Sunday, May 17, 2015

Ten of the best metal albums of all time - Part VIII: Morpheus Descends - Ritual of Infinity

Since this "best metal albums"-series is starting to appear a little lopsided towards more well-known albums again, I think the timing is perfect to throw another bit of a curve ball since "best" does not always mean "most famous" or vice versa. Morpheus Descends is not a band that is entirely unknown, or known only to die-hard tape traders from the early 90s, especially now that they've been picked up by Dark Descent Records. However, they never were and still aren't a band that achieved anything near noticeable fame. In fact I doubt they are known at all outside the circles of those curious about what the New York death metal scene has to offer besides the big names and those curious about hidden gems in old school death metal, and both those groups are limited in number. To this day you are more likely to have heard of Incantation knock-off #74553 than this band - a band which ironically is pretty much on par with the Incantation original quality-wise - though not all that similar in style.

The type of death metal Morpheus Descends play is actually not that straight-forward to define, since you could group them in either old school death metal or brutal death metal, and yet they are not really all the way on either side of the fence. They're generally more brutal than the average old school death metal band, but also generally more old school than the average brutal death metal band. It's not like they mix elements of both in a way that'd be the most obvious to imagine, as in first an old school death metal part, then a brutal death metal part, and so on. Rather it can be described in the way that a child does not look half like its father and half like its mother, but rather a perfect intermingling of elements from both, with a distinct identity of its own. It's a unique product of the New York scene in the early 90s, something you could only possibly find right there, right then.

If I was forced to draw comparisons, the Immolation debut would be the closest match I can think of, but Morpheus Descends were far, far ahead of what Immolation were doing at the time. It's Dawn of Possession not only on steroids but an array of stimulants as well. Where Immolation at the time played pretty simple stuff (compared to what they would later win acclaim for), Morpheus Descends crammed as much material into the tight space of a few minutes per song as possible. Dark, menacing riffs of the unique New York death metal variety follow each other in quick succession, riff after riff, they don't let up, and every riff is better than the last. And to spice things up they often bridge two riffs with a technical but commanding half-riff that only lasts for a few notes. There's something going on constantly, they never give things time to settle down. There is a commanding presence to the dominance of riffs that won't let you escape, you are sucked in relentlessly, powerless to the primal yet complex force these songs command.

It's impossible to get over just how good this band was, especially for 1992 when technical leanings were still in their infancy. I would not call Morpheus Descends a technical death metal bands by any means, they are too much of a cavernous old school act in essence for that, but the complexity and precision of the instrumentation makes drawing comparisons to the technical side of the death metal genre inevitable. And what makes it so good is that everything has substance. They don't string up random notes, everything has well thought-out progressions that set moods and create atmosphere, it's all highest quality stuff that is both incredible catchy and incredibly intelligent. For the nutjobs who compare death metal to classical music, Ritual of Infinity might actually be a good candidate, because it has that perfect combination of drawing the listener into another world created by the music, while at the same time keeping the listener's mind busy with the perfectly crafted complexity of its songwriting. Morpheus Descends certainly knew how to turn the dark and malevolent riffing and song structuring of New York death metal into an experience.

But that isn't all. Aside from the complexity and intelligence of the material, those of us who don't delude ourselves into thinking we're listening to the new Prokofiev, those of us who want something to profanely bang our heads to, Ritual of Infinity also gives us all we need. With all the aforementioned elements in the mix, the songwriting on this album is also incredibly catchy, with a commanding (using that word a lot and it really applies) intensity urging us to swing our hair windmill-style. The sheer amount of quality of its riffs and the amazing songwriting contrasting these riffs with each other creating tension and release on a relentless level, it pumps your body full of adrenaline and gives you a real rush of undirected fury for which there is no other release but to raise your fist, throw the horns, flail your head around like a madman.

This is really death metal at its best: Dark, menacing, complex, intelligent and fucking awesome to rock out with your cock out to. It unites all the qualities you could desire from a death metal album. That this album does not get the recognition it deserves is a crime against art. Best thing to do for the moment is to get the new Dark Descent compilation immediately, skip the awful new songs and go straight to this album, and prepare yourself for an onslaught of every quality of greatness death metal offers at its highest level.

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