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Indestructible Bag of Demon Music, and old friends to the rescue.
Slayer, Morbid Angel, Cannibal Corpse, Deicide, Iron Maiden, Obituary
After the last eight weeks of chronicling the impact of the soundtracks from The Crow and Judgement Night, we return to the murky depths of the early years of the Aquanaut.
When I went to Secondary school in Ireland in 1990, I chose Art as one of my electives. It was one of the rare occasions in my education that I got to sit around a table with classmates instead of facing a blackboard. I got to know a few guys from different backgrounds during those classes. I forget most of them now unfortunately, but I remember chatting with one kid in particular in around 1992. He was really quiet and I thought he must be kind of tough because of his reserve and uber cool leather jacket. This was my thought process as a 14 year old. He was just a really nice quiet dude. We got chatting one day about music. A few classes later he presented me with a shopping bag full of cassettes for me to borrow. There were two things notable about that bag.
It was a Roches Stores bag. If you’re not from Ireland, then just imagine a major department-store bag in the early 90s, made from the kind of plastic that will be fighting with cockroaches for control of the Earth ten million years from now.
It was full of tapes that looked like the photo below:
Prior to this, the heaviest band I had listened to was Metallica. This was when the ‘Black’ album was ascendant and ‘Sad But True’ hadn’t been sampled by Kid Rock yet. I listened to the bag of tapes and made copies of them all. One album in particular was by a band called Morbid Angel. It was the heaviest thing I had heard in my life. That kid in Art class may as well have smacked me in the face with the bag of tapes. Around the same time, the cartoon ‘Beavis and Butthead’ was airing on MTV and they played the below tune on at least one episode.
Morbid Angel were pioneers of Death Metal, and they were the only band from that genre to achieve any kind of mainstream exposure at that point (until Cannibal Corpse appeared in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective). Morbid Angel were also a great band. ‘God of Emptiness’ is a classic song from the genre. It’s heavy. It has weird time signatures. It has horribly difficult to play guitar sections and amazing drums. Dave Vincent is an incredible performer and his vocals range from growls, to a kind of Johnny Cash baritone at the end of the song. Today the lyrics seem like a fairly typical subversion of Christianity, but at the time sounded just obscene. This was cutting edge. My mind was blown. Nothing could top this. Then I put on the next album from the indestructible plastic bag of demon music. The first song from it was this:
What the actual f*ck was this? What were the lyrics about? Josef Mengele! What? Maybe the Tipper Sticker was warranted in this case. I listened to the rest of it. It was a blur of ferocious riffs, vocals, and controversial subject matter. It ended with a song called ‘Raining Blood’ that had thunder and rain sound effects. The chemistry of my brain was rewired and altered. It had only taken 28 minutes 55 seconds (it’s a short album).
What I didn’t know then, is that I had just listened to two of the landmark albums in extreme metal history. Morbid Angel’s ‘Covenant’ is, to this day, the biggest selling Death Metal album of all time. It sold 150,000 copies in the USA alone in its first year. Slayer’s ‘Reign in Blood’ was released before ‘Covenant’, and while it is not a direct influence on the Morbid Angel album (it is fast and furious as opposed to ‘Covenant’s slow and brooding), it set the benchmark for extreme metal forever.
Another album I picked from the bag was ‘Seventh Son of a Seventh Son’ by Iron Maiden. I had not heard them at this point in my musical eduction and I’ll explain a bit about why in a later post about the Irons. But ‘Seventh Son’ was a revelation. Maiden weren’t like the others. Maiden focus on melodic power chords. You could hear all of the instruments. The vocalist could sing and enunciate clearly. The music whisked you away on a voyage. It was like reading Tolkien or the Dragonlance books (which I was pretty enamoured with).
Out of these three bands, I liked Iron Maiden the most back then. I quickly purchased ‘Live After Death’, which is one of the great Heavy Metal live albums. I think I lost the double cassette copy I initially had, but it has since been replaced with a double CD. It’s on the streaming services if you’re into that kind of thing.
I didn’t get deep into extreme metal back then. I liked bands like Deicide (about whom I have a silly confession to make. I’ll do so in a later post) and Obituary. But these bands were vying for attention with Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, and all of the grunge era bands that were erupting out of the USA at the same time.
To be frank, while I still always loved Slayer (‘Divine Intervention’ was my favourite 90s Slayer release), I stopped listening to Morbid Angel soon after this. Also, around the mid-nineties, the Death Metal bubble had burst. No Death Metal band would ever achieve the sudden success of Morbid Angel again (though Cannibal Corpse carved out a huge following through grift and touring). I grew out of extreme metal in the early 00’s.
In 2007 my world fell apart. A failed relationship, business, and a fledgling addiction to alcohol all took their toll on my life. I was in a deep depression. Looking back now on that year, it was actually just the beginning of a dark period of the Aquanaut’s life that was to last for another four or five years. Two things saved me. Ironically enough the alcohol salved a lot of my hurt, though it was to lead to a deadly spiral into madness. The other thing was, I found Metal again. There were a few new bands that grabbed my attention, but initially, the one that woke me up, were some old friends.
After midnight one evening in the summer of 2007, I was awake channel surfing the tv. This clip came on and I nearly changed the channel until I saw who it was. Dave Vincent and Morbid Angel, live at the Wacken Festival in Germany. Dave started talking to the crowd and one lonely Aquanaut in Ireland was listening to him. When he said “it’s all about the metal in the heart my friends” I got emotional. It had been a while since I felt like anyones friend. Morbid Angel nailed ‘God of Emptiness’, 50,000 metal fans went wild, and I knew things were going to be ok eventually. And Dave Vincent really does sound like Johnny Cash when he talks!
Thankfully I’m in a great place today. This didn’t happen overnight. It took a lot of help from the right people and a willingness to change.
Morbid Angel are in a weird place today. Dave Vincent embraced his Johnny Cash side and recorded a country album. Guitar player, Trey Azagthoth of the original line up is making new music, while Dave Vincent and original drummer Pete Sandoval are performing the old songs in a kind of a tribute act to themselves called I Am Morbid.
Iron Maiden are still releasing albums and filling arenas around the world.
Slayer retired recently and I was lucky enough to be able to attend the first gig of their farewell tour in Dublin. I was sober, happy, and with a good friend.
I think everyone has an experience where someone gifted them a bunch of records in their youth. Perhaps that music and the nostalgia it brings, helped you later in life. What was in your indestructible bag of demon music? Was it extreme metal cassettes too? Or was it 8 tracks of 70s classics, or perhaps CD’s from the emo era? A Spotify playlist? Let the Aquanaut know in the comments below.
Next week: Split your lungs with Blood and Thunder!