Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Morbid Angel - Gateways to Annihilation

Morbid Angel - Gateways to Annihilation
Earache Records, 2000

While almost every single Morbid Angel album up to, and including, 'Domination' met a scene rapt with anticipation, eager to explore the enthusiastic guitar pyrotechnics or death metal innovation that was doubtlessly contained within, it seems that the 'official' fervor surrounding this band had dimmed ever since the departure of David Vincent and the solidification of Morbid Angel's approach to songwriting. Did 'Formulas' really contain anything new? And yet, were there that many death metal albums released at the same time than can be seen now as somehow more 'groundbreaking', or, at the very least, worth listening to? With their decision to pursue a more personal, subjective, and completely 'Azagthothian' direction now at least two or three years behind them, I don't think this band can really be compared to any other - what's the point? What would you learn from doing so? No, they might not be the hardcore innovators they once were (listen to 'Altars of Madness' again), but they still don't have any competition at all when it comes to determining the direction of the death metal scene. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Morbid Angel: the death metal institution. Because of this, I was both anticipating this new record and somehow dreading its release - what could it offer? Where could Morbid Angel go from the last record? Would they finally decide to turn in a more commercial direction, out of sheer exhaustion or boredom?

From the very first song, you will see that this is not the case. The production and guitar sound are what hit you first: Eric Rutan and Trey's seven-string Ibanez's being bent and twisted back and forth to sound out massive, sweeping, low-end rhythm work: slow, masterly, rumbling, almost a subterranean lumbering and swaying; churning muted chords crunch and slice over flooding waves of sonic star-gazing, filled with truly cursed/darkened harmonizations, poetic in their elaboration of doom - their version of an evil Van Halen 'brown sound'. This is possibly the heaviest and slowest they have ever played. It is perhaps notable that Rutan [I think?] gets the first solo of the entire album half of the way into the opener 'Summon Redemption'. Having half-exhausted himself in Hate Eternal, he returns here older, wiser, and more bitter than ever. It echoes in his playing. For once, Morbid Angel refrain from trying to break speed records with Sandoval's kit - his blasts serve mainly to back up the slower rhythm riffs, setting up that 'contrary' constant blast/lurching rhythm guitar style that I believe Morbid Angel first displayed prominently, if not invented: the grinding snare/bass drums behind slow, arching guitar work that makes these riffs sound twice as agonized, twice as unnatural and sinister. The best example of this is the second song, 'Ageless, Still I Am', where the expert guitarists constantly weave in and out of harmonies to produce some of the darkest melodies in this band's history.

In addition, their lyrical vision seems to have narrowed: back again are the lunging, thrusting imprecations against God and/or Christians and the other sick hypocrites of the world. Where before the music served as a lethal lightning strike behind Vincent's tales of destruction and redemption, Morbid Angel now come only to suffocate with a tidal wave of total contempt. They will choke the world into unconsciousness and then euthanize it, and Azagthoth, in his misanthropy, has moved far beyond the gleam of Tony Robbins' teeth into a lightless place - his melodies are alien, inhuman, they seep into the listening sphere like Zyklon-B and steal the life from your limbs. His solos are utterly insane: they sound like creatures crying in the night as they die, the bleating of sacrificial lambs, the songs of birds, or his Lovecraftian namesake piping blindly, madly, at the center of the universe. They are almost completely free of traditional reference points - try to trace their evolution or progression.

One can only wonder what their next tour - with Pantera, no less - is going to be like. How will it go? What will the reactions be like? How will the Fraternal Brothers of Durst react to songs that are meant to crush and bring them to despair? I hope to witness it...

In the meantime, this is once again a fantastic album from the Fathers, and quite possibly their darkest/most obscure creation sure to seek it out...