I have sometimes said that what makes Miles Davis' Kind of Blue and GangStarr's Daily Operations such successful records is that they really take down the tempo, so that everything can be taken in and absorbed by the listener. Now, death metal really has this problem: it tends to become a 45-minute blur. Sadly, the subgenre of "doom death" only makes things worse somehow--nothing is LESS memorable than really slow, plodding death metal where chords are left to ring for minutes on end.
Anyways, without slowing down at all, Morbid Angel's Blessed are the Sick achieves all the "legibility" of Kind of Blue or GangStarr. What other extreme metal records achieve this? I can think only of the first Celtic Frost record, and perhaps the Mayhem LP. The music is very immediate, and although heavy/fast, is so gripping that all the parts have a very distinct identity and purpose. A main factor here is the audible lyrics, which are not too embarrassing, and the killer production--certainly the only Morbid Angel record of the first three where the drums have any bite.
Speaking of doom death, Blessed are the Sick not only preempts that concept, but it invents and perfects it almost as a side note here--especially songs like the title track and "Rebel Lands." For me, "Fall from Grace" and "Thy Kingdom Come" sum up everything that was great about the first album, Altars of Madness, so neatly, that the rest of the record has permission from me to be slow or groovy or just be piano or spanish guitar... as much as it likes. Take "Abominations" for instance--basically this is rap metal/mosh metal--but in the sequencing of the album, it is this astonishing riff fest that you can't believe they still have in the bag so late in the album. And the last song, "The Ancient Ones" is even catchier (and bears a certain resemblance to the next album's "Angel of Disease"). Of course, the band makes all this look very easy, even though every single riff is identifiably a Morbid Angel riff: tonally unique and exotically liquid.
In short, Blessed Are the Sick makes all other death metal seem monotonous and self-serious, while itself being simultaneously the heaviest, the most out-there, and the most fun record in the genre. It's not even possible to imagine a better record, because my imagination stops short at very consistent and stellar albums like Legion or Cause of Death--whereas Blessed Are the Sick is a real flight of the imagination. Highest praise. One for the ages.
Score: 5/5 stars (*****)
Best songs: "Fall from Grace," "Ancient Ones," "Brainstorm," "Thy Kingdom Come," "Abominations"