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Kingdoms Disdained

Silver Lining Music (2017)
Rating: 5/10

And so it would come to pass that legendary Florida death metallers Morbid Angel would return, minus their once legendary frontman David Vincent, with a straight up death metal opus that would attempt to erase the stain of 2011’s dreadful Illud Divinum Insanus from our beleaguered memory.

In rolls former frontman Steve Tucker for vocal duties; no real surprise considering his previous and decent trio of efforts with the band. But the question on most people’s lips is that by this point would anyone actually care for another Morbid Angel release?

Well, maybe the die-hards would be frothing at the mouth again? After all, some have been claiming that this record takes the band “back to their roots” with a sound that’s “proper death metal”. However, while I agree with some points, what we have here is still an average-to-good death metal album from a band that many have given up on.

Some have argued that Kingdoms Disdained is a predictable and ultimately contrived platter, one which is only positive in sporadic flourishes, mostly thanks to mainman Trey Azagthoth’s fury. But remember, this is a guy who couldn’t bring anything of note to that 2011 lump of diabolical scrap.

So, with 11 tracks on offer, we dive in to what is surely a rescue attempt by those present to prevent this once mighty vessel from drowning. Firstly, look past the rather dull, digitally crafted album cover – a splatter of effects which seem to drag down so many contemporary releases – and let’s focus on opener ‘Piles Of Little Arms’. Yep, it is Morbid Angel letting us know they still exist, because, let’s face it, this new record probably wasn’t eagerly anticipated by many.

‘Piles Of Little Arms’ is aggressive, twisted, heavy and battering, but, sadly, due to the poor production, the track rather quickly drifts into a messy foray, where the riffs are suffocated and Scott Fuller’s drums begin to cake proceedings. Trey Azagthoth’s solos also suffer, seemingly separated by the heavy layer of muffled crud; also not helped by what are Steve Tucker’s rather standard death metal bellows.

And this is a description which pretty much sums up the whole record; even when – for some unknown reason – Tucker’s given a double vocal flare (‘The Pillars Crumbling’) – which in turn brings an unevenness to proceedings. Azagthoth is still a tour de force, but one feels as if Morbid Angel are simply hinged on his chords, and it’s almost a crime that his solo derangements come all too fleetingly and often at the end of certain tunes.

It’s not all “grin and bear it”, or a “going through the motions” exercise. ‘D.E.A.D.’ makes for a rollicking listen, boasting fierce vocal contortions and riffs which finally emerge from the thick gravy. However, one cannot help but feel that Morbid Angel have restrained themselves for this “comeback”. Clearly embarrassed by the endeavours of the last opus, they seem somewhat subdued, heaping upon us numerous generic attempts whereby tempos are chuggy but inoffensive, in turn probably appeasing the death metal critics who were so offended by the last album.

But we have to be honest here and say that as the album drifts along (‘Garden Of Disdain’, ‘Architect And Iconoclast’, ‘Paradigms Warped’ et al) we become quickly aware of how run-of-the-mill it all is. And so for some to say this is Morbid Angel at their best is in fact an insult to their early records, which are light years away from this album.

‘For No Master’ presents the leaner, meaner side of the opus; a short, sharp barrage of hefty, heavy percussive rattles and a thick, gooey guitar slop. Yep, it’s Morbid Angel-by-numbers; solid, beastly tumult based on that recognisable Azagthoth nastiness. But it’s not the sort of composition to make me jolt with surprise.

‘The Righteous Voice’ and ‘Declaring New Law (Secret Hell)’ attempt to rise above the pea-soup production, but these aren’t even fit to the lace the grubby, bloodied boots of tracks from previous efforts Formulas Fatal To The Flesh (1998) and Gateways To Annihilation (2000), let alone Altars Of Madness (1989) and Blessed Are The Sick (1991).

Kingdoms Disdained is an expected return to type – after all, the combo couldn’t get any worse! But by playing it straight, they’ve seemingly churned out a batch of songs riddled with flaws and which somehow, in spite of the six-year wait, suggest they were rushed to create this standard death metal workout. At times, the percussion is too loud, the guitars are mixed too low, the vocals lack oomph, and the blast beats are predictable. Also, there are times where the whole album feels somewhat mechanical, matching that atrocious cover art.

The fact that this album has been released on the Silver Lining label seems somehow relevant, if only for me to sarcastically state that not every cloud has one. In this instance, Kingdoms Disdained is one big, belching cloud of ineffective gas.

Neil Arnold

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