Through the Eyes of Death: The Early Demos
posted on 11/2011 By:
By and large, the works of 90s Midwestern death metal outfit Morta Skuld have been consigned to obscurity, a casualty of time and fading memory. The Relapse-released Through The Eyes Of Death is a compilation of the band’s first two demos (Gory Departure and Prolonging The Agony, both from 1990), and though it shows them as mostly competent cavemen, trudging and bashing their way through the Neolithic days, it’s as much a testament to their limited skill as it is to why they’re almost entirely forgotten.
Sequenced chronologically, Eyes Of Death offers a glimpse of a band in development – the Gory Departure tracks are thrashy and just a hair sloppy, though that rudimentary chaos is a large part of the charm they possess. By the time of Agony, five songs into this set, Morta Skuld had shed their original drummer and second guitarist, replacing them with more skilled compatriots, and the results are suitably tighter, more polished. Unfortunately, though they improved as musicians, Morta Skuld’s songwriting remained decidedly second-tier, and therein lies their biggest problem -- as they got better, their lack of interesting ideas became more prominent. There’s enthusiasm in their earliest work, and sonically, these tracks are better than expected, especially to be two decades old and undoubtedly recorded on a tight budget. But when all is said and done, though nothing is disastrous, none of the material on Through The Eyes Of Death is particularly briliant. These tunes blast at times, thrash at times, crawl at times – it’s caveman thrash-toned death metal from a time when the words “technical” and “progressive” were rarely applied to the style – and each exhibits the same influences and lyrical themes as any other death metal act of the day. The basics are in place, but what no song on either Departure or Agony does is transcend – no song raises the proverbial bar or even equals the better-remembered releases of the day. None even oversteps the work of countless equally forgotten old-school acts like New York's Morpheus Descends, Chicago's Devastation, or even fellow Wisconsinites Viogression, whose guitarist gave Morta Skuld their name and shared co-writing credits on Prolonging The Agony.
For the benefit of pre-existing fans, Relapse has added to these eight demo tracks an additional two non-demo tunes, one of them a song originally released on a various artists compilation and one of them a cover of Metal Church’s eponymous tune. It’s telling that "Metal Church" (the album’s closing track) is the best on hand, and then only because its nature as a cover invokes an undeniably better outfit. As a retrospective collection on a forgotten band, Eyes Of Death falls short of reintroducing classic material to the market, simply because its material is classic mostly only in the sense of being old, not so much in qualitative terms.
All told, though this review focuses more upon the downside, Eyes Of Death is neither here nor there – in the pantheon of first-wave death metal, there are scores of better demos than either of these, though, to be fair, there are certainly worse. Long-time Morta Skuld fans and death metal historians will find this one worthy of a spin or two, but for all but the most dedicated and old-school-minded, Eyes Of Death provides little of lasting interest and there are more valuable archaelogical relics to be unearthed from digging though the death metal dust.
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