Morbid Angel – Kingdoms Disdained (2017)

There are twelve notes. There are twenty-six letters. We can form them into combinations/patterns. The ones that stay with us are the ones that communicate. This takes us above the level of riff (metal), harmony (jazz/rock), and into the realm of melody, which uses phrase and harmony as means of strengthening the expression of a melody, or a unique combination which resembles the psychological sensation of a certain experience.

Classic era Morbid AngelAbominations of Desolation, Altars of Madness, Blessed Are The Sick and even the “b-sides” album Covenant — expressed sentiment and analysis together in this way, joining our imagination to a mythology of a dark underworld that could easily be lurking behind our shiny cellophane world of social and economic thinking. Those songs are alive.

Since that time, there have been moments in which songs “spoke,” but mostly through backward reasoning, meaning that a riff was discovered and a narrative built around it, instead of the riff and song together expressing a journey. As some might phrase it, simplistically, the poetry has gone; the contrast of forces, leading to growth of the soul, has evaporated.

As a result, none of these albums provide what a metalhead desires: the ability to throw an album on the stereo, sit back and be transported to a metaphorical world which clarifies our feelings toward this one, and thus makes it clear how we should approach this world. In the metal culture, we approach it with bombastic heroism united with naturalistic sensitivity; we are the untamed beasts of beyond the land of ice.

Domination followed Covenant, and in it we saw the same thing that ate Slayer during the 1990s, namely watching a band like Pantera simplify speed metal into hard rock and become mega-wealthy doing it, which as bands hit their late 20s or early 30s and get tired of living in dingy rooms and box apartments becomes a concern. Big bands like Sepultura, Slayer, and Morbid Angel went backward in evolution during the 1990s, returning to the choppy bounce-rhythms of Prong (“Whose Fist”) and Metallica (“Harvest of Sorrow”) with a hard rock sensibility.

Perhaps showing a response to the wavering interest of the old school audience, Formulas Fatal to the Flesh showed a return to form, but only form, with death metal songs being used as a backdrop for increasingly varied lead guitar that leaned too far toward harmony, and away from the raw sonic sculpture that made its original form so promising. This album also feels like spare parts, with promising songs that do not complete in a meaningful way and no thematic unity on the album.

Gateways to Annihilation felt like a desire to incorporate the rising tide of “sludge” — slow punk like Flipper mated with stoner doom — but worked in enough death metal and Pantera to almost scratch that itch. The only problem was that while it was musically consistent, perhaps the most conventionally so of any Morbid Angel album, it was artistically random. Thus it faded into the background as a constant texture which caused it to lose any contrast in intensity and become background noise or wallpaper.

Trying to bounce back from that, or maybe not, Heretic seemed to take influence from the rising sphere of more technical black metal at the time, perhaps a belated parallel to Deicide Servants of the Light. Unfortunately, like the previous two, it remained focused too heavily on vocals to unite a collection of riffs without any intent to make a gestalt that expressed an overall experience.

Illud Divinum Insanus received enough bad press that it does not require a roasting here only to say that its real sin, more than experimenting with other genres, was to do so in a random way, like a person trying random tools to see if he can remember what he needed a tool in order to do. This spare parts collection had some moments but ultimately fell into unconvincing disunity.

This leads us to the unfortunate Kingdoms Disdained which exemplifies the “outside in” approach of a band that has forgotten the inspiration for its original music and, without that purpose and ideation, can only emulate techniques in roughly the same order that worked the last time. While the riff forms are closer to original Morbid Angel, this album attempts to unite them with vocal rhythms while making the riffs shorter and heavier on sudden stops, approximating the Pantera ideal but breaking up any continuity of expression.

Jobs consist of doing things to please other people while recognizing that those people dwell in the illusion that matter is more important than spirit. Metal is the resurrection, renewal, and re-centering of spirit which emphasizes the “inside out” view of life, and from this it gains something better than passion in its songs, which is purpose. It unites the spirit of the beast with our desire for meaningfulness and a coherent view of our world that is consistent across all of its parts. How do you kill heavy metal? Make it a job.

Like many metal bands, it is not the time so much as the miles, and every mile carries a band away from its origins when, inspired by the mental sensations created by the imagery projected by the sounds of their favorite bands, the early band focused on those ideas and then played whatever poured out of their subconscious minds in response. They were not trying to control their output, only let it out and have it be as intense as the music of their heroes. When a band becomes a job, this is reversed: the band tries to control its output to make it to order, defining itself by the audience instead of the greatness of the past and what lurks in the souls of the musicians.

As a result, these bands abolish their souls and stunt their creativity, reducing it to the implementation of techniques in certain contexts. This causes them to (unconsciously) work from a template with the listener in mind as a consumer, and their music thus becomes a manipulative product, much like government propaganda or television shows. Not surprisingly, all of the parts of songs are then seen as means to an end, and they become random backdrop for a core expression which is usually verbal and lyrical more than musical.

Kingdoms Disdained shows us how brilliant humans fail. Every part is well-executed, but the parts do not relate to each other except musically, which makes it a competent but empty piece like the rest of mainstream music. None of this music feels like it was played by the band many times except to “get it down” for recording, and each song resounds hollow like a series of committee decisions.

If heavy metal needs a reason to get out of its two-decade slump, it cannot be found in reversing its process, because it will still be using the outside-in approach. It needs to rediscover its purpose. I suggest they all start profitable pop or hip-hop bands and do metal as a hobby, because then it remains free of their control, and their creative minds can rebound and seize the day.

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21 thoughts on “Morbid Angel – Kingdoms Disdained (2017)”

  1. Tigerland says:

    The GURU has spoken… Aum said the tigers… And they went back to sleep

  2. Seth says:

    Good point in emphasizing that a career-as-musician motivation will result in production of works that are no more than calcifications around a structure borne of artifice. Though I do disagree that sidelining it as a hobby will fix the problem, it doesn’t necessarily put an internal vision into center focus. There’s still the element now of something becoming “genrefied” extrinsically, so even with great potential musicians it becomes a rat-race of who can make the “best” of something within a solidified, and therefore sterile range of means of expression. The best solution I can think of is finding new ways of viewing the structure of the subconscious (and potentially beyond what is scientifically considered valid and measurable by current technology and accepted literature) by finding innovative methods of intuition not yet discovered. The low hanging fruit has been thoroughly harvested, but the void is wide, and perhaps that means more risky methods to venture further out need to be employed.

    1. national geographic nipples says:

      > The best solution I can think of is finding new ways of viewing the structure of the subconscious (and potentially beyond what is scientifically considered valid and measurable by current technology and accepted literature) by finding innovative methods of intuition not yet discovered.

      woke af or literally just a random word generator?

  3. Nuclear Whore says:

    Very nice article.

  4. 2Pacalyptic Raids says:

    Horrendous analysis of Gateways to Annihilation, but it’s about what I’d expect from somebody who unironically thinks Serpent Ascending is good.

    1. national geographic nipples says:

      yet you’ve got no counterargument. like a lot of what Brett says, it will trigger you at first, but eventually you come around and realize he was right

  5. some sperg on the internet says:

    The assessment of musicians losing their creative spark once their projects become their main jobs is dead on.

    Look at all of the older bands that are still making quality material: Cianide, Divine Eve, Imprecation, Sammath, Sorcier des Glaces, Deceased, Demoncy, Solstice (UK), Derketa, Blood, etc. What do they all have in common? They were either split up for a decade or more after their initial works or were only sporadically active to begin with and never got caught up in the rockstar grind of make album -> tour for months in support -> repeat until creative energies are exhausted or beyond. Those bands put out albums at their own pace and don’t extensively tour, if they even tour or play live at all. They certainly don’t treat the bands as their jobs.

    1. Zorak says:

      only ANUS ballwashers like yourself think half those bands are any good

  6. Frederick Dinkledick says:

    Hey guys, your boy Dinkledick here. Nothing particularly relevant to say, other than Morrisound albums sound like muddy poop. And not in a good way like Here in After or Onward to Golgotha. In a “the amps were caked in diarrhea from last night’s raucous fecal orgy” way.

    1. Tito's Pollo says:

      It Burns! It Burns!

  7. Incontinence says:

    The production is god awful.

  8. Mister Syre says:

    Aging, families, relationships, contractual obligations, decades of touring and major line-up changes always eat the best out of musicians and bands. It gets worse when they are trying to make a living out of their art, knowing they cannot do anything else because they invested the best of their productive life into something that will most likely never allow them to retire. They get into the mold of releasing uninspired new albums, relying on past glories to keep touring so they can make ends meet for the next two years.

    1. Sell me some merch dude I’m fucking starved for Resistance that album fucking kills

  9. matters says:

    Yeah, I gave ’em my cash on many occasion. Whatever…

    1. Remember the Starving Artist Trope says:

      Stop feeding the bands!

  10. GGALLIN1776 says:

    I was wondering what happened to “J”, but apparently the special-ed class contest named Juvenilia took that spot.

  11. Tito's Pollo says:

    Great article but “Harvest of Sorrow”? “Servants of the Light?”

    By the way my legs are delicious!

  12. Rainer Weikusat says:

    Liked the track better when listening to it a second time but it’s decidedly not great. This is really Morbid Angel as a ‘high standards’ death metal product. Will work nicely when played live and that’s all it seems to be designed for. Apart from that, it’s a hollow exercise in musicianship. I’d put this firmly below the Vacivus debut insofar ‘content’ goes and that was already a disappointment compared to the EP.

    OTOH. that’s how these things naturally work out: Usually, bands make at most 3 worthwhile albums. By this time, they’ve either worked out a ‘pattern’ which works they can’t deviate much from because it will piss of existing fans while not gaining them new ones or they’ll disappear. In the former case, they can go on preaching to the choir (and possibly even making money doing so) for as long as they care to continue. I don’t even think this is something to condemn or bemoan — nothing on this planet lasts forever and musicians are certainly as deserving of being (somewhat) reasonably paid for their work as anyone else (we treat our bards like shit, anyway) even if this means they’ll end up making schematic music for a defined target audience.

    Should Morbid Angel ever manage to do a European tour again before either Trey Azagtoth or I die, I’ll certainly try to be there but I won’t buy this album except in very unusual circumstances.

    1. An AIDS patient says:

      “This is really Morbid Angel as a ‘high standards’ death metal product. Will work nicely when played live and that’s all it seems to be designed for. Apart from that, it’s a hollow exercise in musicianship.”

      That’s reasonable. Take a track off Covenant, remove all the “interesting stuff,” leaving just enough material for it to be recognizable as a death metal product and you have this track imo.

  13. Crow says:

    I was excited to see Brett had penned a new article, and on MA. However, I’m a little taken aback by how much bullshit there is in it. Observe:

    “the realm of melody, which uses phrase and harmony as means of strengthening the expression of a melody”

    -You’ve defined ‘melody’ using the concept ‘melody’ itself. This has no content.

    “a riff was discovered and a narrative built around it, instead of the riff and song together expressing a journey”

    -WTF does this even mean?

    “too far toward harmony, and away from the raw sonic sculpture that made its original form so promising”

    -WTF does this even mean?

    ‘it remained focused too heavily on vocals to unite a collection of riffs without any intent to make a gestalt that expressed an overall experience”

    -I’ll give you a ‘gestalt’ which ‘expresses an overall experience”. At least, I would if I knew what this meant…

    “Every part is well-executed, but the parts do not relate to each other except musically[????!!!], which makes it a competent but empty piece like the rest of mainstream music”

    -WTF? The reason why this album sucks is being the ideas DO NOT relate to each other, at least very well, from a musical point of view.

    1. Death Metal Gear Solid says:

      See, the author is using their own Stevenisms ironically in a nonsense way to illustrate the maner in which MA’s music is just a shallow exposition of overused and since-discarded notions which at one time in the past indicated toward something outside the creator’s own cocoon of self-reference but now are just empty product engineered for mindless consumption.

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