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Ah, what could be a more stirring event in human history than the advent of a new millenium. After closing the theoretical book of the one thousands, the metal scene (and most of civilization) was unsure as to its new direction. The achievements of the past years of the genre’s existence were, in a way, shut off from this new era, forcing a redevelopmment of metal’s sound even though previous classics were still in sight. Perhaps this is an unnecessary distinction to make, but an argument could be made that metal before and after the year 2000 are radically different beasts simply due to the symbolically changing aeons.
Morbid Angel released their sixth studio album, ‘Gateways To Annihilation’, in October of 2000. Narrowly having escaped the fate of so many of their colleague’s post-Earache crash due to the consistency of their previous album ‘Formulas Fatal To The Flesh’, they were, now that the foundation of their sound had been repaired, willing to push their self-imposed boundaries as they had on previous albums. Thus, ‘Gateways To Annihilation is, at least in goal, a return to the form of their first three LPs, though their sound had most certainly been modernized at this stage.
However, such modernization is in this case not to be viewed with such suspicion as modernization typically is in the metal scene. ‘Gateways To Annihilation’ is the album that ‘Domination’ should have been: one where mainstream appeal and extreme metal converge appropriately, resulting in an album that can work with Pantera fans as well as those of Deicide. The sound of ‘Gateways To Annihilation’ is appropriately thunderous and anthemic without sacrificing brutality and transgression like ‘Domination’ did. In a way, one could say that this could be a fantastic album to introduce a non-metaller to death metal, due to its bombastic sound and otherworldly atmosphere.
‘Gateways To Annihilation’, while not reaching the sublimity of the first three albums, is the closest that Morbid Angel has yet achieved to returning to the brilliance that defined works such as ‘Blessed Are The Sick’. Heavily influenced by that album, ‘Gateways To Annihilation’ can stand tall along with such previous behemoths, and in occasions reaches those towering heights. Perhaps if this was released in 1992 it would be as critical as those had been; maybe such brilliance was a product of the era moreso than the music itself. Either way, ‘Gateways To Annihilation’ functions neatly as a bridge between old and new, not only for Morbid Angel but for the metal scene as a whole.
We open with the familiar tones of an ambient track, though this is certainly sparser than those we’ve heard in the past: ‘Kawazu’ echoes for slightly over a half minute with what sounds like a biblical plague of frogs or locusts before ‘Summoning Redemption’ storms in like an ancient Sumerian beast of legend. It’s a stunningly dogmatic song even by Morbid Angel standards. Many of the sonic themes of this album are explored on this lengthy first track. First and foremost, we can confirm the alternating styles of Morbid Angel releases: fast and technical alternates with slow and epic from album to album.
When it comes to instrumentation, Morbid Angel excels on this album, particularly on artistic vision. Erik Rutan makes a second appearance on this album, very much aiding the incredibly thick and crushing guitar tone present on this release. The thickness gives the illusion of this album being slower than it is, even at extremely high tempos like on ‘Opening Of The Gates’. The atmosphere is much like that found on ‘Blessed Are The Sick’ grandiose and luxuriously unfolding. However, this release also has the blistering intensity of that album, creating a good contrast with the sludgy aesthetic.
Guitarwork is less dense on this release, and chords drift off moreso than on previous releases. Drumming instead replaces this with extremely pronounced kick drums under slow, sinuous hand grooves. This well may be the apex of Pete Sandoval’s musical skill; witness his unbelievable performance on ‘Opening Of The Gates’ to see just how incredible this man is. Steve Tucker has also improved dramatically as a vocalist, with a significant increase in lucidity and power, fitting the production of the album. Despite the increased emphasis on atmospheric, bludgeoning power, the band is still capable of blasting furiously on songs such as ‘To The Victor The Spoils’.
There’s an undeniable power to this album remniscient to the first three. It seems that a palpable aura of power radiates off this release, that one can hear seeping through on songs such as ‘He Who Sleeps’, with it’s willingly simplified patterns designed to elicit genuine reactions in its listeners. ‘I’ and ‘God Of The Forsaken’ are utterly devastating tracks that remember the best of older death metal while still retaining the modernity of this release. ‘Gateways To Annihilation’ is a truly brutal and assertive album in an age of compromise.
Overall, ‘Gateways To Annihilation’ is the best Morbid Angel album after the mighty trinity. While a number of people have doubts that this band could return after they fell in 1995, they have proven with this album that they could and they have. ‘Gateways To Annihilation’ is brilliant work, and not to be missed by any appreciator of death metal, modern or not.