Alright class, because I can’t seem to get enough lately, we’re going back to Morbid Angel for this Riffology. This time we will examine “Day of Suffering” from the band’s second album, 1991’s Blessed Are the Sick, my personal favorite.
At a mere one minute and fifty-five seconds, “Day of Suffering” is one of the shortest songs in the Morbid Angel catalog. Despite its brevity, the song suffers no shortage of evil.
Let us begin at the beginning, with what has to be one of the meanest sounding riffs Morbid Angel ever wrote. This one-measure riff, which serves as the intro and first verse accompaniment, begins with a quarter note B power chord (Guitars are tuned down one-half step). One power chord shouldn’t be able to say that much, but somehow Morbid Angel imbues that opening B5 with so much malice, you can tell in the first beat that bad things are afoot. The rest of the riff is composed of six heavily palm-muted, eighth-note staccato power chords rooted on the sixth string. They are in sequence: G5, F5, A5, F5, G5, and F5. The way the band really digs in and murders those palm-muted chords builds such a seething malevolence in the space of three beats that once that B-5 comes around again, it hits like a bomb. If you listen closely, you will notice a subtle whooshing sound as the riff plays—this is most likely a phaser effect set to a slow sweep. I would explain how a phaser works, but I don’t really understand it myself. It makes that whooshing sound, though, which gives this already scary riff an extra creepy-crawly feel.
The intro’s cycle of abuse repeats fourteen times in total, accounting for more than a quarter of the songs running time. It is worth noting that the intro riff contains no out-of-key notes. The riff is played strictly in B natural minor, with no diminished fifths or minor seconds to inject any extra evil. Yet, the riff remains heavy as unholy fuck because the band plays it with such iron-fisted conviction.
As we’ve learned with the other Morbid Angel songs we’ve covered recently, David Vincent has a knack for kicking off devastating riffs in dramatic fashion. He does so again on “Day of Suffering” at 0:34 with the transition from the intro riff to the song’s second riff. Vincent roars “Die” at the instant the riff changes, and furious head-banging ensues every time. It is perhaps my favorite moment in all of Morbid Angel’s music.
If the head-banging doesn’t ruin your concentration, you might discover that the second riff isn’t actually all that different from the first. Essentially, the band plays the intro riff in double time, with single notes instead of power chords. The feel of the second verse riff is entirely different—frenetic and chaotic compared to the precise and controlled intro, but the root notes and structures of the two riffs are the same. Trey Azagthoth may come off a little whacky, but he’s no dummy, and he proves it here by getting double the mileage out of one riff. As I’ve said before, if a riff sounds good played both fast and slow, it’s a pretty damned good riff.
These first two riffs make up almost half of “Day of Suffering.” Although Morbid Angel manages to cram about five more riffs and a solo into the song’s remaining minute, the techniques used are fairly standard, so I’m not cramming anything more into this column. Fear not, though: there is likely more Morbid Angel to be riffologized in the future.
Homework: In the comments, let’s have at it: Altars of Madness vs. Blessed Are the Sick. Make your case.
Extra Credit: Learn to play “Day of Suffering” . This tab is a little dodgy in spots, but it’ll give you the gist.
Essential Listening: Morbid Angel – Blessed Are the Sick