Five years ago, when Germany’s Morgoth announced their return to active duty after a twelve year layoff, there was a pretty good chance I was one of a very small handful of people looking forward to their return. Let me clarify that: I was one of a very small handful of people looking forward to their return if, and only if, they picked up where they left off after 1996’s Feel Sorry for the Fanatic.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, all their pre-Feel Sorry… activities – before they discovered industrial, post-punk and Killing Joke – was perfectly serviceable and admirable death metal, some of which might even be considered small-c classics in some circles. With Feel Sorry…, Morgoth took a ginormous wrong turn down the one-way thoroughfare of expectation, but did a fucking awesome job of it in the process. And while I have gone on record on numerous occasions proclaiming my enjoyment of said record – justifying my shitty taste, as it were – it’s a shame that so few members of the rest of world see where I’m coming from, let alone agree with me. Oh well, there’s no accounting for taste. Good, bad, misguided, or otherwise.
Let’s be realistic: a band coming back from the grave isn’t going to pick up from where its most maligned work and unpopular phase left off, even if extreme music’s absorption and acceptance of post-punk is at an all-time high these days. So it is that Ungod kicks off with “House of Blood” and about a half-minute into the two-and-a-half-minute long track it smacks that Morgoth is indeed going back to their early days, before the mid-90s when they left death metal mewling in the sandbox. However, even at their peak, the Westphalia quintet was a band that even the most dedicated of death heads could take or leave. Yes, they had their moments, and some of them were even great, but Morgoth was always a band lacking that consistently killer sensibility. They offered up just as many moments of crotch-tingling brutality as they did pure ennui, and time away hasn’t changed that unfortunate fact.
Truth be told, it isn’t until the second or third track in (“Voice of Slumber” and “Snakestate,” for those of you keeping score) that Morgoth becomes entirely distinguishable from Obituary. Even then, it’s due to dark and wiry melodies added to the surprising amount of Teutonic-filtered redneck stomp this album is dripping with. When the pace gets picked up, as on “Descent Into Hell” and “God is Evil,” the increased velocity opens things up: the choppier riffs are more propulsive and therefore more scathing, the drumming and cymbal crashes become much more oppressive, and the dynamics more pronounced when they slow down for a sludgy, Celtic Frost mosh groove and add in well-phrased melodic leads. It’s when the mid-pace is made the central focus of a song that Ungod comes across as less exciting and energetic. Witness a track like “Nemesis” with its ungainly plod that’s only salvaged by an awesome chorus and excellent guitar harmonies.
So, in a roundabout way, Morgoth has really picked up where they left off. Except that instead of grabbing the ball around 1993 and Odium’s slightly more daring take on the genre or the complete switcheroo of Feel Sorry…, they basically jumped right back into 1991’s Cursed and that album’s purist death metal form and the same mixed results.