Morbid Angel, "Heretic"
Morbid Angel are on the rebound. Operating as a three piece for the first time since "Covenant", and with Steve Tucker once again handling bass and vocals after a short 'sabbatical', Morbid Angel have written their best batch of songs in a long, long time. Gone are the droning sections that go nowhere, and roaring back to the fold like a long lost friend are those trademark Morbid Angel hooks. Yes, damn it, hooks! Choruses, melodies, bad-ass riffs, stuff that you actually remember when the album's over. A near total lack of hooks was the main problem with "Formulas..." and "Gateways...", but now that Rutan's left to follow his muse with the ever-hookless Hate Eternal (coincidence?), Trey's brought back that old school devilishness and combined it with the dissonance and abstraction that have been holding the band's output together of late. Witness the lead off single, "Enshrined by Grace," the venomous chorus of "Cleansed in Pestilence [Blade of Elohim]", or the opening of "Curse the Hollow" or and hear how it all comes together: brilliantly.
That said, "Heretic" is certainly not without its flaws. For one, the new found energy doesn't find its way into all of the songs, as the last three fail to make much of an impression. They're solid, but would have benefitted from better placement in the track list, as they've been sent to the back of the album to get lost between a bunch of instrumental tracks, themselves another problem with "Heretic". When Trey and Richard Brunelle first put the classically-influenced piano and acoustic guitar instrumentals (respectively) on "Blessed..." all those years ago, it was a novel idea, backed by the fact that the pieces were very good. But now, almost 15 years on, I just don't need to hear yet another of Trey's spaced-out-on-'shrooms Casio noodlings. Six - yes, six! - of the fourteen tracks on "Heretic" are instrumentals. Aside from Pete's gimmicky but entertaining drum solo, they add little to the album as stand alone pieces and would have been far more effective had they been integrated within the songs themselves. Had Morbid Angel built full songs around the dark electronics of "Place of Many Deaths", the dreamy head of "Abyssous" or the pagan militance of "Victorious March of Rain the Conqueror", they'd have added some incredibly epic compositions to their repertoire. Why Earache allows them to continue putting out short albums padded with 15 minutes of keyboards - and why we continue to buy them - is beyond me.
The other thing that's going to throw some people is the production. Overall, it feels pretty rough, with the guitars sounding very strange. Add to that some slop in the Trey's playing (what he'd probably call 'feeling'), and one's left wondering just what kind of budget they were given to record with this time. Luckily though, Pete's drumkit is far more natural sounding (although it's probably every bit as triggered as it's always been), Steve's rattling voice is killer, and even the bass cuts through the mix, loud and clear. Once you get adjusted to the guitar sounds, you'll find that the mix is pretty good, and loves to be played loud...very loud.
All in all, "Heretic" is a much needed return to form for Morbid Angel, full of surprises and a handful of incredible songs. If the next album continues to build on the lessons re-learned here and manages to overcome both songwriting laziness and some questionable production values, it could be their best yet.
Cleansed in Pestilence [Blade of Elohim]