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Morbid Angel’s Illud Divinum Insanus and the withering flame of inspiration

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On the heels of Cosmo’s hypothesis that album reviews are dead, I’d like to buck the pretense that you haven’t already discussed the new Morbid Angel to death and move to a more interesting topic: its implications. Namely, what Illud Divinum Insanus, their eighth album in nearly three decades, represents beyond the music.

Speaking of implications, I’m sure you can guess my opinion. I don’t much care for it, though I don’t hate it with the passion that some of my colleagues do. Nor can I say I’m surprised that its contents are lackluster. Consider the arc of a band’s career like a match: it struggles to catch, burns bright and wildly, then holds a regal flame at its apex. After this peak, only careful manipulation of external factors – the angle at which it’s held, the available oxygen in the room, or the lack of breeze – determine the longevity of the flame.

Obviously, not all bands work this way. Some bands say fuck the match and buy an acetylene torch that gives off noxious fumes (Metallica). Other bands are unattached to the flame and make later careers of exploring the embers (Neurosis). Either way, a band acknowledges that the art of the match exists and crafts a response accordingly.

In the case of Morbid Angel, they fit my analogy perfectly. They burned bright and wild (Altars of Madness and Blessed Are the Sick), reached an apex (Covenant), and held the flame with varying degrees of success ever since. Ever since Formulas Fatal to the Flesh, I always had the sense that they were afraid of the day when that flame would inevitably burn their fingertips.

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That fear is one every band with a salient financial career faces at some point. Past their creative peaks but with reason to believe that their brand is still viable, these bands are in a joint business venture. And like anything involving money, it’s not all fun and games. I feel this is the real elephant in the room for Morbid Angel: Illud exists solely to reposition the brand (with nearly its original lineup) in anticipation of a bout of touring. I would argue that a band like Slayer is not feeling hungry enough to tour anymore, but probably is too invested in the economic aspect not to. There’s no real travesty there, as most of their fans are paying to see Slayer play decades-old songs, and if they have to trot out some below-par tunes to get the buzz going, then more power to them. But make no mistake: no one will argue for an essential Slayer release after Seasons in the Abyss.

Despite seeming cynicism on my part, I believe we all owe our favorite bands much, much more than they get. It’s hard work to make even a supplementary living from music, and I’m constantly distressed at the traits that rise to the top in this most Darwinian of artistic climates. When a band charges double the going rate for cotton Ts, tours with a bunch of bands that you think should die, or makes other decisions contrary to your assessment of their philosophy, chances are someone in their camp thought it was good business. It’s all in the name of keeping the band afloat on these unsteady seas, and ultimately all these necessary evils conspire to bring you the music you love.

Morbid Angel, specifically Trey Azagthoth, a living musical legend, are an institution, and I would happily pay to see them on their upcoming tour cycle, endure a few off-the-mark songs, and bathe in the glory of a little “Fall from Grace”, “Chapel of Ghouls”, or “God of Emptiness”. In an era where artistic remuneration essentially occurs in the form of donations, I can’t think of a better way to show my support.

Which brings me to my question: how do you feel about this very real aspect of a band’s existence?

Do you support bands even when they’re done creating their prime shit?

To paraphrase Crass, do we owe them a living?

— Alee Karim

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