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Morbid Angel: Too Extreme?

Frontman and bassist Dave Vincent talks about his return to the band and their first album in eight years that took the metal world entirely by surprise Florida death metal band Morbid Angel’s had a rough year of it. First, in 2010, drummer Pete Sandoval had to opt out of recording and playing after a […]

Deepti Unni Nov 14, 2011
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Frontman and bassist Dave Vincent talks about his return to the band and their first album in eight years that took the metal world entirely by surprise

Florida death metal band Morbid Angel’s had a rough year of it. First, in 2010, drummer Pete Sandoval had to opt out of recording and playing after a disc prolapse in his lower back put him out of commission. Early this year, the band announced their first album in eight years, Illud Divinum Insanus, with Divine Heresy’s Tim Yeung sitting in Sandoval, and anticipation skyrocketed but the band threw their fans for a curveball. Illud drew from industrial metal and hardcore techno, alongside traditional Morbid Angel elements, to create an album that was unlike anything fans ever expected. The backlash came thick and fast with critics calling it everything from “a failed experiment” to “egotistical and arrogant,” even while other musicians lauded the band for their intrepid experimentation. Frontman David Vincent, who quit the band in 1996 to join his wife’s industrial metal band Genitorturers but rejoined Morbid Angel in 2004, shouldered most of the blame as fans accused him of carrying over his industrial influences. But Morbid Angel have pushed the envelope in death metal with every release in their 28-year career and are considered one of the most influential bands in the genre and Vincent says fans should not have been surprised. “We’ve never played by the rules, we’ve always done what we felt right. We’ve always sort of pushed the boundaries of genre. And I think that’s what’s been helpful to us maintaining to the kind of career we’ve had over the years.”

You first left Morbid Angel in 1996 and you were away for eight years. What spurred your decision to come back to the band in 2004?
Well, basically, the band called me and asked me if I would be interested in doing a few special shows that would be in South America. The scheduling worked well and I agreed to do that and we got into rehearsals and everything seemed to really come together very quick, like there was never a departure. It just worked and after we did those few shows in South America the booking agent’s telephone began to ring and everybody was, “Oh we wanna book them” and it turned into several years of lots of tours so it was apparent to us that this is what people wanted so we worked very hard and eventually, after a lot of trial and tribulations, we made a new record.

What was it like coming back to the band after so long? Did you come back with a new perspective on the band and the band’s sound?
Well, I think that with each passing day, hopefully, we’re all growing and we’re all gaining more perspective. I think that would be the case with anyone and I would say that has certainly been the case with me. I grew a lot, mentally, spiritually and so did the band, so I think when we came back, hopefully, I’m a better player than I was and I’m much more in control of my emotions. Yeah, it feels really good.

Well, Illud Divinum Insanus, your latest album came out eight years after your last, 2003’ s Heretic. How did the band approach this album? How did you decide on the drastic change of sound?
We play extreme music, we always have. I just think it’s an act of evolution. We made a point not to repeat ourselves over the years. I think what we’ve done on this record, as we’ve done on each record, is we’ve sort of broadened the scope of the band beyond that status quo. It’s interesting, when we first started playing, back in the Eighties, there really wasn’t a status quo for black metal or extreme metal or death metal or whatever you want to call it and since we didn’t really have any peers to look to as to defining a sound, we had to define our own sound. And I think that part of what we defined has been turned into the rules of this kind of music and it’s kinda like, “Whoa, wait a minute, there’s not supposed to be any rules. Part of being extreme is no rules.” So we, we wanted to make a point, to show some additional inclusion of some other influences and textures on this record that we don’t hear coming from other artists in our genre.

So you’re saying Morbid Angel has always been left of the norm so it shouldn’t have surprised your fan base as much as it did…
Again, there was no norm to compare us to. When we did this there were maybe one or two other people that were doing stuff that was like what we were doing. It’s a fact that we don’t really pay so much attention to what everyone else is doing, we’re more concerned with what we’re doing. But, you know what, they’re [the fans] talking about it, indeed and it’s been very interesting to me to see that there’s some stuff on there that certain people don’t like at all and then that same stuff that other people said, “Well that’s my most favourite thing I ever heard.” So it’s been very polarising, it is, and it’s interesting to me and different countries, different languages, different cultures, they gravitate towards different songs on the record and that’s very interesting to me also, so that tells me that I’m doing something right.

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Was this just an organic evolution of the band’s sound, do you think? Or did you guys sit down and plan for something different?
It wasn’t so much a planned effort as much, that we went, “Hey, we want to change.” I don’t really hear that, I hear including more things, I don’t hear change. Because there are several tracks that the fans would say sounds more traditional Morbid Angel or what they might expect. I mean, you know, it’s grown a little bit but there’s a few things that we wanted to add, some new flavours to it, and then we did.

But were all the songs written at the same time? Or were the more traditional songs written at one time and the more industrial songs were written at a different point of time?
No, it was all written together. All came together starting at about 2008-2009 and then we recorded in 2010.

Did you see the album evolve in the time between when you first started writing it and the final product?
Um, you know, it kinda wanted to be what it wanted to be, but we’re not done yet. We have a lot of new surprises in the works so we are gonna allow people to make even more opinions [laughs].

Is this going to be a B-sides EP sort of release or is this a new album?
It’s going to be additional releases. You know, really what it is, is like the idea of having a musical and artistic experience, than just putting stuff out. We’re trying to go beyond the point where we feel that there’s a schedule or deadline or that things have to be a certain way. We were sort of pushed into that earlier in our career, but we’re kinda at a point where we just wanted to flow and make music, and go out and perform it, and share with people, and everything’s going to happen the way it needs to happen. We don’t plan things so much. Everybody says, “Oh what, did you plan to do this?” but we don’t really plan, things just sort of happen and then we roll with it.

So there’s nothing you’d go back and change on the album at all?
Um, I wouldn’t but sometimes you think, “I wish I’d used this here and…” I mean, you can do that with any record and I’ll bet that’s something any artist would think – “If I could go back and do this again I would have made this part, I would have changed the lyrics here…” but yeah you know it’s out and our work is done, from that perspective.

What were some of the influences that went into the new sound, into songs like ‘Radicult’ and ‘Destructos’?
Well, you know, when you listen to things outside of your proposed genre… really when I’m creating, I wanna listen to anything but my genre, because I don’t want to be influenced by something that maybe I influenced. It’s just cannibalising at that point, there’s no growth. So I tried to change that and then I guess it just grew into its own thing and hopefully it’s something that’s unique and it a new and different direction. With the songs you mentioned, yes there’s an electronic or industrial influence to them but the thing is that when you think about industrial or electronic music you think about a couple of guys with a computer making these plastic sounds. But we didn’t do that, everything on this record is played, all the sounds that you hear are played, everything that sounds weird is still a guitar and that’s a really important distinction.

So it’s all organic, like organic electronica…
Well there’re a couple of drum sounds, they were played on a drum-pad as opposed to an acoustic drum but they were still being played as part of a regular drum kit with regular cymbals, regular toms. There’s just a couple of extra things like a bigger, distorted bass drum sound that you wouldn’t be able to get from a microphone; it had to be a special sound. But it was played, in the grand scheme of things, and Tim sat behind the kit and played it. So it’s like a hybrid, in a sense.

But there was no particular band or scene or movement that influenced this?
Well, you know I am a fan of a lot of different stuff; Trey and I both, we like a lot of the Dutch hardcore stuff and some of the more intense industrial stuff. If you remember and are familiar with the band’s history, we did a collaboration with a Slovenian avant-garde band Laibach, back in 1993. And as opposed to having them remix our songs, we decided to write things in a way that would capture a little bit more of that feeling this time.

You’ve mentioned that Tim Yeung wrote all the drum parts on this album while Pete Sandoval recuperated from his disc prolapse. Would it have been different had Pete played on it, do you think?
Yeah, I think it would have been a lot different. Well honestly, if the truth be told, even if we were still waiting to record the album Pete still wouldn’t be ready. He’s not prepared to record even today. He’s feeling up, he is feeling better, I speak to him on a regular basis and he’s getting better and he’s aware that there’s a lot of well-wishers around the world and he appreciates it. I mean, it’s not falling on deaf ears. But sometimes, when you’re faced with a challenge like that, you have to make a decision, and I think we made a good decision in getting Tim to play on this record. He’s a very good drummer and I really enjoyed playing with him as well, and the shows are going really well. He’s a very strong guy, good guy. I had met him on a couple of occasions prior to him coming in and I knew he could do the job, but I had never played with him and I didn’t really know him that well. But since then we’ve had the opportunity to obviously hang out when we’re on the road and during rehearsals and stuff and I really like the guy. He’s a good guy and he’s very talented and I’m really happy that his scheduling worked out and he could do it.

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It’s been a time of change for the band. How would you describe Morbid Angel circa 2011?
Wow, a machine. As you pointed out there’s a lot going on so we’re scrambling. Lots of playing, lots of travelling, lots of shows and a lot of festivals where we get a chance to play to audiences that might not necessarily be Morbid Angel fans or fans of more extreme metal, to begin with. So, you know to be playing on these stages with some of these bands and giving people an opportunity to see what it is that we do and maybe we can get people to go, “This is some interesting stuff, I think I like it.”

The musical climate has changed so much since you guys first put an album out and you’ve seen the metal scene worldwide evolve. Has it gotten easier or more difficult to be a metal band today?
There’s a lot more bands now, but I still think the ratio of quality to quantity is still the same. There’re a few bands that are doing some good stuff and a whole lot of bands that just sound very generic to me. But that’s always been the case for any genre of music, whether it’s pop or country or whatever kind of music, there’s always people that are bringing something new to the table and there are people who have a formula that works for them and they sort of continue to do the same thing record after record and are very predictable and there’s people that do that but it’s not their formula, it a formula. Most of those are just a flash in the pan but we’re more long haul, we look at stuff more in the way of The Beatles or Pink Floyd.

You also moved to Season of Mist for this album. How would you say label culture’s changed from your first album to now?
Oh of course, it’s changed considerably and part of that is that somewhere along the line people began to believe that it’s appropriate to just steal music and movies and other intellectual property from the internet rather than purchase it. So labels aren’t making money; there’re a lot of them that are going out of business because things get stolen. So labels have changed, the whole music experience has changed. I gotta tell ya, I really hope that people start recognising that if you steal stuff now maybe there won’t be that something in the future to steal, because it takes a lot of money, time and effort to create a record and people don’t do these things to lose money. So I’ve got to say for myself, when I like a band I buy their CD on Amazon or on iTunes, and I download it and I pay for it, because I know what that means. I know that when a band is able to sell a record, if I like them enough to buy the record, hopefully they’ll have enough money to make the next record so I can enjoy it when they do. And I do hope that everyone starts to consider that. If someone tell me that they’re a fan of a band and I say, “Hey, you got the new Mayhem record?” “Yeah man, I love it.” And I say,” Oh really, you bought it?” “No, I just got it off the internet. I downloaded it.” And I’m like, “You know what, you’re not a fan of the band.” If you’re telling me that you love the band but you just stole their record, then you’re not a fan, you’re an asshole. And that’s what everyone needs to know, that there are ramifications to just stealing stuff. It’s no different than if I went down to the car dealership and drove away with a new car and they say, “So are you gonna buy it?” and I say, “No I’m not going to buy it. People steal my stuff so I’m going to steal yours.” It simply doesn’t work that way.

Photo Credit: Alex Solca

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