The art of the comeback is tough to master, and the odds are against any band who decides to return to the fold after years of inactivity; the weight of nostalgia, expectations, and respecting an artistic legacy make for a heavy burden. Germany’s Morgoth have returned, bearing the burden to bring the unwashed masses a full LP of death metal after teasing us with two new songs last year on the God is Evil EP. The cruel winds of fate (and Steel Druhm) have delivered me their new record Ungod to review and by extension ponder if their “yes” to returning was the right choice.
As Albert Camus told us in The Myth of Sisyphus, one eventually longs for yesterday instead of tomorrow, asserting their youth instead of waiting for the maturity and experience the future was expected to bring. Morgoth have done this with their sound, deciding to return to death metal’s ways of yore with a sound heavily influenced by Massacre and Death circa Leprosy and Spiritual Healing, which is essentially what they did up to 1996’s very rock-tinged Feel Sorry for the Fanatic. Other members of the old guard like Asphyx, Obituary, and Pestilence got plenty of nods then as they do now, as Morgoth was never the most original band out there. They were often good fun though, and in staying with the theme of asserting their youth, they’ve made sure to keep that part of their identity alive.
It’s an easy critical fallback to denounce a lack of originality in an album, and Ungod won’t appeal to those who are wont to do so. Morgoth may lean a small bit harder on the use of melodic leads over their old-school riffs than their contemporaries both new and old, but even a cursory understanding of the bands mentioned above will give you a great idea of what to expect here. “House of Blood” immediately goes for the throat with punishing riffing and drums, its hybridization of Consuming Impulse and Spiritual Healing battering and slashing through a tight two and a half minutes, while the subtle death-n-roll romp of “Traitor” recalls the best moments of the uneven Feel Sorry for the Fanatic; the addictive intro melody is the most obvious, but upon closer inspection most of the heavier riffs here have a bouncy heavy rock gait. It’s well-executed, well-written, and fits comfortably with the rest of the material.
Deserving special attention is the vocal performance of Karsten Jager. The man sounds absolutely feral and manages to prop up Ungod’s lesser songs like “Nemesis” and “Descent Into Hell.” For those unfamiliar, his vocals sound like the result of Martin van Drunen and Leprosy’s Chuck Schuldiner getting caught together in the teleportation machine from The Fly and subsequently managing to mix up their apple juice with acid before downing a liter of it. The impressive production really lets the vocals shine, but not at the expense of the rest of Morgoth. Drums are punchy with the pleasing old-school clicky thud of Spiritual Healing, bass is growly, tight, and present, and the guitars sound great with a crunchy and clear tone.
Ungod lacks in originality, but criticizing it for this misses the point of the record. Why criticize a nicely grilled rare steak solely because you’ve had one more than a few times? Morgoth knows their strengths and plays to them, making something hardly new but plenty exciting. Why not a higher rating? It didn’t excite me as much as rating it half a point higher would imply, and a few merely good songs put “great” ever so slightly out of reach. Regardless, Ungod is a very good record and I’m glad Morgoth is back. If you’re hankering for some old-school death metal, you will be too.