ILLUD DIVINUM INSANUS; OR, THE ART OF FALLING ON YOUR FACE
There’s a fascinating psychology to a true failure of an album. And I’m not talking about how The Sound of White Noise pissed off Belladonna-Anthrax fans or whatever. No, I mean your St. Angers, Cold Lakes, your Unspoken Kings: albums whose defenders are more often than not defending just to be contrary. They’re usually made by bands with some renown and a fan base that — if not sizable — is devoted enough to know a blasphemously awful album when they hear it. There are so many points where the band’s handlers and/or hangers-on could have stopped them and said, “Wait, you’re not being SERIOUS about this, are you?” But either the band were so resolute in their belief that the album was a risk worth taking or were surrounded by a bunch of wincing Yes Men that it still comes into existence anyway, completely un-self-conscious and without a shred of self-awareness. There’s a beauty to those records, albeit a beauty that exists in terrible, regrettable art.
And although Morbid Angel haven’t been immune to Trey Azagthoth’s pretentiousness over the band’s multi-decade career, personally, I didn’t see an album like Illud Divinum Insanus coming down the pipe. Like Cold Lake and The Unspoken King — creative rock-bottom moments for Celtic Frost and Cryptopsy, respectively — it’s ill-calculated to an unfathomable degree. But unlike those albums, which on top of being terrible had a whiff of being sell-out moves (hair metal for Celtic Frost, mall-grade deathcore for Cryptopsy), Illud Divinum Insanus is a passion project for Azagthoth and Dave Vincent (back in the band for the first time on record since Domination). This is an incredibly personal record that they’ve decided to hang the Morbid Angel name on– a name that’s not just sacred in death metal but among the most respected in metal as a whole- – and have subsequently turned the band from a name synonymous with greatness to a name immediately followed with the statement “Just stick with their older stuff” if mentioning them to the uninitiated. Illud Divinum Insanus isn’t just terrible: it’s magnificently dreadful. If the last Six Feet Under album is a mentally ill guy holding a cardboard “REPENT” sign on the street, the new Morbid Angel record is that guy who cashed out his pension to buy ad space for the “THE WORLD IS ENDING ON MAY 21, 2011” hysteria.
I won’t go too much into what Insanus sounds like — it’s half-overproduced death metal, half-Static-X b-sides, and you really should just hear it yourself if that sounds like a joke — because it’s almost secondary to the build-up to it. It’s been eight years in the making, and will be available in a number of different formats, many of which are fan-gouging collector’s items (the hilt being a wooden box with a CD in a leather-bound book, incense, candles, an LP copy, poster, and a T-shirt). The latter is a move so cocky that one could only assume the band had complete and total faith in the record, that they had no idea that people could be repulsed by it. It’s inspiring and daring while at the same time being a warning about the dangers of unchecked pride.
The scenario reminds me of that scene in Citizen Kane where the eponymous lead character puts his reputation and finances at stake in building up the woman who wrecked his first marriage and chances at political office — a night club chanteuse — into an opera singer. But after a rocky training period, it turns out that she’s simply not good. At her premiere, as a clearly apathetic audience gives a limp applause, Kane stands up, his eyes fierce and intense, and begins to clap hard and furiously, slamming his hands together even after the crowd sputters out. The look on his face is brilliant: he gives away that he’s caught on that maybe she’s not talented enough to begin with, but at the same time, he’s dedicated himself to her, and more importantly, her soon-to-be-reviled career, destroying his marriage and dumping money into working with the most respected people opera had to offer to give her what she wanted. Has he realized he made a huge mistake, thinking with his heart instead of his head, or is he disgusted that the audience isn’t taking to her, so blinded by affection that he can’t possibly conceive of the world being so unimpressed by what he so adores?
And one can’t help but imagine that the scene was similar when the band played Illud Divinum Insanus for the Season of Mist brass for the first time: a room full of dudes slack-jawed after closing track “Profunda- Mea Culpa” limped to a drum-machine propelled close, with the silence being broken by Azagthoth and Vincent leaping out of their seats and giving multiple high-fives to each other. After reading Decibel’s cover story on Morbid Angel, one can’t help but feel a little sorry for them. Their response to the upcoming epidemic of comment board venom is essentially “haters gonna hate.” But it’s deeper than that: Insanus is a confusingly spectacular failure. It cashes in every credibility chip the band have earned in the last twenty-two years and puts them into a toxic industrial-metal asset.
Even in this era of schadenfreude, I feel a little bad tearing Morbid Angel down for this. There’s something beautiful about an album trying to jump to the moon and landing facedown on the asphalt instead; more than Cold Lake or The Unspoken King, this release is a pure and unfiltered expression of its creators’ souls. But purity of intent can’t redeem music like this; even if you enjoyed the kind of crap this album emulates in high school, it’s criminal to be released under the Morbid Angel name. The most painfully terrible thing about Illud Divinum Insanus is that half the album is the awful nu-metal/pseudo-industrial hogshit that many fans graduated from when they first started listening to Morbid Angel.
One could accuse the band of being so out of touch that they’re trying to sell out but don’t know how in 2011. But I think it runs deeper than that. Theoretically they should have had the foresight to think, “Maybe we should put out a more straightforward death metal album instead and save the Combichrist stuff for a side-project.” In fact, this is a painfully earnest album, one the band truly wanted to make. Illud Divinum Insanus — at least judging by Dave Vincent’s penchant for leather cowboy suits and Trey Azagthoth’s oft-acknowledged penchant for awful goth-techno — is probably the finest distillation of who Morbid Angel is now; it also happens to be terrible. Like Frankenstein’s Monster — which the sewn-together nature of the album truly resembles — the unconditional love of its creator doesn’t mean we’re all not going to be at the gates with torches and pitchforks, calling for its dismemberment. Its awfulness is not forgivable simply because the guys making it didn’t compromise. Their ambition is admirable, but the rest… well, let’s hope they’ve got something redeemable for letter J.
(one horn out of five)