In retrospect, an album only really gains the moniker of a bad album under particular contexts. Musicianship, fan reactions, critical reception, creativity and the style of music are all factors that determine whether an album can be met with widespread acclaim or derision. However, this pales into insignificance when you start to include an artist’s previous works as a context. An underperforming album is made glaringly obvious when stacked against albums that are deemed superior. Look at it this way: if a band consistently produces poor albums, no one bats an eyelid- but when a band that has previously had a spotless record regarding their creative output releases a polarizing and divisive body of work, then everyone has an opinion.
Whilst I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Morbid Angel have a perfect back catalogue (2003’s Heretic is an endurance test at times), they boast some stellar albums in Altars Of Madness, Blessed Are The Sick and Covenant– albums which defined the nascent death metal scene as well as exploring its boundaries. So when it came to 2011’s much-anticipated Illud Divinum Insanus, the band’s first album with frontman and bassist David Vincent since 1995’s Domination, expectations where understandably high.
And those expectations where crushed.
This album is generally regarded as one of the worst death metal (and probably metal in general) albums- death metal’s answer to Metallica’s St. Anger. A once great giant of their respective genre releasing an overwhelmingly disappointing collection of songs- fans weren’t happy to say the least (check out YouTube channel coverkillernation’s review of the album below). The main reasons for the fan’s displeasure centres on the inclusion of industrial influences within the band’s standard fare of dark, dense death metal riffage. However, having listened to the album, its fair to say that the entire album isn’t solely death/industrial song writing, and that there is definitely some straight-forward death metal songs to satisfy your typical Morbid Angel fan.
The album opens with “Omni Potens”, a two and a half minute introduction that utilizes ominous trumpets and horns atop sparse drumming, combined with deep and brooding Gregorian chants. The instruments build up towards the first proper song off the album, and this use of a horn section feels somewhat reminiscent of the instrumentals on Blessed Are The Sick. So far so good. Then the industrial experimentation kicks in with the appropriately titled “Too Extreme!”. Stop-start staccato riffs, droning leads, and punchy kick drums (which sound too much like a drum machine) make for a determined start to the record. Vincent delivers his lines with clarity and excellent enunciation, whilst retaining his gruff growls. Despite this, flaws in the song start to appear all too quickly; the drums become repetitive and tiresome very quickly, the riffs and leads sound too whiny after a while, and the song is simply too long for it to be tolerable.
The album generally seems to carry on this vein- there are some great, catchy and groovy death metal jams, yet they’re hampered by misguided experimentation that borders on overly indulgent at times. Tracks such as “Existo Vulgore”, “Blades For Baal”, “Nevermore” and “Beauty Meets Beast” take the Morbid Angel template of thrashy tremolo-picked riffs, a furious percussive barrage and warped, dissonant leads and embellish them. In all honesty, the standard formula the band has been peddling now really benefits from the addition of some grooves, memorable choruses, varied vocal deliveries (see the quick-fire bridge in “Nevermore”) and more conventional guitar solos. The standout single for me has to be “10 More Dead”, a dark stomping number in the same vein as “Where The Slime Live”, with a tongue-in-cheek but memorable chorus to boot. Halfway through the song switches up in to a fast-paced onslaught, replete with Slayer-style solos and a blast beat bombardment. By far the most enjoyable song on here.
Unfortunately, these brief moments of enjoyment are juxtaposed by the uncomfortable listening of the following four tracks; “I Am Morbid”, “Destructos Vs the Earth”, “Radikult” and “Profundis- Mea Culpa”. “I Am Morbid” is an attempt at an anthem for fans to rally around, but the combination of hard rock verses with death metal’s brutality feels awkward and unnatural. “Destructos Vs the Earth” is a more industrial orientated song that is let down by comical vocals and lyrics, which inevitably out stay their welcome for a seven minute song. The two closing tracks provide an underwhelming end to the album. “Radikult” is the Marilyn Manson/death metal crossover that we don’t need, complete with clapping sounds and cringe-inducing lyrics. Closer “Profundis- Mea Culpa” is a confusing and disorienting listen, the instrumentation is too scatter shot and chaotic to make for comfortable listening.
I feel that the overall consensus amongst fans and critics alike is that there are actually some genuinely great moments on this album, but they’re spoiled by the misguided and ill-fitting experimentation. This is definitely true, and I think that the album would undoubtedly benefit from the exclusion of “Destructos Vs the Earth”, “Radikult” and “Profundis- Mea Culpa” (I’ll just about allow “I Am Morbid”). In addition, I think “Too Extreme!” could be shortened, and the drum machine needs to be replaced with an actual drummer (which really should have been either Tim Yeung or Pete Sandoval). Throw in a few rewritten lyrics and you have a fairly decent album. Sure, it would be a little more groovy and accessible than previous releases, and it may not stand up when compared to the classics, but it would certainly be an album worthy of the Morbid Angel name. If anything, it would keep Morbid Angel relevant in today’s current scene along with providing a little bit of variety to their back catalogue.
Proposed tracklist for Illud Divinum Insanus:
- Omni Potens
- Too Extreme! (cut down to four minutes)
- Existo Vulgore
- Blades For Baal
- 10 More Dead
- Beauty Meets Beast
- I Am Morbid (save the most different track for last)
Check out the full album below
Do you agree or disagree? Is the album better or worse than I’ve made it out to be? Feel free to leave a comment, like this post and follow this blog for more content.