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Morbid Angel Heretic

By Brian Davis, Contributor
Tuesday, September 23, 2003 @ 1:33 PM


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If you take a look at the music industry today, you’ll find that very little has changed. It’s still loaded with corporate regurgitations of two-bit boy bands and “promiscuous virgin” pop starlets. The only thing that separates these fakes today from the fakes of yesterday is the names and the style of their clothes. And still the oblivious public just eats them up with their mind-numbing redundancy, seemingly content to let their minds atrophy from the lack of stimulation. Nothing has changed. It stands to reason, therefore, that not much has changed in the American Death Metal scene.

US Death Metal emerged from the depths of Florida in the late ‘80s with a resounding “Fuck You” and appropriate one-finger salute to the mainstream money machines, proffering the exact opposite in sound and skill to what the US was being force fed. Some pissed off, inspired as hell musicians came together in groups like Deicide, Malevolent Creation, Cannibal Corpse, Obituary and Morbid Angel to offer something more than looped beats, lame samples and vomit-inducing cheeseball choreography. These bands placed focus, pride and ferocity in their music, setting an entirely new level of standards for musicianship with brutal drumming, pounding bass and screaming guitars drenched in over the top technical solos. It was a genre created by and for thinkers -- people willing to contradict society’s forced morals, standards and oppressions; individuals willing to vocalize their distaste for organized religion, governmental corruption and other moral hypocrisies. Again nothing has changed -- today the Death Metal scene serves the same purpose and maintains the same standards it established nearly two decades ago, still encouraging individual thought and self expression while continuing its high level of musical proficiency. And since it all started there has been one band that has continued to push their talents to the extreme, compromising nothing and growing infinitely along the way: Morbid Angel.

This month marks the release of Morbid Angel’s 8th and quite possibly best studio album to date, Heretic. Holding true to their tradition of evolving and improving their sound, pushing the envelope of technical composition and instrumental prowess, Heretic delivers 14 crushing and atmospheric tracks that yet again re-cement this band as one of the genre’s most elite. An avalanche of blistering inhuman speed and brutality, this album could very well serve as the soundtrack to the Apocalypse. Building from scathing, monstrous songs loaded with vicious guitars ripping through obscure time signatures, superhuman drum beats and vicious vocals to the more calm yet foreboding, atmospheric and ethereal instrumental compositions that invoke images of scorched earth, burning skies and seas of boiling blood -- this album is the ultimate of what Death Metal has to offer.

Heretic is loaded with phenomenally sound songs such as “Curse the Flesh,” with its raspy, airy verses that sound as though they were delivered by tormented, restless phantoms, and the ultra-hooky, speed-laden riffs of songs like “Enshrined By Grace” and “Stricken Arise.” Trey’s signature virtuoso solos abound as well, taking center stage to display jaw dropping precision and skill, especially on songs like “Beneath The Hollow” and “God Of Our Own Divinity.” Equally impressive are the various instrumentals and segues like “Abyssous,” “Memories Of The Past” and “Victorious March of Rain The Conqueror” -- all creating their own surreal, ambient feel of chaos, sadness and glory, and all with their own individual mythical, supernatural aura. Also included is a rare treat that most Morbid Angel fans will be drooling over -- an improvised in-studio drum solo called “Drum Check” by one of metal’s greatest drummers, Pete Sandoval. In case anybody had any doubts about his prowess behind the kit, this will surely abate them.

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Some new things become obvious on this album, and I believe they serve as the platform by which the music is elevated to an entirely new level. The primary thing is that Steve Tucker, having now completed three albums as the bassist and vocalist for the band, has come full circle as one of the most imposing frontmen in the scene. His vocal delivery has improved to amazing new levels, belting out low guttural, wicked growls and higher pitched evil, serpentine rasps. The lyrical structure is also far more evolved, with his delivery bending and blending with emphasis to the undulation of the complex rhythms of the music, adding an extra dimension of groovy brutality. Another notable aspect is the production quality on the album. On Morbid Angel albums of the past, it was at times overwhelming to try to decipher the little nuances and transitions within the songs, but with Heretic, the listener is given every minute detail on a silver platter from which he/she can discern each stroke of the pick, each stuttered rhythm of the drums, and every note complete with their overlapping counterparts. The vocals are crisp and clear, the guitar bitingly sharp, the bass crushingly heavy, and the drums dizzying and hypnotic. They must have gone over this album with a fine-tooth comb, melding every aspect with a perfectionistic fervor, bent on creating the ultimate product-and the result is resounding success.

The only complaint I could submit about this album is the presence of the anti-rip format. The CD contains 14 songs that are spread out over 99 tracks, so every 30-40 seconds it rolls to a new track, which is supposed to prevent unauthorized copying. I understand the desire to prevent burning of this album -- the livelihood of underground bands like this hinge on the money they make from their art -- but it’s still annoying as hell, as it prevents the uses of random play and other listening options. Hopefully they develop a better format, and soon.

Formatting flaw aside, this is the metal album of the year, folks -- Death or otherwise. I highly suggest you plop your ass down with a few beers, a few bowls, set a speaker at each side of your head, crank the volume to 10 and lose yourself in the chaos and power this album conveys and revel in the rarity of such astounding musicianship. This is an album to withstand the ages and will certainly be a reference point by which all other Death Metal albums will be judged, and rightly so.

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