Genre: Death Metal | Label: JL America
Location: Middletown, NY | Listen: YouTube
New York has always been a hot bed for groundbreaking music, and death metal is no exception. During the late 80’s and early 90’s, many death metal bands were forming in the NY/NJ/PA metro area, and finding ways to stand out from the emerging death metal scenes around the world. Many today will think of bands like Suffocation, Incantation, and Immolation when it comes to NYDM, but Morpheus Descends should also be on people’s radar when it comes to discussing the development of that sound.
Formed under the name Morpheus in 1990, the band put out a couple demos and an EP before recording and releasing “Ritual of Infinity” in 1992. At this point, Suffocation had already put out “Effigy of the Forgotten” a year earlier, which featured a barrage of technical riffing, blasting drums, thrashy hooks, and crushing breakdowns. These elements, with perhaps the exception of the thrash influences, really came to define what NYDM was about. Morpheus Descends certainly embodied similar characteristics, but not quite as thrashy.
“Ritual of Infinity” is an odd debut album – it was recorded in 3 different sessions throughout 1992, so there’s a bit of fluctuation between songs with the production. Thankfully, because the band recorded at the same studio each time, the difference isn’t too jarring. In fact, the first session of this recording was released as a demo under the Morephus moniker before the rest of the record was recorded. The guitars have a bit of a Morrisound/Scott Burns copycat tone, and the drums have the kick drum really up front with lots of clicky attack. The only thing I really notice between the three recording sessions is that kick drum is louder on some tracks. A lot of NYDM would try sounding like this, with buzzier sounding guitars and similarly clicky drum sounds. This is a little dryer sounding than their peers in Suffocation, but it lends a bit of a cult vibe to the record.
As for the music itself, Morpheus Descends crafted a brutal, evil sounding album that still manages to have hooks you can sink into. “Corpse Under Glass” is likely the catchiest song on this record, with that evil sounding intro being quite unforgettable. There’s a good amount of chunky breakdowns throughout the record that have a lot in common with Suffocation, and many NYDM bands based their sound off this, such as Pyrexia and Internal Bleeding. Morpheus Descends have a better sense of groove and variety in these kind of breakdowns, and they don’t sound as mechanical or “slam” like later bands would try and do. There’s a fair amount of variety in the riffing too, with some riffs sounding like a New York version of Bolt Thrower, as well as some tremolo picking over blastbeats or double kick sections.
Everything that would come to define death metal in the early 90’s can be found here. This is clearly a step in death metal’s evolution, and unlike many contemporaries like Morbid Angel, Revenant, Pestilence, etc, there’s no immediately apparent thrash influence. The low, guttural vocals also take it to that next realm beyond thrash metal. The riffs definitely have a little bit of finger twisting going on, but it’s not quite as technical as Suffocation, which makes them a little easier to get stuck in your head.
A lot of brutal death metal owes its sound to these seminal NYDM bands, and Morpheus Descends were without question innovators of their regional sound. It’s a shame they couldn’t keep a stable line up for the rest of the 90’s, as never released another full length again. They did do some EPs and demos after, but with member changes, they started to experiment with their sound, utilizing more dissonance and even adding some black metal elements into the mix. Thankfully, this material is far from forgotten, as it’s been reissued a few times. Not only that, but there’s a discography box set on Dark Descent Records with some remixing/remastering for some of it. This is absolutely a classic death metal record, and no metal collection is complete without this regional sound defining album.