Morbid Angel Released Covenant 30 Years Ago and We All Were Caught Up in “Rapture”


We didn’t know it back then, but June 22, 1993 was a day that changed death metal forever. At the same time, fans around the world were hit with two genre-defining releases: Death‘s Individual Thought Patterns — a defining moment in its own right — and Morbid Angel‘s demonstrative death metal classic, Covenant.

Covenant was the antidote to the kinder, gentler records from ’92, when bands like Metallica and Megadeth went for a softer, more radio friendly sound. Even bands like Iron Maiden had lost a great deal of their heaviness with the release of records like Fear of the Dark.

Morbid Angel, however, was a band that didn’t seem to care so much about making tons of money by pitching ballads like “Nothing Else Matters” or cranking out melodic pieces that appeal to the masses. Covenant was a complete change of pace, in terms of what major labels were putting out back then, that involved a darker, more menacing artistic perspective. Death metal from Florida’s underground scene was entering a new era of mainstream acceptability.

“Rapture” was the first song written for Covenant and it really set the tone as both the album’s opener and first released single. With one of the most famous riffs in the genre at the hands of the magical Trey Azagthoth, mixed with the ferocious double bass of Pete Sandoval, the band had the technicality to create a wealth of different sounds without making their songs too long. Add in the showmanship of vocalist and bassist David Vincent, and it all just came together. Vincent, with his striking blonde locks at the time, stood out from the rest of the band with his charisma and seemed to be the one member who you might actually approach.

I still remember the night I found the video for “Rapture” on MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball. My jaw literally dropped as I watched Trey work up and down the fretboard interspersed with scenes of a clearly anti-Christian nature. I couldn’t quite figure out everything that was happening in the video. There was a man apparently being baptized against his will in a small metal tub and random clergymen somehow experiencing pain and discomfort while carrying crosses. I did know, however, that it was a game changer.

This, remember, was a time when ultra-conservative parents used to call network executives and Congress to complain about what was on television. I couldn’t believe that MTV allowed this video to air, given that it had censored so many other videos. In 2023, I can’t believe that MTV even still exists, but that’s a story for another day.

Of course, when it comes to videos from Covenant, one can’t help but instantly remember the second single from the record, “God of Emptiness.” While Beavis and Butthead made fun of the video, the reality is that 30 years later this particular video holds up much better than so many other videos that came out of the early 90’s. It’s a very dark song with a clear story and the video matches the aesthetic quite well. Hell, I’d even guess it could still shock people today, three decades later. Then again, people pretend they’re shocked that Motley Crue uses backing tracks.

“God of Emptiness” in itself was really an experiment. No other death metal song was really like it at the time and and the sounds all three members were able to create really cut right through you. Certainly other bands from the Florida scene were able to keep up (think Death), but it’s the way that Trey bends the strings in conjunction with Vincent’s voice that hits directly at your core. It is a sound of morbidity, so to speak.

The uniqueness in the writing is apparent as well in tracks like “Sworn to the Black” and “Vengeance is Mine,” as it’s not just all about speed and it’s not all about trying to be heavy. The layers of sound in its mix, with the multiple guitar tracks over the constant rumble from Sandoval and Vincent, is what really gives the songs greater dimension. A song like “Vengeance is Mine,” for example, could have easily been solid as a more typical death metal song with a focus on speed, but instead it uses speed as a tool and allows both rhythm and groove to stand out above all else. In this respect, the song structure found on the record is multifaceted in the sense that all three members of the band were looking to write more than just another heavy song. There had to be more to unpack for the listener.

Fleming Rasmussen, who recorded the first three Metallica records, was at the helm for the recording of Covenant and he was very particular about the drums. The drums were recorded direct to two inch tape and without much in the way of studio magic. Just old school analog. This was key in getting that rumble you hear in the drums. It’s not at all tinny and there are no triggers. Sandoval, of course, amazes and this is profoundly apparent on songs like “Pain Divine.”

For me, Morbid Angel’s Covenant was a more important record than Altars of Madness, and over the past 30 years I’ve listened to it more than any other Morbid Angel record. Certainly Altars of Madness is the record that started the Morbid Angel story, but for me, it’s all in the songwriting, the arrangement, and the musicianship that really brings Covenant up to that next level. And while the band would go to create a number of excellent records, it’s Covenant that stands out as their greatest triumph. It’s also Covenant that helped paved the way for more underground death metal to make it to the mainstream.

Though the band would ride their success with Covenant back to the studio and create the very excellent (and incredibly under appreciated) Domination, the core three members of Morbid Angel wouldn’t be able to hold it together as a unit. Vincent went on to do other things, taking on the moniker of “Evil D” with a stint in the Genitorturers.

For a brief time, the band did get together back to celebrate Covenant without Sandoval, who had embraced Christianity and was therefore not interested in playing music that challenged his religion. As it stands today, the possibility of the original three members getting together to perform these songs again on stage appears remote.

In the meantime, we’ll always have Covenant.

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