Review Summary: A return to death metal, but not a consistently exciting one.
I’ve tried to rationalize my entirely unimpressed reaction to Morbid Angel’s vaunted return to pure, unadulterated death metal as excessive expectations from the fact that it’s ***ing
Morbid Angel. On first listen there’s a satisfied wonder at the level of extremity Trey and CO. have found on Kingdoms Disdained
, bolstered by the return of Steve Tucker behind the mic and the inclusion of drummer Scott Fuller of Abysmal Dawn fame. Tucker’s growls are utterly monstrous, gushing colossal filth through the mic to replace David Vincent’s ever-declining vocals, and Fuller’s drum work is hard to criticize directly, though it becomes painful to sit through the clicky and weak sound of them as the album progresses. Kingdoms Disdained
has to be the heaviest album they’ve made to date as well, Azagthoth still coming through with some razor sharp riffs and solos and a thick bottom end for the rest to stand on. And yet I still find myself becoming more and more discontent with every listen. After the excitement wears off I just begin to think that Morbid Angel fell into the trap of tunneling so hard on returning to death metal that certain essentials fell by the wayside.
The first few tracks are ace, “Piles of Little Arms” and “D.E.A.D.” being concise little riff marathons that excite like they should. Aside from certain production issues, there’s not a lot wrong with them. The instrumentals are certainly on par and Tucker’s vocals are especially potent in the early minutes of the record, with songwriting to match. Right around the time track lengths start to extend is when Kingdoms Disdained
starts to lose steam. “The Righteous Voice” is the first to touch a five minute runtime, but it’s saved by plenty of riffs and grooves, not to mention one of Azagthoth’s shockingly infrequent solos, but by the time “Architect and Iconoclast” is even nearing its halfway point the tempo of the album has ground to a sudden halt. The track ends up being a mess of insanely repetitious bottom string chuggery that feels like it has a total of two unique sections spread across a nearly six minute runtime. Tucker does his best with some of his catchiest vocal lines, but that’s not enough to save the track. “Paradigms Warped” is even worse, despite lasting nearly two minutes less, as Morbid Angel seemed content to stretch a single snail paced passage across the entire length. The album picks up near the end with “For No Master” ratcheting the tempo up immensely and the closing track making a longer runtime actually seem warranted, but too many tracks drag the album down and too few highlights to pick it up.
On paper the problems with Kingdoms Disdained
seem simple. The problem songs all tend to be the longest and most repetitive, full of forays into slow, chuggy passages (suspiciously deathcore like at times even) and often lacking Azagthoth’s legendary solos. Conversely the best songs (see the opening handful and a few highlights in the back half like “For No Master”) are usually sharp, concise, and high tempo riff fests. The bigger question that begins to arise is “Where does Kingdoms Disdained
sit within the expansive discography of Morbid Angel?” I’m still trying to answer that question myself in truth. We know the albums of Morbid Angel’s prime in the late 80s and early 90s, and we love them dearly. We know the rocky experimentation David Vincent has brought, then taken away, then brought back again with the band, as well as the more invigorating reinvention with Steve Tucker in the late 90s and early 2000s. Is Kingdoms Disdained
supposed to be a reinvention? It’s not a return to really any of the band’s previous styles, rather it seems deeply ingrained in more mainstream trends of death metal and even deathcore with mere flashes of classic Morbid Angel excellence. Will this album find a place as a Morbid Angel record in the next decade, or will it fade as a one-off that wasn’t really Morbid Angel at its core? At heart, Kingdoms Disdained
doesn’t really feel like a Morbid Angel record to me, not fully, but that’s alright. It doesn’t have to, and I can’t let the expectations of a name cloud my judgement on their art. On the other hand, no matter the name plastered on the album cover Kingdoms Disdained
is an on-again, off-again mess of modern death metal conventions that likely won’t stand the test of time.