Covenant (Morbid Angel album)
|Studio album by Morbid Angel|
|Released||June 22, 1993|
|Studio||Morrisound Recording, Florida, United States|
|Label||Earache (Europe), Giant (North America)|
|Morbid Angel chronology|
Covenant is the third official full-length album by Florida-based death metal band Morbid Angel. It was released on June 22, 1993 through Earache Records in Europe and Giant Records in North America. Covenant was the band's breakthrough album due to their contract with Giant Records and its widespread exposure on MTV's Headbangers Ball, as well as the music video for 'God of Emptiness' appearing on Beavis and Butt-head. It is frequently described as one of the greatest death metal albums of all time, and a landmark album in the genre, influencing countless future metal bands, including Incantation and Dead Congregation. According to Nielsen Soundscan, Covenant was the best selling death metal album as of 2003, with sales of over 150,000 in the United States alone. In 2017, Rolling Stone named it the 75th best metal album of all time.
In the late 80s, a number of heavy metal and thrash metal bands such as Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax, and Megadeth enjoyed significant mainstream success, while "Iron Maiden went heavy on synths" and "Testament actually wrote a song called 'The Ballad'". On music journalist Michael Nelson's interpretation, there was a growing feeling that "the scene was getting co-opted, going soft, cashing in." By the early to mid 90s, thrash metal had largely given way to death metal as it continued to push the limits of extreme metal, while its mainstream acceptability grew partly due to the collaboration between Earache and Columbia Records. Covenant's release through Earache and Giant Records therefore represented one of the most significant releases of that time period, and 1993 is widely credited as one of death metal's highest peaks. Morbid Angel's success with their previous two albums gained them a one-album record deal (with the option of five more) with Giant Records (a subsidiary of Warner Bros. Records) in the Spring of 1992. Later that same year, second guitarist Richard Brunelle was kicked out of the band due to alleged substance abuse, meaning that Covenant was recorded as just a trio.
Musical style, writing, composition
The album's lyrics, written by David Vincent, draw heavily on occult, mythological, and Satanic themes, including Theistic Satanism and Sumerian religion. Michael Nelson wrote that part of the success of the album is due to the band's success at reflecting these themes musically, particularly due to Trey Azagthoth's guitarwork. "His guitars seemed to mimic surreal horrors of nature — whirlpools or wildfires — more than they did any musicians of his era. At the time, the most celebrated guitarist in death metal was Chuck Schuldiner of Death, a dazzlingly proficient hyper-shredder with few technical equals. Azagthoth, on the other hand, delivered queasy, nitrous leads that called to mind the most extreme work of free-jazz/grindcore saxophonist John Zorn." AllMusic write that "Guitarist Trey Azagthoth plays complicated, heavily detuned riffs, some with a lightning-fast picking style and others in a slower groove. Drummer Pete Sandoval is one of the genre's fastest, and his jackhammer style helps complete Morbid Angel's core sound." The album also serves as a rejection of many mainstream musical conventions, and "is never a catchy record. That’s partly because the album is essentially devoid of anything resembling a traditional “chorus,” but it’s mostly due to the uppermost layers of sound — the things on which the ear and imagination immediately focus. Covenant squeals and reels wildly; the band’s odd and ever-changing time signatures leave little room for grooves."
Covenant was produced by Morbid Angel and Flemming Rasmussen; engineered by Tom Morris and Flemming Rasmussen at Morrisound Recording in Tampa, Florida. It was mixed by Flemming Rasmussen at Sweet Silence Studios in Copenhagen, Denmark. Rasmussen was responsible for producing two of Metallica's most famous albums: Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets. In an interview with Metal Hammer, David Vincent explained that they chose him to mix the album because:
“We wanted a different approach and Fleming proved to be a treat to work with. Besides, he was there from the beginning. He even came in earlier than scheduled so he could attend few of our rehearsals prior to us entering the studio. Ultimately, he turned out to be pretty meticulous, especially on how the drums should sound. Then we did both the vocals and guitars on our own and Trey and I flew to Copenhagen to mix the whole thing with him.”
The track 'Angel of Disease' was originally written in 1985 for 'Abominations of Desolation', but was re-recorded for 'Covenant'. 'Abominations of Desolation' went unreleased until 1991. The first song written for the album was the opening song 'Rapture', which Vincent claims "set the tone" for the rest of the album. The closing track 'God of Emptiness' was "almost like a vision. I had a dream that awoke me up in the middle of the night and I literally then on the spot wrote that song, humming my ideas into a small tape recorder."
The album's cover image shows a page from The Book of Ceremonial Magic by Arthur Edward Waite to the right, and a reproduction of "The Pact of Urbain Grandier" on the left. It is their first album to feature a photograph as the album cover rather than an illustration. It was designed in collaboration with the band and shot by Martin Nesbitt, an Earache employee, and was designed to reflect the album's philosophy. In an interview with Metal Hammer, Vincent claimed that:
“We wanted something that was solemn and sort of like… (he pauses) Not a rulebook per se but it had to suggest the idea of a pact, an allegiance if you will. Overall, we wanted something timeless and about commitment. We felt that this record being what it was, who we were and its subject matter, it was like our covenant to ourselves and to ourselves. And as a bonus, if you look closely enough, you’ll find many little details that are references to a specific lyric of song from that album included in there.”
Release, promotion, marketing
Their record label Giant Records (and its parent company Warner Bros. Records) devoted promotional resources to the album, commissioning two music videos of the tracks 'Rapture' and 'God of Emptiness'. They were both directed by Tony Kunewalder, and David Vincent explained in an interview that "Those were the times when labels were still living the high life and they thought nothing of spending too much money on good videos". Further, "They were connected to each other, although shot six months apart and we had the same director for both of them named Tony Kunewalder. He was a very artistic guy that wasn’t into metal at all but he was a pleasure to work with. The weirdest part is that soon after the God Of Emptiness shooting, he died in a fire on a set of another video soon afterwards so it means that was one of the last thing he ever did." These music videos received heavy rotation on MTV and Headbangers Ball in particular. The video for 'Rapture' premiered on Headbangers Ball and was followed by a video interview with David Vincent. The music video for 'God of Emptiness' was also featured on the television show Beavis and Butt-head. According to Soundscan, the album went on to sell over 150,000 copies in the United States alone.
In celebration of the 20th anniversary of the album's original release in 1993, the album was remastered in a 'Full Dynamic Range' edition and re-released on CD and vinyl by Earache Records in November 2013.
Following the commercial success of the album and the significant coverage by MTV in particular, in early 1994 the band toured with Black Sabbath and Motörhead. The tour featured over 20 dates, began on February 8, 1994 at New Britain, Connecticut and Morbid Angel toured in support with Motörhead through to March 13, 1994 at Sunrise, Florida. David Vincent sees Covenant as a vital record for the band in this respect: "We got support from MTV and to tour with Black Sabbath and Motörhead in early '94 in places we had never played before while a new wave of aggressive music was coming out. I think that overall, it helped us reach a whole new audience. Without Covenant, we wouldn’t be where we are now and we’re proud that it has stood the test of time like it did.”
In 2013 and 2014 the band headlined North American and European tours to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the album's original release. Covenant was performed in its entirety on every date of the tour, followed by a selection of songs from the band's other albums.
Reception, legacy and influence
The album is widely considered to be a milestone in the death metal genre, arriving at (and representing) the genre's peak. The album's sales were almost unprecedented "for a band, album, and genre so relentlessly extreme." Following the success of Morbid Angel and particularly Covenant, Columbia Records signed many of Earache Records' other bands including Carcass, Entombed, and Napalm Death, seeking to replicate the album's success. However, "none of those albums Soundscanned even a third of what Covenant did — worse still, none of them even outsold the previous respective albums by those bands." As a consequence, Columbia systematically dropped these bands from their rosters, cutting ties with all of them within three years. Morbid Angel's following album on Giant Records sold roughly 70,000 copies, but the band were nonetheless also dropped from the label's roster. Further, the lack of new exciting, boundary-pushing death metal bands led to a relative stagnation in the death metal genre. There was also a growing tension within the community, as the "inviting mainstream" seemed willing to "give some Death Metal a try", which was in conflict with the "essentially anti-mainstream culture that gave birth to and nourished the genre." The growth and development of Norway's black metal scene can be understood as a direct response to the temporary mainstream, commercial success that death metal enjoyed in these few years, "a violent negative reaction to death metal that could be traced directly back to Morbid Angel". By late 1995, the genre had entered a period of decline. "The movement, however, did not die, and more death metal bands continued to deliver their extreme tunes. The scene simply retreated into the underground." On Michael Nelson's view, it was precisely in this retreat that the genre "regained its vitality. Today, the genre comfortably coexists (and regularly cross-pollinates) with black metal." In 2017, Rolling Stone named it the 75th best metal album of all time.
|3.||"World of Shit (The Promised Land)"||Azagthoth||3:20|
|4.||"Vengeance Is Mine"||Azagthoth||3:15|
|6.||"Blood on My Hands"||Azagthoth||3:43|
|7.||"Angel of Disease"||Azagthoth||6:15|
|8.||"Sworn to the Black"||Azagthoth||4:01|
|10.||"God of Emptiness
- David Vincent – vocals, bass
- Trey Azagthoth – guitars, keyboards
- Pete Sandoval – drums
- Morbid Angel – production
- Tom Morris – engineering
- Flemming Rasmussen – production, engineering, mixing
- Luton Sinfield – photography
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