Morbid Angel.

Gods. Legends. Innovators. Pathfinders. Laughing stock.

Not many great bands in the history of heavy metal in all it’s forms have had such a stark fall from grace as did Morbid Angel upon the release of their last album, 2011’s Illud Divinum Insanus. Even Judas Priest’s Turbo, once universally derided, has received grudging praise over the years as the memory of it’s use of guitar synths and Rob Halford’s ill-advised hair growth obsession fade into sepia-tinted reverie. Illud… will never be granted such a reprieve and so, six years later and without the ever-more madcap presence of Dave Vincent to muddy the waters, here we are summoning up the courage to slip Kingdoms Disdained onto the Sentinel Daily office stereo.

We needn’t have worried. Trey Azagthoth may also be mad, but he’s not stupid. Illud II was never going to happen, and Kingdoms Disdained goes to great efforts to prove the band has learned it’s lesson. Almost too great at times, but I guess that was to be expected too.

Bassist/vocalist Steve Tucker is back for another go at the Dave role, and he’s not mad at all; he knows what’s required here, and delivers with furrow-browed dependability and a singularity of purpose that is admirable and heroic in equal measure. If there’s one man able to helm a return to churning, straight-up death metal waters it’s Captain Tucker.

Consequently you’ll find yourself concluding, even before having an earful of the record, that Kingdoms Disdained isn’t going to be a spectacular success, rather a comforting return to normality with an eye to future redevelopment and expansion. And you wouldn’t be too far wrong in those surmisals.

Kingdoms Disdained is a very strong Steve Tucker/Morbid Angel record. Probably the best he’s been involved with. Tracks like Garden of Disdain, The Righteous Voice and, perhaps most of all, Paradigms Warped are all blazing, foetid approximations of the beast we fell in love with in the first place; And if there’s never a moment where they get close to the serpentine filth of God of Emptiness there is still plenty of groove-packed power trio pyrotechnic performance to lock on to.

Azagthoth himself only shines intermittently, content for the most part to construct a wall of sound rather than dazzle with his patented strange soloing. Some of that does occur, but the majority of the record finds Azagthoth and new drummer Scott Fuller locking in with Tucker and just making some fearful noise. Erik Rutan’s production gives full value to this approach, and whilst hardcore fans might bemoan the paucity of killer riffs – or indeed solos- in any great number the overall effect is a success.

In 2017 we have to embrace the fact that Morbid Angel are never going to replicate the grandeur of their first quartet of albums. If, as seems certain, the future of the band is to be built around the Azagthoth/Tucker axis forevermore then this is a pretty heartening start to the new era. Long may it continue.

Kingdoms Disdained is released today through Silver Lining Music.