Thrash ‘Til Death #33: Morbid Saint (United States) 1984-1994

THRASH ‘TIL DEATH is a 50 week long set of features exploring the legends who crossed over between thrash and death metal between 1983-1993. The focus is primarily on under-served, unknown, and exemplar bands/releases. The selection is comprehensive but the numbering is not indicative of any type of rank or value: The order of band appearance is arbitrarily chosen. E-mail me if you want to suggest any relevant bands!


For all of the hype and frequent bootlegging and reissues that Morbid Saint have seen in the years since the original line-up had split in 1994 their body of work is remarkably compact and succinct in terms of physical releases. These Sheboygan, Wisconsin based death/thrashers would originally form as a heavy metal band in 1984, though some sources say 1982, and it would seem that they had spent some undisclosed amount of time as a covers band focusing on the classics. By 1988 they had a demo which would become an album that’d eventually reach legendary status and by 1992 they’d have finished another demo that would become an album… almost 25 years later. I’ll be pretty up front here, I don’t think that Morbid Saint were any more or less special than the brutal thrash or death/thrash of the late 80’s and the main reason they’re well known is because they shared a manager with Death and this factoid serves as an introduction to underground death/thrash and brutal thrash for folks who enter into death metal by way of the well-documented world of the late Chuck Schuldiner. That said, Morbid Saint were a good band who recorded two very good demos that went from some of the hardest thrash ever recorded towards some compelling death-thrashing stuff circa ’92. There are no related bands and no additional releases to talk about so this will be short but hopefully compelling for folks who might not have kept up with the ‘Destruction System’ versions released and the handling of their legacy beyond 1994. Hey! I’ve done my best to research as much as I can but please feel free to message me (grizzlybutts@hotmail.com) or leave a comment if I’ve left out anything vital or gotten something horribly wrong!


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Artist Morbid Saint
Title [Type/Year] Lock Up Your Children [Demo/1988]
Rating [3.0/5.0] n/a

Somewhere along the way Morbid Saint would become a very aggressive thrash metal band beyond 1984 who appeared to have become fashioned after this whole ‘up and coming’ death metal craze. I don’t know how the band became connected with Eric Grief, who would produce several classic underground death and thrash metal records in the late 80’s and early 90’s while also typically serving as representation for those bands. Some of these bands became more popular once they’d dropped Grief as a producer but most would just die off quickly — He would become a very successful figure in music publishing and representation in the decades since. ‘Lock Up Your Children’ was Morbid Saint‘s first demo and to be sure they brought a reasonably sharp set of performances and a lively Kreator influenced sound that was about on par with that of bands like Num Skull though it is clear that drummer Lee Reynolds was not a professional and his double bass drumming skills sounded a bit ‘off’ thanks to the odd bit of reverb added to the snare. It’s just a demo, why be so critical? Well, not only are most dubs of this tape playable at a weirdly pitched and sped tempo but ‘Lock Up Your Children’ was basically repackaged as ‘Spectrum of Death’ two years later and sold as a full-length despite being a relatively untouched two year old professional demo. The sound you’ll find on any reissue of this tape is just straight up ‘Spectrum of Death’.


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Artist Morbid Saint
Title [Type/Year] Spectrum of Death [Full-length/1990]
Rating [3.5/5.0] LISTEN on YouTube [Playlist] | Spotify

You’ll see a lot of folks on sites like Metal-Archives proclaiming that they’ve found the holy grail of brutal thrash in ‘Spectrum of Death’ and that death/thrash had peaked right there thanks to this two year old demo that’d not even been mastered. Death/thrash was quite advanced at this point and the reason you never heard of ‘Spectrum of Death’ wasn’t that the band was screwed out of a bigger record label deal or because of some sort of mishap, the major reason is that it was painfully average and late to the party for 1990. Let me be clear in that I do enjoy Morbid Saint and I think there are plenty of things to like about ‘Spectrum of Death’. There are some very good Slayer influenced riffs within the general worship of Kreator‘s ’86-’89 era of magnificence but the main innovation that Morbid Saint are touted for comes with the brutality of the drumming which may be imperfect but it was nonetheless a good gateway between thrash and death metal at the time.

Beyond my point that the drums are generally bunk ‘Spectrum of Death’ does deserve some credit for just how brutal it was when it was recorded in 1988. An endless stream of bootlegs and reissues would perk up around 2005 (when I discovered both Morbid Saint albums) but this record wasn’t released in huge quantities to begin with back in 1990 through Mexico based Denver Discos‘ extreme metal sub-label Avanzada Metálica who served as a gateway to this band as well as stuff like Mortuary and Transmetal. We’ve gotten official reissues and remasters in the last several years thanks to Relapse Records and Century Media but each has only lent a greater deal of loudness to an already noisy release, any version will do. If you’re a fan of what I’d personally consider superior bands like Num Skull, Demolition Hammer, Gammacide, Devastation, Epidemic and such there are a few points where Morbid Saint is ahead of the pack on this album: “Damien” is just as brutal as anything Demolition Hammer put out and I’d say “Sign of the Times” has a wicked take on Dark Angel‘s post-1986 sound as it ramps up. Just because I don’t consider this classic of the US death-thrash underground doesn’t mean you need to agree, however and as always make your own judgement accordingly.


Artist Morbid Saint
Title [Type/Year] Destruction System [Demo/1992]
Rating [3.75/5.0] LISTEN on Bandcamp!

This demo along with Massacre‘s ‘Second Coming’, Ripping Corpse‘s unfinished second album and a handful of others fell victim to the wrong place at the wrong time sort of situation where the album was left ‘unfinished’ back in 1992. To be clear what seems to be the issue is that they never mastered it and I’m not sure if they’ve actually re-recorded anything on this album unless I’ve totally missed it. What do I mean? This 1992 demo would be shelved in 1993-1994 and the band would break up until 2010 and an new line-up would be formed. ‘Destruction System’ would be finished and released in 2015 but at that point it seemed like the internet had made it very easy to discover this solid death/thrash demo at that point. ‘Destruction System’ is by far the best material that Morbid Saint ever released but that observation comes with a huge caveat in that the drumming is actually quite bland and under-developed compared to their earlier material and this becomes oppressive in the mix because of how loud they’ve cranked it everything but the guitars and vocals. Yes, this album rips and it can be considered an important “What if…” of brutal thrash and death/thrash history but, I still feel it necessarily to suggest that death/thrash had done leagues better by 1992 and this album is above average in some respects (vocal presence, guitar riffs) but no certain classic. Groove riffs, some Malevolent Creation-esque death metal and a general lack of interesting lead guitar work leaves this one in the pure cult range for me.

The original tape rip of ‘Destruction System’ that had been floating around on the internet for a couple of decades is much harder to find anymore but if you’re able to track it down you should give it a spin; It may not be ‘finished’ but it allowed the guitars and vocals to rule over the music the way death/thrash should. This 2015 version appears slightly changed on the 2016 (Extended Edition) of ‘Spectrum of Death’ from Century Media but I doubt it’ll be noticeable enough to warrant one purchase over the other. Any version of “Living Misery”, “Depth of Sanity” and the hauntingly exhausted tonality of “Sign of the Times” absolutely kills and outshines what the band had done with ‘Spectrum of Death’. Don’t agree? No problem, I understand the hype around that first album is strong but this is on case where I don’t think the first demo/LP is as important as the general consensus.


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Artist Morbid Saint
Title [Type/Year] The Black Tape [Promo/1993]
Rating [3.75/5.0] n/a

Although I believed I had a direct from tape rip of this promotional demo containing some of the stronger material from the ‘Destruction System’ tape for years the closer I looked at the mp3 archives I’d kept from the early 2000’s would eventually show that these songs were simply taken from the same rip of ‘Destruction System’ demo tape and converted to a higher bitrate, allowing for marred quality and a louder sound. I’ve only included this because I really like this logo compared to their twisted hippy logo that they used on the first album.

I could see how folks might expect a bit more hyperbolic gushing over a band like this considering the sway of this thrash-to-death metal series but I think if you’ve been following me through the popular groups and the basically unknowns it becomes clear that Morbid Saint really were just doing average work that was touted in a strange bubble of recognition a decade later. Seeing as how their discography basically consists of demos that have reached worldwide acclaim and status I can at least concede that the machine of popularity is bigger than I am and I see the appeal of this Wisconsin band’s brutal take on thrash metal. In fact, I’ll be watching them play the entirety of ‘Spectrum of Death’ at this year’s Eliminator Fest 2019 in Seattle and if you’re in the Chicago area you can see them at Full Terror Assault 2019. I’m glad these songs are still out there and that I’ll get a chance to hear them live nearly 32 years after they were recorded. Much respect for the continued action, even if it might seem like I was dogging the original releases.


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