NINNGHIZHIDDA, OPEN MY EYES
Perhaps the most prolific and well-known death metal band ever to come out of the sunny, death metal-rich groves of central Florida, Morbid Angel was formed in 1984, in Tampa. The original lineup consisted of Trey Azagthoth (lead guitar, keyboards), David Vincent (bass guitar, vocals), Richard Brunelle (rhythm guitar), and Pete Sandoval (drums).
At first, the band didn't really go anywhere. Azagthoth, for all intents and purposes the brains of the operation, toiled for a few years making sure that nothing went wrong. Half of 1986 was spent recording the band's first demo, Abominations of Desolation, which is a death metal classic, but is extremely raw and the original pressings of it were of a very poor quality. (It was later rereleased after the band became successful.) From the demo's completion in late 1986 until the end of 1988, Morbid Angel played around various Florida venues but generally didn't attract too much attention. Azagthoth, determined to avoid failure, took his band over to England in early 1989, at the invitation of his friends in Napalm Death, a band whom Morbid Angel had opened for on several occasions when they'd toured the United States. This lead to a record deal with Earache Records, who provided the band with fairly wide distribution in Europe, and in their home country, via a distribution deal with Relativity Records, who at the time were also distributing releases by Chuck Shuldiner's band Death, which was one of the big names in 1980s death metal.
NINNGHIZHIDDA, HEAR MY CRIES
While in England, Napalm Death and Morbid Angel played a few shows together, and entered a recording studio together to record an album, World Downfall. Earache released the joint effort under the name the two bands were operating as for the album -- Terrorizer.
Morbid Angel began work on their debut album upon returning to the States in mid-1989. Altars of Madness was that album, and it was released to explosive acclaim in late 1989. Honestly, the praise for the album was shocking; it even was reviewed in "Rolling Stone," and how often to you see them reviewing death metal albums? Particularly in the 1980s? Altars of Madness and the next album, 1991's Blessed Are The Sick, were such successes, that the band was signed to a major label -- Warner Brothers/Giant. They were the first major label to sign a death metal band. WB financed the band's follow-up album, 1993's Covenant. Prior to its recording, Richard Brunelle left the band, and Covenant was recorded as a trio. That wasn't so much a problem for Azagthoth, who is an absolutely phenomenal guitarist and could probably handle lead guitar and rhythm guitar simultaneously without breaking a sweat. The bulk of Covenant is of the speed metal/extreme guitar solo tack, and he handles it with aplomb.
One more interesting thing about Covenant is that it includes a cover of one of the band's old songs, from the AOD demo -- the six-minute-long, blisteringly fast, Venom-like "Angel of Disease." The updated version is vastly superior to the demo version recorded seven years previously, and became a fan favourite. The lyrics are a Lovecraftian tribute to Shub Niggurath (the monster-goat with one thousand young) and the Sumerian Ancient Ones (including that beloved devourer of souls, Cthulhu).
RISE FROM THE DEPTHS
A number of music videos were made from songs on that album, which actually received airplay on MTV, not only on "Headbanger's Ball," either. I can distinctly recall both "Rapture" and "God of Emptiness" being played on the afternoon-airing episodes of "Beavis & Butt-head," during the MST3K-for-idiots-like music video-riffing sessions. It was around this time that I discovered the band, and hurriedly picked up all their releases to date, which I listened to incessantly as I waited for them to tour again, which they finally did upon the release of their next album, 1995's Domination.
Seeing Morbid Angel live was a strangely thrilling experience; it has thus far been the only death metal show I've attended where everyone in the audience was singing along, even to the bits of lyric that were sung in ancient Sumerian (i.e. "Lord of All Fevers & Plague," "Angel of Disease," etc.). You know you're among like-minded people when everyone around you is belting out "IA! IAK SAKKAKH! IAK SAKKAKTH! IA SHAXUL! IA KINGU! IA CTHULHU! IA AZBUL! RIDE THE WINGS OF DEATH!"
After Domination was released but before hitting the road, the band picked up rhythm guitarist Erik Rutan, formerly of New Jersey's own Ripping Corpse. He crammed all the songs Morbid Angel planned to tour with into his head in about four months and joined them on the tour as scheduled.
SEE THE FIRE IN MY EYES
After touring in support of Domination, the band took a well-deserved break. Azagthoth spent his time assembling a live album (1996's Entangled in Chaos), which was made up of various soundboard recordings made on the Domination tour in 1995. Also around this time, Vincent unexpectedly left the band to join his wife Gen in The Genitorturers.
I saw The Genitorturers live shortly after Vincent joined them; he was still playing bass, though he provided no backing vocals (despite his previous position with Morbid Angel), and didn't seem like he was having that good a time. This is just speculation, but if you're unaware, The Genitorturers put on a BDSM show when they tour. I'm not sure how into BDSM Vincent was, but he didn't seem all that happy wearing a black vinyl circle skirt and matching tank top with go-go boots on stage. Since then, I've maintained the opinion that Gen forced him to leave the successful Morbid Angel and join The Genitorturers, because he's her bitch, or pony-boy, or something. It just doesn't make much sense.
IT IS PLEASING TO THE ONES MOST ANCIENT OF THE DAYS
Vincent's unexpected departure delayed the production of the next album, while the band auditioned new singers and bass players. Eventually, they came across Steve Tucker, formerly of the obscure Cleveland band Cemetary, to take over both bass guitar and vocals. With a complete group once again in place, the band set to work on their fifth studio album, eventually titled Formulas Fatal to the Flesh. The band spent a full year recording it, and it was finally released by Earache/Relativity in 1998. (The band had been dropped from Warner Brothers/Giant following the release of Domination.) This lead to an extensive tour of Europe and the United States with At The Gates and Samael, after which the band took another break, which again was followed by another year in the studio as the band recorded Gateways to Annihilation, which was released in 2000.
Tucker left the band after the release of Gateways, and was replaced by Jared Anderson, formerly of Hate Eternal. They didn't release anything new with Anderson onboard, although they remastered and rereleased their first two albums during that time, and embarked on a tour of the United States the following year with Pantera and Slayer, a seemingly unlikely combination, though the tour was successful. In late 2003, Heretic was released, which marked Tucker's return to the lineup, doing the vocals and playing bass. Vincent then replaced Tucker by returning to the band in 2006.
The band's logo is a slightly more stylized version of the logo from the cover of the "Simon" Necronomicon.
1989 Altars of Madness (remastered version released in 2003)
1991 Blessed Are The Sick (remastered version released in 2003)
1996 Entangled in Chaos (live album)
1998 Formulas Fatal to the Flesh
2000 Gateways to Annihilation
2011 Illud Divinum Insanus
Times I've seen this band live: 1 (Detroit, 1995)