Is there a place for Trey Azagthoth in today’s metal scene? I understand the impact merging death metal with Eddie Van Halen style solos had for extreme metal in the 80s, but 30 years of twisting insanity from bands like Portal, Gorguts, and every band featuring an 8 or 9-stringed virtuoso made me wonder if Azagthoth and his 3.0 edition of Morbid Angel could continue to impress, especially after the brake screeching accident that was Illud Divinum Insanus. Kingdoms Disdained, the new album reuniting Azagthoth with Steve Tucker on bass and vocals may not be the second coming of metal that Altars of Madness was, but truth be told it’s a damn solid death metal album, filled with great riffs and more than enough to convince the world Morbid Angel is back on track.
At this point you’d think anything would be better after the industrial rap-inflected madness of the last album, but there’s a small piece of me that’s still giddy over how batshit insane that record is. Kingdoms Disdained treads very close to circular, pummeling death metal the band excelled in, particularly in the Tucker years starting with Formulas Fatal To The Flesh. It’s extreme (but not “Too Extreme”) and yet instantly familiar when the drums (handled by Scott Fuller) encircle the murky guitars on “Piles of Little Arms.” A huge credit has to go to the production skills of Erik Rutan, who should know a thing or two about how Morbid Angel should sound. Gone are the taps of programmed drums and electronic noises: the fury of the opener into second track “D.E.A.D” couldn’t be a clearer call indicating that the theme of Kingdoms Disdained is 100% course correction.
Tucker’s voice is in fine form – if you dug the more in-your-face direct approach to vocal delivery in the second phase of Morbid Angel’s career you’ll be happy here as well. Sonically I don’t think Morbid Angel ever sounded so good, and the devilish personality missing in Vincent’s best performances is made up by how large everything sounds here. By the time of “The Righteous Voice” with its pinched harmonics and layered guitar work moving in and out time in classic fashion. This is where the patented Trey Azagthoth solo finally hit me, making me realize there was definitely still room for someone like him to come and show folks how to really leave an imprint on your playing. The killer riffs continue into “Architect and Iconoclast” with new drummer Fuller erasing any doubt that the band can continue to slay without Pete Sandoval behind the kit.
“Paradigms Warped” takes things down to the dirge levels of Blessed Are The Sick but for the most part Kingdoms Disdained is a full on rager, content to take small, frantic breaths in the form of syncopated changes and stuttering bridges. By the time of closer “Fall of Idols” it feels like the entire band is blending from the effort of trying to get you back on their side.
If it sounds like I’m really pulling for Morbid Angel’s new one, well…I am. As popular as the earlier albums are – particularly the trinity of Altars to Convenant – I had always felt at arm’s length to the music. A lot of that was the muddied production, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say there’s wasn’t a significant portion of me that hesitated just because everyone else I knew held the band in such high esteem. The crash and burn in 2011 brought an underdog status I found myself eager to get behind, and the sonic clarity, renewed vigor and brutal execution leaves Kingdoms Disdained as a record welcoming Morbid Angel back to the hallowed halls of classic death metal.