Album Review: MORBID ANGEL Kingdoms Disdained
In an annum heralded The Year of Death Metal – as Decibel magazine notably dubbed 2017 – Morbid Angel return from a lengthy hiatus to send the genre out on a high note. Years removed from the milestone debacle that is 2011's reviled Illud Divinum Insanus (still considered by many the Ryan Leaf of death metal) the Trey Azagthoth-led Floridian four piece has a lot of good will to recoup from their fans. To that point, this year's long awaited ninth LP, Kingdoms Disdained, bears a distinct air of mea culpa about it… And that's not necessarily a bad thing.
To back up for a minute, those who have been paying attention should be aware that the band essentially imploded over the past year and change, first David Vincent either quitting or being fired – depending on who you ask, of course – and his former replacement Steve Tucker being brought back into the fold. Interviews with both Tucker and Azagthoth have revealed no intent to retain the services of Illud Divinum Insanus guitarist Destructhor, but the drummer for that album, Tim Yeung, apparently opted out on the present album due to lack of availability. Replacing the latter pair are David Vadim Von on guitar and Scott Fuller (Annihilated) on drums. Per Azagthoth, the goal in rebuilding the band this time was to acquire talent that could give their full attention span to Morbid Angel rather than risk another lengthy interim between album cycles resulting in split commitments with other projects.
Azagthoth has always been a stellar recruitment of talent, so it's no surprise that Von and Fuller both rise to the challenge of their forebears. Fuller, in particular, carries the torch of Pete Sandoval like a fucking champ, pounding and grooving his way through tracks like "For No Master" and "Piles of Little Arms" with a combination of flair and restraint. Azagthoth, naturally, is the real star here, and his knack for distinctly catchy riffs is on full display: lead single "Piles of Little Arms" is one of the snappiest ditties Morbid Angel have laid down in years, and indeed we get a full four tracks into the album before anything less than extraordinary appears. Even the "filler" is still pretty damn solid, it's only that a minority of tracks like "Architect and Iconoclast" and "Declaring New Law (Secret Hell)" lack the memorable instant appeal of neo-classics like "D. E. A. D" and "Garden of Disdain". Even late album entries "Paradigms Warped" and "From the Hand of Kings" knock it out of the proverbial park, setting the bar high for an album that distinguishes itself in the Morbid Angel canon through ruthless efficiency and consistency alone.
And that's the legacy of Kingdoms Disdained in a nutshell: pound for pound one of the band's most essential efforts, the record contains almost wall to wall instant classics, and is not only Steve Tucker's best album as Morbid Angel frontman, but by extension the group's most genre-defining effort since 1995's iconic Domination. Illud what what?