I’m not about to lose my shit over the fact that Morbid Angel have gone back to being a proper death metal band.
They were finished if they didn’t.
There’s little more to it.
But lifelong fans deserve more than just an expedient u-turn. For starters they deserve a grovelling musical apology for the humiliating ‘Illud Divinum Insanus’.
And, while I’m completely up for bands evolving positively, I’d offer that they also deserve better songs than are on this new album.
Because the effort involved in finding them in this album’s pea-soup production is massive.
And when you do, they’re not even that good.
The first exposure we all got to this was ‘Piles Of Little Arms’: a slightly confounding track both in style and substance.
It’s militaristic, chin up stuff, with doublekick drums that sound like the caterpillar tracks of a tank, establishing new drummer Scott Fuller early as a bulwark in the band’s return to proper music making.
It’s a good if undeniably odd track, underscoring the ‘Formulas’ plus ‘Gateways’ broad approach that’s the calling card of the album.
Okay, so it’s different – it’s a delve into a Tucker-led aggressive and uncomrpomising style. At a push it could be called a decent tune. Let’s suspend judgement.
The (first) problems start creeping in with ‘D.E.A.D.’ and ‘Garden Of Disdian’, two absolutely unforgiving tracks that raise some questions about just how much Trey is really concerned with penning a decent riff anymore.
‘D.E.A.D.’ is impressively leftfield – so much so that it sounds much more akin to Gorguts, with its squidgy bo-jangles guitar tone. But I want Gorguts to sound like this. Not Morbid Angel, from whom I want incredible and memorable death metal anthems.
Yes, I get that it has that early ‘Altars’ style warped D-90 riffing in it. But it also just sounds like a lot of sloppy fannying around to no greater end.
As to ‘Garden Of Disdain’, its first superb fourteen seconds are wasted on what follows. A poor simulacrum of ‘Nothing Is Not’, it hulks about tunelessly in a tired stomp. What are these riffs but some identikit, downtuned crunching?
Mercifully we do have a standout in the vintage Morbid Angel fashion on here, in the form of the much needed ‘The Righteous Voice’: a worthy inheritor of all their very best efforts, particularly reminiscent of Tucker’s definitive ‘Bil Ur Sag’ era.
God, how we’ve longed for a track like that.
I’ve read a lot of love for ‘Architect And Iconoclast’, which is fair enough. It’s alright, with those throbbing drums and all. But it’s not really all that great shakes past the impressively expansive drumming.
Again, I ask: what are these riffs? What do they actually sound like? Because for the life of me I just cannot make them out.
‘Paradigms Warped’ just happens. There’s no meaningful tune there. It starts nowhere and ends up nowhere.
‘The Pillars Crumbling’ is a similarly completely boring non tune, until, when it’s time to end, Trey awakes from his slumber to come up with something cool and driving, that, while superb, has little to do with the song or the feel of the rest of the album.
It’s at this point that I begin to wonder: just how engaged has he been in writing these songs? In forming this album?
We know the guy’s a genius. But his solos and classic calling cards on this album are scarce, and not invested with the kind of ear to supreme guitar playing that his best work was.
A wah pedal and a bubbling tone is great – yes, it sounds as otherworldly and spacey as ever. But it’s not enough. He’s dialling it in.
Yet again the return to death metal is tainted with ennui as ‘For No Master’ sounds like a rough draft of something that should have been far, far better – along the lines, perhaps, of ‘The Righteous Voice’. Just because it’s fast doesn’t automatically mean it’s excellent.
I like the bounce of ‘Declaring New Law’, but again, removed of the interesting drumming and shit lyrics, what are we actually hearing here?
‘From The Hand Of Kings’ brings back a bit of the old magic, recalling ‘Domination’ if anything, with that lovely detuned ‘Dawn Of The Angry’ riffing. This is surely what we wanted more of on any comeback to death metal. Fantastic.
Fast and furious also is ‘Fall Of Idols’, all rather too late in the day for this album. Once again, it smacks of a Hate Eternal approach to making heavy music (i.e. tuneles) rather than a Morbid Angel one.
Reading back over all of this presents a stark conclusion.
We have, on this supposed return to form, two truly memorable and vigorous songs out of eleven. Not a great ratio.
Some of the tracks are what you’d expect from the deep mid-album content of ‘Gateways’ and ‘Formulas’ only less striking. Others would be absolutely rank average for a band of obscurities.
Rather than the songs (because there are so few) it is in fact the production that is the true hallmark of this album.
It makes the songs sound like the audio equivalent of one of those machines that mulch up tree bark.
Finding any given riff in tracks like ‘Garden Of Disdain’ requires three different stereos and almost microscopic attention to EQ’ing to even allow them out. That is not what classic albums are made of. It’s not even was good albums are made of.
So it’s all well and good that they have delved back down into ultra aggressive, militaristic and uncompromising death metal again. Good for them. I’m more than impressed that they’ve shed the ridiculous ‘Destructhor’ and bumptious Vincent for another shot at blasting frenecity.
But frankly this is the least that Trey should be giving us, from the band that wanted to ‘spread our insane’ just one album ago.
Pete Sandoval was right to get out when he did.
Though it’s a credible and worthy approach to intense and obdurate elitist death metal, the songs are just mostly shite – and that from a band capable of penning the most supreme anthems of the form.
If you genuinely like this, fair play. It is of course a more than credible death metal album.
But I’ll wager you have had to try very, very hard to; and frankly the effort of cutting through that baffling production isn’t justified by the equally baffling tracks.
2.7 / 5 – Earl Grey ::: 23/12/17