Forgotten Legends: Morbid Saint – Spectrum of Death
Forgotten Legends is an ongoing series where we look back on those extraordinary yet often overlooked albums that are essential to any serious metal collection. They can be of any format, released at any time. As always, a dynamic range measurement is provided for reference.
When I was growing up, my whole world revolved around Megadeth, Metallica, and to a lesser extent, Slayer. That’s it. They were the be all, end all of metal, and ignorance was as they say, bliss. However, as I grew older, my metal tastes slowly evolved and I started to take my metal more seriously. That’s one of the reasons why in fact I started to read a lot of Angry Metal-Guy. I’m sure many of you can relate.
But now, when I look back at my ill-begotten youth, I realize just how many amazing records I missed due to the Bay Area thrash bubble I proactively imprisoned myself in. The truth is even though records like Rust, Puppets, and Reign are indeed classics, and in many respects defined a generation of thrashers, there were plenty of other records released around that same time period that were just as good even if they didn’t achieve the same level of commercial success. Case in point: Morbid Saint‘s 1990 magnum opus, Spectrum of Death.
Morbid Saint were an interesting beast to say the least. The band was founded in 1982 in Wisconsin and was spearheaded by Eric Greif, who was not only the band’s producer but was also the manager of Chuck Schuldiner of Death. That’s why it’s no wonder they became the defacto opening act for Death when the band would go on tour.
The band’s first real release however came in 1988 as a demo tape that was limited to unobtainium number of copies and distributed mainly by the band themselves at shows. The tape was for all intents and purposes equivalent to their debut except some of the songs had slightly different arrangements than what finally hit the lathe in 1990. In any event, Morbid Saint eventually landed a deal with an extremely small and obscure Spanish label, Avanzada Metálica out of Mexico, to release their full length official debut which was generally well received. However, after a few more demo tapes, the band suddenly decided to call it quits in ’94 and that was that. But their debut had certainly left its mark, as it quickly attained a cult like status within the underground soon after the band’s demise.
Make no mistake about it though, by the time Spectrum came on the scene back in 1990, it was in many respects too late. By then, thrash had already been formally codified by the aforementioned big three several years prior, and the rise of Floridian death and Norwegian black was already in full swing. However, Spectrum in many ways embodied everything that had come before it, combining the best of what the genre had to offer into a very tight 32 minute package. I would even be so bold that it expanded on the Reign formula somewhat by adding a lot more variety with respect to tempo and riff. But even so, it’s still hard to claim that this record moved the thrash needle even a little bit, and its cover art doesn’t help either. (Iron Maiden called. They want their cover back. -Dave)
Regardless, every track on this record though is just face-melting fun, with my two personal favs being the tracks “Scars” and “Damien,” mainly because the former ranks up there as one of the best Slayer songs ever written not by Slayer, and the later being an all-out, neck-snapping blitzkrieg to the finish line. Other highlights are the opener, “Lock Up Your Children,” with its insanely catching introductory chug and the album’s finale, “Beyond the Gates of Hell,” which contains a myriad of blistering leads and solos that should not be missed. I also highly suggest you put the track list on a wall and play a game of darts with it. You’ll always win.
The release history of Spectrum though is a strange tale in itself, with so many different releases (including unofficial ones) and re-releases that it is hard to keep track of all of them. The album was originally released on melted wax back in 1990 via Avanzada Metálica, and then on CD a year later. Clocking in at a very respectable DR9, the record was fairly dynamic. But due to its low production budget, the album sounds really noisy, with a lot of cracks and pops buried in the mix. Spectrum was then remastered in 2008 by Power Play Records. Not a horrible remaster by any means, but still too compressed in my book, clocking in at DR7. Then in 2012, Relapse reissued it on vinyl. But as an interview with founding guitarist Jay Visser revealed, that reissue seems to be more like a remaster which was approved by the band. So technically speaking, if you must wax, the Relapse reissue is not a bad place to start. Very recently though, Century Media took a stab at it and hired Patrick W. Engel of Temple of Disharmony Studios to remaster the original mix. Century’s “extended” version also includes as bonus material the two demo tapes the band released after Spectrum. It’s a rare day when I say this but this remaster is by far the best sounding version to date, with Engel’s master not only preserving all of the dynamics of the original but actually making the original sound even better. Unfortunately, Century Media now seems sold out of both the double CD digipack and the multi-colored LPs. However, the silvery plastic thing is still available through Amazon’s marketplace for a reasonable amount of moola. So if you are in the market for some of the best thrash ever written at an extremely attractive price, now is the time to strike!
Spectrum of Death is one of those records that clearly deserves to be in the pantheon of greatest thrash records of all time, and over the last few decades thankfully, it has slowly risen in prominence among the general thrash populace. Yet Morbid Saint‘s debut still gets constantly overlooked when discussing classic thrash, with the various Big Four’s output drowning out the conversation most of the time. Justifiably so I suppose, since Morbid Saint never attained even a sliver of the commercial success of say a Metallica or Testament, and worse still, their tenure was so short lived they never really had a chance to catch fire in the first place. But I submit that Spectrum still holds it own with the best of them, and remains to this day one of the greatest thrash metal records of all time.