the time period during which I discovered this album, and despite any failings with regard to the production, I consider this one to be on fairly even ground with the first one.

The first time that I listened to this, the darkness of night encompassed all. Only a few candles illuminated the room as the introduction carried forth sounds of screeching Hell, accompanied by random cries. Almost reminiscent of the early moments of Slayer's Hell Awaits, this set the tone for what was to come. You can almost feel yourself being flayed, as the skin is torn and burned from your tortured remains. The screams get louder until the realization hits that they're your own. A journey has just begun; one that shall take you through the darkest depths.

"Fall From Grace" begins with mid-paced riffs that convey a sense of doom and despair. Sandoval's drumming does well to crush any bits of hope from your withering soul. Just under a minute in, the pace quickens and it becomes apparent that David Vincent's vocals have altered, to an extent. They are still, easily, recognizable while being a bit deeper than before. The images that come to mind are not so much of suffering souls, burning at the fiery depths. No, here one gets the sense of damned souls reveling in the decadence of their own damnation. Trey Azagthoth and Richard Brunelle compliment one another's guitar-playing very well, as the solos flow naturally throughout the soundscape. Near the end, clean and ominous vocals make a sinister declaration:

"I ride the flesh and the sinners of hell
I am Belial
I bend my knee not but for my selfish desire"

Following this, "Brainstorm" unleashes its fury at top speed, hearkening back to the first album. Even the vocals possess more of a throaty rasp that on the previous song. Filled with searing solos and scathing vocals, one would hardly even notice that this track is as short as it is. The pace slows, very briefly, before returning to the blistering speed of before. Structurally, this song is comprised of all the same elements as the others, though the delivery is so lightning fast that it is gone before you know it. Yet, part of the beauty of this album is that the songs may or may not stand on their own. They can, if need be, but they form a cohesive work that serves the principal aspiration of the album, itself.

"Rebel Lands" appears to maintain the frenetic pace from the preceding song, though it quickly adopts a slower technique. For a song that clocks in under three minutes, it is amazing how well these musicians managed to infuse it with an epic sensibility. The solos are utterly brilliant, weaving through like snakes of fire, almost hypnotizing the listener. The hauntingly memorable melodies act as the perfect lead-in for the track that follows.

The title, "Doomsday Celebration", really seems to be like a mission statement for the album, in its entirety. What is heard here isn't so much an anger-filled war upon Christianity, yet the complete and total rejoicing in those ways which serve as the antithesis of those morals held by such feeble sheep. Trey Azagthoth handles the keyboards that sound very much like an old organ, creating some dismal atmosphere befitting of an old horror movie. Transiently, there is some strange imagery created of a war, long ago, but this spectre only burns like an old photograph, lost to the ages. The somber, horrifying feeling returns with the cold winds, as this interlude flows into the next song.

Commencing with, perhaps, one of the most memorable riffs of the album, "Day of Suffering" crushes all in its path. The heavy guitar riffs and pounding drums are accentuated by the deep and hateful vocals. After less than a minute, the speed increases to an almost frenzied pace, and the malice truly bleeds through.

"Lord of light
I will swarm against you now
Gods perverse
Wickeds at my side
Thorns to lance your every word
Now I crown you king in pain"

This is followed by, what may well be, the finest piece on the record; "Blessed Are the Sick / Leading the Rats". Much slower than the previous songs, this one proceeds at a sinister crawl. The blood trickles from your eyes as this hellish atmosphere drags you into the murky depths. The refrain sums up the feeling conveyed by this record.

"World of sickness
Blessed are we to taste
This life of sin"

The song slowly drifts further down into the abyss, toward the realm of the suffering souls and the dreaming dead. Claw and grasp as you might, resistance is utterly futile. Leaving trails of blood behind you, it will only suffice as a lasting tribute to the frailty of the human condition. The song ends with a beautiful and serene flute passage, of some sort, no doubt another trick of Azagthoth's keyboards. It's like watching this terrifying spectacle of a damned soul being dragged beneath the surface, into the grave that shall lead down toward the realm of total suffering. Once the earth closes up, a bird lands on that very spot, unaware of the danger... just then, a hand reaches up and takes the weak creature without struggle. Such images that this powerful music conveys. The lyrics still echo within your mind, reinforcing the dark and grim feeling.

"My touch is inhumane
Nocturnal beast inside
Is void of light
And empty shall remain"

"Thy Kingdom Come" speeds things back up, though it consists of a variety of riffs and tempo changes. Being an older song (appearing on the Thy Kingdom Come demo), this one bears more similarities to the feeling that was imparted by Altars of Madness. This is evident not only in the lyrics, but in the musical delivery. The pace is faster than the demo version though, otherwise, it remains quite faithful.

The next song is "Unholy Blasphemies", which was first recorded for the Abominations of Desolation album, in 1986. Naturally, this version lacks the rawness of the previous one, though it is more streamlined and concise. It is about half the length of the original. Nowhere does it drag, though that impression may only plague the earlier recording only because I heard this one about six months earlier. David Vincent's vocal approach seeks not to match the raspy sound of Mike Browning, rather he continues with the deeper style employed throughout much of this album.

Now, we arrive at the real high point of the whole record. "Abominations" is a song that had existed for five years, already, being recorded for various demos by this time. This is really one of the most atmospheric songs found here, possessing a great amount of dark feeling. After a minute or so, the tempo changes in such a manner as to emphasize the epic nature of this blasphemous piece. One can hear the sound of cold winds, blowing in the background, adding to this feeling. The solos come forth from the abyss, wrapping around your brain and suffocating all thought from it. As expected for lyrics written earlier in their career, they bear more of a venomous sentiment than some of the others, building to a hellish climax.

"Liars in wait, priests of the night
Make images to burn by the moon
Robbing the spirit, raping gods law
Send up our hate, to burn heavens gate"

The sound of the blowing wind flows into the next piece, "Desolate Ways". This compliments the previous song, and truly functions as a part of it. It adds a sense of balance. This tranquil, yet very somber acoustic piece allows Richard Brunelle to showcase his genius for creating melodies that are capable of piercing your soul. This dismal song has a way of reaching into your very core and gripping those hopes and dreams that you cherish so much and sucking the life right out of them. There is a mournful essence, here, that drags your spirit down and leaves you empty. It forces you to relive every traumatizing moment of your pitiful existence and to wallow in the loss of all that you ever held dear. What you hear are not the beautiful sounds of powerful music, but the draining of your soul, to the point of darkness not before conceived of. Overcome with unbearable grief and despair, you are beckoned forth by the luring comfort of the grave. In that thought only do you find any sort of peace.

A chaotic eruption of lead solos destroys the quiet, peaceful feeling. "The Ancient Ones" functions much like a hellish epitaph, moving along at at energetic pace, without really being all that fast. The vocals seem to have returned to the raspier side, as the solos split your skull wide open. This version maintains the old school feeling that was found on Abominations of Desolation (where the song was known as "Azagthoth"). Having picked up your devastated remains, whatever was left after the soul-annihilation of the previous acoustic piece, this drives you on toward the end of all that you ever knew. Picture a withered figure that has fallen near the trail, not far from the conclusion of his epic journey. This song is like a carriage, drawn by black horses, that has stopped by to pick up the remnants of this traveler to deliver them to final damnation.

And, at last, this monumental album concludes with the somber piano instrumental, "In Remembrance". The feeling here is one of finality. It's all over. There is no turning back. No second chances, no resurrection. Sorrow is yours, until the end of your worthless existence. Even then, there is no salvation; no sanctuary to house your wretched soul. It is to the great nothingness that you will belong. Into the yawning abyss, you will fall until there is nothing left.

Blessed Are the Sick is every bit the classic that it is hailed as, one to be revered for the ages. If you don't own this, do yourself a favour and remedy the situation with haste. This album will forever stand as a testament to the brilliance that once was Morbid Angel.