THE BRAVEST MAN IN METAL LOVES THE MORGOTH ALBUM THAT EVERYONE ELSE HATES
Word has recently come down the promotional pipeline that Germany’s Morgoth — in addition to airing their cadaverous smell (see what I did there? 100 scene points to anyone who did) for the first time on American soil in two decades at this year’s upcoming Maryland Deathfest — are set to issue a 20th anniversary DVD/CD compilation entitled Cursed to Live in ongoing celebration of the release of their 1991 debut, Cursed. As I was explaining to a colleague, I’ve always been what you would consider a fan of Morgoth, but seeing as how I have none of my fingers on the pulse of the metal world I have no real idea how much lasting impact the band had on metal-at-large. Sure, they were part of that whole death metal movement of the late ’80s and early ’90s and Cursed reportedly sold shitloads, but I can’t honestly say I’ve heard much chatter about them or their pending MDF performance, and the next time I see someone wearing a Morgoth shirt will be the first time. Really, the only people who really seem excited about the band are the people responsible for releasing, promoting and selling compilation works like 2005’s 1987-1997: The Best of Morgoth and Cursed to Live, but that’s because drumming up excitement is part of their job description. You gotta think that if they have two “best of” works, someone somewhere must care? Right? The quintet has been kicking the bricks on various parts of the European festival circuit for a couple of years now and when you add it all up, someone must be giving a shit about the Cursed era they’ve been reanimating.
In my humble opinion, however, what they should be doing is cranking out the hits from their best and most unique work, 1996’s Feel Sorry For the Fanatic. Yeah, yeah, but before, or while, you pillory me for crimes against metal orthodoxy, I want you to watch this:
Now, “Isolated” is a decent enough tune, though I’ve always held a certain amount of disdain for the intro dirge which I find way too spacious; the lack of bite and sustain to their guitar tone makes the first minute or so sound less-than-menacing. But take a close look at what’s going on here. Morgoth is playing some festival somewhere in front of a fuck-load of freaked-the-fuck-out late ’80s/early ’90s metalheads (arguably the most rowdy and ravenous in metal history) and yet it seems like they’re going through the motions. Their stiffer-than-scarecrow stage presence makes me wonder if some prankster crazy-glued their basketball boots to the stage. Take a close look at the face of the one guitarist in the long sleeve shirt at 1:20: have you ever seen a more bland and expressionless look on someone’s face ever? And whilst headbanging! The only one who truly seems into what he’s doing is vocalist Mark Grewe, and he was probably just happy to not be playing bass anymore. I posit unto thee that by this stage of the game Morgoth were heading down the right-hand path to being burnt out on metal. Cursed already had a gothic and doomy edge and their second album Odium exhibited flashes of a broadening palate as they incorporated an industrial feel and keyboards into the mix. But it was on their third album that they moved farther away from their death roots than anyone could have ever predicted, creating the best work of their discography in the process.
Whether it was because guitarist and founding member Carsten Otterbach found himself imbued by the then-outré sounds of Tiamat, Moonspell and Samael through the management company he founded, the band took their sound to the next level and got rid of their roots. The only real connection between the Morgoth of pre-and-post Feel Sorry is that the line-up happened to be the same. From the off, it was very obvious that the Morgoth fellas were listening to a fuck-ton of Killing Joke; maybe a little Fields of the Nephilim and some Sisters of Mercy, but mostly Killing Joke. Hardcore Killing Joke fans may brush Feel Sorry off as quickly as the brutal death metal set, but that’s likely because they were experiencing pangs of jealously. Tracks like “This Fantastic Decade,” “Graceland” and “Last Laugh” pretty much shit on most of what KJ had done post-Night Time and the three albums between that and 1990’s Extremities, Dirt & Other Repressed Emotions. After that, Jaz Coleman and his crew struck with some mainstream success in the ’90s with Pandemonium and Democracy. As we know, mainstream success rankles a bands’ longtime fans who feel they’re owed something that the newbies and part-time supporters aren’t entitled to. Killing Joke fans were as pissed as death metal fans were.
No bother, because when you subtracted all the manufactured drama from the equation, Feel Sorry was Morgoth’s best work. It didn’t matter that the atonal down tuning was replaced with post-punky arpeggiated chords reverb-ed out the wazoo, that the dizzying complexity of light speed, 32nd-note picking was ousted in favour of linear quarter and eighth note bass throbbing, and blasting drums were exchanged for stilted, almost mechanised beats. What Morgoth did was create an expressive, moody record littered with catchy tunes that went over most of the 100,000 heads that purchased Cursed simply because those tunes weren’t proper metal. This isn’t to say that Cursed and Odium are bad albums. It’s just that Feel Sorry stands out as something better, even if calling it unique would have Killing Joke fans turning up at your place with pitchforks, hangman’s nooses and flaming crosses.
Either way, folks, the Bravest Man would appreciate you shedding a tear for me as I stand in the blazing late-May heat and humidity of downtown Bodymore, Murderland watching as the band totally ignores their masterwork to satisfy the pangs of the assembled death metal contingency with lots more death metal. Thank you.