Contributed by Jake Holmes
When I was 17, I bought — for the unbelievable price of $5 — an album from a band I had only heard stories of up to at that point, a band named Morbid Angel. I had spent the last several years working my way through metal’s history and was just starting to delve into the absu of Florida death metal, as I was pretty much starting with the ‘70’s and ‘80’s of metal and working my way through time. Having worshipped the death/thrash of Slaughter and Voor and the brutal speed of Exhorder, the pure death metal of bands like Obituary was a kick in the face to me, and I knew I had to seek out more. When I bought Morbid Angel‘s third album, “Covenant”, I knew I was getting into something evil. The artwork on the CD itself was extremely unnerving, with arcane sigils and depictions of blasphemy that went even beyond Slayer’s vile exaltations to the depths. As was the case when I heard “Raining Blood” for the first time, I dove into the Acheron as I blasted the album on my way home. I was hooked. I was convinced that Morbid Angel were absolutely the most evil band in existence, devouring “Altars of Madness” and “Blessed Are The Sick” with equal passion as I continued to feed my appetite for death metal from the Abyss.
Fast-forward to almost seven years later and Morbid Angel were announced to be playing “Covenant” from start-to-finish in my hometown with some of my favorite local bands opening up, and it should have gone without saying that there was no way I was missing this. As I was not interested in seeing them on their previous tour after they released an album whose name I shall not mention (and whose spirit I do not embrace), this would be the first time I would be able to witness Morbid Angel live after wanting to see them for all those years. With tickets purchased for me and my girlfriend, we arrived at Red 7 to a packed house and unusually-excellent weather, so things were looking pretty damn good for the performance minus the signs that were posted everywhere that reminded us that if anyone even so much as looked like they were stage diving, the entire show would be over before you could say “WHIPS CRACK!” (but what can you do about that?)
Having seen many a national touring show with a subpar local backing, I am pleased to report that the local support for this show was top-notch, with some of Central Texas’ most professional talent taking the stage to set the stage for Morbid Angel. The melodic Vesperian Sorrow kicked off the festivities with a symphonic serving of extreme metal songs that are thoughtfully composed and precisely played. Symphonic metal of any kind is not usually my cup of tea but Vesperian Sorrow play the style very well, mixing choral keyboards (delivered by backing tracks, with former keyboardist Subversaph switching to bass recently) with wicked guitar riffing and thunderous percussion. They were joined by Erika from Austin death metal band Morgengrau for “Casting Dawn Into Shadow” (full disclosure: I also happen to be a member of Morgengrau), who provided soaring clean vocals in contrast to singer Donn Donni’s harsh growling. Additional backing vocals were provided throughout the set by bassist Subversaph, which were fortunately prominent in the mix as they added power to the band’s already-strong vocal style. Vesperian Sorrow’s set brought a welcome diversity to Tuesday’s bill, showing that there was something for everyone throughout the show.
Flesh Hoarder’s death metal attack was the closest to Morbid Angel’s style on Tuesday’s bill, albeit taken to several further levels of brutality in a way that only Texans (and a select number of New Yorkers) can accomplish. Guitarist “Metal” Mike De Leon (who had played a killer show with Disfigured in San Marcos that Saturday) showed no sign of fatigue as he riffed and headbanged, making his famous “pufferfish” face while notably clad in a killer Angelcorpse shirt. Vocalist “Sick” Nick Moreno (also of Eviscerated) gurgled stories of perversity and gore while his bandmates passionately churned out sickening riffs and, in the case of drummer Rene Martinez, versatile rhythms. The band persevered through some technical difficulties involving a guitar amp (a completely forgivable situation) and presented a good impression to the receptive crowd. A mosh pit had started to take place during Flesh Hoarder’s set, with several people reacting to the movement-inducing riffs, especially the slower, grinding sections that force anyone not trapped in a mosh pit to start headbanging at once. The show was going smoothly at this point, with each band keeping to its set time and gear turnover going quickly, which is always a bonus at a live show.
The prog metal maestros in Vex served as direct support to Morbid Angel, and played a concise set filled with atmospheric intensity. The great thing about Vex’s brand of progressive metal is that they aren’t the type of progressive metal where bands wank around on a bunch of scales over the course of fifteen minutes and call it a song; rather, they blend multiple approaches to metal to compose the best possible song that they can for the ideas presented. Starting their set with a new song whose vocals reminded me of a deathly take on Yes’s “Close to the Edge”, Vex blazed through their set with fury. Guitarists Michael Day and Ciaran McCloskey traded off everything from effected-speed strumming to finger-picked arpeggios (with McCloskey being only identifiable as a giant mass of red hair during most of the set) while new bassist Joel (also of Bat Castle) and drum wizard Eoghan McCloskey locked the beat in regardless of whichever bizarre meter or accent the rhythm of the song was in (watching a Vex set requires you to know how to headbang in multiple time signatures, you see). Singer Joe Jackson is a man of many voices, ranging from a low growl to singing as appropriate, with his lower barks recalling those of Sakis Tolis of Rotting Christ. Vex’s set was a welcome placement on Tuesday’s bill, and the next time the band plays near you, you should certainly make it a mission to check them out.
The only thing I did not enjoy about the Vex set was the unimaginable stench that crept out of nowhere from somewhere near the outside stage (its source was allegedly a burst sewer pipe). Readers, I have been to many a sketchy thrash metal or crust punk show and have smelled some rank odors at shows, but this smell topped everything, including Winter’s crowd at Chaos in Tejas 2012 (the previous title holder of the “What Died In This Venue?” trophy even if the show itself was awesome).
Thankfully, this odor from beyond dissipated fairly quickly, and at 11:55PM, the lights dimmed, the stage crew departed, and four musicians emerged from the shadows: the hour of “Covenant” was upon us. The opening notes of “Rapture” heralded the initiation to madness, and within seconds the crowd went wild. “Pain Divine” continued the assault faithfully and powerfully, and I found myself screaming the lyrics and thrashing around with my eyes rolling back in my head as if by possession. The highlight in the set came in the form of the third song, a personal favorite, “World of Shit (The Promised Land)” with its initial sludgy stomp transitioning into a blistering blast with some of the most vitriolic lyrics on the album it is featured on. The first three songs of the set had the show off to a great start, with the band reproducing the songs from the album accurately, with fog machines and lighting to enhance the setting.
However, after “World of Shit (The Promised Land)”, there was a noticeable shift in energy that took place, and I can’t quite put my finger on what exactly it was (maybe it was the way David Vincent yelled “OH SHIT!” at the start of “Vengeance is Mine” in the same way a rock band would lead into a riff they wanted their audience to jump up for). It was a strange aura in the venue indeed; not “strange” as in the obscure creatures from weird tales that inspired the lyrical content of some of Morbid Angel’s best songs, but rather in the sense that there was a presence that was missing from most of the rest of the show that was there at, for example, Deicide and Watain recently. The setting was similar (for Deicide, at least, the atmosphere for Watain was something else entirely) and yet the evil that had been in the air was absent for most of the set on Tuesday night. That said, there were several points in the performance that were enjoyable, including “The Lion’s Den” and “Angel of Disease”, both of which received some of the crowd’s best responses, although I wish they hadn’t turned on the strobe lights at the start of the latter — trying to jump into the pit when you’re being blinded takes a lot of the fun out of it.
I will say that the star of the show was absolutely Trey Azagthoth. Eccentricities aside, he is still the reigning king of death metal guitar soloing, summoning unholy ones of Lovecraftian origin with his warped, twisted playing. I did not detect a single error as he shredded and thrashed on his guitar, ringing in loudly and clearly over the rest of the band. His solos are the perfect balance of chaos and structure, paradoxically delivering mayhem through atonal mastery. I had started off the show on the left side of the venue while Azagthoth turned out to be on the opposite side, so I had to get closer to be able to watch his demented playing. Even though I saw his solos performed with my eyes it was still difficult to wrap my brain around his techniques. The sound was good on the outside stage from where I was standing throughout the night, and the guitar tones on the “Covenant” album were reproduced faithfully by Azagthoth and guitarist Thor Anders Myhren.
After the “Covenant” portion of the set ended, however, my enthusiasm for the show in general dropped out substantially. The band went from “God of Emptiness” (which was a solid rendition minus some sung vocal embellishments) into “Where the Slime Live” and three songs from the Steve Tucker era of the band, and while none of the above are bad songs at all, there was a conviction missing that would have been crucial at this point in the setlist, as we were nearing the end of the show. The inclusion of “Existo Vulgore” from the-album-that-shall-not-be-named managed to drain a sizable portion of the crowd’s energy, and even “Immortal Rites” (which in case you got into metal yesterday is one of the greatest songs ever written) was compromised by the puzzling singing (as in “not growling”) by Vincent during the bridge of the song, which was repeated each time the passage occurred for some reason. The band ended with “Fall From Grace” from “Blessed Are The Sick”, and while it is a great song, at that point the mood was set in stone.
I must reiterate that it was not a “bad” show by any means. I had a good time and was able to thrash and scream for some of my favorite songs from “Covenant” with some of my best friends. When factoring in the rest of the setlist and the overall atmosphere, however, the majority of the show left me underwhelmed. I wanted this show to be one of my favorites of the year, and perhaps it was a matter of expectations that were placed too high, but the end result simply did not live up to the hype. After all, Morbid Angel playing all of “Covenant“ should be hyped because it should be undisputedly amazing, not “OK” or even “reasonably good.” I’m sure that my opinion will not be echoed by many people who were at that show since many people seemed to be having a very good time for the whole thing (until “Existo Vulgore” at least), but I have to be honest with how I felt during the show. Nothing will ever stop me from worshipping the first three Morbid Angel albums (hell, I listened to the song “Abominations” approximately 36 times while writing this article), but as far as their next live appearance, I’ll likely have to pass.
Morbid Angel setlist:
World of Shit (The Promised Land)
Vengeance Is Mine
The Lion’s Den
Blood On My Hands
Angel of Disease
Sworn to the Black
God of Emptiness
Where The Slime Live
Ageless, Still I Am
Curse the Flesh
Fall From Grace
Jake Holmes is a Central Texas heavy metal writer who lives by the pen and will (likely) die by the sword. Originally from a suburban town outside of North Austin, Holmes moved to San Antonio during his college years. After several years and thousands of miles driven to see shows in San Antonio and Austin, he returned to the Austin area due to his graduation and continued to see as many shows as humanly possible. His interests include going to shows, blasting Carnivore as loudly as possible on the way to shows, and sleeping upon his return to his home from shows. His “dislikes” include hearing loss, traffic, and unnecessary bonus tracks on album reissues.
A brief message from Dear Leader
Greetings readers. I thank you all for your support thus far. This will likely be the only article to be posted until after the holidays as SDM has a lot to prepare for in early 2014. Don’t forget about Southern Decay’s first hosted show in conjunction with Motorbreath Entertainment to take place January 25th, 2014. The show is free and doors are at 8. Don’t miss it.