Morgoth – 1987-1997 The Best Of Morgoth Review

Originally written by Nin Chan

Before this review begins in earnest, I’d just like to address an issue that has been a perpetual source of dismay for me over the past few years, an unfortunate development that itself appears to advocate. Having been raised on a steady diet of Sarcofago, Autopsy, Hellhammer and Venom since my metal infancy, I have always been drawn towards the most depraved and debauched sounds that the heavy metal canon has to offer. Yet, in a post-Death, post-Gorguts, post-Suffocation world, technicality and precision are often accorded much more importance than is necessary. How else would you explain a world where Suffo-clones continue to wrench the life out of a carrion-infested genre, where songs tend to be evaluated as a hodgepodge series of riffs and tempo shifts? This is no knock to the Unique Leader roster or Cephalic Carnage, but it truly boggles the mind when the rich legacy of Morgoth is overlooked in favor of more en vogue outfits, many of whom have yet to demonstrate any grasp on memorable songcraft.

Much like contemporaries Nihilist, Gorefest, Asphyx, Carnage, Thou Shalt Suffer and Benediction, Morgoth belongs amongst the pantheon of fantastic European death metal acts whose records remain eclipsed by the widespread (and frankly inexplicable) adulation for all things Gothenburg-related. If you have any kind of interest in early European death metal, it is more than likely that you have come into contact with this German troupe, but if you have yet to enrich your life with their early output, the kind folks at Century Media have issued this lavish double CD retrospective (replete with GREAT demo material and the requisite odds n’sods) that should make every modern fan’s purchase list, provided you can stomach the inclusions from 1993’s  Odium and 1996’s abysmal Feel Sorry For The Fanatic. More on that later, though.

As one might expect from an act that shared stages with the likes of Master, Unleashed, Dismember and Obituary, Morgoth falls squarely within the thrashier end of the death metal spectrum, welding plenty of Possessed/early Death/Autopsy style riffing with steady, pummeling double bass and a haunting sense of melody and atmospherics that infuses each track with genuine snarling menace. To this day, the Resurrection Absurd and Eternal Fall EPs hold up remarkably well when placed against more frantic modern contemporaries. Career highlight “Selected Killing” is sheer malevolence- a breakneck maelstrom of Leprosy era Death riffage subsides at midpoint, settling into a churning, midpaced groove before ushering in an ominous acoustic bridge, a brief, unsettling reprieve from the unbridled violence that this track embodies. A thrashy riff and galloping bassline introduce “Pits Of Utumno”, a brilliant track that juxtaposes compact, disciplined instrumentation with Marc Grewe’s barbarous, bloodcurdling, MANIC shrieks. Sounding like Chuck Schuldiner as projected through a banshee, Marc Grewe’s vocals easily give Chris Reifert, Jeff Beccerra, Stevo Impetigo and Jeff Walker a run for their money.

So here’s the paragraph that will hopefully arouse enough interest in you to actually purchase this retrospective. Morgoth, much like Asphyx and mid-period Hypocrisy (before the alien metal crap), had a profoundly sophisticated sense of dynamics and atmospherics that elevated their songcraft beyond the blunt, more callous sounds of their Euro contemporaries. This is hinted at on “Travel”, the churning, sinister gem culled from their debut EP, but fully developed on their Cursed LP. While Asphyx and Obituary could probably be tagged as Celtic Frost playing death metal, Morgoth’s sound on Cursed is more akin to the more devious Black Sabbath and Pentagram moments, fused with the barbarity of their earlier “Seven Churches” worshipping material. Check out the intro for “Isolated”, which almost sounds like vintage Saint Vitus, then the passage that begins at 03:40, a chugging headbanger-friendly dirge that slightly recalls Candlemass with its melancholic lead guitar line and crushing rhythm guitar riff. Meanwhile, “Sold Baptism” often has more to do with doomy NWOBHM than anything death metal related, a gem that blends frenetic, vintage Morgoth passages with sprawling, thick dirgey breakdowns and almost Raven-ish rhythms into a coherent, streamlined blast of perverse genius. Fans of Dream Death, you have been warned!

Invariably, bands ‘grow’ and change. In a world where progress is valued above all else, our favorite bands inevitably forsake, and eventually renounce, their roots in the pursuit of musical maturity. Predictably, Morgoth is a casualty of this deluded crusade. While Odium as a record is far from atrocious (I’d even assert with much vehemence that it is leagues better than most of the goregrind tinged bullshit that gets tagged as ‘’death metal’’ nowadays), it was, and is, a far cry from the inspired chaos that we had witnessed from Morgoth up to this point. Much like their heroes Possessed and Death, Morgoth had traded in a more barbaric, bloodstained approach for a more modern, deliberate sound. Gone are the demonic, bloodgurgling Beccerra-esque vocals, replaced with a shouted delivery that recalls a more fierce Peter Dolving. Gone are the impassioned, unabashedly 80’s thrash-oriented riffs, the guitars opting for a more linear, syncopated approach. While Morgoth’s affinity for dynamics continues to prevail, it is haplessly misplaced- Morgoth clearly are no Voivod or Anacrusis creatively, and their brief forays into industrial and dark ambience just make the proceedings even more awkward/disjointed. This ultimately raises the unavoidable question- why didn’t the band just axe their weaker output with this retrospective? While I understand that this compilation was made in the interest of providing a comprehensive retrospective on Morgoth’s discography, the redundancy and mediocrity of Odium is made glaringly apparent when placed against their early material. To make matters worse, the band has bizarrely forgotten to include the lone saving grace of said album, “Golden Age”. Still, maybe this has more to do with my myopic tradtionalism than anything else- if you are the type of person that prefers Phobos to War & Pain and Spheres to Malleus Maleficarum, maybe you will dig these tracks.

And this is where it all goes horribly, horribly, HORRIBLY wrong. Feel Sorry For The Fanatic is an ABOMINATION of an album, and the three tracks featured here are alternately hilarious, tragic, andunlistenable. Marc Grewe’s vocals are, at this point, an absolute 180 from the infernal war cries of Eternal Fall, a half-yelped, half-bellowed yobish sung voice that would be out of place in even the seediest karaoke lounge. The music, meanwhile, is an ultra-polished swirl of nonsense that recalls the worst of Sentenced mixed with the lowest points of modern Samael and a dash of some ‘80s new wave/gloom-pop sensibilities. The lyrics, however, have to be the most abysmal feature of this woeful record. It is baffling to imagine that the same band that penned lyrics like “Corporeal death- emptiness inside/ The undead will lead a distressing life…Rugged carcasses shred threads of life/The insane, cold-blooded, march to die!” now had the gall to put these lyrics to paper: “Stand up- tic tic toc/ The clock is on the run/ Still got the taste/ Of microwave food in my mouth/” and “So fantastic, oh so beautiful/ Bright coloured is the scene/ We’re dreaming, dreaming to feel free”. Do the words “Tic Tic Toc” remind anyone of another band? ‘Nuff said, really.

Thankfully, the band have been kind enough to provide an incentive for even the most disenchanted Morgoth enthusiasts, bundling the amazing Pits Of Utumno demo, a few unreleased tracks and a handful of video material on the second disc. The material on Pits of Utumno is more primal and far more derivative of their native Germany, plying Teutonic madness ala “Pleasure To Kill” era Kreator.  Again, there is a technical proficiency and sense of songcraft that makes each track memorable and enjoyable. Grewe’s vocal approach here is of a higher register, presumably due to his youth, and while not quite as (un)godly as his later incantations, have a genuinely unhinged quality that is truly great. I LOVE the minimalistic Hellhammer/Venom chord progressions on “Being Boiled”, the kraut-thrash riffing on “Eternal Sanctity”, the wall of noise rifforama of “Dance Their Dance”. I PARTICULARLY love the raw, stripped-down live sound of the demo, such a refreshing change from the anodyne triggering of today’s favoured sound.

For various reasons the bonus tracks are worth getting into. The beer-soaked, cackhanded ferocity of “Golden Age” shines, while “TV War” features Grewe with quite possibly the most amusing vocal performance of his career, sounding like Schmier having a hernia while his band romps through some impossibly silly and gormless hard rock. Are we supposed to take this track seriously? I have absolutely no idea what’s going with “Indifferent”, which sounds like the Cookie Monster singing along to a latter day Paradise Lost song. Even more hilarious is the video for “Sold Baptism”, which must be seen to be believed.

It’s rather hard to fault Morgoth and Century Media for this release- such endeavors are forever fraught with pitfalls. Every band has encountered musical stagnancy/regression/decline in their careers, every band has suffered the wrath of pretentious critic types like myself as a consequence. This retrospective is an earnest and concise look at one of the more severely underappreciated outfits of their time, and as evidenced by Marc Grewe’s laudably frank liner notes, unashamedly bares the creative demise of a great band. At its price point, and considering the wealth of great bonus material on offer, you would be rather foolish to pass this up in favor of the latest goregrind/tech metal/guttural techgoregrindcoreindustrofuturonewwave metal sensation. Instead of putting your hard-earned dollars into a gimmicky rehash like Ribspreader/Bloodbath (much as I enjoy said bands), God Among Insects and Murder Squad, buy the real deal! THRASH FOR LIFE!

Posted by Old Guard

The retired elite of LastRites/MetalReview.

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