If you’d asked me in January what I thought I’d be covering in the coming year, I can honestly say that a Morgoth live album would not have been on my list. Not by virtue of any anti-Morgoth bias, mind you – I like this band and have for some time. But I must admit that I just sort of assumed that Morgoth had been swallowed by the Great Whale Of Time, never to return again. Still, you know what happens when you assume. You find yourself being thoroughly pleasantly surprised by a long-lost German death metal band emerging from the ass end of a whale.
So it would appear that Morgoth is back, at least on a live level, though now sans founding drummer Rudiger Hennecke and guitarist Carsten Otterbach. (In the absence of Otterbach, bassist Sebastian Swart has switched to guitar.) The main part of Cursed To Live was recorded at the Way Of Darkness festival in 2011, the band’s set celebrating the twenty-year anniversary of their debut full-length, 1991’s underrated Cursed, almost all of which is performed here. Pre-Cursed precursors, 1989’s Resurrection Absurd and 1990’s The Eternal Fall EP are also represented, as are two tracks from second record Odium. For reasons obvious to anyone who’s kept up with Morgoth, no tracks from the much-maligned Feel Sorry For The Fanatic made the cut.
Back when Cursed first burst, in 1991, death metal was exploding, and I was just dipping my toes into things heavier than Iron Maiden and Metallica. Though it would be years later before I actually heard that record, Cursed was one of the first death metal albums I ever heard of. I remember reading a review of it in RIP magazine, and if what remains of my brain hasn’t been swallowed by the Time Whale and my recollections are to be trusted, that review said something to the effect of “If Germany’s Morgoth were any more Floridian, they’d be an orange tree, or an alligator, or a dead Jewish fellow who somehow still voted for George W. Bush in 2000.” (Damn you, Whale – that’s not at all what the review said, but the sentiment is the same.)
Though they would later add more industrial elements, in 1991, Morgoth sounded a lot like Death, before that latter band upped the ante and left almost all competition in the dust. The bulk of Resurrection Absurd, Eternal Fall, and Cursed is very much early death and early Death, with some minor touches of a more intricate attack creeping in by the end, but still mostly just brutal and direct. Vocalist Marc Grewe snarls like a combination of Schuldiner and Obituary’s John Tardy, and a large part of Cursed’s charm is in that combination, in the vomitous and natural quality of his voice. The songs were great, again some combo of Death and Obituary, heavier on the former and heavier for the latter; the performances were vicious, and the whole of the band’s early catalog remains sadly overlooked.
So what of these live performances, rendered now by a band two decades older and fighting their way out of the whale? Well, bluntly put, they’re pretty damn killer. Morgoth circa 2011 still has the fury, still plays great, still sounds great. Grewe’s voice is in excellent shape – his voice is rawer here, as you’d expect, but his bark still bites – and the band behind him is taut and tight. Cursed To Live was mixed at Unisound Studios by the ever-reliable Dan Swano, so these tracks are well-balanced – the guitars in particular benefit from a carving, stout tone. Unearthed classics like “Pits Of Utumno” and the blistering “Body Count” are energetic and crushing – once “Body Count” starts the set proper (after the requisite 90s instrumental intro), the whole set list is rock solid, with highlights in “Suffer Life,” “Exit To Temptation,” and “Selected Killing.”
Cursed To Live is an impressive statement from a band reuniting after a fifteen-year absence. More often than should be, in discussions of first-wave death metal these days, Morgoth gets overlooked, and Cursed To Live is a good example of why that’s unfortunate. Though post-Cursed, they only managed two more albums to diminishing results, in their moment, revisited here, they were arguably Germany’s best death metal outfit. Returning now decades later, Cursed To Live shows they can still compete on stage, though in the end it’s a live album that largely encompasses a better studio album, so by nature, it’s a for-the-fans affair. Nevertheless, it’s a winner, so welcome back from the belly of the whale, meinen Herren, and a job well done. Now, perhaps a new album?
Also of note, for the serious fan: There is an expanded edition of Cursed To Live that includes not only the audio from this show, but also a PAL DVD of the same set and a second live CD recorded at a different show, though with largely the same set-list. Century Media was kind enough to send me the bonus live CD, which is also great, albeit shorter than the Way Of Darkness concert. I did not receive the DVD and thus cannot comment upon it. I bring that up not because I’m upset that I didn’t get it (though I would love to have it, of course), but rather to impart the information to you, dear reader, that there is, in fact, more death for your dollar (or more evil for your Euro or whatever) should you want / need more Morgoth…