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The roots of death metal institution Morbid Angel can be traced by to its four central figureheads: lead guitarist George Emmanuel III (Trey Azagthoth), who was born in Bellingham, Washington but lived in the Tampa, Florida region and Charlotte, North Carolina native David Alexander Stuppnig (David Vincent) who was set to produce the band’s 1986 debut album, but was later enrolled as its singer/bass guitarist, along with the Tampa, Florida duo of drummer/vocalist Mike Browning, and troubled lead guitarist Richard Brunelle. “Abominations Of Desolation” was meant to be the band’s proper debut for fledging British label imprint Earache Records, but interpersonal problems and an unflattering production job led to the project being shelved. The band went back to the drawing board as interpersonal problems led to its implosion. The band would debut in earnest in 1989 with “Altars Of Madness”, which saw the newly installed Vincent on vocals/bass guitar along with El Salvador born Pedro ‘Pete’ Sandoval behind the drum kit. This would become the band’s most enduring and recognized line-up.

The band is the creative vessel for George Emmanuel III, whose is popularly better known under his stage name Trey Azagthoth. The first part of his stage name referring to the name component “III” in his civilian name, while the second part refers to the fictional deity Azathoth from the Cthulhu Mythos and Dream Cycle stories by British pulp author H.P. Lovecraft. They form much of the basis for the band’s lyrics. The earliest incarnation of the band was called Ice, which mainly played covers of Angel Witch, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Mercyful Fate and Slayer. The cover band became much heavier and transformed into Heretic. After finding out that the name was already in use by another band Azagthoth came up with the name Morbid Angel. Members came and went while the band experimented with sound and imagery, before eventually settling down with what worked. A series of studio - and live demo tapes were recorded and circulated which generated enough fan – and industry interest to fund a proper recording for the fledging unit. Things wouldn’t go as smooth as hoped from there…

After a good three years of continual line-up changes and finding its sound Tampa, Florida death metal pioneers Morbid Angel set to record its debut. On the back of two studio - and as much live demo tapes, the band holed up at Central Recording Studios in North Carolina with David Vincent and Bill Metoyer producing. These sessions were deemed unsatisfactory for the band and the label. Mainman Trey Azagthoth considered the product not heavy and fast enough, while the label was dissatisfied with the thin production. History would note that Azagthoth was having an affair with Browning’s girlfriend at the time. An altercation over this eventually led to Browning’s termination from the band, and the enrollment of its most identifiable frontman not much later. Various sources also point to Vincent as being the instigator behind Browning’s and Ortega’s dismissal from the band, but this has since been buried in the official history. As the constellation fell apart in the aftermath of these events, it was the ideal situation to have these sessions relegated to the band’s private vaults. It wasn’t until in the early 90s that a multitude of bootlegs were starting to circulate, that both band and label noticed a keen interest in the band’s little known early days. As such it was decided to give these recordings a second lease on life by way of a label-sanctioned re-release. This gave the band more time to prepare its second album, and stirred interest in the band’s history.

That these sessions were financed by the band’s future frontman is fairly interesting in itself, just as much as that they choose to work at a studio in North Carolina instead of genre hotbed Florida. The whole endeavor was coordinated by North Carolina native David Alexander Stuppnig (popularly known as David Vincent) with his own record label Goreque Productions. They had an interest in death metal upstarts Massacre, but choose to offer Morbid Angel a contract earlier. Vincent had prior to joining Morbid Angel fronted his own band called Buried In Cemetery giving him the advantage of experience. The album itself is mostly a gathering of signature cuts off the band’s studio demos. All four songs from the 1986 “Scream Forth Blasphemies” make an appearance, along with the signature tracks off the band’s various live demo tapes. All of these cuts (with exception of ‘Demon Seed’) would be re-recorded on post-“Altars Of Madness” albums. Notable is that about every track of the band’s demo phase would appear on “Altars Of Madness” along with a few select tracks written specifically for the session. In hindsight this burning through archive material probably led to the dearth of actual new song material on “Blessed Are the Sick” which peters out in its second half despite being an exceptionally strong and atmospheric piece of classic death metal otherwise.

‘The Invocation’ is a ritualistic intro like the band would never attempt again. It seems to have made an impression on a young Karl Sanders, who would replicate that formula in a similar fashion about a decade later with his own band Nile. The track is ominous and incredibly brooding, and it is a shame that the band never explored this option fully. ‘Chapel Of Ghouls’ is nearly identical to its later incarnation, except that it is played much slower. The drumming of Mike Browning (who also provided vocals for this session) is more thrash-oriented and not nearly as fill-heavy as the later and more popular Pedro Sandoval rendition. Browning’s vocals are of a higher pitch and more caustic than those of his successor David Vincent. In fact Browning has something of a young Tom Araya circa “Show No Mercy” slant with his percussive delivery. Browning’s vocal style would later be imitated by Dutch thrash metal unit Dead Head to a considerable degree. It is not unexpected that Morbid Angel here sound more like a very technical, midtempo and overtly occult version of early Metallica, Death or Slayer. Especially a cut like ‘Azagthoth’ (later re-recorded as ‘The Ancient Ones’ on the second album “Blessed Are the Sick”) makes this readily apparent to the observant among us.

The prominence of John Ortega’s oozing bass guitar, and how integral it is in many of these songs, is something that would be toned down with the arrival of David Vincent. ‘The Gate’ is another ritualistic interlude much like ‘The Invocation’ as it serves no other function than being a moodsetting piece for ‘Lord Of All Fevers & Plague’. That all tracks are played at a slower pace isn’t to their detriment, as nuances can be discerned better. Azagthoth’s myriad leads shine brighter because of the slower overall tempo. There’s also more of a crunch to these cuts than the later recorded Vincent fronted versions. ‘Hellspawn’ is as vitriolic here as would later be on “Formulas Fatal to the Flesh”. That ‘Demon Seed’ was never re-recorded isn’t much of a surprise as it a two-minute thrasher barely worth staying awake for. It is entirely possible that the band disassembled it and repurposed some of its parts for later songs. It sounds like a throwaway track at best, and its presence doesn’t add much to the session at all. Only ‘Welcome to Hell’ would sound better in its later incarnation as ‘Evil Spells’ where the increased speed actually works to its advantage. The closing section remains as strong as ever both versions.

Overall “Abominations Of Desolation” is a fascinating look into the early works of one of North America’s most revered death metal bands. That Earache Records saw this as an easy paycheck on behalf of its new signee is rather obvious with this demo compilation. The booklet contains the original demo art, but there are no lyrics printed and no liner notes provided. They didn’t even bother to reproduce a band picture for this release. Not to mention that even any and all production credits were omitted. History would note that Earache Records bought out the copyrights from Vincent’s label in order to combat widespread bootlegging of what was arguably the most sought after demo tape at the time. Does any of that excuse the cheapness and cutting corners on display with this re-issue? No, of course it doesn’t. The only thing this demo compilation does right is having stimulating glass artwork by Mark Craven. What exactly is a fan supposed to gain by buying this shoddy official label-sanctioned release of said demo tape? All historical information is conveniently left out, there’s no context as to where these recordings fit into the band’s then-nascent career, and none of the material was re-mastered or cleaned up for mass consumption. Then there’s the fact that Earache was complicit in questionable business practices as the deal with Vincent left both Browning and Ortega bereft of any royalties for the songs they had help write for the session. To wit, this very thing would come to define the Vincent-Azagthoth axis later in the band’s career.

Equally as interesting is how dependent the band would become on this material later in its career. From 1989 to 1991 Morbid Angel, or Azagthoth rather, had compiled barely enough original material to fill one single album – as both “Altars Of Madness” and “Blessed Are the Sick” comprise nearly half of archive material each! Thankfully the band, at least in its initial manifestation with Vincent on vocals, would redeem itself by writing superb original material to complement the copious amount of recycled archive material. Although the band is rightly revered for many good reasons its career path is shaky at best. Even this early Azagthoth had no problem re-writing history in his favor, despite evidence and facts being out in the open for anybody that cares enough to look. The band aren’t nearly as infallible and genius as legend made them out to be, as the post-Vincent material never surpassed the creative apex of the band’s early days. This demo compilation is a curiosity worth hearing for historical reasons, although it might ruin a person’s picture perfect idea of how innovative Morbid Angel supposedly is/was.

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Vader is one of the earliest death metal bands of note from behind the Iron Curtain, and one of Poland’s most enduring institutions along with Behemoth. Theirs is a story marked by perseverance, strife and the unrelenting will to succeed no matter what the odds. The band formed in Olsztyn, Poland in 1983 and is centered around vocalist and guitarist/founder Piotr ‘Peter’ Wiwczarek, although he debuted with them initially in the bass guitarist slot. Vader’s second demo tape “Morbid Reich” (from 1990) would sell in excess of 10.000 copies making it the most popular death metal demo of all time. It is the first album in the band’s classic first era where both Wiwczarek and Krzysztof ‘Doc’ Raczkowski (drums) were the focal point and main songwriters for the band’s output. The duo would write and record all of Vader’s material up to the “Blood” EP from 2003.

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“The Ultimate Incantation” marks the end of Vader’s demo phase as it compiles all songs of the “Morbid Reich” session, and the signature cuts of the preceding “Necrolust” demo tape from 1989. Filling out the remaining spots are new tracks written specifically for this recording. Although initial tracking was done at the famed Sunlight Studios with producer Tomas Skogsberg, the session was prematurely aborted as both the band and its label weren’t satisfied with the product. The drum tone was a notable bone of contention – and a close lid is since held on the sessions. Vader, or at least Wiwczarek and Raczkowski, regrouped in England’s renowned Rhythm Studios with producer Paul Johnson to cut the album that would eventually be known as “The Ultimate Incantation”. Jacek ‘Jackie’ Kalisz and Jaroslaw ‘China’ Labieniec, although credited as bass guitarist and guitarist respectively in the production notes, did not partake in the actual recordings of the album. It was Wicwarek who recorded all string instruments. It is the only record Vader would release on Earache Records, and the only one to feature the artwork of Dan Seagrave, who was a staple in the North American death metal scene.

One of Vader’s greatest strength was to combine high-speed thrash metal architecture (mostly inspired by early Slayer, Sepultura and German variants of the genre) and merging it with the then-emergent death metal sound. “The Ultimate Incantation” sounds very much like “Altars Of Madness” by Morbid Angel, but Vader puts its own spin on the sound by surpassing that record’s sense of urgency and speed all while retaining an exciting dynamic range. All songs here are high-speed exercises with an impressive amount of riffs per song, varied and passionately intense drumming while staying memorable thanks to a recognizable hook. Each song is incredible on its own, but within context of the record this effect is amplified. Even this early on Vader knew its strengths and how to capitalize on them in the most effective manner possible. Even though the production is supposedly superior to the initial product cut at Sunlight Studios it is on the weak side even compared to releases of the day. The impotent production is blissfully forgotten as every single song on this record is as convincing as can be. All the lyrics were penned by people not directly involved with the band. Although the booklet credits the band for the lyrics it was probably Pawel Wasilewski or Pawel Frelik who effectively penned them. Vader would persevere with this practice as the band focused on writing the best music they possibly could while other people contributed the lyrics.

As this was the first Vader album the sound hadn’t yet fully formed, and it wouldn’t until three years later when “De Profundis” shook the scene. On “The Ultimate Incantation” the band very much remind of a speedier, meatier and all around more violent Pestilence circa “Consuming Impulse”, Massacra and its debut album “The Final Holocaust” or a decidedly less complex and dissonant Immolation, who released their stellar debut “Dawn Of Possession” just the year before, in 1991. ‘Dark Age’ is one of the few new songs of this album, and compared to the re-recorded demo songs it is more engrossing with a stronger dynamic sensibility and a fuller grasp on being entirely death metal in design. It is also custodian to one of the more memorable solos of the album, other than the ones in the truly savage ‘Final Massacre’ which arrives mid album. That it was chosen as video track for the album shouldn’t come as much as a surprise for that reason. One of the most recognizable Vader traits is already fully intact here. No matter how fast, or how intense, blood curdling and ferocious the music gets it never becomes incoherent. This is perhaps due in part as Vader’s early beginnings as a thrash metal unit, but it really speaks to the strengths of both Peter and Doc that they realized this early on, and never strayed from that path. Even the uniformly relentless “De Profundis” never forgets this important lesson through out its incessant battering and brutality – and that is testament to the strong writing alchemy of the band’s central creative duo.

While over-the-top and steeped in esoterica in its own right, “The Ultimate Incantation” isn’t quite as thematically cohesive as, for example, Deicide’s magnum opus “Legion” or Mortification’s “Scrolls Of the Megilloth”. What it did share with both contemporaries is the sheer level of heaviness, conviction and musical expertise. It wouldn’t be until the second album that Vader found its true voice, and got rid of all excessive weight. The current subject sometimes just is complex for the sake of having many riffs, and piles on a number of sound effects (chiming funeral bells, etc) towards the end of the album. Especially ‘Breath Of Centuries’ seems to become a victim of that tendency. On the whole it is a solid thrash-fused death metal record from the then unlikely place of Poland. Years later the Polish scene would experience an incredible surge in popularity, before the fans moved over to more exotic locations such as Italy, and Greece. Vader will always be remembered as one of the earlier, and more successful death metal acts from East Europe, and from the sign of things – they have no intention of slowing down soon.

Where other early outfits in the genre were losing steam, or making creative blunders during the 90s Vader, much like US stalwarts Cannibal Corpse, remained focused and kept on a relentless global touring and release schedule. They did not wane in the black metal explosion, nor did they fall victim to typical 90s groove metal chicanery that claimed its most notable victims among the more popular thrash metal bands of the day. There aren’t many debuts that are this solid and convincing. Vader had found what worked during its brief demo phase, and was now looking to improve its chops, trim its future material for maximum impact and deliver the best possible product they could. Wiwczarek and Raczkowski would continue to be the creative backbone of the band until the early 2000s. No matter who plays in the band, or on what label imprint they release their albums – Vader never truly disappoints. Although the real Vader only emerged on “De Profundis” this debut is important for more things than its historical value for the band and its genre. “The Ultimate Incantation” is one of the better European death metal debuts of its day – and it is a benchmark to which many would aspire, but only few would be able match. Vader set a precedent, and it was killer.