Sunday, June 27, 2010

Morbid Angel - Covenant (1993)

Covenant is the third full-length from Morbid Angel. It was recorded in Morrisound and produced by Tom Morris, with additional input from Flemming Rasmussen. The material was then mastered, by Rasmussen, back in Copenhagen at Sweet Silence Studios. Of course, many know Flemming from his work on Ride the Lightning, Master of Puppets, etc. And, in a way, it is somewhat appropriate since Covenant can be compared to Master of Puppets, to an extent. Both are the third album by their respective creators, and both represent the point where the bands' styles were simplified for mass consumption. Of course, this was Morbid Angel's first album on a major label, as Covenant was released in 1993 by Giant Records, in the states. They also made two promotional videos, for "Rapture" and "God of Emptiness".

Though I don't recall seeing either video until a year or so later, those were the first songs that I heard from this album, played for me by an acquaintance from school. Already familiar with Altars of Madness and Blessed Are the Sick, I was eager to get my hands on another Morbid Angel album. I didn't care about the new label, nor was I concerned by the fact that they had made videos. I was only interested in the music. Still, after a few months of listening, the weaknesses began to show through. Whereas I would always listen to the first two in their entirety, I found myself skipping past some of the tracks on this one. That wasn't a good sign.

"Rapture" served as a good opener; it was simple yet effective. "Pain Divine" built on this with intense drumming and a great tremolo riff that would have fit well into some of the Black Metal of the era. "World of Shit (The Promised Land)" slowed things down, for the first half, but sitll managed to keep my attention. "Vengeance Is Mine" is where things began to get a little boring. Certain issues with the production start to become more noticeable. For one, the drums are way too loud in the mix, and it seems that the songs rely far too much on Pete Sandoval's drumming to carry them along. It's also clear that David Vincent's vocals are a lot more monotonous than on the previous albums. He mostly keeps to the lower end of his range, robbing the songs of a once-dynamic element. Also, regarding the production, the guitars are even muddier than on Blessed Are the Sick, and there's something about this that always bothered me.

As the album continues, "The Lion's Den" is another fairly boring song, seeming too catchy for its own good. The songwriting has been simplified for Covenant, almost as it they were attempting to appeal to a broader audience. The song structures are more basic and, overall, less engaging. And, somehow, the absence of Richard Brunelle seems to detract from the listening experience. "Blood On My Hands" follows suit, containing one or two interesting riffs, but never realizing its full potential. "Angel of Disease" is another re-recorded song from Abominations of Desolation and, though I appreciate the different vocal approach (and possibly different guitar tuning), it almost sounds as if it's from a separate session. While it is one of the more interesting songs on the album, I think that very fact ruined it for me, since I ended up listening to it over and over. With "Sworn to the Black", the deep vocals and mid-paced riffs return. The album is very tiring by this point, as many of the songs sound far too similar. And, again, the memorable and catchy nature of many of them is irritating after the first few listens. After a brief ambient piece, we finally reach the end.

"God of Emptiness" attempts to be dark, epic and filled with a sense of doom. It comes close, at certain moments, but it fails in the end. The gargled vocal effect is detrimental to the overall atmosphere, and some of the riffs are useless and boring. The song is also very repetitive, repeating the same few verses instead of taking a few minutes to write something else. Of course, with the awful effect on David Vincent's voice, it wouldn't really matter what was being said. As the song reaches its conclusion, it improves a bit with another slow riff and come clean vocals, though not too similar to what was found on "Fall From Grace". The album ends on a decent note, possibly leaving many listeners with the impression that Covenant was better than it really was.

Throughout the album's duration, there are far too many parts where the pace is slow yet the drumming is overactive. The drum fills and double bass are quite excessive. Oddly enough, though the band had simplified their sound a bit, they managed to overlook the kind of simplicity that was really needed. The slow riffs should have been accompanied by sparse drumming, and more effort put into developing their ideas instead of playing six variations of the same song. The clearer production only made the songwriting flaws more evident, as well.

Covenant isn't a terrible album, but it doesn't deserve the praise that it gets, either. It's enjoyable, in its own way, but can be very boring an monotonous. While I can listen to Altars of Madness or Blessed Are the Sick multiple times in one sitting, it's difficult to make it through this one without skipping through half of it. This is a simplified version of Morbid Angel, streamlined and aided by an assortment of catchy riffs in order to appeal to the masses. This was their attempt to grow beyond the underground and, to an extent, they succeeded. Unfortunately, it cost them their dignity and tarnished their name. They would make the full transition on their next album.