Mortal Agony might just be the ugliest sight in all of 80s German thrash metal (in this case more due to the awful lettering than the surreal, mad science imagery), but it's definitely not the ugliest music. The band spent a few years post-formation honing in on a ballistic hybrid of their Teutonic contemporaries Destruction and Sodom with a few Bay Area influences, most notably Exodus in the rich, thrashing guitar tone, and the result is a debut that is still listenable over two decades later. The album does seem a little lop sided in content, with most of its strongest tracks placed towards the beginning, yet it reeks of a potential that the band sadly never saw through in the remainder of their career.
As mentioned, the guitars are a huge component of the band, not only for their excellent tone, but also the willingness to take a few risks that pay off. These are heard in the strange structure of "The Unborn", a paranoid nightmare given molten flesh as Chris Zenk's haughty barks erupt over interesting riffs that marry Kreator's Terrible Certainty and Voivod's Dimension Hatross. Or "Erosion/The Way of Force", the album opener, which cycles through a meaty and disposable instru-mosh sequence to a vicious precipice of angry mid-paced riffing ala Exodus and Vio-Lence, in addition to some great speed licks and escalating percussive breaks. Also curious, the chugging apocalyptic "Aftermath" and the calamitous "False Prophets", but there are also a few energetic, standardized chargers like "Bilharzia" and "Nuclear Frost" that do not disappoint if you like your thrash pissed off. For some reason, I just feel like the album trails off in quality, with the final moments ("Humanity" and "The King") offering nothing new that we hadn't already heard prior with better riff casings.
Compositional comparisons could be drawn from this to Destruction's Release from Agony, but Erosion took on more of a weighted, abrupt ballast than the surgical, drug addled atmosphere created by Schmier and Mike Sifringer. Both albums take a few chances, which don't implode on the respective bands, but where Release from Agony is more layered, labyrinthine and cold, this record seems more hell bent on pleasing the mosh pit, like a mix of Release from Agony and Pleasures of the Flesh. The musicians are pretty good, with Chris Zenk mixing up some Tom Angelripper and Mille Petrozza tones with the snarling bark of Sabbat's Martin Walkyier or the rupturing force of Holy Terror's Keith Deen; pretty unique among a slew of second tier German thrash bands who were merely recycling Petrozza or Schmier. That said, Mortal Agony doesn't really have enough of the 'moments' that define a great thrash album. It's solid, and effective more often than it isn't, but only worth checking out if you like to delve deep into the underground gems you might have missed.
Verdict: Win [7/10]