After 2011’s album, “Illud Divinum Insanus” disappointing so many Morbid Angel fans, myself included, the band’s latest effort “Kingdoms Disdained” was probably one of the most anticipated releases of 2017.
The album marks the return of the band’s other main vocalist, Steve Tucker who last contributed to 2003’s album, “Heretic”. When reflecting on re-joining the band, Tucker remembered what Trey (founding member and guitarist) said to him, “I want to make killer music with killer people……I want this to be MORBID ANGEL. I don’t want this to be what it was being changed to be”. And going off the general consensus of feedback from their 2011 album, no one else wanted the band to become that either.
Thankfully then, this new album is very much a killer album made by killer people. It couldn’t be further from “Illud…” as well. Gone are the industrial detours, cheesy song subjects and the general feeling that Morbid Angel are dead. No. They are alive and well.
This album feels more like ‘home’, it belongs next to their 2000 album, “Gateways to Annihilation” as the logical follow on, as now in this new context, “Heretic” didn’t really achieve this.
“Piles of little arms” begins proceedings in very familiar fashion, immediately reminiscent of the first two Steve Tucker fronted albums. Almost straight away, Scott Fuller’s drum work sounds very sympathetic to the band’s legendary drummer, Pete Sandoval, who parted ways in 2010 after 22 years with the band. There is a pummelling fury to the opening of the track with a trademark ‘swing’ feel to the groove. Contorted guitar works typical of founding member Trey Azagthoth and the inhuman depths that Tucker’s vocals reach. Coupled with the next track, “D.E.A.D” the album launches into a tirade of fury that was all fans wanted last time out. It feels like a statement of heaviness, a mission statement to let everyone know that they are back doing what they do best.
This album was produced by Erik Rutan, an ex-member of Morbid Angel who served on one of my favourites, “Gateways…” and seems to me to have been an interesting decision, one that helped ensure that the message would be transmitted to the band’s exact wishes. Overall, I find that the album has a very natural, organic feel to it, plenty of power on offer and natural sounding drums which in this day and age are seemingly harder to come by.
The album is front loaded with very Steve Tucker-Era Morbid Angel tracks. Once you hit the fifth track, “Architect and Iconoclast” you are greeted with one of the first moments on the album that really makes this feel fresh, a new edge to the band, positive evolution! The jolted rhythm incorporated at the beginning feels unique to this album, it was a surprise to me at first. Following on from this section are some classic, pummelling attacks. The drummer continues to display supreme ability; his feet have that hydraulic piston type accuracy and speed, all utilised for some very creative moments.
The general pace and feel of the album has a sloth-like crawl. Imagine trawling through fire lined sewers of hate, feet weighing heavy, as each step feels like an effort more than you can give but you’re constantly being ordered to “MARCH, MARCH, LEFT, RIGHT…” This album would be perfect for that scenario. With drum parts often reaching hyper speed and tremolo picked guitars not far behind, but the overall tempo being slow, these two seemingly incompatible traits blend perfectly.
Moving to “Paradigms Warped”, this track offers another element of the album that feels to be one of the newer themes. The idea of space, air, emptiness. It is used to the utmost effectiveness when the guitars swell in and out of existence while Tucker’s bass plods underneath as the foundation. Easily a stand out couple of tracks for me in “Architect and Iconoclast” followed by “Paradigms Warped”.
“The Pillars Crumbing” is another very strong track on the album. It feels like a very typical Morbid Angel track in essence but there are certainly some moments that offer a further demonstration of the album’s experimental side. The chord work of the chorus coupled with the vocal rhythm reminds me of Gojira’s later, more melodic period. Once the middle section passes into the ending portion of the track, you are greeted with my favourite moment on the whole album. Trey does Surf. If there are surf boards, pipelines and ‘rad’ barrels down in the pits of Hell then Trey Azagthoth is ‘hanging ten’ whilst soloing and I love it. I don’t think I’d want this to be revisited as such, it’s just great that they touched on it and did so their way.
Thematically, the album feels like a story. It is a story of despair, of a civilisation destroyed and replaced with a darkness that no one can escape. Given the times, our dear leaders and the increasingly depressing news we see every day, the band probably looked through their lace curtains for inspiration, ready made from a world on self-destruct. Morbid Angel have always had this ‘soundtrack to the end of the world’ feel to them in general and it is as strong as ever here.
“For No Master” was one of the tracks offered as a preview before the album’s release. The track is a furious example of the band reminding the world just who started this sort of brutality. Intricate fills and lines from the drums and guitars combine to make an attack that is as relentless as it is heavy.
“Declaring New Law (Secret Hell)’ is possibly the divisive track on the album for fans. I can understand why, this track may upset purist fans of the band but I have gone back to it, multiple times and cannot escape it. I like it. It’s a bit ‘easy’ for Morbid Angel really, they don’t often do ‘normal’. Throw in a beat that is ever so slightly disco and you are all of sudden, on the knife edge or in the danger zone of an imminent backlash. I’ll say it again though; I like this track. It’s one of the few upbeat tracks on the album. The disco beat accompanies another great example of the band’s trademark dissonant guitars, that chug along in an infectious manner and maintains the energy throughout. The solo on this track is from new guitarist, Dan Vadim Von and the only contribution from the latest member who appears to have hopped on the Morbid bus a little late for any other offerings. Not that the slow pace of the album bothered me but this track is still a welcome injection of energy.
Overall, this album has all of the hallmarks a fan would want. Trey Azagthoth’s guitar work is ever evolving. Twisted and warped with a seemingly endless array of wizardry. It’s great to have Steve Tucker back at the microphone with his earthy, mud laden, filthy growls and recruiting Scott Fuller to be the new drummer was a masterstroke. The album is solid, not ground breaking, but still a worthy addition to the band’s catalogue. On a technical level, I would put this somewhere close to being their best yet however.