Review Summary: Extreme music and attitude that lie within the interfaces.
I quote from the first page of the album’s booklet:
Her-e-tic…(n. her΄i tik) (…) 3. anyone who does not conform with an established attitude, doctrine or principle.
If someone asked me to describe in a nutshell, the nature of the musical content in Morbid Angel’s most recent album, Heretic
, I would start decoding the symbolic nature of the album’s front cover and I would rest my case. It doesn’t happen so often that a record’s cover can tell so much about the music in it. Therein lies Lilith, the goddess of heretics’ hordes, followed by two human owls, the universal symbol of wisdom. Her reflection, however, when processed through the band’s interface mirror, is blurred and distorted.
Isn’t that – the blurring and the distortion of extreme metal – the practice of Morbid Angel all these years?
In this contribution, the band continues to defy everything and everyone, including its own achievements and goes red on every aspect. The ingredients are the same; however their ingenious mixing is where it's at. The dynamics and the intensity of this record lie barely within reasonable description, combining the legacy of Altars of Madness
with the overall progress the band has made all these years. This approach could be described as “tech death metal”, however, this tag is so poor in characterizing Heretic
in its entirety. And that’s because the band introduces, for the first time in such a great extent, elements that are alien to extreme metal in general. Morbid Angel constitutes one of those few bands that are in control of the musical form used in their work and not the other way around. The mesmerizing ambient/doom/noise/industrial vapor clouds of “Places of Many Deaths” and the wonderful psychedelic interludes, which use ambient/industrial noise or electric rock and/or classical instrumentation, constitute an interesting musical dipole with the band's extreme metal persona and blur the band’s “true” death metal status, albeit Morbid Angel may loosely be characterized as such.
The band’s decision to include short and separate guitar solos or instrumental versions of some of the “regular” songs, as hidden tracks, could stand as a clear mark of its conviction towards the consensus held by the music industry in fully dictating the overall character of record releases. The incorporation of a second compact disc in the release package stands as a token of gratitude to their fan base and an enforcement of the band’s attitude.
Pete Sandoval sets new standards with every new Morbid Angel release. His drumming on Heretic
is simply inhuman. He outperforms himself by a huge margin and with respect to the rest of the top notch extreme metal drummers. He races against himself only, period. In order to grasp the magnitude of his achievement, one should place his drum adaptations under direct comparison with the rehearsal versions of the songs in the second compact disc, where a drum machine is used. Needless to say that he outperforms the drum machine easily
. His talents, though, spread over the avant-garde aura of this album as well, as he plays the piano on one or two interlude tracks, showing remarkable skill. Trey is totally out of control on this record. With his performance, he gives a new meaning to the term “odd time signatures”, going from one riff to another or changing the time signature of the same riff.
Influences from black metal are obvious here and there in his lead guitars, however, they don’t interfere with his regular (sic) death metal riffing. The sector, however, in which he truly excels is the soloing. His solos are so abstract, yet well structured, so psychedelic, yet intense. He truly shreds his guitar, although he is not taking it too far at all. In the complimentary compact disc, there are some rehearsal versions of those solos that show the enormous degree of difficulty in playing them. Last but not least by any means, Steve Tucker. Tucker vocals are standing tall in every song. One thing that is remarkable with his growls is that he can alter his pitch from low to high within a split second (listen to Enshrined by Grace). Other than that, he performs with full force, although he doesn’t possess the voice stretch that David Vincent had.
The production of this record will be a subject of intense debate. Instead of the immense “Morrisound” sound production the band usually had in its previous releases, Trey and his fellow mates decide to give a fuzzy, yet crisp shade to the way instruments and voices sound. Although the guitars (more than) obviously lack in volume, they surprisingly gain in clarity, possibly because the riffs here are so complex and so quickly replaced by others within a song, that they would “vanish” with a ultra low end sound production. Furthermore, the fuzz in the guitars could possibly be related to the aforementioned sparse black metal influences on Trey Azagthoth’s way of riffing here and to the eccentricity of songs like “Places of Many Deaths”. The vocals and the rhythm section are fairly balanced with respect to the guitars. Overall, it may take some time for listeners to get used to the way guitars sound here, but it must be stated that the eccentric production further adds to the heretic character of this record.
All in all, Morbid Angel once again push the boundaries of their craft further, being a lot more eccentric than usual. Morbid Angel is a dependable band and the only thing that troubles me is the next album’s title, starting from the letter I…