Album Review: Morbid Saint – Swallowed by Hell

Album Review: Morbid Saint - Swallowed by Hell
Reviewed by Sam Jones

I can’t believe I’m writing this up, but Morbid Saint will have a new album out. Formed all the way back in 1984 out of Wisconsin, United States, Morbid Saint have, for decades, enjoyed a profoundly unique reputation amongst the Underground as arguably one of the finest thrash acts never to break it big. The band released their first Demo, Lock Up Your Children, in 1988, but two years later we were blessed with the now, nigh-on universally acclaimed album that is Spectrum Of Death, a sheer masterpiece of thrash that practically lives in my head when I think of breakneck intensity. We were then meant to get Destruction System as a full album by 1992 but it never came to fruition owing to the band’s breakup in 1994, for years existing merely as a Demo before it was finally released in full, officially, in 2015. So now, and finally, we have what is effectively the band’s first original material in more than three decades and retaining the majority of their classic lineup. When I see this record announced I was aghast; I never thought we’d see new material from these guys, having resigned them to history as a legacy band. But, pinned for a February 9th release date, and through High Roller Records, having teased us thoroughly throughout several Singles, we are finally on the brink of a new Morbid Saint release. Let’s check it out.

It may have been decades since Morbid Saint released any original material but it’s striking, how purely, they’ve retained their punching riff attack. The first opening tracks are proof of this enough as the band aren’t reserved to just take your hand and guide you through the circle pit; rather, it’s like taking hold of your full body and throwing you in head first, where you’d best be ready to survive. It’s old school thrash though with not a safety precaution in sight. The guitar work is thrusting itself in front of your face from start to finish so there’s no hope of escaping or finding relief from its bombardments; the band hold you captive front and centre, and knowing the band’s tendency for changing up their volatile songwriting it makes for a breathless onslaught. There were moments throughout that had me genuinely hold my breath, realising where the band were taking me even if for some brief seconds. It’s an enthralling and devastating performance.

Other than Bassist Bob Zabel, the lineup is identical to what Spectrum Of Death and, later, Destruction System, gave us. As a result, even after so many years, the essence that made Morbid Saint the underground savants of their day, is effectively untouched. You only need to experience the vocal performance to know how true this statement really is; Pat Lind’s vocals, decades later, are still the biting and eviscerating force that their classic material made synonymous with their sound. If anything, they feel even more vicious where age, naturally, has played its part on his cords. Where they were once higher in pitch, age has arguably dropped them down a touch but, if anything, limitations have seen his delivery spread out into more coarse and savage directions as his performance consumes the entire horizon as you’re listening. Like the riffs, the vocals are ferociously gunning for your throat at all times where any feasible restraints have been released from their ability to perform. It’s one of the most ruthless thrash vocal deliveries I’ve heard in a long time and it’s done by a man fifty-five years old. It’s bristling with that adrenaline-fuelled energy that sees you begging to stand in the way of its cataclysm.

Album Review: Morbid Saint - Swallowed by Hell

We can praise the vocal and instrumental work as much as we wish, but this record is massively amplified thanks to the production applied to its sound. I’ve heard numerous thrash band revivals by this point and, personally, Morbid Saint are flying the flag for how to bring the classic sound into the here and now. I adore how the band didn’t just forgo their old, established sound for something typically modern and ultra-processed, instead opting to update their biting soundscape for a new generation, given the freedom to breathe. The songwriting possesses this animalistic drive to seek your throat but that doesn’t mean it’s wholly suffocating as, while we recognise the ferocity inherent, they leave just enough space between you and themselves where we recognise what we’re experiencing and have a coherent idea where we may be taken. Listening to this record, we aren’t submerged so completely that our senses are dulled or stripped from us; knowing how versed I am in their Spectrum Of Death material, I can confidently say the spirit of what made Morbid Saint such a hot band in their day is firmly alive and well, still surviving, still thriving. This record demands you crank it’s volume to eleven, there’s no possible substitute; it needs to be played loud as it can go. Like setting a beast’s chains loose, the production has outright weaponised the band’s songwriting as the band do all they can to basically kill their audience.

Just when I thought this album couldn’t get more ferocious, it becomes significantly more ferocious. The drumming here doesn’t mince its words; if the drums harness a vocabulary herein its swearing at us, incessantly, loudly, brashly. This is how a drumming performance should be within a thrash album; it feels always on the cusp of going utterly berserk, breaking loose and outright killing someone. You don’t feel the Tom-toms being struck so much as their drummer loads a slew of ammunition into a machine gun, such is the impact his performance brings. The band weren’t struggling with bass in the first place as basslines seep through the cacophony of guitars with ease, but even then the bass drums inject even more power into an already nuclear performance. The bass drums here might as well burst free of the record and batter our face directly, owing to the speed and taut intensity they harbour. The drums form the circular boundary around this record that everything bounces off from and so help to establish the dimensions of the band’s soundscape, into an easily discernible space you can pinpoint and then lock in on. If anything, establishing this constructing space actually makes their assault more visceral since the songwriting is being funnelled into your precise location. There’s only one way out and it just so happens tends to be through you.

In conclusion, I’m in utter astonishment of this record. Morbid Saint, arguably, already had their reputation cemented with underground, classic material that still holds up today; now they can throw another classic but through a modern lens to their discography. Imagine releasing your first original material in decades and it doesn’t just run out of the house but takes the doors flying off, hinges and all. This is without a doubt one of the best thrash albums I’ve heard in years, no lie; it’s everything a thrash record should be. It doesn’t care for who you are, what you’re doing or what you think it should be; it comes in murder you and everyone in its vicinity, holding nothing back. Swallowed By Hell has no right to go as hard as it does throughout its runtime, a band many attributed solely as a legacy act, but in just ten tracks Morbid Saint show the new guard how it’s done, ripping them from their established pedestals and enrolling them back in school. For me, it’s an effortlessly easy Album Of The Year contender and we’re barely into 2024. An absolutely cataclysmic record and bound to turn heads of many, many younger audiences and the closest we’ll get to an atomic device blown up at point blank range. They need to play the UK. ASAP.

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