There is a theory discussed in certain critical circles concerning “advancement.” Specifically the advancement of geniuses. The full title of this theory is Advanced Genius Theory, and it was developed by Jason Hartley, Britt Bergman, and a few other friends (along with contributions from the always entertaining Chuck Klosterman). The crux of the idea is that if an artist has established him or herself as a genius though his or her oeuvre over many years, then suddenly becomes “kooky,” “out of touch,” and “loses it,” what has actually happened is that the artist has advanced past the audience’s understanding. To quote Bergman:
“It … comes down to [the point that] there’s a certain level of genius that is so great that it should always be trusted, no matter what the appearance is.”
The typical example used when discussing advancement is Lou Reed. This is a metal site so I won’t spend time justifying Lou Reed’s career or artistic contributions. However, certain recent decisions could easily be applied to further establish the case for his advancement.
Berman sums up Bob Dylan’s late stage advancement and the impact it had upon his fans thusly:
“Eventually he (Dylan) didn’t want to obscure himself anymore, and that’s what the advanced do. That’s why it’s so scary, when all of a sudden they’re not catering to their fans, it’s really disappointing to the fans because they’ve come to connect with the artist. When the artist themselves breaks the connection, its doubly painful.”
For the uninitiated, there are 5 basic tenets for establishing eligibility for Advancement (from Wikipedia):
You must have done great work for more than 15 years.
You must have alienated your original fans.
You must be completely unironic.
You must be unpredictable.
You must “lose it”. Spectacularly.
which brings us to Morbid Angel…
Up until 2 months ago, few artists associated with death metal had enjoyed such universal critical and popular acclaim. Simply wearing a Morbid Angel shirt indicated that you knew what you were talking about when it came to important, credible, seminal death metal. There is no arguing that the first four Morbid Angel albums are genre defining metal masterpieces. Each of the first four: Altars of Madness, Blessed are the Sick, Covenant, and Domination are consistently heavy and brutal, complex and beautiful, and most importantly, each one was a game changer. Each album is completely different from its predecessor. Their following two albums: Formulas Fatal to the Flesh and Gateways to Annihilation, while lacking the significance of their forebears, are punishing and crushing in ways that bands 11 years later are still mimicking. Heretic, the final album before the return of David Vincent, is undoubtedly the weakest of their catalog, yet it is still great.
Upon the realease of Illud Divinum Insanus, the general consensus was that they’d completely lost it. Among the thousands of complaints was that there were too many “hard techno” influences, that there was too much “nu metal” influence, that they’d fallen flat on their face, that the album was total shit. There were two popularly held opinions that evoked the majority of hatred:
That there were 4 traditional death metal songs on the album lumped in with 7 other songs containing questionable stylistic influences (hard techno, nu metal, pop-metal, industrial), as well as drum machines, crowd choruses, spanish verses, latin verses, and chanting.
That some of the previously mentioned other songs had ridiculous, cringe-inducing titles such as “Too Extreme!”, “Destructos Vs. the Earth / Attack”, and “Radikult.”
Let us first consider why some listeners found the other (meaning the 7 previously mentioned other songs) songs themselves so bad. Is it because “Too Extreme!” and “Radikult” reminded them of music that they may have listened to and enjoyed in 1997? I suspect that it is. If you were listening to heavy metal in 1997 and enjoying it, I assure you it wasn’t to Skeletonwitch or Doomriders, it was to many bands that we today find embarrassing and only admit to having enjoyed in private company. Morbid Angel does not give a fuck, nor have they ever. Your emotional baggage from having been a Coal Chamber fan is of no relevance or importance to their art. Consider that Morbid Angel released their slowest, grooviest, most grinding album (Domination) just when everyone expected them to release their fastest. That album is today considered by many to be their best. The segue from the songs “Domination” to “Where the Slime Live” is monumental and 16 years later inspires absolute chaos when played live. In 10 more years “10 More Dead” may do the same.
Please also consider why it is that listeners find song titles like “Too Extreme!” and “Radikult” ridiculous. Is it because of things like The X-Games? Doritos? The movie Rad? Pootchie from The Simpsons? Undoubtedly. Though it is undeniably true that in the 90′s and in much of the 00′s advertisers were doing their best to label anything and everything as “extreme” or “radical” to describe a product’s marketablecoolness, that has no literal bearing on what the words themselves mean. Admittedly, it is difficult for me to even say the words “extreme” or “radical” without an eye roll, but Morbid Angel are not and have never been interested in anyone else’s views or associations with popular culture. When they were playing Immortal Rites in storage bins in North Carolina in 1987 they certainly did not give a damn what else was happening in the world at large, so when Morbid Angel says they are “Too Extreme!” they mean it in the most literal sense. When they say they “tear it up as radicals” they mean it literally. They ARE radical and extreme, and they are far more of both than anyone churning out run-of-the-mill death metal in 2011 (Do I even need to list?). For Morbid Angel, standard death metal is a genre they defined 24 years ago, and anyone still turning that crank is only pandering to an audience that is afraid to embrace chance.
Morbid Angel have always done what they’ve wanted to do and they will always do what they want to do regardless of what associations you may draw between their music and popular culture. Whether that culture that is the current “retro metal” one or if it is the “alt-metal” one of 1997 is irrelevant to them.
If you despise Illud Divinum Insanus, perhaps you should try listening to it again without your jean jacket or ironic outfit on. Perhaps you should send your Wolves in the Throne Room fanatical roommate out of the room and then blast 10 More Dead as loudly as you fucking can. Embrace the heaviness and brilliance of a band that has advanced beyond you, and next time try to listen with some open ears. Otherwise you’ll be listening to the same, rote, Black Sabbath mirroring bands for the rest of your life.
You can learn more about Advanced Genius Theory here, here, and here.
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Haha I love it! I wondered what all the bitching people were talking about, I think it’s the most striking thing they’ve done in many years – which is saying something because their phenomenal incredible priceless drummer is out of service at the moment.
For what it’s worth (zilch) I’ve known Wolves in the Throne Room for many years and the very first thing we ever conversed about was Morbid Angel… I know it’s not about them personally… But I do hate to see their patch derided, because those guys are fans!
I really love Morbid Angel and have since Altars, but even I don’t think it’s so much of a break with their past stylings to qualify as either betrayal OR advancing genius. For shit’s sake think about how much the Beatles, the Who, Dylan, Bowie evolved in TEN years; this is comparatively miniscule movement after more than 20! Hessians are so conservative, but that’s got its place I suppose – Manowar didn’t change a damn thing (maybe the occasional guitarist) when metal was wildly unfashionable and now they reap unparalleled loyalty for it…