(These are Wil Cifer’s initial thoughts about the new Morbid Angel album, which will be released on December 1 by Silver Lining Music.)
You can’t blame me or any long-time fans of this band for going into their 9th album with trepidation. Trey is the only original member. I hoped Pete Sandoval might come to his senses like a kid who learns Santa isn’t real and drop the Jesus thing to rejoin the band. But that was the wishful thinking of my inner 15-year-old. I never liked the Steve Tucker albums. They just sound like everyone else.
A few songs in, Tucker was still a hard sell for me even though he is certainly trying his fucking hardest here. The new drummer Scott Fuller won me over much earlier on with his aggressive assault.
Azagthoth continues to prove he is not only a great soloist, but a riff machine. The guitars roll over you like the tread of infernal tanks when the double-bass locks in. On the front end of this album the guitars do flex a rather uniform sinew. Later on he begins dabbling in more Domination effects.
Tucker gets credit for putting a little more effort into it this time, to recreate the more aggressive growls of, say, “Blessed Are the Sick”. But you can end the Vincent vs Tucker debate, as Vincent’s voice has more personality. It is that personality which helped make the first four albums classics. As the early albums progressed, a wider range of colors showed through, with Vincent sounding more sinister than pissed. Tucker does get the point across, as the lyrical theme of the album is the perspective of ancient Sumerian gods waking up displeased about the current state of the world they created.
Even on songs like “D.E.A.D” the single-minded need for speed is still better than the more mechanical sounding “Formulas Fatal to the Flesh”. It’s clear Fuller is better than Tim Yeung. He has more power and is more explosive, so it makes you a believer, rather than someone who technically might have the chops but lacks the savage drive required to sell you on songs about dark gods wreaking havoc.
The first clear-cut moment when I thought, “Ok, this is Morbid Angel,” was the song “Garden of Disdain”. It finds groove and reminds you that this band once cared about writing songs rather than just bludgeoning you like everyone else. Then other signature moments begin to trickle in, like the pitch squeals Trey works into the riff of “The Righteous Voice”, and by the time I got to “Architect and Iconoclast” I had accepted this version of the band.
There is a tug of war faced by most bands of their stature not wanting to rip themselves off and recycle riffs versus still sounding like themselves. A decent compromise is made on “Paradigms Warped”. This song even makes me willing to concede that Tucker is a better bass player than Vincent here.
The new and the familiar once again bang heads on “The Pillars Crumbling”. This is Tucker’s best vocal performance on the album. The vocals are double-tracked, which might be more of a Deicide trick, but it works. As the album progresses it becomes a relief to hear the thought put into the songwriting of these songs, which keeps it from falling into the kind of stiff chugging that characterized Tucker’s previous work with the band.
They refuse to regurgitate, while still handing out a decent pounding, at the beginning of “Declaring New Law”. Azagthoth retains his experimental streak when they give him room to breath and create a simmering breeding ground for his brand of bizarre heavily effected guitar solos.
Despite my fears this album ended up surprising me. Things here worked out better than anticipated. While it might not be shoulder-to-shoulder with the first four albums, it does manage to provide redemption and is the best work they have done without Vincent.