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Many things in life are granted to us which we innocuously take for granted, things which we fail to fully appreciate or allow ourselves to be open and vulnerable to. The beauty of the sunset each night, a solar eclipse, the purring of a cat, the guitar solo in "Another Brick In The Wall Pt. 2", the cookies your grandmother baked... all of these things, in our engagement-with and reactions-to, are monumentally telling about the type of person we are, and our ability to appreciate the things in this world.
The genius collective mastermind of Trey Azagthoth and Pete Sandoval have graciously allowed us to engage in just such one of these cosmic wonders, and the way that metalheads speak of and react to, in my mind, speaks volumes about the prospect of death metal's future being vibrant, bright, varied, and fulfilling.
Many people mistake this album for something standard, like Reign In Blood, or Legion, which are straight-forward journeys of simple-minded blasphemous violence. And they are great, they satisfy our need for intensity and our thirst for rage. However, death metal can only go so far in parameters and formats such as these, as the mid-to-late 90's downfall of death metal surely made abundantly clear.
Rather, this Morbid Angel album hs more in common with "Dark Side of the Moon", or "Animals" than it does with Covenant, Imperial Doom, or Effigy of the Forgotten. This album is about opening up to emotion, and allowing one to submit to the range of human experience that the cosmos has set up for us. In their own twisted, brilliant way, Trey and Pete have simply created the violent death metal equivalent to such transcendental and groovey moments as the harmonized twin-lead guitar majesty of Pink Floyd's "Dogs" or the breathtaking psychedelic serenity of Dead Can Dance's "Nierika" or Shpongle's "Shpongle Falls".
This record is a benchmark for death metal, a sign-post to how macrocosmic and transcendental death metal's fans will allow the genre to become. Sure, other bands incorporate non-metal elements into the music itself, with Nile's Egyptian melody, Mithras' psychedelic space journeys, Vital Remains' neo-classical shred, etc. But no band has ever crafted an album as such an artful statement as this, to be taken on a journey into uncomfortable territory, to force us to think outside the box and incorporate non-metal elements into the whole picture-flow.
Because with this record, Trey is posing the question: how open are you? How in touch with the spirit are you? He has written songs that are clearly barometers for the enlightenment of metal fans: do the solos in "Prayer of Hatred" generate feelings of inexpressable wonder? Does the climax to the solo "Heaving Earth" dissolve away your limitations, allowing you to feel the grace of infinity, if only for a moment? Does the 2nd half of "Covenant of Death" take your breath away? Do you pick up on the arcing spiritual journey that the 2nd half of the album takes you on, specifically the musical sequence of Hellspawn - Covenant of Death - Hymn to a Gas Giant - Invocation of the Continual One - Ascent Through The Spheres, and the way that your soul is lifted up by the outro solo of Invocation of the Continual One and gloriously released into blissful nirvana of Ascent Through The Spheres?
See, you're not supposed to pick up on the fact that this stuff isn't death metal. You're not supposed to care or think about there being clean guitar in the ending to "Covenant of Death". This music is supposed to transcend genre-identification and pidgeonholing, and to rather become something more... it is supposed to be recognized as simply "great emotive, moving music". You aren't supposed to care about the ending to "Covenant of Death" not being typical death metal; you are simply supposed to sit there, with your jaw hanging wide open with drool hanging out of the side of your mouth, stunned, and thinking "Wow, holy fucking crap, that was INCREDIBLE." You're supposed to get goosebumps as the last sections of "Invocation of the Continual One" prepare you in anticipation of the climax release of the outro guitar solo's commencement.
Many people don't understand this, and thats okay. There are great standard death metal and standard Morbid Angel songs. The violence of "Chambers of Dis" is ridiculous, and the churning, chewing stomp of "Umulamahri" is awesome. The slow acceleration at the beginning of "Hellspawn: The Rebirth" is downright diabolical and demonic.
This album is full of pure brilliance that is laughingly obvious. Its a shame that death metal as a whole can't see the magic, but such is the way of humanity... we are not equal, and some people do not have the same ability to see beyond their narrow stereotypes and ego-satisfaction needs.
So, this album showed exactly what death metal will experience from here on out: a struggle, a struggle to pave new path when most don't want it. The struggle to do something new, when people want to listen to Altars, Deicide, and Effigy forever, yet always proclaiming themselves to be accepting and open-minded. This album is the benchmark album for whether metalheads are indeed open-minded and sensitive to the human condition, and it is a barometer for how far death metal will go and how greatly it may or may not succeed.
For I can only hope that future generations will pick up on the brilliance contained herein, and how Morbid Angel shattered the mold and changed the world when everybody thought them to be dead in the water, following Dave's departure and a sterile, lifeless 4th album. Hopefully they won't be scared of being called a "wuss" for enjoying the vaulted melodies of "Disturbance in the Great Slumber" or afraid to let themselves enjoy the glistening sparkle of "Hymn to a Gas Giant" lest they forever be branded a "pussy".
In the meantime, I will content myself by letting the sublime tension-releasing climax of "Covenant of Death" warm my soul and expand my consciousness, allowing me to glimpse tranquil vistas of brilliant sunsets in worlds unknown and spectral wonders that have yet to be dreampt.
Relax, open yourself up, disinhibit your social posturing, put on "Formulas Fatal To The Flesh", and let it blow your mind. It wants you to let it do so.