Released: 2003, Earache Records
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland
It’s been 3 years since Morbid Angel last released an album and in that time, there have been several notable lineup changes. On the band’s last album, 2000’s GATEWAYS TO ANNIHILATION, they were a tight 4-piece featuring the current lineup, plus Erik Rutan on second guitar. Soon after the album’s release, vocalist/bassist Steve Tucker jumped ship due to “creative differences” and Jared Anderson, Rutan’s partner in his side project Hate Eternal, joined the band as a temporary replacement for the GATEWAYS tour. This left the band as a 3-piece once the tour ended and just before commencing recording the HERETIC album, Rutan left the band as well to concentrate fully on Hate Eternal. Rumors circulated that former MA vocalist/bassist, David Vincent, would rejoin the band, but Tucker instead was welcomed back into the fold which brings us up to speed for the new album, HERETIC.
HERETIC is a return of sorts for Morbid Angel, as 1998’s FORMULAS FATAL TO THE FLESH and to a lesser degree, the GATEWAYS TO ANNIHILATION album, saw the band venturing away from their “traditional” sound. FFttF has been criticized for its dependence on obscure Sumerian themes as guitarist and founder, Trey Azagthoth, took over full songwriting and production duties. While closer to the Morbid Angel sound, GATEWAYS was a more melodic production that again was met with criticism. For HERETIC, Trey Azagthoth, the creative force behind the band for over 15 years, has crafted some brilliant songs. They are sharper, less convoluted, and frankly the best we have seen since 1995’s DOMINATION. “Within Thy Enemy” seems to be the most obvious throwback to early Morbid Angel, as it would not seem out of place on their classic debut, 1989’s ALTARS OF MADNESS. Steve Tucker sounds better than ever as his growl echoes through “Stricken Arise” and “Enshrined By Grace”. His bass also seems to have more of a presence on this album thanks to long-time front of house sound engineer, Juan “Punchy” Gonzalez, who was enlisted for co-production duties on the album. Of course, Pete “Commando” Sandoval turns in a brilliant performance, with fewer blastbeats and a ferocious double bass attack throughout, but especially on the instrumental track, “Drum Check”. Sandoval has long been ranked among the top extreme metal drummers with Slayer’s Dave Lombardo and Gene Hoglan (Dark Angel, Testament, Death, Old Man’s Child, Strapping Young Lad) but “Drum Check” really ups the ante. The CD features FIVE instrumental tracks, including the downright creepy “Place of Many Deaths”, the haunting “Memories of the Past” followed by “Victorious March of Reign the Conqueror”, Sandoval’s “Drum Check” and a 3 minute guitar wank track from Azagthoth called “Born Again”. Filling one-third of a 14 track album (and the final 11 minutes) with instrumentals may seem a bit odd, but Morbid Angel has never been a band to follow conventions. Azagthoth’s guitar work is, of course, what many people love about Morbid Angel and he does not disappoint. “Enshrined By Grace” and “Abyssous” feature brilliant solos and he shreds on “Born Again”.
This is the best CD that Morbid Angel has released in 8 years. If you’re a newbie to the mighty Morbid Angel, or an old follower led astray by the last couple albums, do yourself a favor and pick up this CD. HERETIC is sure to be on many lists of favorite CDs of 2003. It certainly will be near the top of mine.