Swiss death metal band Messiah’s third album showcased an impressive professional transformation as the band’s unusual style finally fell in line with the death and thrash metal explosion of the early 90’s. While many revisionists saw ‘Choir of Horrors’ as a sort of “me too” release as bands like Death, Sepultura, and Napalm Death explosively influenced extreme metal across the globe. In truth they were simply shuffling members and raising their quality as extreme metal formed into something more precise and less primal. Their debut ‘Hymn to Abramelin‘ is too often disrespected when looking back at the most extreme music of 1986. The album was ferocious in it’s occult howling and messy extremism. Yes, it is amateurish and sloppy but no more or less than Sepultura‘s ‘Morbid Visions’ or Morbid Angel‘s ‘Abominations of Desolation’ tapes.
Their second album the very short (half of the playtime are Live recordings) and barely listenable ‘Extreme Cold Weather‘ made bands like Merciless and Kreator sound refined and professional by comparison. Still, few bands had such fervor and reckless abandon in 1987 and it remains a commendable release that is often overlooked for its grainy guitar tone and terrible album artwork. It wouldn’t be until 1990 when a new line-up and recording engineer Sven Conquest (known for his recordings of formative Rage, Coroner, and Agressor albums) gave birth to this far more listenable version of Messiah. ‘Choir of Horrors’ has the kind of crunchy guitar sound that I dreamed of after listening to stodgy sound jobs for records like ‘Scream Bloody Gore’ and ‘Malleus Maleficarum’ sure they had thrash influences, but the drums were thin and guitars took a step back from what thrash metal had been able to achieve in the late 80’s.
The crisp sound, buzzing death/thrash distortion, and high speed attack of the guitars gave way to what is perhaps my personal favorite death/thrash recording of all time. Every song is so ingrained into my mind after decades of listening to ‘Choir of Horrors’ on repeat that nearly half of it barely registers with me anymore. This album is a part of my DNA at this point and every second is sheer sonic gratification. Though I’ll happily place it on a pedestal for the sake of being a death/thrash fanboy the recording isn’t without fault. Listening to the ‘Psychomorphia’ EP that preceded ‘Choir of Horrors’ it seems the band made a concerted effort to reduce the playtime of the disc and didn’t focus on what might have been more primal and interesting songs. As such it is absolutely an album the leans towards the thrash head who loves a stream of powerful guitar riffs that impress. While it escapes riff salad syndrome the assault is relentless and meaty to the point of exhaustion.
So, I would submit to you my personal favorite 40 minutes of death/thrash that is one part Protector, one part Pestilence and an absolutely underrated classic in the history of death/thrash metal. This is the definitive Messiah experience, though. It’d be well worth your time to check out the follow up ‘Rotten Perish’ with the caveat that the album is themed and features some truly awful spoken word performances as interludes between songs and the guitar tone is somewhat neutered.
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