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I'll be charitable to this album, as it falls between the uninspired mess of "Formulas Fatal To The Flesh" and the utter shit pile of "Heretic". And it certainly has moments of greatness to it--Steve Tucker really stepped up to the plate on this album and delivered in terms of becoming a more integrated part of the band with his songwriting skills being far more showcased this go round.
The album on the whole is a far slower and more doom-ridden affair than "Formulas..." was, probably a reaction to the more frantic and blasting approach taken on that one, and it benefits from that. The riffs actually breathe and stretch their wings out, so to speak. Trey's riff arrangements stand out more, with his trademark syncopations coming out clearly and audibly--that is, two guitars playing variations on the one riff, one of his other trademarks. The sense of menace and barely contained chaos is back on this album in spades, with atmosphere and vibe returning in a major way. The dirty, lower-midrange guitar tone is pretty righteous as well, and Messrs Rutan and Azagthoth deliver their usual excellent leads on top of that.
Pete Sandoval gets a paragraph all to his bad self. The drum sound is excellent on this album and you can hear his lethal technique very well with his usual hyperactive style. Of course the kick drums are triggered, and the jaw-dropping inhuman bursts of double kick in my favorite song on this album, "Opening of The Gates" amaze every time despite their very obvious clatter. That also happens to be a faster song with ear-grabbing dissonant riffing, and he gets to shine with a very brief solo near the end of that tune as well. He is still a god and that song alone should show you why.
Overall, as mentioned, the songs are slower on this album, with a very oppressive feel throughout. You feel as though a building is resting on your chest or something when you're listening to this album. You even may have difficulty breathing, the heaviness factor is so profound. Every so often little bursts of speed break through the walls of riffs to lighten things up a little--one of the best songs on the album, "Ageless, Still I Am", benefits from this on its chorus as tantalizingly brief spurts of blast beats keep you jumping up and paying attention. That song has some excellent riffs on the verses, reminiscent of black metal high-end tremolo picking layered underneath the dense 7-string riffs. But I could do without Trey's attempts at black metal screeching on "Secured Limitations", which suffers from rather weak lyrics on top of those annoying vocals. Sorry, Trey, but stick to the guitar and you'll do better.
This is very much a 7-string album, and Trey really exloits the sonorousness of the instrument's lower registers with the slow tempos. I always thought that bands that tune down that low (B flat in MA's case) ought to exploit that to the fullest instead of playing fast riffs that mush out on the lower strings and make a wall of incoherent noise. MA did this and how on this album.
Tucker also came into his own as a vocalist on this album, his harsh shouting and roaring coherent and understandable, yet still ugly. I still will admit a bias towards the mighty David Vincent, but Tucker holds his own on "Gateways..." far better than last time around. His lyrics are also a bit more accessible than Trey's were on the last album.
All in all, this is the best album MA did without David Vincent's Unholy Grail of Death Metal vocals, believe it or not. They showed that Tucker could hang, that they could still write a good album, and I respect them for that. Not quite their best, but still worth a listen or three in the long run, this album is.