Emerging from a flourishing Floridian underground in the late ‘80s, Morbid Angel have long been recognised as one of the most important extreme metal bands of all time. Whether fronted by original vocalist David Vincent or current incumbent Steve Tucker, the band led by guitarist Trey Azagthoth have always been regarded as among death metal’s elite, and their lasting influence on the entire metal underground is unquestionable. Here we dive into the band’s sturdy catalogue of studio albums, ranking them from worst to best. Disclaimer: they’re all great, really.
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10. Heretic (2003)
The third Morbid Angel album with Steve Tucker and the last with iconic drummer Pete Sandoval, Heretic was just as warped and extreme as any suggest its predecessors, but with fewer truly memorable moments. It also seemed to hint that Trey Azagthoth was anxious to experiment and move away from his band’s trademark sound. Heretic ends with a brace of instrumentals, followed by a bunch of random studio off-cuts that make no sense whatsoever. It’s admirably bizarre, but Altars Of Madness it is most certainly not.
9. Gateways To Annihilation (2000)
Stoically adhering to their own twisted musical principles, Morbid Angel continued down a dissonant, obsidian sonic path for Steve Tucker’s sophomore outing. Gateways To Annihilation might lack the its predecessors’ hellish anthems, but it was a succinct and savage burst of defiant death metal, with Tucker firmly establishing his identity as a frontman via the haughty likes of To The Victor The Spoils and Summoning Redemption. Not a stone cold classic, but still a superior piece of work.
8. Illud Divinum Insanus (2011)
There are few things more entertaining than watching people get their knickers in a twist about something that was plainly designed to twist knickers. Featuring the return of the talismanic David Vincent, Illud Divinum Insanus did boast handful of prime death metal cuts, but it was defined by its swivel-eyed electronic experiments and the distinctly goofy Radikult, which sounded like Rob Zombie on steroids. Many fans were horrified, but with hindsight, Morbid Angel’s eighth album was a giant, defiant ‘fuck you’ and obnoxiously entertaining with it.
7. Formulas Fatal To The Flesh (1998)
When David Vincent quit Morbid Angel in 1996, diehard fans feared the worst. Fortunately, Trey Azagthoth recruited a superb new frontman, Steve Tucker, and conjured some new material that more than lived up to the band’s towering reputation. Formulas Fatal To The Flesh was gnarlier, grimier and less overtly pompous than any of Vincent’s albums, but it still exuded plenty of that unique Morbid magic. In particular, opener Heaving Earth and the furious Nothing Is Not were freshly-minted classics.
6. Kingdoms Disdained (2017)
After David Vincent’s comeback proved to be both controversial and brief, the return of Steve Tucker for Morbid Angel’s tenth album may have seemed like a compromise position for Trey Azagthoth. Instead, the reunited duo produced their finest collaborative work yet, returning to the colossal grandeur and infernal perversity of the band’s early classics, but with Tucker’s ferocious charisma propelling everything along. Inexplicably released at the very end of 2017, thus ensuring that it received far less attention than it deserved, Kingdoms Disdained is ripe for reassessment as a modern Morbid Angel masterpiece.
5. Abominations Of Desolation (1991)
Not a true studio album, but demo recordings from 1986 showcasing the original Morbid Angel line-up, Abominations proves just how far ahead of the competition the band were from very early on. Vocalist/drummer Mike Browning would later form Nocturnus and take death metal into even weirder territory, but back in ’86, he and founding guitarists Trey Azagthoth and Richard Brunelle were effectively establishing much of the genre’s vocabulary, making even Slayer sound a bit cheerful and wholesome in the process.
4. Blessed Are The Sick (1991)
Morbid Angel upped the ante for death metal to such a startling degree on their debut album Altars Of Madness in ’89 that it defied belief that they could repeat the trick. But they did. Less raw but even more grim and grandiose than Altars, Blessed Are The Sick was a dazzling showcase for the band’s utterly unique take on extreme metal. From the churning, deceptively complex squall of opener Fall From Grace to blistering bursts of intricate evil like Unholy Blasphemies and Rebel Lands, it reinforced the fact that Morbid Angel were operating on a higher level than just about everybody else.
3. Covenant (1993)
A third undisputed classic album in a row, Covenant emerged as death metal reached its early ‘90s peak. Staggeringly heavy and boasting some of Morbid Angel’s most enduring anthems, it sustained the band’s momentum with considerable ferocity. Co-produced with legendary Metallica collaborator Flemming Rasmussen, the likes of Rapture, Pain Divine, Blood On My Hands and the absurdly heavy God Of Emptiness simply added to Morbid Angel’s unassailable position at the top of the death metal tree. As with each of the band’s first four albums, Covenant has proved to be massively influential and is regular cited as a benchmark for the entire scene. Full marks all ‘round, then.
2. Domination (1995)
If there is one thing that always set Morbid Angel apart from their peers, it was the band’s inherent sense of imperious snootiness. Bolstered by the arrival of guitarist Erik Rutan (Hate Eternal), Domination lived up to its title, sounding like a devastating statement of renewed intent from a band that knew instinctively that they were the kings of this shit. Hyper-fast and wilfully extreme on the likes of This Means War and Dawn Of The Angry, magnificently overblown and majestic for the ageless Where The Slime Lives and haunting, off-kilter closer Hatework: Domination was the perfectly arrogant and artful embodiment of Morbid Angel’s liberated approach to heavy music.
1. Altars Of Madness (1989)
Death metal was in full swing by the time Morbid Angel released their full-length debut via Earache Records in 1989. Nothing could have prepared the world for Altars Of Madness, however. Like some terrifying tsunami of evil belched from the depths of Hell, the band’s first record instantly refined and redefined the death metal sound, taking the genre’s primitive principles and firing them into the claustrophobic depths of some unseen cosmos. From Immortal Rites’ churning, backwards into, to the closing, blood-drip disquiet of Evil Spells, Altars Of Madness is a perfect metal record: fast, furious, wildly inventive and full of riffs that sounded like nothing else on Earth. In fact, they still don’t. Over 30 years later, death metal bands are still trying to top this. Good luck with that, folks.