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Spectrum of Death (1988)

Spectrum of Death is the first full-length album from Morbid Saint. This is Teutonic thrash metal, yet the band hails from the US; albeit, a region filled with people of German ancestry. At any rate, this forgotten classic was released in September 1988, just two years after the band's formation. It seems to be a fairly underrated album, as few people seem to speak of it, or Morbid Saint.

The character from the front cover may look like Eddie, from the Iron Maiden albums, but this record bears no similarities to Killers or The Number of the Beast. The first time I heard Spectrum of Death, I was floored. I found it difficult to believe that this was American thrash metal. It reminded me far more of German bands, such as Kreator, Sodom and Exumer, rather than Megadeth or Testament. Even bands like Possessed has already run out of steam, by 1988. To hear thrash that still retained the extremity and pure evil feeling that this had... it was an eye-opening experience.

This album wastes no time in unleashing its violent assault, as "Lock Up Your Children" completely kills any other thrash song released in the US, during this time. The vocals are surprisingly raw and evil; reminiscent of Mille Petrozza on the early Kreator albums, but done in a raspier way. This is as intense as anything from Dark Angel or Slayer.

The next song manages to create a hellish and evil atmosphere, through the sheer brutality of the riffs and vocals. "Burned at the Stake" is so violent, yet brief, that it has kind of an early death metal feeling. Lyrically, this is darker than what most of their fellow Americans were writing about at the time.

"Satan is calling
From the crypts of hell
Blood is boiling
Body starts to swell
End is near, is no other way
Call to Satan
He'll take your life away"

"Assassin" bursts forth with the same speed and intensity as the previous songs. The vocals have quite a maniacal effect on them and the guitar riffs are heavy enough to crush skulls. How the Hell this band didn't manage to amass a large following and go on to release several more albums, I'll never know. This is vastly superior to a great number of bands that were around at the time, as a lot of thrash bands were going soft and writing politically-conscious lyrics. As far as production goes, the focus is on the guitars, above all else. The bass and drums are there, kept at the appropriate levels, giving support to the killer riffs but never taking over. Of course, the vocals stand out, for their sheer wickedness. Everything here is done quite well.

Another short track follows, in the form of "Damien". This one, as one may have guessed, is inspired by "The Omen". Fast-paced and energetic, this possesses an evil feeling and is much like an axe severing your skull from your body. Piss on all of the sub-par death metal bands that go out of their way to sound tough; this is brutality at its finest. The middle of the song features a slower, mid-paced section, before returning to the furious main riff.

"Crying For Death" maintains the ferocity of the previous song, while containing very memorable riffs. That is one thing Morbid Saint manages to do very well; they keep things violent and fast, yet it's all memorable. This is raw and aggressive, giving albums like Pleasure To Kill and Darkness Descends some serious competition. If one word could sum up the feeling this conveys, it would be 'lethal'.

Just when you think you have this band figured out, the title track comes along to add some depth to the sound. This brief instrumental has a somber tone and serves as an intro to the following song.

"Scars" has a strong Dark Angel feel, for the first few moments. This is the longest track on the album, and bears sort of an epic feeling. The pace is a little slower, during some sections, allowing the riffs more room to breathe. This is filled with so many intense riffs, your head might explode trying to keep up with all of it. A couple of the riffs seem to have been borrowed, a couple years later, on Cannibal Corpse's debut album. The vocals, which are a highlight of the record, truly take on a bloody insane sound on this one. The lead solos aren't too melodic, being short bursts of energy that tear at your flesh and then disappear as quickly as they appeared. The only complaint about this song is that it becomes a little repetitive; the last couple minutes aren't quite necessary, as they only repeat what has already been heard in the song.

The album concludes with "Beyond the Gates of Hell". The song opens with more vicious riffs and searing lead solos that melt the flesh from your bones. After a minute or so, the pace changes and slows down a bit. The riffs sound far more evil than most others found on the album, suiting the subject matter well. There's a very memorable riff during the chorus; one that won't soon leave your brain. As the song nears its end, you can hear the tormented cries of the damned, wailing from the pits of Hell.

Spectrum of Death is a must-have for any fan of the darker side of thrash, particularly the German sound. With such raw and evil vocals, as well as the lyrical content, this should satisfy any follower of blackened thrash. Seek this out, at any cost.
(11 May 2009)

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