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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 Subpar in its metallic aspect and painfully outdated in its so-called experimental electronics “Illud Divinum Insanus” falls spectacularly short of expectations as both a death – and industrial metal album.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.

Fleshgrind

“The Seeds Of Abysmal Torment” saw Chicago bruisers Fleshgrind move into slightly more technical and challenging territory. In the decade-plus that they were active, from 1993 to 2005, they released three albums, of which “The Seeds Of Abysmal Torment” was the second. Moving away from the trite gore – and horror subject matter of its debut this second album moves into more earthy and socio-political territory. Even though the differences with “Destined For Defilement” are minimal, and cosmetic at best – by 2000 Fleshgrind was outplayed by a new generation of bands who played death metal more technical, and faster. The record represents a leap forward for a band that never was able to cement its reputation despite its status as respectable scene veterans. It is the last Fleshgrind record to be recorded and produced by Broken Hope member Brian Griffin.

Fleshgrind

It remains a mystery why Fleshgrind opted for a single-guitar setup after frontman Lipcomb’s commendable job as a rhythm player on its debut outing. The installing of Alan Collado on drums, and James Genenz on bass guitar led to a more lively rhythm section. The drumming had become more complex with more fills, rolls, and cymbal crashes along with nearly constant thundering double-bass drums. While the guitar work has improved there still are no leads, or solos – and that is to the band’s everlasting detriment. Had there been a number of solos then perhaps these battering, but otherwise mundane, excercises in banality would have had an identifier, or two. Even though there are some dark melodies and dissonant chord progressions in ‘Monarch Of Misery’, plus a brief bass guitar break and some prominent bass licks in ‘The Deviating Ceremonies’ and ‘A Legion Of Illusions’ – the record is hardly unsettling, threatening and morbid sounding at any point during its playing time. ‘Seas Of Harrow’, the only song to clock under two minutes, had the potential of being a better, more involving song, but it wasn’t given the proper time for its ideas to be meaningfully expanded upon. ‘Hogtied and Hatefucked’ is probably the most bouncy track Fleshgrind ever wrote up that point in time.

The lyrics largely moved away from the archetypical horror, and gore subject matter of the previous record. Instead the lyrics of “The Seeds Of Abysmal Torment” deal with more earthy, interpersonal and socio-political themes, including abuse (‘Destroying Your Will’, ‘Seas Of Harrow’, ‘Hogtied and Hatefucked’), conflict (‘Desire For Control’, ‘The Deviating Ceremonies’), introspection (‘Monarch Of Misery’), depression (‘Disdain the Mournful’, ‘Hatred Embodied’), and mental instability (‘The Supreme Art Of Derangement’). It’s rather unfortunate that Fleshgrind would abandon this subject matter to return to the conventional gore – and horror thematic on its third, and final, album. Given the nature of the album the lyrics are its most interesting aspect, even though they aren’t exactly stellar in any way.

As before Steve Murray wrote the majority of the record, as with the preceding album he wrote together with his drummer, in this instance Alan Collado. Only ‘Hogtied and Hatefucked’ had lyrics written by bass guitarist James Genenz. Interesting is that frontman Rich Lipscomb, who was more hands-on on the previous record, had no input in any of the lyrics. While there was never anything particularly ornamental about Fleshgrind and its music, its down-to-basics approach might be functional (and mildly effective even) - on a purely visceral level, and in the live arena – it leaves little to the imagination, and to latch onto in studio recorded form. Not even the guest vocals by Leonard ‘Lenzig’ Leal (Cephalic Carnage) add anything of worth to the tracks they appear on. The least one could say about “The Seeds Of Abysmal Torment” is that Chicago bruisers Fleshgrind went from mere redundance to an adequate level of faceless competence, but little more at best.

The move to a different recording facility is both a benefit and a detriment to the proceedings. For the first, and only, time Fleshgrind recorded at Quali-tone Studios in Beach Park, Illinois with Brian Griffin (Broken Hope) producing, whereas Trevor Sadler at Mastermind Productions in Milwaukee, Wisconsin mastered the album. While Fleshgrind had a long history (dating back to its demo tapes) of working with Brian Griffin the production on “The Seeds Of Abysmal Torment” is problematic in its own peculiar ways. The thickness that characterized “Destined For Defilement” is replaced with a digital crispness that strangely lacks clarity and definition. The bass guitar can be felt but is audible only in bits and parts of the album. The only thing that has markedly improved is the drum tone. The artwork by Juha Vuorma isn’t very special, and his work on the Malignancy debut “Intrauterine Cannibalism” was far more commendable. “The Seeds Of Abysmal Torment” was released in 2000 through Olympic Recordings in North America and Season Of Mist in Europe. In retrospect the only memorable thing about it is that Maltese death metal band Abysmal Torment took its name from this album’s title.