We, who have bent the knee before the altar of madness and looked upon that most morose of angels have, undeniably, been tested. We, who have transcended the gateway, have known a heresy far exceeding the laws of covenant and cabal when that question, full of purgatorial implication and wanton bile, came smouldering into our collective consciousness… Am. I. Morbid. Six years on from the aberrant abomination that is Illud Divinus Insanum, Morbid Angel once more takes fetid flight in a bid for true domination with the release of Kingdoms Disdained, attempting to recapture the halcyon days of chaotic death metal that galvanized them as an institution. History, as it must, repeats, and the band are once more divested of original frontman David Vincent in favour of Steve Tucker in the hopes of leading them, if not to glories past, then at least well away from the anathema that preceded. But does it? Truly, blessed are the sick…
To review a record by a band whose career is as storied as Morbid Angel‘s, in the hopes of any kind of objectivity, is fraught. Is Kingdoms Disdained a return to form? The answer is a resounding yes, but let’s be honest, standards were treacherously low. Gone are the industrial indulgences, and, for the most part, gone is the writing that once so insulted my intelligence. Instead, the word to summarize this new ascension of the alphabet is: propulsion. “Piles of Little Arms” is about as blunt an intro as possible, and purposefully so. Trey’s signature rolling riffs barrel over newcomer Scott Fuller’s vast drumming to deliver a very clear statement – this is death metal, and while it’s not the record’s best, it makes known the material’s intentions. “D.E.A.D,” despite its utterly shit title, balances lashes of distorted tremolos with old-school grooves and smacks, very much, of the band’s classic oeuvre.
Steve Tucker, once so divisive in his appointment, is incredibly welcome here – while I’ve always enjoyed his output with the band, he sounds like a fucking beast on this record, orating these odes to the ossuary with apocalyptic consequence. Meanwhile, Trey Azagthoth careens through each cut with his affected alien soloing, still able to defy traditional expectation and utilize his considerable skill to unique effect – his run on the crushing “Righteous Voice” of particular mention. The issue I take with Kingdoms Disdained comes down to expectation. While all I really required from this record was it not to be the unequivocal disaster that its predecessor was, some of the material plays it a little safe. “Garden of Disdain” rumbles with a persistent mid-pace, particularly analogous of “Where the Slime Live,” but its self-referential nature is so overt in its attempt to distance itself from Illud, that it comes off a little trite, especially when “Architect and Iconoclast” leers just around the corner, seething with some of the album’s nastiest and most significant songwriting. Equally, “Paradigms Warped” unsettles with brooding riffs that interplay with Tucker’s unyielding bass backbone, toying with moody tempos, while “Declaring New Law (Secret Hell)” is largely redundant, employing a militaristic forward march, which wouldn’t be at all out of place on Domination. While no bad thing, its over-simplified structure and repetition of the line “torture any fool that does not submit” I could happily live without.
Although favored a little too enthusiastically by Erik Rutan’s intimately familiar production, Scott Fuller’s drumming truly channels the Commando in what are, unmistakably, Sandovalian patterns – his bellicose blasts are supercharged with a cavalry of fills that furnish the album’s more sadistic psalms with requisite urgency. In fact, the record’s final throes are resolutely resigned to violence, but almost clumsily so; “From the Hand of Kings” and “The Fall of Idols” are both ferocious, but instead of closing the album with a thunderous finale, they feel more akin to a sprint to the finish line. They are still, however, brimming with typical Trey riffs, and my neck is all the worse for them.
Kingdoms Disdained is a good album, and while at this point, that’s all it needed to be, it’s actually much better than expected. But I hold such septic seraphim more accountable than most, and when responsible for a legacy so reverberant, good won’t cut it for very long. Hopefully, this marks the beginning of an upward qualitative trend, one in which I can await new material sans the bone gnawing panic. While that remains to be seen, Kingdoms Disdained comfortably exists alongside the best of Steve Tucker’s tenure and reminds us that, though they may falter, Morbid Angel remain ever sworn to the black.