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At one point Morbid Angel were untouchable innovators of their craft, gods among mortals, and the golden standard to which all things death metal, American and otherwise, were measured. The new millennium hasn’t been very kind to the once-infallible Floridians and they haven’t exactly been productive either. Their sporadic output has been spotty at best and completely indefensible at worst. Still every time Morbid Angel releases a new album the world waits with bated breath. Now three decades into their existence the question lingers whether Morbid Angel still is relevant to the genre they helped define – or whether they have become a relic of a bygone era, a legacy act running on empty. Second, and not any less important, is “Kingdoms Disdained” the much pined after return-to-form after the unmitigated disaster that was “Illud Divinum Insanus” – or is it something else entirely?

“Kingdoms Disdained” heralds the return of there-and-back-again frontman Steve Tucker and two new recruits. Dan Vadim replaces illustrious lead guitarists Richard Brunelle, Erik Rutan, and Thor Anders Myhren and substituting for Pedro ‘Pete’ Sandoval (whose newfound faith as a born-again Christian apparently makes him incompatible with the Morbid Angel business venture) is Scott Fuller, formerly of Relapse Records artists Abysmal Dawn, among others. “Kingdoms Disdained” is the first recording on German imprint Silver Lining Music (the recently rebranded UDR Music), the label by Ulrike Rudolph, formerly of distributor Steamhammer (SPV GmbH), and the first not to feature a canvas by long-serving painters Dan Seagrave or Nizin R. Lopez. It’s also the strongest and most combative that Morbid Angel has sounded in a long time - or at least since 1998, which is truly the best we can expect of these swamp dwellers this deep into their notoriously bumpy career.

Either way you slice it “Kingdoms Disdained” is obviously intended as a return-to-form. Indeed, the crux of “Kingdoms Disdained” is efficiency and brevity. In age-old tradition the entire thing is robustly composed and excruciatingly oppressive sounding, but this time around it is also cohesive and unbelievably streamlined like this band's records seldom tend to be. “Kingdoms Disdained” boasts a level of barbarity last heard on “Formulas Fatal to the Flesh” and combines it with the doom-laden aura of “Gateways to Annihilation”. When did Morbid Angel last sound anything like this? Oh yeah, all the way back on “Covenant” and the groove slogfest that was “Domination”. It sports none of Azagthoth’s ambient soundscapes and even his twisted, chaotic Van Halen soloing has been reined in. The record never loses itself in masturbatory excess, a problem endemic of 2003’s uneven “Heretic”. In 2011 “Illud Divinum Insanus” – the band’s shockingly, appallingly terrible foray into dated 90s industrial/dance and stadium rock all but killed the brand and “Kingdoms Disdained” is an act of restoration more than anything else. “Kingdoms Disdained” is remarkably consistent and focused. It’s an effort of conservation and restraint. Moreso perhaps than we’d to like give Azagthoth credit for. Had it followed “Heretic” the blemish would’ve been neglegible. Does it come close to matching any of the band’s classic Earache era records? No. Far from it. At times it’s nigh on impossible to distinguish from “Kingdoms Disdained” from Warfather’s ominous lurcher “The Grey Eminence” that was released just months before.

So how do the new members fare? Dan Vadim is given his moment to shine on ‘Declaring New Law (Secret Hell)’ and drummer Scott Fuller has adopted all of Pedro Sandoval’s signature moves and given them 21st century make-over. It also helps tremendously that this record has the best drum tones since “Blessed Are the Sick”, “Covenant” and “Domination”. Production hasn’t always been on Morbid Angel’s side in the new millennium and it was a wise decision on the band’s part to record at Mana Studios in St. Petersburg, Florida, the facility of former associate Erik Rutan. The digital artwork by Ken Coleman is uncharacteristically Morbid Angel as this is band usually associated with macabre canvasses from Dan Seagrave and Nizin R. Lopez. Much like Malevolent Creation the Floridians have adopted a war-based thematic and the lyrics reflect it with ditties as ‘The Righteous Voice’, ‘D.E.A.D. (Department of Eradication And Disposal)’, ‘For No Master’ and ‘From the Hand Of Kings’. The Ancient Ones and the Most High Triumvirate of the Living Continuum are nowhere to be found on here. What it does cement is that Morbid Angel, it seems, has finally awoken from slumber and now is more hungry and combative than ever before. That just leaves us with the uncomfortable realization that death metal as a genre has since passed Morbid Angel by. One of the genre’s most defining bands has become nothing but a relic of bygone times.

“Kingdoms Disdained” is a solid, serviceable record that does exactly what it promises. However people have rightfully come to expect more of a Morbid Angel record than just that, especially in light of the classic three records with David Vincent. Age has started to catch up with Trey Azagthoth and the band that once led the genre through some of its greatest victories is now outplayed by an entire generation of younger bands. In their defense at least Morbid Angel is clearly trying their darndest to stay with the times. Fuller and Tucker are in no small part responsible for the sheer lethality of the majority of these cuts. Yet despite its brevity and streamlined efficiency “Kingdoms Disdained” misses some of that signature slithering Morbid Angel aura. There’s a distinct lack of esoterica on “Kingdoms Disdained”. For better or worse, it’s the most grounded Morbid Angel record since “Domination”. The fact that it’s so chained in reality is perhaps one of its greatest undoings. Despite all that it’s a solid return for a band that had been a lost cause for about a decade and a half. “Kingdoms Disdained” might not be the pined after rejuvenation of Morbid Angel, but a stark reminder that Azagthoth and his comrades can still deliver the goods when they set their minds to it. Now if only they’d channel that newfound focus towards a more consistent productivity.


On “Millennium” Fort Lauderdale underdogs Monstrosity manifested itself as a veritable force in the Florida death metal scene. Whereas its “Imperial Doom” debut was heavily redolent of Malevolent Creation, the band from whence Lee Harrison came, “Millennium” conclusively proved that Monstrosity was compositionally – and technically stronger than a good deal of its regional, more marketable peers. Despite its obvious merits Monstrosity remained only in the second-tier status as its frontman George Fisher would soon decamp to front the iconic Cannibal Corpse.

Disagreements concerning the distribution of royalties resulted in a split with Nuclear Blast Records. The termination of contract with Nuclear Blast Records led founder Lee Harrison to release future Monstrosity efforts through his own label imprint Conquest Music Group. Conquest Music handled distribution and marketing in North America, while Nuclear Blast and Hammerheart Records licensed it for European territories. A few changes in the personnel happened Death alumnus Kelly Conlon replacing Mark van Erp on bass guitar, and Jason Morgan substituting for Jon Rubin. Despite these changes former members Jon Rubin and Mark van Erp contributed to a few songs, while the majority of “Millennium” was written by Lee Harrison and Jason Morgan.

While its kinship with Malevolent Creation remains obvious through its writing Monstrosity offers everything you’d expect of a Florida death metal act. Lee Harrison is probably one of the best drummers in the region, and it's somewhat insulting that he’s still considered second-tier by many. “Millennium” is technical, and thrashy in equal measure while offering bouts of melody and groove simultaneously. Whereas on “Imperial Doom” Harrison’s drumming was mostly about speed on “Millennium” his playing truly becomes integral to each of the cuts. Some of his best work is to be found on tracks as ‘Devious Instinct’ and ‘Dream Messiah’. ‘Fragments Of Resolution’ is the sole dirge-tempo track of the album, and gives Morbid Angel a run for its money. On his swansong appearance with the band frontman George Fisher, who would soon decamp to join the much more marketable Cannibal Corpse, is in fine form. His ascending-descending vocal lines, much to Harrison’s credit as a songwriter, are legendary.

All music was written by Jason Morgan and Lee Harrison, except ‘Manic’ and ‘Stormwinds’ were written by Lee Harrison and Mark Van Erp, ‘Manipulation Strain’ and ‘Slaves and Masters’ was written by Jason Morgan, Lee Harrison and Mark Van Erp. The latter also has the only lyrical contributions from frontman George Fisher with this band. ‘Manic’, ‘Stormwinds’, and ‘Slaves and Masters’ were re-recorded from the self-distributed 1994 “Demo ‘94” tape. ‘Seize Of Change’ was written by Jon Rubin and Lee Harrison. The album features guest vocals by Jason Avery on ‘Devious Instinct’, ‘Dream Messiah’, ‘Fragments Of Resolution’ and ‘Slaves and Masters’. Avery, a veteran of local death metal unit Eulogy, would come to supersede Fisher who moved on to bigger opportunities with fellow genre specialists Cannibal Corpse.

“Millennium” was recorded and mixed at Morrisound Studio with Scott Burns handling the production. The Scott Burns mix was found unsatisfactory, and the album was remixed at Criteria Recording Studios by Keith Rose and Scott Kieklak. Compared to the gritty and lively “Imperial Doom”, “Millennium” sounds rather dry and sterile. Harrison’s drum tones have gained in range and textural depth but don’t possess the same amount of body as they did on the band’s debut. Monstrosity inadvertently became a victim of 1990s computer generated imagery with its Richard Dunn canvas. Unfortunate early digital art aside “Millennium” is a formidable genre exercise.

Despite cementing Monstrosity’s status as one of Florida’s most accomplished units “Millennium” never quite catched on as records of the time from the likes of Deicide, Malevolent Creation, or Morbid Angel. Widely regarded as one of the best Florida death metal acts the output from Monstrosity isn’t as profuse as some of its more popular and prolific brethren. Its outstanding and consistent level of high quality product has only been matched by Waldorf, Maryland icons Aurora Borealis or Poland’s Lost Soul. Reliability, despite the fluidity of its line-ups, aside Monstrosity is still considered a second-tier band despite its penchant for perfection, and aversion towards making artistic compromises. For that reason alone Lee Harrison and his cohorts deserve accolades for remaining true to their vision, and keeping their collective integrity intact where lesser bands would've fallen before similar hardships.