Morbid Angel - _Heretic_
(Earache Records, 2003)
by: Jackie Smit (
Like many of their kindred acts, opinion on Morbid Angel's continued relevance at the present point in time remains divided. There are some that feel that Trey Azagthoth should have called it a day after David Vincent's departure in 1995 [He did, if only for a year or so, in 1996 --Paul]. Others offer an even more obstinate argument, claiming that the band have yet to release anything that justifies their existence post 1991's _Blessed Are the Sick_. Then on the other side of the fence, sit the Morbid Angel faithful -- fans who have embraced the band's hunger to experiment and evolve, to avoid the stagnation that now plagues several of the acts that birthed alongside them at the turn of the 1990s. Enter _Heretic_ -- a record that could well come as a surprise sucker-punch for many adherents of the two former persuasions, brimming with the sort of fire that could ever only come from a band who knows that their reputation as genre leaders hangs in the balance.In the last two years alone, death metal's new breed have made their presence felt to the point where one could even argue that _Heretic_ may well have been the band's swansong had it not lived up to expectations. The last efforts of Nile, Zyklon and even Morbid Angel alumnus, Eric Rutan's Hate Eternal, are prime examples of those upstarts who have come dangerously close to unseating the Tampa collective from their throne. Thus _Heretic_, almost as a matter of necessity, kicks into high gear immediately -- "Cleansed in Pestilence" presents a glorious cluster-bomb of blasts and polyrhythms, acting as a the veritable pulse beneath the thick wall of discordant guitar noise that has become Trey Azagthoth's signature over the course of the past two decades. "Enshrined by Grace" and "Beneath the Hollow" slow proceedings down for a few brief moments, only to have "Curse the Flesh" spew out the most venomous collection of riffs that the band have come up with for aeons, crushing any notion that Morbid Angel are retreading the slower, sometimes bland grooves of _Gateways to Annihilation_. But _Heretic_'s defining moments aren't found in the record's predominant brutality, however; rather by two instrumentals aired at the album's mid-time mark. "Place of Many Deaths" and "Abyssous" are urgent, atmospheric pieces -- affirming beyond a doubt the personal and introspective nature of the disc. Curiously, the ambience is broken by two technically brilliant, but undeniably out-of-place solos that conclude the album -- one an almost comedic drum check and the other a highly superfluous piece of guitar shredding. Then there's also the matter of the production techniques utilized on Steve Tucker's vocals: an ill-conceived combination of flange and chorus effects that only just falls short of undermining the usually stunning impact of one of the best death metal vocalists working in extreme music today. Whatever the weight of these criticisms though, _Heretic_ is a superb, confident testimony to the enduring legacy of Morbid Angel, even if it's not entirely flawless.
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