Delerium – Morpheus

One of Delerium‘s best loved early works celebrates its birthday this week – Morpheus is exactly a quarter of a century old. As with many of their early albums, it has always had more of a cult following than any sort of public reception, but that doesn’t make it any less interesting.

Having said that, opening track Gaza can surely only really be described as dull. There’s a smattering of hammer-like industrial drum sounds, but no particular melody or even a general feeling to help you get into the album. Then Requiem, with its promising title, also turns out to be a sequence of industrial drum sounds and little else.

Morpheus was the second album under the Delerium name, following just a few months after the debut Faces, Forms, and Illusions (also 1989), and not much earlier than the obscurely titled follow-up Syrophenikan (1990). But whereas the first album had some inevitable naïvety, and the third introduced the beginnings of the early definitions of their sound, Morpheus seems to have relatively little to say for itself.

Until the title track, that is. Finally, three tracks in, there really seems to be a bit of Gothic atmosphere and darkness. Perhaps it’s the omission of the huge industrial drums, which by 1989 must have already sounded very dated. There’s still a lot of digital FM synthesis, dating the sound very clearly to the late 1980s, but it’s at least well delivered on this track.

Faith isn’t entirely a let-down after that, but it’s back to the big industrial drumming, and this time just one simple four-note chord sequence to keep you entertained. But with a bit of effort, you might just about manage to see the beginnings of Delerium‘s trademark sound – the steadily building atmospheres and global influences. This is certainly an album from the same people who would bring you Karma nearly a decade later, but it’s a much more immature sound.

Coup d’État is a dramatic title for what turns out to be a spectacularly dull track. It does have the novelty of having a vocal, although that’s a typically incomprehensible vocal delivered in traditional Front Line Assembly shouty style. Apart from that, there’s only really one chord, and a whole lot of 1980s orchestral hits. This is definitely the low point of the album.

Things pick up somewhat with Veracity, but it’s not really until the trio of Temple of Light, Somnolent and Allurance that form the backbone of the second half, that Morpheus really seems to get going. None of them really have anything extravagantly special – to break it down, Temple of Light is really just a pad chord with some festive chime sounds and seemingly randomly selected samples, but somehow it works rather better than anything that came before it.

The myriad pads of Somnolent are a welcome change too, even if some of the wolf samples are a bit strange and distracting. There’s nothing else quite like this on the album. And this is true also of Allurance, with its slightly weird percussive bongo sounds. The snares are huge, and the bass is rasping, placing it still very much in the 1980s, but it does at least sound a bit different from everything else.

Finally comes Fragments of Fear, softer and with darker overtones, and with the occasional hint of the later Delerium sound. It closes what was certainly an interesting album, but it’s almost difficult to believe that the next decade or so would see them steadily develop into the artists who would bring us Karma and Poem. So it’s certainly a worthwhile album for collectors to hear, but it would be difficult to recommend it to a wider audience.

The original release of Morpheus seems to have fallen out of print, but you can find seven of the better tracks on Archives Vol. 1, available here.

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