RETRO TUESDAYS: Morpheus Descends – Chronicles of the Shadowed Ones (1994)

The early work of Morpheus Descends chronicles a legendarily promising addition to the callous New York death metal scene that never got the break their material deserved. Initially known as Morpheus from 1990-1992 and even in their formative years their material stood out next to Suffocation, Cannibal Corpse and Immolation around them. The ‘Adipocere’ EP and ‘Corpse Under Glass’ demo showcased a brutal take on old school death metal composition that was almost strong enough to be ‘full-length ready’. In choosing JL America for their first record label Morpheus Descends took the first of a series of blows to the head that would lead to their long struggle towards disbanding.

‘Ritual of Infinity’ is a long-damned relic, a degraded mummy set under glass and viewed through watery eyes. Few brutal death metal albums were so dynamic before and after, relying on spectacle where Morpheus Descends were always substantive in their extremity. The horror lies within the production and recording quality and as such the band’s history is forever clutched and worshiped within the candlelight of the underground. I am one of those odd ghouls who find it’s compression of ideas and sound powerful and still foully rotten. Unfortunately JL America didn’t pimp the record, people didn’t eat it up like they would Incantation and their ilk and Morpheus Descends struck out on their own with some small changes to their line-up.

The failing spirit of the band in the early 90’s worked entirely to my personal benefit because I consider their follow-up EP ‘Chronicles of the Shadowed Ones’ a personal favorite among death metal records that incorporate doom metal riffs and pacing into their sound. The angular grinding blast of ‘Ritual of Infinity’ is slowed to a cathartic mid-pace and instead hints of Bolt Thrower and Incantation dominate the experience. The clangorous drum sound provides almost exactly the sound of a NYDM band of the era playing live but without all of the blasting; this performance actually helps elevate the sound of the EP above death/doom of the period that typically buried the snare and lost a great deal of noisome heaviness of old school death metal in the process. “The Cruciform Hills” isn’t as immediately taut as even the slowest riffing from ‘Rituals of Infinity’ but the feeling of the composition is exceptional for this style. Morpheus Descends could have easily just banged-out a rote brutal death metal album at this point but instead created a self-released visionary work that few would access or appreciate.

It might be hard to see ‘Chronicles of the Shadowed Ones’ as forward-thinking rather than mildly influential without the bigger picture of death/doom metal. In terms of performance, writing, and delivery this was highly original material even in the soulless clusterfuck of death metal’s after-burning circa 1994. The thoughtfully atmospheric tremolo-thunderous guitar playing on “Cairn of Dumitru” and “Autumn Bleed” remains unrivaled to this day with some hints of it’s approach coming from bands like Desecresy, Ataraxy and Disma yet the drum performances have no modern equal. The dark ambient piece at the end of the EP is something I certainly didn’t appreciate until much later. In it’s sonic depiction of hell “Moupho Alde Ferenc Yaborov” provides a fitting outro that was largely unheard of at the time, or at least in the scene, outside of maybe some brief interludes from Acheron. The experience certainly feels like a full-length of today and the re-issue from Dark Horizon Records (founded by bassist Andy Newton of Typhus and Fog)  provides the cleanest transfer of the EP I’ve heard, though I’m not sure if it was remastered at all or if my copy was just disintegrating.

As I said previous, I consider ‘Chronicles of the Shadowed Ones’ one of the best examples of a death metal band incorporating mid-paced work and doom metal influences, as such highly recommend listening to it. Morpheus Descends have gotten some greater love in hindsight and with reissue, plus they did soldier on for a while longer but this release particularly deserves to be remembered alongside the brutal death metal leaning releases that surround it. With the band’s continued activity beyond 2015 it will be interesting to see whether their inevitable full-length materializes with any hints of this mid-paced style or their more brutal tendencies.

Artist Morpheus Descends
Type EP
Released 1994
BUY/LISTEN on Dark Horizon Records’ Bandcamp! Follow Morpheus Descends on Facebook
Death Metal
Death Doom Metal

Ruins that welcome blood. 4.25/5.0

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