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Death and Black Metal Pioneers Morbid Angel, Dark Funeral and Grave Still At Top of Mountain

Photo of Dark Funeral

Band Photo: Dark Funeral (?)

If Satan needed a house band in Hell, he could certainly call on Morbid Angel. Thanks to his guitar acrobatics, journalists have long dubbed band-founder Trey Azagthoth as the Eddie Van Halen of death metal. When the group emerged in 1989 with their first proper release, few, if any, could match the Mercury-footed speed of Pete Sandoval’s double-bass-blasting feet. The groove, mind-blowing skill and heretical lyrics and imagery landed the group at the top of the extreme metal world. Massive touring cycles transformed the band into one of the most prolific, underground touring acts of the 1990s. Their devilish music found its largest audience opening for Slayer and Pantera in the beginning of the new millennium.

After the Pantera gigs, Morbid Angel largely stayed out of the limelight. An opening stint for Soulfly in 2005 was the only North American tour I recall since Pantera. Assumingly, much of the crowd in attendance at Backstage Live in San Antonio had not seen the group in seven or even twelve years. Many long-time fans bemoaned “Illud Divinium Insanus,” the group’s first album in eight years, as the lowest point of artistry in the group’s near-thirty-year career. In fact, many of these fans felt the album was so poor they wouldn’t even venture out to see the band play, which is such a shame because they missed one of the best extreme metal tours of the year!

This concert not only satisfied Morbid Angel withdrawals suffered by one of the largest death metal markets in the U.S., it showcased two other pioneers of their respective fields—Grave and Dark Funeral. Morbid Angel always seems in tune with what is happening in Sweden , they exposed At the Gates and Dissection to mostly unknowing crowds in 1996 and now they list black metal trailblazers, Dark Funeral, and progenitors of Stockholm death metal, Grave, as touring mates.

Before entering the portal to Sweden’s masters of dark arts, local bands took the stage. I missed the first two acts, but caught San Antonio’s death/black commandos, Hod. Playing with a new guitarist and drummer, the group severed and scraped its audience with a short set of material culled from their upcoming record “Book of the Worm.” Endowed with a yard-stick-length of black beard, leather and spikes and a shiny can depicting a “blue ribbon” in his hand, Beer Reebs conveyed some of the look and the entire attitude of a pirate. “We are Hod and we play fucking metal,” exclaimed Reebs before the band launched into a blitzkrieg attack. Nobody is disputing that claim and the group certainly plays it well.

Grave’s appearance marked the first concert for this humble writer since their 1996 tour supporting the “Hating Life” tour. The past tour resulted in a dismal turnout in Grand Rapids, so to see them in front of large audience infused the group with electricity lacking sixteen years ago. The last couple Grave albums saw the band returning to its bread and butter sounds revealed on their first two records—“Into the Grave” and “You’ll Never See,” so hearing material such as “Passion of the Weak” received a resounding crowd response.

Of course, hearing early tracks such as “You’ll Never See,” and the unholy trinity exhumed from their debut—“Hating Life,” “Extremely Rotten Flesh” and “Into the Grave,” caused a trance-like devotion of banging fists, heads and swinging limbs. While band founder Ola Lindgren never possessed the Tartaros-reaching lows of their first singer and Entombed bassist, Jorgen Sandstrom, his tortured screams were as good as I’ve heard. Newer members Mika Lagren (guitar) and Tobias Cristiansson (bass) kept Grave’s death metal machine well oiled and constantly churning its asphalt-laden textures.

Dark Funeral tempered Grave’s mid-paced doom-and-groove tempos with a seemingly non-stop blast fest. One of the complaints I’ve always given to Dark Funeral’s style was their dynamics, but their combustible presentation resulted in a newfound appreciation. Nachtgarm, the corpse-painted Swedes’ latest satanic devotee behind the mic, proved a more than worthy addition to the band. His completely painted face and baldhead drew comparisons to Galder (Old Man’s Child, Dimmu Borgir.) His lungpower was of such a magnitude it left much of the crowd starring with slacked jawed amazement. Oh yeah, did I mention how fast the band played? Decked out in militaristic spikes-and-armor look, bound founder Lord Ahriman scowled through his corpse paint as he picked his guitar at a rate that a camera’s fast shutter speed could not freeze his blurring hands.

Morbid Angel took the stage in a consistent fashion. The heralders of Lovecraftian-related “Weird Tales” marched upon a dark platform to the tune of another ominous sound-score piece. Worries about a set mired in new material were soon put at ease as the group launched into classics from their first three albums. David Vincent’s bestially roared the lyrics of “Immortal Rites,” “Fall From Grace” and “Rapture.” He was in top form singing tracks such as “God of Emptiness,” which included an echo surely appeasing to the Old Ones. Azagthoth didn’t exhibit as much on-stage flair as Vincent, his raven-black hair continually shrouded his face, but his finger tapping and whammy –bar wizardry were nothing short of awesome. Latest guitar recruit, Myrkskog and ex-Zyklon member Destructhor, aptly handled Trey’s trade off leads. Tim Yeung handily filled in the role of Pete “The Feet” Sandoval. What would you expect from the multi-year winner of the Fastest Drummer in the World contest?

Even though Morbid Angel chose sparse material from their latest recording, they did include two of the album’s better songs, “Existo Vulgore” and “Nevermore.” Although they built much of their set around “Altars of Madness” material such as “Maze of Torment,” the group revisited albums throughout their career. They pulled the bloated corpse of “Where the Slime Live” from its acrid Florida marshes, while “Bil Ur-Sag” showed why many consider “Formulas Fatal to the Flesh” their greatest moment of technical brilliance.

Morbid Angel toured to support their weakest incarnation, but their set list appealed to fans of all periods of their career. The group keeps receiving so much criticism for the said record, which may explain why declined an interview with Metal Underground.com. As I told many naysayers, though, one can’t take a 90-degree turn in opinion based on one poor release. Morbid Angel is like any band with a long career—people come out to see their classic material, and the group certainly sufficed. Their confidence and arrogance in the middle ear of their career caused fans to perceive them as rock star douches. Whether this is true or not, after witnessing their performance, it is hard to debate the band’s claim as death metal nobility!

Morbid Angel’s set list is as follows:

Immortal Rites
Fall From Grace
Sworn to the Black
Existo Vulgore
Lord of All Fevers and Plague
Chapel of Ghouls
Where the Slime Live
Blood on My Hands
Bil Ur Sag
God of Emptiness
World of Shit

Rex_84's avatar

An avid metal head for over twenty years, Darren Cowan has written for several metal publications and attended concerts throughout various regions of the U.S.

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