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Not quite Morbid Angel's best, but still great - 81%

MetalSupremacy, October 22nd, 2008

When I first listened to this album, the first thing that struck me was the change in tempo. Not that this bothered me - I love slower, sludgier death metal songs, and Morbid Angel does them about the best of any death metal band, something that they proved with their next two records Covenant and Domination, both of which had at least one sludgy song, just like this album does, and those songs were great too. That isn't a problem at all.

No, the main problem with this album is this: the sheer number of non metal interludes. I find them to be more annoying, unnecessary, and interrupting than on any other Morbid Angel album, mostly because of their placement. Altars of Madness has no interludes at all, Covenant has only one, and Gateways to Annihilation has only two tiny ones. However, on Domination and Formulas Fatal to the Flesh there are also quite a few interludes - but on those albums, the interludes are not at both the start and the end of the albums. In fact, Domination both starts and ends with metal songs, while Formulas Fatal to the Flesh starts with a metal song and ends with an non metal track. This is ok on both counts. On this album, however, there is a non metal interlude at both the start and end of the album, plus two more in the middle, which can be extremely annoying to some, myself included. I love the song "Fall from Grace", the way it starts out sludgy, then builds to a faster tempo is great. But I have to wait through nearly 1 and a half minutes of weird ambient noises that make up the intro before I get to this great song, which can be really off-putting. And then, after the two songs following Fall from Grace there is another instrumental track! That is what I call instrumental/ambient track overkill.

That aside, the actual metal songs here are great as usual. Morbid Angel has always worked great together as a band, and this album is no exception. However, the production here leaves much to be desired. The guitar tone is actually thicker and heavier sounding overall than on Altars of Madness; however, the guitars feel much lower in the mix than they do on Altars of Madness, while the vocals are much higher in the mix. Too high, in fact. This can be really annoying, because you turn up the album to get it loud enough so that you can enjoy the guitarwork, and then David Vincent's voice comes in, and it is way too loud and is either deafening, or it drowns out the guitars. This is really irritating and quite a shame, because that aside, these songs are some of the best songs Morbid Angel has ever written. "Fall from Grace", the title track, and "Thy Kingdom Come" are all fantastic, but most of the other songs are great too.

Unfortunately, the number of interludes and their placement within the album combined with the weird production that makes the vocals louder than the guitars means that this is not an album I listen to very often. Covenant has better songwriting, only one tiny interlude, and some truly fantastic songs. This album is in some ways more interesting though I have to admit, and some of the interludes are actually good. The interlude track "Doomsday Celebration" is excellent, and sounds really creepy, spooky, evil, and satanic. I just wish that the interludes they had created were more in this creepy style, rather than mostly creating boring filler instrumentals. This interlude/instrumental is the only really good one on the whole of this album. The intro track is pointless, "Desolate Ways" is unnecessary, and "In Remembrance" sounds almost sad, something a death metal band should never do. Even worse, it's a piano track and it ends the album! Why did they do that? Surely the last metal song on here, "The Ancient Ones" would have been a good album closer?

This album is often claimed to be one of Morbid Angel slowest albums, but I wouldn't say that is an entirely accurate statement by any means. The four biggest songs here all have slower moments, but only one song on the entire album is pure sludge without a hint of real speed, and that is the title track. All of the other songs that have slower moments in them also have faster moments. And there are several pure speed songs. As such, I wouldn't say this album is particularly slow at all. Domination is in many ways much slower and Gateways to Annihilation is far, far, far slower.

The bottom line, however, is that regardless of this album's flaws(bad mixing in the studio causing the vocals to be louder than the guitars, too many interludes, and not quite long enough to match its 'epic' style), it is still a very good death metal album to say the least. Songs like "Fall from Grace" and "Blessed are the Sick" are famous within the death metal world for a good reason: they're great songs, and also extremely memorable. The faster songs are also extremely well written, fairly memorable at times, and very good overall. The whole album creates a great atmosphere just like its predecessor; it's whole vibe is one of scorn and hatred of humanity in general, as well as a desire to be free from the control of lying monotheistic religions and to experience all the carnal, physical pleasures of life. This album is by no means as satanic, vicious, anti-Christian, or misanthropic as Morbid Angel's next album Covenant; but it still has that vicious, scornful, and of course otherworldly vibe that pretty much every Morbid Angel album does.

This album is a piece of death metal history for a good reason. Although it's short length could be said to be a drawback, especially since four of the tracks on the album are instrumental interludes, it also makes the album more direct and to the point despite it's more epic vision and style in comparison to Altars of Madness. Besides this, it contains some of Morbid Angel's best ever songs, plenty of variety to keep things interesting from beginning to end, and David Vincent's brilliant growling vocals. The not quite right mixing in the album's production does not really take away that much from the album, and as long as you are prepared to put up with that, it will likely be a great listening experience. Any fan of Morbid Angel should definitely own this album. It's weaknesses, annoying as they can be, are not crippling, and the greatness of so much of everything else in the album more than makes up for them.