Ah, the ancient ones have been whittled down to the ancient two yet there isn’t a better feeling than having the newer ‘old’ Morbid Angel back again. The most clearly beneficial decision made in conceiving this new album is that Steve Tucker is back with his bellowing voice and sense for poly-rhythmic chaos. I have to admit I figured his influence upon the Morbid Angel sound was minimal despite personally preferring ‘Formulas Fatal to the Flesh’ and ‘Gateways to Annihilation’ over most of Morbid Angel’s output with Dave Vincent at the helm. Vincent is a fool, a fraud and a tasteless idiot but that is beside the point because interviews with Trey and Tucker have made it clear: The band won’t even consider the past thirteen years of mistakes and they’re moving forward into the apocalypse. Tucker’s input is made clear after the previous disaster of an album, but while it is better here his influence is a double-edged sword.
The first, easiest takeaway from ‘Kingdoms Disdained’ is it’s focused and ‘samey’ pacing with songwriting that is heavily nuanced but repetitive in structure. Variations on a theme aren’t really a sore spot for Tucker-era Morbid Angel and it worked very well for ‘Gateways of Annihilation’ but without Erik Rutan’s wild solos and sense for arrangement it seems the band collaborated quickly and with rigidity. The best moments of Morbid Angel’s long history always come from Trey’s inspirational eccentricity and at this point it does seem like his focus on poly-rhythms and LSD-soaked lyrics is sometimes too laser-pointed. This is either a good thing or a bad thing depending on what you expect from death metal in 2017. It isn’t a catchy album and it doesn’t experiment with the future of death metal. ‘Kingdoms Disdained’ is a complex and densely repetitive record that sounds very similar to the other Tucker-fronted Morbid Angel albums. While I think adding Rutan as guitarist would enhance the reformation a lot, this is a solid traditional death metal record that is a great addition to the band’s discography.
Whereas Tucker’s band Warfather resembled ‘Gateways to Annihilation’ on a budget and his stint in Nader Sadek channeled a modernist ‘Formulas Fatal to the Flesh’ I feel like ‘Kingdoms Disdained’ builds upon the very unfinished conception of ‘Heretic’ and makes it whole. The dissonant chugging counterpoint and poly-rhythms are what makes Trey tick these days and while some folks will be disappointed to not get a full album of the scant death metal found on their 2011 record the trade-off for a better rhythm section is a huge plus for this album. I’m particularly impressed with Scott Fuller (Abysmal Dawn) on drums as he’s fully capable of keeping up with the now tired style of born again Christian joker Pete Sandoval. Fuller’s technical ability feels like the most promising breath of fresh air filling Morbid Angels old and tired lungs and his sound is far less sterile and overblown compared to Tim Yeung’s awful clicky style. If there is any hope of a modern Morbid Angel surviving it would be off the back of more inspired musicians like Fuller and I hope the band grows together and produces further releases.
Ultimately the success of any Morbid Angel output relies on the clarity of Trey Azagthoth’s ideas and how lucid he remains on tour. While he appears to be unhinged and wildly shit-posting along with the rest of the world he hasn’t lost his sense of humor. (See: “#MO NUKES” interview with Revolver)… The man’s approach to guitar was always so intent on creating original moments that were meant to cement him as an innovator. Now he has dulled a bit and fallen back on his own tropes to retain personality on record and it occasionally doesn’t work. He has been recycling his ‘Love of Lava’ style guitar solos for almost two decades and none of his solos on ‘Kingdoms Disdained’ do anything to accentuate or punctuate distinct song personalities. The result is what I’d call a stream of consciousness record rather than a distinct or dynamic experience. While it was annoying that this isn’t an -amazing- record at first, I have to concede that few things feel better than sitting back and letting a chuggy Morbid Angel record growl in your ear for 45 minutes.