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Album Reviews : Morbid Angel – Kingdoms Disdained

By on November 28, 2017

Album eleven in the pantheon of Morbid Angel recordings has been issued, that means it’s time for the letter K to lend its virtue to the title. Kingdoms Disdained is 11 tracks of guitarist extraordinaire Trey Azagthoth and his cohort chasing the flame of the bands most identifiable sound after the enterprise and critical failure of previous studio effort, Illud Divinum Insanus (’11).

I am in the extreme minority given I found a lot to like through Illud Divinum Insanus. For the first time in the bands recorded history the album allowed the listener to truly hear Azagthoth’s astonishing technique. The production on that album is crystal clear which allows the more accessible nature of the songs to excel, also (then) vocalist/ bassist David Vincent never sounded more commanding. That said, Illud Divinum Insanus is an album that does contain some contentious cuts and many would prefer the album to be erased from the band’s catalogue.

Straight to the point, Kingdoms Disdained is unapologetically, a meat and potatoes death metal album. It sounds like a bare-bones successor to the bands unheralded classic from 1998, Formulas Fatal to the Flesh, given the albums relatively straightforward nature when compared to the experimentation that characterised the three studio albums in between. This is wall to wall guttural vocals from bassist/ frontman Steve Tucker and blast beats galore from Peter Sandoval impressionist Scott Fuller.

Many will have heard “Paradigms Warped” and “Piles of Little Arms” as both are in the public domain. Overall, they are indicative of the rest of the cuts. What they don’t do is highlight the greatest feature of the album: Azagthoth is back to soloing and all death metal is here for it. The solos on “The Righteous Voice”, The Pillars Crumbling”, “Declaring New Law”, “From the Hand of Kings” and the final cut, “Fall of Idols” feature numerous slides, tapped harmonics, tasteful use of wah-wah and vibrato. The solos evoke feeling and rich emotion, which is the essence of Azagthoth’s genius.

There isn’t a ‘hit’ in the vein of “Where the Slime Live” or “God of Emptiness” that demand repeated standalone listens on the album so it is very difficult to single out specific tracks for praise at this stage. The riffs do come at you very quickly so it is worth listening through decent headphones to decipher which cut contains the tastiest combinations. I do enjoy “The Pillars Crumbling” with its Van Halen-esque outro so it already gets a regular spin on my media player.

The thrice returned Tucker is the working-class version of the charismatic Vincent who left the band after the tour cycle of Illud Divinum Insanus. Tucker’s Blakhart bass makes an occasional appearance (“Paradigms Warped”) which is nice to hear. The new blokes, Dan Vadim Von (guitar) and Fuller hold the rhythm down tight… which does bring me to the album’s faults.

Given the aural clarity of the cuts on Illud Divinum Insanus it feels as though Azagthoth has gone for a deliberately underground sound on Kingdoms Disdained. The brilliant Erik Rutan (ex-Morbid Angel, Hate Eternal) is responsible for the production on Kingdoms Disdained and he can pull a better percussion sound than what’s on offer here. As most fans will listen to the album via Android and iOS devices, you need a serious pair of headphones to obtain a decent sound and avoid the nuisance which is the ‘clicky’ bass drum. This is simply not good enough in 2017 given the calibre of personnel that oversaw the recording. The guitar sound doesn’t bite with the same menace as Illud Divinum Insanus or the band’s career best sounding album, Formulas Fatal to the Flesh either.

Azagthoth has written instrumentals on every Morbid Angel album since Blessed are the Sick (’91) so it is disappointing that the tradition is not extended to Kingdoms Disdained. “Abyssous” from Heretic is one of the finest compositions bearing his name so I do hope he hasn’t leaned too far into fans and critics hysterical response to Illud Divinum Insanus by stripping out a key piece of the bands dynamic as a form of compensation.

The album artwork is very questionable. The CGI design would look great on a deathcore release from some kids from Nambour however it is positively garish when used for a Morbid Angel album. Azagthoth is well beyond the ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ aesthetic. I do get it, the red giant is a Cthulu reference and Azagthoth adopts Lovecraftian themes readily, but it simply doesn’t work here.

I will spare the burden of a history lesson, however if one considers that Chuck Schuldiner (Death, Control Denied) must credited with creating the death metal genre (going on to become its patron saint- RIP) then it was Azagthoth who would define the genre with his multifaceted approach to song writing and his mesmerising fretwork.

It is odd to say that even though Kingdoms Disdained is the best death metal album this year by some measure, it still isn’t good enough to be called a comeback or even a return to form for Azagthoth. The reason? He always was (and always will be…) the gold standard against which all death and extreme metal guitarists and songwriters are to be measured.

Band: Morbid Angel
Album: Kingdoms Disdained
Year: 2017
Genre: Death Metal
Label:  Silver Lining Records
Origin: USA

About

Andrew is a musician who has spent many years performing on the stages of the pubs and clubs of QLD. A devotee of the broad church that is rock, punk, funk, jazz and of course all genres of metal… he now shares his enthusiasm via a burgeoning pursuit of music journalism. Follow him on twitter @i_c_e_man