Saturday, February 9, 2013

Morbid Angel - Blessed are the Sick

Released in 1991 by Earache records.

David Vincent - Vocals, Bass
Trey Azagthoth  - Guitars, Annoying Midi
Richard Brunelle - Guitars
Pete Sandoval - Drums

Do you think your life is fair? Do you think you deserve the hardships that befall you? Do you think your life will ultimately make sense as a narrative, and whose will be the authorial intent that dictates this narrative? Will it be God that kisses the boo boo and makes everything alright? Will you be rewarded with an afterlife of bliss for your service? Surely, for life to be so cruel there must be a reason. We can't be brought to this world of screams through coincidence and non-sense and we can't be just left to fend for ourselves. Surely, someone must be governing our rise and our fall. Someone must be keeping score.

What if there's no one? What if there's no God, or at least no God that is good, that cares about us and that is going to make everything plain and clear upon our reunion with Him after this world of lies goes up in flames? What if nobody understands anything? What is this world then, but a wound - an open wound that, were you to look directly inside it, you would grow mad from disgust and anguish?

The concept of the world as absurd. We toil for no master, to no end and then we die. The gods - if they even exist - extend at most a cruel laughter in our general direction. We can strive to do no good because there is nobody that can prescribe goodness. To toil eternally in an empty grave, to enduringly lament.

At the face of this realisation we must stand forever shocked. For those of you that think now "what a banal point to make" I dare you to revisit it from the vantage of yourselves as ten year olds, if you can connect to your past at that age. Try to hone in on the first memory of pure injustice, of unwarranted pain and loss you've experienced. Did your puppy die of cancer? Did your mother send you to live with your drunk father? Did your best friend get killed in an auto-mobile accident? Did you realize you were of one gender trapped in the body of another? Don't just reflect on that feeling, relieve it. And then loudly say, in your full grown-human voice "there is no reason why this has happened. It has served nothing and no one". I dare you to say this to that negative being in the room there with you, that shadow-self, that mirror into nothingness. Go on, tell them that your whole life's story, so gloriously pivoting around your personal narrative of sacrifice and loss is just pure nonsense. Smile to the darkness.

If we are to move away from this feeling, it we are to remove either part of this hellish equation, we are intellectually bankrupt. We can't unlearn what we already know, so if we know there is no God, we cannot invent one. If this world is absurd, we can't pretend it adheres to some system of morality. There is no good and evil. Whatever hope there is, it is inside us. The will to exist, the drive to live, it is the uroboros snake, it gives birth to itself and in the end it will consume itself.

All systems of belief and systems of ideology pretend to give a more comfortable answer to this question by avoiding either premise. All spiritual overbeings are variations of the Gnostic Demiurge. A flawed god, with human qualities, looking over us, for good or worse. An intermediate step of consciousness between us petty humans and the killing light of a true, uncaring God. Oh how we miss our daddy, all of us.

And the satanist? Oh, the satanist is their own daddy. Talk about a snake eating itself. Such a bright, burning flame will surely burn out fast. How many great records can a satanist make? Judging from Morbid Angel, at best, two.

Here we will look at their second, aptly named "Blessed are the Sick". There isn't much poetry that I will conjure, dear reader. We can instead look at the text-as-it-is:


Another me, born to serve
To plague 
So many years 
My seed condemned
Now free to roam

Will is yours? 
So, creator
No intent could shadow
Shadow my disease 
And everlasting pain

World of sick
Blessed are we to taste
Life of sin

My touch inhumane
Nocturnal beast inside
Devoid of light
And empty shall remain

There is something very suspicious, here. Parts of the text seem to say that the prototypical "I" subject of the song is becoming something less than human through this Luciferian fall, but what is the full impression of the thing (especially if seen and heard in the accompanying video-clip) It is of Lucifer triumphant. To become less-than-human is to become a god. Morbid Angel here are eulogising the passing of human weakness, as they understand it. The empty shell that remains is an animal or, to state it carefully, a fantasy of an animal and animals are purer beings than humans.

The root of this approach to Nietzscheian thought is clear. To put it in a less useful but knowing way, this is "How to become a cat". Do you wonder why philosophers are so taken with our feline guests?

What is the human weakness, whose passing Morbid Angel so triumphantly extol? The answer to this question is found in the chorus: World of sick, blessed are we to taste life of sin. What they abhor is morality and ideology, the schizophrenic tools of self-negation that are so endemic in Nietzsche's slave mentality. Pure beings, beasts of darkness claim their killing power directly. Those of us that are weak and cowardly instead congregate under their tyranny and declare our weak bodies to be one, and in our death we triumph as martyrs. God listens to us. God will make this story cohere. God will reward us for our tragedy.

Hot wind burns me
Burning as I fall
Cast away speechless 
In the holy way
I survive the scourge 
And banishing
To scorching land
I am lord, I take command

Fall from Grace

Forgive me not
This knowledge 
Makes me strong
To resurrect
The cities of the damned
All the treasure of Sodom
Now belong to me 
Celebrate, fallen angels 
Take my hand

Whores long for my flesh
And my desire
Lust anointing me now
Consume my soul

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

Forgive the flowery prose, as the flowers of evil are want to be sickly sweet, after all. Morbid Angel are the best Heavy Metal has to offer in representation of malignant beauty. Their death metal is aeons apart from the crude, angst-driven odes to meat & death that most of their compatriots were concocting concurrently. It writhes wryly and so sensuously slithers that perhaps it even justifies a nipple ring or two in that video above. The answer that Morbid Angel have for the absurd world is "my might shall make the world right, but what is might if it is not beautiful". This is their contribution to our world, to make such twisted and odd-sounding music that still sounds beautifully constructed. Form justifies content. Underneath it all, Morbid Angel want to subvert the listener's preconception of beauty, they want to tell you what is good and what is evil. They want you to taste the forbidden fruit.

Gods transform me
The storm will cleanse me
Civilized I shall not be
By this holy strain of laws

For I'm no human now
I burn the ways conform
The gods are pleased with me
They speak my name in tongues

I am the seer
I know the texts divine
Thunder words
Demons race into my hands

Lend me your wings of twelve
I shall fly into the storm
I, son of fire, in anger become
The lightning bolts that strike the earth

Like good LaVeyian satanists, their odes to self are fully founded only in how convincing they can be for pedestrians such as you and I. Most apocryphal esotericism desires an audience to whom it shall meter out secrets prudently. A Morbid Angel without a crowd to worship him is worthless. Why the hell did he ever leave God's side if not for humans to worship him? Consider for a moment a very attractive celebrity of your liking (for their power is esoteric to the highest degree). Think of them withered and old and lonely at age 80, incontinent, senile. Well, Morbid Angel suffered from an advanced case of progeria because it only took them a couple of years to turn from Dionysus to husk. The moment their audience stopped taking them so seriously (and that moment is very closely connected, I theorize, with the slaying of one black metal personality by another in far-away Norway) it is they stopped being Belial and just became a few dudes into alternative sexuality. According to your vantage point, objects may appear bigger than they are, after all. Or smaller.

But this record has survived the perspective shift. What is conjured in this offering is an entity altogether divorced from a David Vincent or a Trey Azagzoth, much to their chagrin  Isn't it ironic how their egos have fallen but this testament to their virility and prowess stands erect fully of its own volition? To this world absurd there is another answer, one that doesn't, like a pathetic satanist's, revolve around the negation of weakness thru deceleration of strength alone . It is to offer tributes to hope itself, outside the self. For what are these endless paeans to self-empowerment you've read if not paeans to hope of self-empowerment? After all, no member of Morbid Angel managed to pass through a solid wall (regardless of what rumours you might have heard). A smarter man than David Vincent would have, immediately after Blessed are the Sick either left the band, or have made a record that has a sense of humour about how much more powerful his music is than himself.

What is so different in believing in yourself-as-seen-through-a-metal-album-you-made and believing in a deity of any stripe? This knowingness that your conjuration of this entity is false and can only serves a finite end. That of coping. The absurd wound is there. You own it. You're looking inside the wound sideways through art that is inherently vague, a curved mirror. What is left of any enduring quality in the end of this process is not an ascended being, it is the beauty of the effort.

What Morbid Angel achieve on this record is difficult to appreciate by a modern Death Metal listener, jaded as they presumably are by constant shows of instrumental dexterity. But Morbid Angel were the first to play such wrong-sounding music with such precision and drive that they made me think "p-perhaps this is right, after all?". It's easy to juxtapose a loud part and a quiet part (a la "Smells Like Teen Spirit") to propel a pop song dynamically, but Morbid Angel achieve full thrust without ever really putting two disparate parts against each other (and when they do, it's not the main propulsion point). Instead they keep in one mode but they streamline their form and they play them thus that they are aerodynamic. Think of how a snake slithers seemingly effortlessly. This is no mean feat. in fact, almost all of the modern technical brutal death metal I've heard fails at this.

But to have dynamic song-writing wouldn't be enough for this record to retain such glamour after all these years. The master-stroke here is that, as unsatisfying as the satanist's guidebook presented therein ultimately is, its main thrust comes, well... timely. The mechanics of this music's morphology excite and the lyric (which Vincent, one of the best growlers then and ever, took great care to be audible and understandable) gives a direction for this excitement. Simply put, it is very hard for me to listen to this record and then not feel immediately more powerful and focused. Of course I strip out the "Altars of Madness" retreads and the indulgent midi keyboard instrumentals.

This group would never achieve anything like this, and without careful examination it's hard to see why. After all, the record just after this has many of the same graces. It's called "Covenant", which is kind of a bad name but at least had an apt cover. The record after that, however, is idiotically called "Domination". If you have achieved such in your first two records, you're only going to set yourself up for failure by naming your fourth record "We are the best". Even "Domination" has some bright spots, but what I've found goes wrong in most of the songs in those follow-ups are that the dynamics are not there or when they are they do not connect with a triumphant message. "World of Shit"? Seriously? I thought your lightning bold carved the mountains and drained the oceans. The best you could do is "World of Shit"?

Needless to say after that third record, the rest don't even ever try to portray any malignant beauty, settling for otherworldly chaos and malice instead. And there's some racism thrown in there because David Vincent hasn't misunderstood his own message circa "Blessed are the Sick" enough, it seemed. Anyway, the crawling chaos and darkness was best conjured by many other death metal (and ironically, black metal) bands instead. The band's main writer, guitarist Trey Azagzoth never had a strong aesthetic vision. The person responsible for the warped beauty here is David Vincent, but he also - like all the satanists, in the end - became overfed on his own prowess. They are back together in this band now but I doubt they'll be able to recapture the spirit of this material, even live. Too old, too complacent, too distanced from youthful arrogance (an altogether different thing from middle-aged arrogance). But it only takes one such masterpiece to elevate Morbid Angel to the pantheon, after all.

If you do listen to this for the first time, grab the remastered version. Listen to the whole thing and then experiment with listening to only from 'Intro' to 'Thy Kingdom Come' (excluding also "Doomsday Celebration") and then tell me I'm right.