Some records are so monumental that you need more than one opinion on them, particularly if those records have created this kind of feedback. In this case, we will be reviewing Morbid Angel‘s newest record. This is monumental, there is no other way to put it.
Morbid Angel is elite death metal and has been the standard for as long as I can remember. They have defined death metal for listeners of the genre for decades, influenced all of the great bands to come out of the genre after them, and have been away for 8 long years. 2003’s Heretic was not the best record they’d ever produced, this is most certainly true. But there was no reason not to believe after hearing “Nevermore,” the single that was released ahead of time, that the return of David Vincent would usher in the kind of catastrophic reaction that has ensued. I make it my business to never read reviews of any record before I write my own review, hell, I haven’t even read Steel Druhm’s (which is below this one) of this record. But it was hard to miss the fury, anger and disappointment that has been floating around the ether. I had to ask myself “could it really possibly be this bad?” You see, I’m a stalwart defender of some pretty hated records (most notably Iron Maiden‘s The X Factor and Mayhem‘s Grand Declaration of War), and I try to listen to every record with a clean slate. And I attempted to do so with this record, as well.
So after the obligatory metal record intro entitled, cutely, “Omni Potens,” the damage starts and it is entitled “Too Extreme!” I’m not sure how familiar everyone is with the maxim of American politics “If you’re explaining, you’re losing,” but I think it’s time to coin that rule for metal. “Too Extreme!” is basically an industrial track with highly repetitive 8th note bass drum being carried by a shitty drum machine. This is a lot more akin to something that would have been in Vampire: Bloodlines than something that should be on a Morbid Angel record. Not only is the music mind-numbingly boring, but the lyrics are painfully fucking stupid. If you have to tell me how extreme you are, you are losing. And this isn’t the only time this happens, here. In fact, on “I Am Morbid” and “Radikult,” there is a weird, self-referential nature to the lyrics that just lose me. This is fucking “extreme metal”, not hip hop. Body Count ain’t in the house.
While the weird, bad, imitation Laibach is actually just a minority of songs, “Too Extreme!,” the odd “Destructos vs. The Earth / Attack,” the miserable “Radikult” and “Profundis – Mea Culpa,” the quality of the death metal isn’t very good either. “Existo Vulgore” and “Blades for Baal” came out the gate after the idiosyncratic “Too Extreme!” and made me think that maybe this record was salvageable after all. And I like both of these songs perfectly well even though Vincent’s vocals are A LITTLE HIGH IN THE FUCKING MIX and the drums are so goddamned replaced that they might as well be a drum machine (though Morbid Angel is hardly the only band guilty of this sin). However, “I Am Morbid” is oddly self-referential, as stated, and the chorus is obviously meant to be a “crowd pleaser,” but it’s just plain cheesy and the lyrics are bad. While “10 More Dead” starts out with a promising couple of riffs, it too just falls short of any of the glory that Morbid Angel is known for–though the blasts and solo in the second half are nice.
“Nevermore,” is an alright song, and it was the one that had given us all hope that this would be interesting. It, along with “Existo Vulgore,” “Blades for Baal,” pieces of “10 More Dead” and the interesting, but not very Morbid Angel “Beauty Meets Beast” basically make up the good and/or promising tracks on the record. And of 11 songs, having basically five good ones is a pretty bad batting average. So while these songs do make for some good moments and I think people have been unnecessarily hard on them, the long play album format is built for, well, straight listening and this record isn’t built for that. It’s the equivalent of hanging out with The Phantom of the Opera. Fine on one side, hideously beastly on the other side. And no one wants to fuck that guy for a reason. Am I right?
The reality is that the fans would’ve been bitchy about a mediocre record, but there is a feeling of utter betrayal and disgust because of what is contained herein. And there’s nothing that anyone can say that will make it better. This record isn’t good, even if it has its moments and it’s not just merely disappointing. It’s bad. The things that made Morbid Angel into the name that deserves to have a $119 wooden boxed set for pre-order are not the things that we as fans have gotten. And so while I encourage you to check this record out with an open mind, as I do for ALL records that I review, I can’t recommend Illud Divinum Insanus. ‘Cause it’s not good. And it was truly an insane move to even put it out under the Morbid Angel name and expect anything other than the uproar that has ensued.
EDIT: [Sunday, 06.05.2011, 14:39 CET] – It has been brought to my attention that the argument here is that these guys are doing something “new” and that the death metal scene is an unforgiving mistress who can’t handle anything new. To some extent I think it is true that the underground is fickle (I mean death metal elitists regularly bash Domination, which is a phenomenal record), and I have certainly experienced my own blow back for liking (or disliking) things that I’m “supposed” to like or dislike. It’s true.
I think the case with the new Morbid Angel is a lot less about the music being experimental and different, and more about the music being bad. Illud Divinum Insanus has some good metal on it (some won’t even go that far), but the issue is that the experimentation isn’t a) very experimental or b) good. For example, “Radikult” sounds like Marilyn Manson from the Golden Age of Grotesque and, probably, his earlier stuff as well. How about comparisons to Laibach, Rob Zombie, Electric Hellfire Club or Combichrist? These comparisons don’t come out of thin air: the point is that what Morbid Angel is doing has already been done. Not only has it been done, but it was done in the 1990s at the same time or shortly after the band had cemented its place as a death metal legend. There is no expansion of the borders of extremity here. Instead, there is an unusual, uncomfortable blending of these styles with otherwise passable death metal and being labeled as something that should be Grade A Prime Death Metal: Morbid Angel.
So in this case: both of these things are true. The ‘scene’ can be very closed minded. But the new Morbid Angel can also just be bad. Sometimes you can blame the scene. Most of the time, bands have only themselves to blame.
Morbid Angel // Illud Divinum Insanus
Rating: 1.0/5.0 —Altars of Badness
By: Steel Druhm
It’s never easy witnessing a legendary band utterly fail. It’s always accompanied with a blend of anger, confusion and a sense of betrayal, as if they crafted the offending album to intentionally disappoint. These unpleasant emotions have plagued yours truly for the past week as I played and replayed Morbid Angel‘s new opus Illud Divinum Insanus. As one of the founders of the Florida death metal sound, Morbid Angel released a series of brutal and enormously influential albums throughout the 90s and rightfully attained legendary status within the genre. Although their last great release was 1995’s Domination, I doubt anyone expected their reunion album to be as truly awful and embarrassing as this turned out to be. Yes, Illud Divinum Insanus is bad. In all truthfulness, it’s amazingly bad. It features one of the most incomprehensible directional changes in metal history and joins Celtic Frost‘s Cold Lake, Metallica‘s St. Anger and Crimson Glory‘s Strange and Beautiful as the biggest fails in metal history.
After a strange symphonic/industrial intro (which in retrospect is one of the album highlights), things immediately go to hell with “Too Extreme!” Featuring techno/industrial drums, electronica-drenched guitars, Rob Zombie style sound effects and samples and David Vincent’s digitally altered pseudo-death vox, the song is nothing short of a pop wannabe abomination. It’s something Ministry, Marilyn Manson and even Gwar would have had the sense to leave on the editing room floor, but here it is. It isn’t death metal and even worse, it isn’t good music regardless of genre. As you try to figure out what the shit just happened, they shift gears and deliver back to back death metal tracks (“Existo Vulgore” and “Blades of Baal”) which thankfully have the familiar Morbid Angel sound and style. Unfortunately, neither are stellar examples of that classic style and only “Blades of Baal” rises above generic. After that they deliver a dull, listless pep rally anthem (“I Am Morbid”) and a painfully medicore Machine Head-esque nu-metal dud (“10 More Dead”) that’s designed to be skipped. Things get truly bizarre with “Destructos vs. The Earth/Attack.” Words won’t do this one true justice. It’s a shockingly lame industrial rock song that I could see old White Zombie or Electric Hellfire Club doing. It’s silly, insipid and proves this album isn’t meant to be taken seriously. As things continue to swirl down the toilet, they deliver two more death metal tracks (“Nevermore” and “Beauty Meets Beast”), both about average. Then the album hits rock bottom with a Slipknot reject called “Radikult” which has Hip Hop lyrics and sounds eerily like “Mambo No. 5” by Lou Bega. Yes, I mean “a little bit of Azagthoth on my mind…” Every time this turd gets played, a Morbid Angel loses its wings.
Even when you set aside the ridiculous, album killing techno/industrial pop rubbish, the four death metal tracks really failed to impress me. While they sound heavy compared to accompanying dance club/Hip Hop pap, the awful truth is, only one stands out (barely) and the other three are dull, recycled examples of the Morbid Angel sound. None come near the quality level of their classic material and none would command attention if placed on any prior album. When you factor in the complete gator shit comprising the rest of the album, you’re left with an incoherent, disjointed, directionless morass of bad musical ideas that deserve scorn, derision and Amish-style public shunning.
Trey Azagthoth’s famous slashing, cutting riffs are largely absent here (there is a cool lead riff in “Nevermore” which is an old song) and David Vincent’s roar sounds less menacing than it used to (and he’s using cheeseball vocal effects on half the songs). The songwriting is either laughable or stale, sometimes both. The lyrics are some of the worst I’ve ever heard on a metal album and make this even more of a mock magnet. Everything feels watered down and thin like the drinks at a Times Square tourist bar. Perhaps they decided to merge the traditional Morbid Angel style with that of Vincent’s other band Genitortures, but in all honestly, the last Genitortures album is far better than this ill-conceived train-wreck.
I cannot for the life of me imagine what these guys hoped to accomplish with this album. They must have known it was laughably bad as they recorded it. The last track on the album is titled “Profundis-Mea Culpa.” That’s either meant as irony or a sincere apology for what they did. I prefer to think they meant it as an apology for staining their legacy, embarrassing themselves and wasting their fans’ time as they fall from legend to laughingstock. This has value as comedy or cautionary tale, not as death metal. Avoid it like a turducken gets avoided at a vegan buffet. Truly shameful and unforgivable.