Overhyped, overdue and mostly underwhelming
I’ve been a Morbid Angel fan since Altars of Madness came out in 1989. I’m not trying to brag or show some kind of elitism or what no;. I’m just giving you some perspective. That album blew me away and whilst it’s follow up, 1991’s Blessed Are the Sick, was an album I warmed to after a few listens, I strongly believe that Altars is the band’s finest hour. Personal choice. That’s not to take anything away from 1993’s Covenant or 1995’s Domination, as both are exceptionally strong albums, I just think there’s a little bit of filler on both, which is something that those first two albums were devoid of all together.
Now, I also have to state that their post Dave Vincent era material with Steve Tucker, amongst others, didn’t really float my boat either. Perhaps it was the fact that Vincent will always be the right front man for Morbid Angel. Vincent not only had a dark, powerful voice, he also had a very commanding stage presence as well. Perhaps though, it was because the material didn’t stick with me, either. I really couldn’t name a track off of Formulas Fatal to the Flesh (1998), Gateways to Annihilation (2000) or Heretic (2003) if I tried. These albums just didn’t seem to be as coherent as the band’s earlier work and, as such, really lost some of the power that made tracks like Maze of Torment, Blessed Are the Sick, God of Emptiness and Where the Slime Live some of the most powerful and recognisable tracks Morbid Angel ever recorded.
So, here we are some eight years since the last Morbid Angel album. Illum Divinum Insanus is the band’s eighth release, and first with Vincent back out front. But like Guns ‘n’ Roses’ Chinese Democracy, many wondered if another Morbid Angel album would ever see the light of day. The longer it takes, the greater the expectation. Sure the excitement behind Illum Divinum Insanus isn’t as much about eight years of build up since being announced. If anything, it’s more about Morbid Angel not only releasing a new album, but the return of Vincent, which excited many a fan, has surely only added to the expectation surrounding this release.
Omni Potens gently ushers in the new Morbid Angel album in a majestic manner. But really, the shit is going to hit the fan for many with Too Extreme!. Gabber/techno like beats and a monotonous rhythm is how Morbid Angel returns to the fold after many years out of the recording spotlight. It is certainly going to ruffle a few feathers, and it won’t be the only one to do that, either. The latter stages of Destructos Vs The Earth/Attack, the very mixed bag that is Radikult and the schizophrenic nature of Profundis - Mea Culpa will also raise eyebrows amongst looks of bewilderment and disappointment.
To be fair, it’s not all bad news. There are plenty of furious riffs coming thick and fast from Trey Azagthoth and his new partner in guitar crime, Thor Anders Myhren (Destructhor) of Zyklon. Just check out Nevermore (which has been doing the live rounds with the band for a couple of years now) and Beauty Meets Beast. They might not be an Immortal Rites or Fall from Grace, but they are solid Morbid tracks at least.
The other change in the Morbid Camp this time around is the recruitment of drummer Tim Yeung who has stepped in whilst long standing drummer Pete Sandoval recovers from back surgery. Yeung is a more than apt replacement without a doubt, but the mix seems to be dominated by somewhat sterile sounding drums whose sometimes clicky sound seems to bury Azagthoth’s and Destructhor’s work deeper in the mix.
I think it’s safe to say that many Morbid Angel fans rejoiced when Vincent returned to the group and the speculation of “when” a new album would be delivered finally became a reality. But let’s consider a few things here. Firstly, the mix isn’t as powerful as say Domination, which for many, is the benchmark of a crushing Morbid Angel sound. Any traces of techno/gabber/whatever you want to call it have absolutely no place in a Morbid Angel album for my liking and I’m pretty damned certain the majority of Morbid fans will agree with me on that one. Remix albums, sure. But I want Morbid Angel to sound evil and techno beats just do not cut it.
What does that leave us with? Well, we have some tracks that are either total filler (I Am Morbid) or bastardised metal/techo offspring, most that are just average and a very small number that are great. Overall, this album leaves a very disappointing taste in my mouth. I had expected more. I wanted more. I wanted this album to be a glorious return to form with one David Vincent out the front of this iconic death metal band. Instead, I got Illum Divinum Insanus. It just makes me appreciate their first four releases even more. This is just flat out disappointing.
(Season of Mist/Riot! Entertainment)