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“Illud Divinum Insanus”, the first Morbid Angel effort in eight years and the follow-up to 2003’s critically savaged “Heretic”, rightly continues to be subject of widespread scorn and derision. Dubbed an “experimental” and “genre-defining” masterpiece by the sycophantic metal press, it is a desperate attempt from a band well past its prime grasping at straws to remain relevant. Subpar in its metallic aspect and painfully outdated in its so-called experimental electronics “Illud Divinum Insanus” falls spectacularly short of expectations as both a death – and industrial metal album. It is a shockingly, appallingly bad record from a band that should have known better.

The first thing to catch one’s attention is the badly translated Latin album title, which according to statements made by David Vincent at the time was intended to mean 'Those Insane Gods'. However in its current form it translates to 'That divine thing, an insane man'. It should have been translated as “Illa Divina Insana”. A second distinct feature is the cast of musicians assembled for the recordings. Replacing long-time skinsman Pedro ‘Pete’ Sandoval (who had bowed out prior due to a back surgery) on drums is notorious mercenary Tim Yeung along with Norwegian guitarist Thor Anders Myhren (going by the stagename Destructhor for the session) who made a name for himself with Myrkskog. Florian Magnus Maier of German black metal formation Dark Fortress was the runner-up, but did not make the cut for hitherto undisclosed reasons. The addition of both men represents an important shift in the band’s creative paradigm. All is not well in Tampa, Florida.

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It is not so much the addition of industrial and electronica that make “Illud Divinum Insanus” as rightly maligned as it is – but the utter lack of spirit and conviction that oozes out of the traditional death metal aspect try this out. For a band that used to set standards in its prime despite its revisionist tendencies and enormous egoes this sounds remarkably out of touch with both popular taste and the death metal genre as a whole. “Illud Divinum Insanus” combines the worst of groove metal, glam and industrial with completely lifeless death metal is. Adding insult to injury is the supposed “experimental” industrial and techno songs. Not only does Morbid Angel fail miserably at aping a subgenre that flourished in the 1990s, they also go for the basest, most crowd pandering variation of it. As Mysticum and Sickening Horror have proven in the past, industrial elements can push underground metal to riveting extremes. “Illud Divinum Insanus” is a lot of things, but good it is not…

A glance over the writing credits at least gives an indication of who to blame for this particular debacle. The trio of ‘Omni Potens’, ‘I am Morbid’, and ‘Radikult’, were written by David Vincent exclusively. Myhren wrote ‘Blades For Baal’ and the groove metal abortion ’10 More Dead’. The remainder of the album was co-written by Azagthoth and Vincent. Interestingly the obligatory (and fairly inconsequential) instrumental interludes that indiscriminately littered the Steve Tucker era are completely abandoned on this record. It is truly one of the very few things that the record does manage to get right. That ‘Blades For Baal’, arguably the best of the conventional tracks, was written by an outsider speaks volumes of just how far Azagthoth has fallen. A sense of self-awareness/referentiality pervades from the album while the delusions of grandeur that already crippled the band in the Tucker-era remain firmly in place. Profundis – Mea Culpa’ (the Latin equivalent to “it’s my big mistake”) even has Vincent penning lyrics that clearly reflect his awareness of the stylistic transgressions that Morbid Angel was committing, and reveling in them.

A protracted, troubled recording session at no less than four different studios (The Blue Room, Mana Recording Studios, Red Room Recorders, and D.O.W. Studio Productions) in the Los Angeles and Tampa region and no less than four credited producers can save the record from coming apart at the seams. The production is a hot mess of conflicting sounds and ideas seemingly meshed together without rhyme or reason. For most part it downplays the traditional components in favor of the vocals and badly integrated industrial – and electronic elements. Each of the aspects sounds functional in itself but the lack of an overseeing head of production resulted in the record sounding artificial, unhinged and downright schizophrenic in its combination of disparate elements. A more urgent question is that it makes you wonder why “Illud Divinum Insanus” wasn’t produced by Flood, Moby, Trent Reznor or Till Lindeman.

Better than any other band in the field Morbid Angel understood the importance of imagery and visuals. The Nizin R. Lopez artwork that adorned the divisive “Formulas Fatal to the Flesh” fitted the Lovecraftian lyrical themes, and the Dan Seagrave canvas for “Gateways to Annihilation” perfectly embodied that record’s unearthly doom and gloom aura. “Heretic”, that came sporting a Marc Sasso artwork, was where the band first faltered. “Illud Divinum Insanus” comes with artwork by Brazilian artist Gustavo Sazes and its color schemes are a complete break with the past stylistically. In an attempt to modernize Morbid Angel retroactively ends up dating itself. The album is the product of a creative axis that hasn’t pushed its limits in well over a decade.

“Illud Divinum Insanus” is a bloated, bloviating, self-important record that can’t decide what it wants to be, or what it hopes to convey. It’s a mess of an album that is in need of a thorough editing process, and that would have been passable as an EP. The most damning of all is that KFDM, Laibach, Ministry, Marilyn Manson and White Zombie perfected this genre two decades prior. Morbid Angel isn’t only lagging behind with the times, but they can’t even imitate a workable template set by the real pioneers. Sandoval, who became a born-against Christian in the interim, has since vehemently disowned the album for its profound stylistic break with the past. He remains active with his own version of grindcore act Terrorizer, whereas in Los Angeles former frontman Oscar Garcia mans arguably the true incarnation of said formative act.

“Illud Divinum Insanus” has all the hallmarks of a deservedly failed Azagthoth/Vincent side-project written all over it. The death metal portion of the record sounds as tired and obligatory filler as you’d expect of a band well past its prime. The badly composed industrial and electro "experimentation" feels completely out of place, and nowhere is any attention paid to pacing and coherent flow from one song to the next. They could have called this band Radikult and released half of “Illud Divinum Insanus” as an EP, the same could’ve been done with the four traditional death metal tracks. That way the Morbid Angel brandname and its legacy would have remained intact, and both men could have scratched their collective industrial/electro itch. There’s a reason why “Point Blank” was released as Nailbomb and not as Sepultura, despite the stylistic overlaps. The record reeks with a sense of desperation reserved for burnt-out artists in the grips of the pangs of irrelevance. The Morbid Angel of yesteryear is dead, and we buried it.

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The second Fear Factory reformation led to the workmanlike “Mechanize”, but despite being a mild critical success the band wasn’t able to hold on to its lineup. Prior to the recordings of “The Industrialist” the new rhythm section of bass guitarist Byron Stroud and drummer Gene Hoglan took their leave. “The Industrialist” sees Fear Factory, now reduced to its central duo, return to its sciencefiction narrative for another conceptual undertaking that is similar to “Obsolete” in spirit, but to “Mechanize” in sound. It isn’t a return to the ambitious heights of “Obsolete”, nor is it a spiritual successor to “Soul Of A New Machine”, although it imitates aspects of both. In essence it is a return to the turbulent times of “Archetype” in more ways than one. It reeks of industrial process.

After three non-conceptual efforts the duo returned at long last to its techno-apocalypse narrative. The story is about an automaton, The Industrialist, which is the summit of all industries/technologies available at the time of its creation, gaining sentience. During the story it accumulates past memories and experiences while discovering the will to survive. This eventually leads it to guide others of its kind to join in the struggle against human oppressors that have enslaved them. Fear Factory turned its known narrative on its head by examining the machines’ point of view in its man versus machine concept. It is interesting in the sense that, in an attempt to reestablish the brand after a tumultuous few years, the central duo opted to remove as much of the human factor as possible in order to avoid conflicts and compromise. In the process to keep its struggling brand alive in an everchanging musical landscape and industry they became reliant themselves on the very technology they warned about on their most accomplished prior efforts.

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More than before Fear Factory examines the flaws of organized religion. Christianity appears to be the target of convenience, albeit filtered through the aforesaid narrative framework. ‘New Messiah’, ‘God Eater’, ‘Depraved Mind Murder’, and ‘Virus Of Faith’ each present criticism of a different aspect of the subject in the most confrontational and direct manner since the “Soul Of A New Machine” days. None of it is particular engaging, and the lack of arresting imagery, or religious invertion, makes it sound formulaic. In comparison to the early works of Immolation, Vital Remains and Incantation it is all rather bland. The band quotes “The Da Vinci Code” thriller author Dan Brown with its choice of instrumental interlude. The title of the track ‘Religion Is Flawed Because Man Is Flawed’ is lifted in its entirety from the “Angels & Demons” novel. The drum programming effectively replicates the tones from the “Demanufacture” days, and Bell’s lamentable clean vocals actually sound better than on any of the prior records. ‘God Eater’ in part recalls the “Remanufacture” EP because of its heavy reliance on electronics and making its metallic aspects secondary at best. In fact it could almost be passed off as an early Nine Inch Nails song circa “Pretty Hate Machine” with Bell singing over it.

‘Depraved Mind Murder’ on the other hand sounds like an unreleased “Archetype” song. ‘Difference Engine’ for the most part aims to imitate “Demanufacture” cut ‘New Breed’ with its upbeat construction, although the track’s overall tempo is far lower. ‘Disassemble’ attempts to recapture the “Obsolete” vibe but suffers considerable damage due to Burton C. Bell’s insufferable harsh vocal performance. In a scarce moment it is here that his usually lamentable clean vocals are actually the lone selling point. ‘Human Augmentation’ finally explores the desolate ambient that made the closing to ‘A Therapy For Pain’ on “Demanufacture” so emotionally resonating. It was long overdue, and the result is expectedly downbeat. It’s easy to hear why this track is as polarizing as it is.

It is exactly the removal of the human element that makes “The Industrialist” as polarizing as it is. In order to save resources skinsman Gene Hoglan was replaced by a drum computer, programmed by Cazares and John Sankey. Byron Stroud departed prior to the sessions to, supposedly, greener pastures after not feeling respected by the central duo. As a result Dino Cazares played bass guitar for the sessions. That an industrial metal band would eventually end up using a drum computer seems like the only logical progression given how mechanical the genre tends to be. However with drummer John Sankey (of California-by-way-of-Australia outfit Devolved, itself very Fear Factory inspired) at their disposal behind the scenes it is more than puzzling as to why Bell and Cazares decided to not hire him as studio drummer for this album. After Raymond Herrera, and mercenary Gene Hoglan he would seem as the next logical hire. In the same sense the bass guitar, once Fear Factory’s most formidable weapon, is downplayed in favor of the guitars – and it isn’t nearly as vital to the compositions as it was during the Olde Wolbers and Stroud eras of the band. In order to regain control of its struggling brand Bell and Cazares have made compromises, and not all for the better.

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For the first time in its quarter of a century long career Fear Factory returned to the same facility they used for the sessions of the preceding record. The majority of the album was recorded at Surplus Studio in Van Nuys, California with Rhys Fulber producing, alongside Dino Cazares and Burton C. Bell. Guitars, bass and additional vocals were subsequently recorded at Darth Mader Music in Los Angeles, California with Logan Mader producing. Cazares had worked with Mader previously on his lamentable Divine Heresy project. Returning for a second time for “The Industrialist” is American artist Anthony Clarkson. It is the second of two Fear Factory releases on Candlelight Records through a licensing deal with Cazares’ and Bell’s Oxidizer, Inc. publishing company. In order to give the album a proper marketing push three singles were released with ‘Recharger’, ‘New Messiah’ and ‘The Industrialist’. Only the last of these received a music video treatment as the format was on its way out in favor for the cheaper lyric videos.

Despite all the strikes against it “The Industrialist” is actually a far better album than “Mechanize”, even thought it misses that album’s human element. The second album of Fear Factory’s second reformation is a summation of all Cazares eras with an added dose of aggression and bottom-end heaviness for good measure. That it doesn’t hold a candle to the band’s prime material is a given at this point, and not entirely unexpected – but given the various line-up reconfigurations and stylistic deviations that the band underwent it is a surprisingly solid and cohesive effort. That it reunites Bell and Cazares with producer duo Rhys Fulber and Greg Reely works in its advantage tonally even though long-time artist Dave McKean seems to have been abandoned for Anthony Clarkson. “The Industrialist” isn’t a return to the lofty heights of “Demanufacture” or “Obsolete” nor is it a spiritual successor to “Soul Of A New Machine” – above all it is its own creative entity that is aware of its past, and present failures and successes.