Morbid Saint – Spectrum Of Death (Reissue) Review

I first dove into this crazy world of underground metal in the dying light of the 1980s, so I had a little bit of catching up to do. Since then, I’ve spent countless hours and dollars scouring the used bins and the internet for classics, rarities, unearthed thrash diamonds, long-lost crossover gems, forgotten NWOBHM also-rans, anything I may have missed from the beginning through the point where I came in. Morbid Saint’s sole full-length record, 1988’s Spectrum Of Death, is one such record, one I never found in any of my diggings. I’ve heard it referenced from time to time, always in positive tones, hailed as a great raw thrash record that never broke through, but it and I never crossed paths until now.

But this story isn’t all magic: There’s a mostly minor catch, which I will come to in a minute…

Formed in Sheboygan, Wisconsin in 1982, Morbid Saint opened for Death at various shows in the late 1980s. One-time Death manager and current Schuldiner legal representative Eric Greif produced Spectrum Of Death, which was originally released on Mexican label Avanzada Metalica. Since then, Spectrum has been reissued a few times, bootlegged an additional few, with the latest prior release coming in 2008 via Power Play Records. Some of those earlier CD copies fetch a pretty penny in the online used markets now. Since the band reformed this year and played at the 2012 Maryland Deathfest, Relapse has seen fit to bring Spectrum back from the dead one more time… albeit only on vinyl.

And there’s that catch that I mentioned…

A vinyl-only reissue may not be as big of a bummer to many of you, but for those of us who haven’t been caught up in the nostalgic-waxing return, it’s a definite downer. But really, it’s the only negative for the whole affair – Spectrum Of Death is a great slice of feral thrash from yesteryear, with a dash of technical leanings belied by sheer raw ferocity. It’s easy to see these guys sharing a stage with early Death, since Morbid Saint is only a step in the other direction over the death/thrash line from that more prominent band’s earliest and less progressive incarnations.

With the exception of the forty-two second title track, which is just phase-shifted clean guitar arpeggios, Spectrum Of Death operates almost exclusively at full throttle. Two of its seven actual songs clock in at below two minutes, and two clock in at above seven. The former pair embodies the album’s blistering speed and energy, while the latter two comprise Spectrum’s vaguely progressive tinges, every bit as biting but with more lengthy and complicated structures. Tracks like “Crying For Death” and “Burned At The Stake” crackle with sheer velocity – after the final crashes of the former, I imagine drummer Lee Reynolds smashing his cymbals and toppling backwards off his throne in a heap.

Granted, Greif’s production job is a bit out-dated now, though it is mostly just a sign of the times in which it was created – the guitars are dry, not tinny but bright and crisp; the entire thing is marked with a noticeable hiss, and the bottom end is largely absent. The bass guitar is virtually inaudible throughout the entire album, but hey, this is 80s thrash, after all. Still, in the same fashion, the riffs come fast and furious, all early Kreator bullet-train and bullet-belt chaos beneath Pat Lind’s Petrozza-esque snarl. Between the full-tilt bashing and the quality of the songs that bring it, Spectrum Of Death is certainly good enough to transcend its bass-less bark.

So now Morbid Saint and I are acquainted, and I must say, Spectrum Of Death lives up to its billing as a forgotten great – it’s simply one of the most vicious overlooked thrash records of its day, and far more aggressive than all but the most furious of its peers. Alongside the likes of Rigor Mortis, Blood Feast and Germany’s Protector, Morbid Saint is an unsung hero of the days when thrash pushed its boundaries into death metal territory, and this disc is an absolute must-hear for all fans of thrashing madness, no way around it.

I mean, seriously, look at that cover – this thing just screams “kick-ass.” Now somebody reissue this on CD and shut up and take my money…

Posted by Andrew Edmunds

Last Rites Co-Owner; Senior Editor; born in the cemetery, under the sign of the MOOOOOOON...

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