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Taking the Left from the Left Hand Path: a Treatise on Morbid Angel's "Illud Divinum Insanus"

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A Treatise on Morbid Angel’s “Illud Divinum Insanus”

Written by  AkhrrA


“…I lie dead but still I`m sworn.”

Witness descent. Only, there be no heights in these depths, no breathtaking fathoms wherein the unruly cherub is fallen in wayward flight. The winds howl through the blasted wings of the Morbid Angel, who did once scale a bold shadow over the rest of those fallen choirs ranked against the heavens under the triumphant banner of death metal, swaying mastery over it as almost none have done before them or after. Now, they are shaded, alighted from the warlike days with what a hellish rage they possessed, since there no more is the ferrous taste of “blood on their hands”. The prongs of their trident have become blunt.

Morbid Angel was one of the first bands that I could profess a love for, and of death metal, certainly the first. As a youngster, I confided in their command of both music and lyrics; one which, although yet unknown to my young eleven-year-old brain, was a summons to discover more and to pry into what little “forbidden literature” I could get my hands on, which includes such books as the Simon Necronomicon and Richard Cavendish‘s The Black Arts. Even the name of a singular soul, this man Trey Azagthoth, yclept the “blind idiot god”, the Lord of Chaos (or, the “Continual One”), struck awe and fascination in my inquisitive mind, which only then discovered the literature of the Crawling Chaos of the Black Earth, lured by the rife allusions to these strange names and powers in the grimoire-like lyrics. Many years later, I would come to acknowledge Trey not only as a man brimmed with Spirit, but as a genuine opener of the Azothic channel to bridge the power of All-potentiality and of the invisible world of mind with matter. The wailing, murmuring, whispering and thundering of the Abyss upon the fretboard, crafting the acid depths. I was quite disappointed when David Vincent took leave from the band once he could not salvage his interest in the art of death metal, and an increase in conflicting different energies peaked. Yet, Steve Tucker proved himself worthy as both vocalist & lyricist (said so of him by Azagthoth, to be a voice “true to the Principalities of Mummu Tiamat. True in purpose and of feeling.”[1]), though another legacy such as the first three albums would never again be made. Nevertheless, though those of us who do not relish this path are not an ashen but enflamed lot, I care not to seek solace in the vindictive tide of grudge from hearsay for the sake of sheep either, for Morbid Angel have indeed given me much for which to be humbly grateful for. Many have disdained their most recent work, and I do not wish to persuade the listener toward any judgment a listening session would not already persuade. These past instances of apophatic allusion to the record, within this very editorial spell, out a reticence with regard to its contents, instead of pondering over the bounties which are not to be found. It is already painful to write of them in this manner, but I cannot also love their past and flatter their amiss. The stomach goes against this, for these elements are not for the diet of the longstanding listener, and not because the aesthetics of Illud Divinum Insanus be far above the grasp of unwelcoming ears, as the band would have one believe.

It is said that “Folly in youth is sin, in age is madness”. [2] The band tarried eight years to sire, nourish, and deliver, thundering David I. Vincent‘s return to the studio. Yet, the title bears the testimony of it, of the impulse insanus, but perhaps more than a fit of madness. For madness here goes quite against the early sense of the acolytes at the Altars…. For it is Azagthoth himself who has — on several occasions, after Joyce Carol Oates — been quoted as saying that “one man`s insanity is another man`s genius.” [3] Yet, it would be hard to deem this to be born of the latter, or even from their inmost instinct. To the intent that they being death metal`s heed, created something uninspired by the primeval forces, the living continuum that is antithetical to stagnation. Yet, Illud Divinum Insanus is simply non-sequitur work, in more than a purely musical sense. Vincent´s new lyrics witness of schooling youth to oppose herd mentality, to fathom a purpose of existence, without falling down to worship gods or men, where once inspired by the Dark Gods. This time, the lyrics are not hymns or dark paeans to the Adverse ones, but are quite unwriterly, a prosaic stream of consciousness-words.

Morbid Angel

Trey Azagthoth

As a long-time listener, I would relish if Morbid Angel built altars of madness to the ancient cult to celebrate immortal rites anew. It was then that they were truly blessed, when they bled for the Devil, when their hymns arose as chants of broken lines in smoke from cauldrons burning black. They had not forsworn their covenant of death and would be sworn to the black, to the death and far beyond! To lie dead but still be sworn. Despite crafty excuses to the contrary — label marketing strategies in the guise of fellow bands´ praise — a distinctly different creature from previous oblations spirited by the Ones Most Ancient of the Days has arisen, and for which they best be remembered for. From reading earlier interviews, we learn that Morbid Angel were at any other moment incapable of a “worst album”. When they “brought out the power of the Ancient ones, to bring out the power of chaos”, whereas now could they scantly yet obtain it for this experiment. Were it to indulge themselves notwithstanding; toying with foreign and newfangled elements both in music and script, whereby it appeared that they were spurred by the momentum of tours and external dialogue instead of the internal silence wherefrom the voice of the Abyss came forth. I am unmarvelled greatly at such lightheartedness. Their dark semen is spent here, and what little remains is mingled with piss. What next they do, that is, to carry the letter “J” is discouraging. From A to D, only thus far did fire of fire walk with them that trod so long the way. If there is ought to esteem, some two songs are balsamic, in that they stay the corpsed death metal from spoiling utterly. The two songs spoken of are “Nevermore” and “Blades for Baal”. The remainder repulses, arousing alienation even and especially from their staunchest faithful who cannot be in the least persuaded. Others have thrown contempt at it wholesale.

The cause of our deception is revealed from the onset of the first song, although not foreshadowed in the intro. Many have been suffered to be dismayed by technical demands. Gone are the metaphysics — before we are pulled out of Da´ath into the mundane sphere — discarded in favor of rather lame lyrics that are painful and embarrassing to read, interspersed with Spanish verses that are written with the wrong syntax, intoned with a heavy accent, penned most certainly by Vincent, who indulges in self-reference to provide anthemic chants from live audiences. Self-parody and reference is as un-metaphysical as it gets. While Vincent also partook in the songwriting for every song, it is those that are entirely his own which compose the most estranged of the lot. Eleven tracks in all but not quite as regal or wicked as the Princes that hold court at the desolation of Edom. Whereas the Cutha hymns to the Ancient Ones of Formulas Fatal to the Flesh (666, wherein intently or unintently is coded six hundred threescore and six) sound closely to 1993`s Covenant, Illud Divinum Insanus sounds much more sterile, digital and inorganic than Domination.

After “D”/Delta/Daleth (Domination), founding member Azagthoth desired a return to the old, deeper spiritual themes of Morbid Angel, the extemporal absent from the more mundane Domination, whose lyrics were written solely by Vincent. Azagthoth called that sound “sterile”, wishing a full return to analog, discarding the industrial elements found, which were of Vincent’s import. Trey complained, even to the days of Heretic, about Domination: “His latest lyrical content was clearly more in the direction of social/political, as well as other fleshly appendages of the kingdom of Malkuth. Morbid Angel’s true purpose is that of Kether (spirit). May you all find the way! Flesh of spirit is the motivator of worthlessness, spirit over flesh is what causes brilliance.” [4] Although they no longer reflect the magical thinking found in their previous texts, I must confess that I did derive power from their anger and philosophical strength. However, those penned for album Illud Divinum Insanus are, in any case, worse than Azagthoth’s assessment of the aforementioned; in fact, far worse. Thus, it comes as a shock, without learning of the guitarist’s later inclinations to trance and techno music, now that the anger was gone which was a part of them when they used to be not of this world. What currents he channeled stirred the air; Chaos and magic flowed through his fingers like electricity, the Azothic fluid/mortar through which tall monuments were built. Whether Azagthoth pandered or not to Vincent`s tastes, or if he was consonant with them in fain complicity, is anybody`s guess. Thus, we witness the band with the exception of Pete Sandoval to be the culprit, as they seem to be genuinely enthusiastic about what they created. Nor were the talents of Azagthoth, Vincent, and Sandoval (who was impaired) united as in the past.

How far Morbid Angel are to go beyond “I”/Iota/Yodh, only time shall tell. “I” is for Ego. Orders alphabetical are, for the most part, in daily experience, for ease of reference. When queried in the past by many a curious listener or journalist, Azagthoth explained that the purpose of the alphabet discovered to be unintentional by the time “C” was sealed, and we are told that it is all to do with the alpha & omega, thereby obtaining the AZOTH of alchemistry. Whereas the “A”/Alpha/Aleph was inscribed in Altars of Madness, we do not know which shall be the “Z” (or the “O”)/Omega/`Ayin or the “T”/Tau/Taw, and when the circle shall come full swing. The second chapter, the “B”/Beta/Beth was, in their words: “…9 songs of handiwork, espousing all the chaos and turmoil of the abyss – sculpting hideously beautiful images from the written word to the written sound.” This truly was a cornucopia of blessings. Take, for example, feelingful lion-like vocals in the angry Covenant. “Mihi Vindictam [5]!”, they promised. The promised land, they beshite. There was a genuine atmosphere of anger from beyond.

“E” (Entangled in Chaos), a live recording proper in contrast to countless poor quality bootlegs. The “F”/Phi (Formulas Fatal to the Flesh) was a hindrance to the flesh by the incorporeal, enthroning Spirit over Flesh. A glimpse of “Prayer of Hatred” was caught in Azagthoth`s liner notes on the booklet of Domination. When Formulas Fatal to the Flesh was fleshed in the plain of action, it was a rerouting to the source of which Azagthoth be the inflecter: “The ways of the Underworld are perfect. They may not be questioned.” Gateways to Annihilation echoed on the formulæ which make most against flesh. Then Heretic made a case for heretics, ever grudged by the weaker sort and unenlightened scorn of the Earth. Yet I have, for many years, flighted these records altogether, as if something had been lost. Then it is quite amusing that Morbid Angel is surprised that this new album should be reviled at all. Morbid Angel has been born again, albeit not in blasphemy, just in mundane rebellion for the fleeting here and now. Corruptions lately in the message’s translation, not lately from the numinous, but in the phenomenal plane. It could be argued that they could, however, have stepped on surer grounds and increased sales with a second Covenant if commercialism were the culprit. Here, there is little depth, for these would not even pass as shoals in the Absu.

Witness Ofermod‘s Tiamtü, as it is called to remembrance; though a fissure in time and space of what should have been. Where Ofermod blazingly wax Qliphothic, Morbid Angel wrought sephirothic, for Illud Divinum Insanus is all Malkuth. Will the fallen of the fallen re-ascend? They believe themselves at the cusp of their accomplishments. I believe them to be at their nadir. Witness a band such as NOX, for example. Neither NOX nor Ofermod are monuments of the very same metal by name, but they destroy and create death metal to exalt that which others no longer hold a candle to.

Have you, reader, forgotten the day you discovered Covenant, Blessed are the Sick, and Altars of Madness? Neither have I, nor yet ever will. They would no doubt remain my companions until the grave (or eternally). I was cold towards Formulas Fatal to the Flesh and later endeavors, and yet, in the very process of writing this and capturing my impressions of their latest record, I have rediscovered Formulas…, enthused with it as when discovering the first trident. Three prongs held in the Devil’s hands.

Little do we know if this Maestro would compose in this way, overturning his patterns and phrases, inverted. They seemed to be the same notes differently written. The relationship betwixt “Visions from the Darkside” and “Pain Divine”; “Blasphemy” & “Rapture” & “Covenant of Death”; “God of Emptiness” & “Disturbance in the Great Slumber”; “Blessed are the Sick” & “Caesar`s Palace”; “Blessed are the Sick” & “Inquisition – Burn with me”. Mirror images, even as messages and sigils are relayed from other dimensions. The monolithic “Invocation of the Continual One” recalling “Angel of Disease”, the clatter/peeling of the bells in “Blasphemy”. By what means, theoretical, or practical discovered the inverted pattern, on these and other the band`s songs. This music is perfectly unnatural. Now, a glimpse of Heretic gave me further strength, albeit ironically, to shatter the icon that wrote it. Surely there is some grief unto many that their hour be past, for we have the examples of the greatest death metal compositions that were ever written, against it.

For the aforesaid first trident, I hold the utmost respect. By this last work, I am not engaged, nor will I ever be. Still, I see that as no occasion to unfriend the gods, but go about without curse, for this writer shall always pay deference to their most influential creations. Dost thou reader remember the “flat disc made of a fossil material, that captures souls”, painted by Dan Seagrave? Or perhaps Satan’s Treasures by Jean Delville? Perhaps the use of a mirror to read a facsimile of Urbain Grandier‘s brilliantly fabricated pact, beside the Book of Ceremonial Magic lain in velvet silk and scarlet vestures, aside a bodkin. Oh, spirits of this grave, remember!

We are left with a quote to ponder…


(“He who may do the greater may certainly do the less.”) [6]


01. Interview with Trey Azagthoth
02. Samuel Daniel (1562–1619)
03. To wit: quoted from an interview in From Chaos, 1999, wherein the thought or theme is also paraphrased as “…one man’s genius is the other man’s chaos…”
04. Quoted in Covenant of Death Newsletter #3, pg. 3
05. “Vengeance is mine”, in Latin.
06. Boniface VIII, 1298; a rule of law