Morbid Angel's David Vincent Talks About Controversial New Album "Illud Divinum Insanus"
Every year, there seems to be that one metal album that incites vicious debates and extreme opinions. 2003 had Metallica’s “St. Anger;” 2008 was the year of Cryptopsy’s “The Unspoken King;” 2009 was all about 1349’s odd turn with “Revelations of the Black Flame.” This year is only halfway done, but the metal world has already found their whipping boy with Morbid Angel’s eighth album “Illud Divinum Insanus.”
The backlash on this record has been swift from metal fans. The album is split between more traditional fare and industrial/electronics monstrosities. This is the type of album that is meant to get a reaction out of the fickle metal community, and so far, it has done just that. Bassist/vocalist David Vincent rejoined Morbid Angel in 2004, and with “Illud Divinum Insanus” being the first Morbid Angel album with his involvement in over 15 years, the anticipation was off-the-charts for the “I” record.
I was offered the chance to speak to Vincent and grabbed the opportunity quickly. During our 40-plus minute interview, he was insightful and willing to answer every question I threw his way with no hesitation. Check out Vincent’s thoughts on the experimental nature of “Illud Divinum Insanus,” his reaction to all the criticism the record is getting, and a status update on Pete Sandoval.
Heavytothebone2: When you came back into the band in 2004, did you have a clear idea of what direction Morbid Angel’s next album was going in?
No. In fact, we really didn’t even talk about a new record in 2004. It started off with a little bit of touring and then as people got wind of what it is that we were doing, we had an awful lot of touring. It really wasn’t until, I want to say, maybe 2008 that we really got serious thinking about a new record.
Heavytothebone2: When you rejoined the band, was it like jumping back on a bike after not riding it for a long time? Was there any chemistry issues or was it like 8 years hadn’t passed?
To my recollection, it was real smooth.
Heavytothebone2: What did you miss most about not being in Morbid Angel during the eight or so years you were gone?
When I left in 1996, I was a pretty miserable person. I wanted to put a number of the challenges that I had behind me. It’s not a question of what I missed as it is a response that I got from the audience. From show number one, it was humbling. The passion and the love that people showed was something I wasn’t thinking about, I wasn’t dwelling on that. That’s not really part of my psyche. So when I witnessed it and I felt it, that was when I internalized, ‘Wow, these people are really into this.’ By virtue of the fact that they were really into it is what got my juices flowing as well.
Heavytothebone2: “Illud Divinum Insanus” is the band’s first album in eight years. Was the lengthy break between albums a benefit from a songwriting perspective?
I think so. There’s always pressure to hurry up and move on with the next thing. It’s the world we live in these days. That goes right along with fast-food mentality, crappy sitcoms, and a lot of this other nonsense. Sometimes when you hurry up and move onto the next thing is not necessarily something...to the world of art. There’s people that don’t care about that and they like their music like they like their McDonald’s food. I’m not one of those people. Taking the time to do what it is that I do is something that I cherish more than the quantity. Quality over the quantity to me always wins.
Heavytothebone2: With this album, there were a lot of long-time fans up in arms due to the experimental nature of some of the songs. When you were recording this, did you feel you had to find that balance between the experimental side and pleasing the long-time fans or did either side not matter to you?
I can say from my standpoint that I didn’t think about it. The idea of necessarily being so calculated and what some kind or rule or some kind of expectation is, that’s not really the mode-de-faire of Morbid Angel. It never has been. When I hear something that sounds unique or when I feel inspired about something, I just roll with it.
I don’t know it’s an experiment. It’s something that came into fruition. An experiment is an attempt. We didn’t attempt to do something; we did it. We included some atmosphere that we hadn’t done in the past. Honestly, not any different than anything else we’ve ever done. We made it a point to take a fresh approach with each record that we do. This is sort of another example of that in a growing list of records, to the letter “I” now.
Heavytothebone2: When most people think of extreme metal, they think of blast beats and fast riffing. To you, does this album represent what your idea of extreme metal is?
Well, extreme is extreme, which includes extreme differences between songs. Extreme to me means literally no boundaries. As soon as somebody starts putting things into a box, that’s their problem. That sounds like creative limitations, and true creativity doesn’t have such limitations, in my opinion.
Heavytothebone2: A few years ago, when the band was doing live shows, the song “Nevermore” was played a lot. Do you feel like that song was a disadvantage to the band, only because people expected the rest of the album to sound like that?
Well, that was the first song that came together and it came together quickly. We liked it and we were excited to play new material, but I don’t know why anybody would expect things would be one way with this band. Any fan of Morbid Angel knows that we don’t have one way of doing things. Truthfully, if we’re talking about from a stylistic standpoint, there are several songs that I would consider comparative to that particular way of writing on this record. That’s not one song and then everything else is different. There’s several songs like that. As you listen to the record, you would be able to tell that and so would everybody else.
Heavytothebone2: Do you think the album is being judged unfairly based on songs like “Too Extreme!” and “Radikult,” where there are songs that are more in the style of what most people assume Morbid Angel would head in?
It’s really interesting. If you take a step back and look at the catalog of Morbid Angel...when we released “Altars of Madness” in 1989, that was like, ‘Okay, here’s Morbid Angel. This is what they sound like.’ When we subsequently released “Blessed Are The Sick,” the production was entirely different. We had interesting little musical interludes that added atmosphere to the record, some keyboard stuff. Everyone was like, ‘Oh my goodness. Morbid Angel, what did they do? They changed. They’re different now. They’ve slowed down. They’ve done this, they’ve done that.’
In truth, the fast material on “Blessed Are The Sick” is considerably faster than the fastest stuff on “Altars of Madness.” Because the record started out with an odd intro and went into the beginning of “Fall From Grace,” that’s a slow, heavy riff. People heard that and they go, ‘Okay, the band slowed down.’ The band didn’t slow down. It’s just nonsense. People jump to conclusions and they like to put things in a box very quickly.
Obviously, when we got to “Covenant,” we put a song at the very end of the record called “God of Emptiness.” People were completely up in arms about it. ‘Oh no, the world is over. What did Morbid Angel do? What are they doing? This is so different. They’ve changed.’ Forgetting about everything that came before that record and focusing on one thing...arguably, yeah it is different than other things, but it’s these differences that make Morbid Angel special.
Truth be told, that became one of the most popular songs of the band’s career thus far. It’s because of these differences and it’s because we have unbridled creativity that we continue to do new and exciting things. You have to remember back when we were first doing this thing called Morbid Angel in the ‘80s, there weren’t a lot of peers we had to look to and say, ‘Okay, what are the rules of this kind of music?’ We wrote our own rules. We did what we wanted to do and how we wanted to do it. Our mission to do just that hasn’t changed.
Heavytothebone2: Do you feel like with today’s metal scene as a whole, that kind of mindset is missing? That bands tend to look at other peers and go, ‘Okay, we have to head in that direction’?
I can’t comment on how other people do things. I can just comment on how we do it. I can tell you that we don’t do that. We do what it is that we do and we’re always ducking and weaving and moving side-to-side and taking the left-hand path from the left-hand path. How other people do things is really of no concern to me at all. What is of concern to me is being organic and being true to the artistic inspiration that I get.
Heavytothebone2: But do you think there are any bands out there that have that kind of organic feel to them?
Yeah, there’s great bands, always have been. There’s always those who are pushing the envelope and are able to release seminal records that last for long periods of time. It’s not about the production; it’s about the creativity. I think that there are bands out there that are doing that. Not only within our “genre,” but in every genre. This has always been the same. There’s no different between that and between artists in any genre of music. There are those who create really great artistic stuff and then there are those who meander along and have something that seems ripe for the moment, but then it’s gone as the train leaves. Once again, these are things that we don’t concern ourselves with.
Heavytothebone2: When it came to sitting down and writing these 11 songs, did you find that the songs with the more industrial influences, like “Too Extreme!,” came about as easy as the more traditional songs, like “Blades of Baal” and “Nevermore”?
If we’re talking about “Too Extreme!” or “Destructos Vs The Earth/Attack,” I just thought differently about it. I threw away pre-conceived notions about structure and I just felt it. They came quickly to me. When we recorded them, Trey (Azagthoth, guitarist) originally came in with some demos he had at home of the direction he was thinking about for the stuff. It took a while to decide how the drums are going to work. Once we got the drums down, Trey went in and he spent a very long time in the studio deciding how he was going to approach the guitars for those things.
It’s just stream-of-consciousness creativity. I love what he came up with. There really are no rules; there’s no set way of doing anything. Things come and I’m rejoicing in the fact that they are there. When I listen to it, it’s special. When I listen to it, it sounds like something that I haven’t heard before. I know what kind of work went into making it and I’m proud of everyone for all their hard work.
Heavytothebone2: You mentioned Trey’s direction going into the studio. Did you guys have the same mindset on what you wanted to accomplish or was there a little bit of conflict in there?
If you’re talking about it as far as some of the stuff that has an industrial sound, when I heard that stuff, I was excited by it because it sounded unique to me. If anything, when I first heard it, I was a proponent of, ‘Okay, let’s do this.’ I was excited to do it.
Heavytothebone2: So there was no apprehension between the other band members about that sound?
It was difficult getting to fruition with it. It was a lot of work. It wasn’t like, ‘Everybody get in. Okay here’s how it goes,’ in a traditional sense. It didn’t come across in a jamming way. We had to find it and Tim (Yeung, drummer) had to find it. There are beats that are not traditionally played. Where’s the snare falling? Where’s the kick falling? How do the cymbals work in this cacophony? How does this beat work? Identifying the beat, how it’s going to go, and what the transitions are. Sometimes, greatness is not easy, but that’s cool. I enjoy the work. I enjoy the time that we spent isolating some of the stuff and making it come to fruition. That’s the stuff that dreams are made of, for me.
Heavytothebone2: Were there any songs that you found were more difficult to arrange and put together?
I told myself prior to going in, at least from a vocal standpoint, that I wasn’t going to fight with any of it. I was going to let it come as stream-of-consciousness and that’s how it was going to go. I told myself, ‘Okay, today I’m going to work on this one.’ I started listening to it, and if I felt like I was coming up hitting a wall on anything, I just stopped and moved to something else. I let the mood of the moment determine what it was that I was going to do.
I’m happy that I did it that way. As I said, there’s no rule about how anything is. If I try to put everything that I hear and anything I’m working on, and look at it the same way as everything else, then things would be all the same. On “Illud Divinum Insanus,” it’s anything but all the same. I’m happy about the way it came together and I’m proud of everyone’s contribution. We had a hell of a team working on it.
Heavytothebone2: With that approach you took to arraigning and writing the songs, did that lead to any ideas being left aside because there was no room for it on the album or you didn’t find any way to develop it further?
We have a lot of material. If we had more time, we could still be working on it. It could turn into a triple CD at this point. We selected where we were going and just took our time doing it. We used four different studios. We recorded it over a long period of time, as opposed to going in and saying, ‘The band is really well-rehearsed. We played every one of these songs a gazillion times. We’re shit-tight on it. Everybody knows exactly what they are going to do. Now let’s go in and record it.’ It did not happen that way. In fact, “Nevermore” is the only song that we played as a band prior to going into the studio. Obviously, we had played it for a few years live, so that was already a classic Morbid Angel song at this point.
Heavytothebone2: The songs that were left over, was that material the same kind of stuff that landed on the album? Was it even more experimental/industrial/electronic?
How something is going to end up from its original idea...sometimes it’s real close, sometimes it’s real different. With some of these songs, take “Too Extreme!” for example, I didn’t know what that was going to sound like until I went in and I heard what Trey had done guitar-wise. I had an idea about some of it, but nowhere near as developed and as artful as it ended up being. Nothing is done until it is done. When it’s out, that’s when it’s out.
Heavytothebone2: In your opinion, if you could pick a song from “Illud Divinum Insanus” that represents Morbid Angel circa 2011, which one would it be?
I can’t do it. I can’t answer the question. I would if I could. I’m not trying to be difficult. See, the thing is, in order to have a discussion and in order to convey thoughts, we have to put things into a box, so we can define things and we can neatly zip things up, so you have a story as a writer. My problem is that my mind doesn’t think that way. As soon as I see something being put in a box, I take it right out of the box. I’m having a logistical problem with looking at it that way. Remember in Star Trek, there was the Borg? That’s what Morbid Angel is. It’s anything and everything and nothing, at the same time. It’s yes and no.
Heavytothebone2: The opinions are varied on the album. Have you read any of the reviews? Do you look at the reviews and think people just don’t get it yet or there’s something that they are missing?
As you said, it’s quite varied. I haven’t read anything in the middle. I’ve read extremes in both directions. Prior to the record’s release, I had a press conference over in Europe. At that press conference, the label assembled everyone at a venue near their offices in Marseilles, France. They flew in all of the editors and main writers for the larger European magazines. Rock Hard, Metal Hammer, Terrorizer; the various different people from all these different countries, from Sweden, Germany, Italy, France, Spain, England; all these different people.
They assembled them in this venue and they played the record. Then I took interviews after everyone had heard the record. Everyone had a different thing that they picked up on; a different song; a different theme. It was varied by what country they were from. It was very interesting. That point was when I knew, ‘Wow, this is going to be a fun ride.’ We’re an extreme band, we put out an extreme record, and there are some very extreme opinions about it. I’m extremely happy about that.
Heavytothebone2: When you were recording the album or listening to the final mixes, did you have any sense that the opinions would be varied on it?
Honestly, I didn’t think about that. I listened to as an embodiment of work. I’m not looking at it as, ‘Oh, here’s this leaf on this tree.’ I just looked at it from the beginning to the end. It’s a ride and it’s a story. It moves and it covers a lot of ground. That’s where my thoughts are. All of the opinions that are out there, those are other people thinking about their commentary on what we’re doing. That’s not my commentary. Everything that I have to say is right there in the music, it’s right there in the lyrics. Any question that anyone would ever have is all right there, in black and white. Now my work, apart from touring, is done for the moment.
Heavytothebone2: Speaking of touring, can you run me down what tours the band’s will be heading on the next few months?
Sure. What has been primarily announced at this moment is several festivals in Europe because we are in the summer festival season. As things continue to be announced, and when I say that, we’re talking about many different things. There’s discussions going on between our management and our agents and several different opportunities. Nothing that I can speak about right now, but the best way to find out what’s official and what’s not is to go to morbidangel.com or either of our official social network sites, either MySpace or Facebook. When you read it there, that means it’s official. If you don’t read it there, it’s innuendo or it’s rumor. Until you read it from us, that’s when it becomes real.
Heavytothebone2: The band has been playing several songs from the album live, including “I Am Morbid” and “Existo Vulgore.” How much of the new album is the band looking to put into their set?
Honestly, I would play the whole album start to finish, in its entirely, in its order. That would mean that our set would be three-and-a-half hours because of all the other mandatory things that we have to play. It becomes more and more difficult with each record to come up with a set list. The band has a lot of history and there are songs that are...you would never see Judas Priest live without them playing “You Got Another Thing Comin’” or “Living After Midnight.” You would not see Ozzy Osbourne perform live without playing “Paranoid” or “Crazy Train.” They’re mandatory songs. We obviously have the songs that will always be in the set.
I’m excited about the new material. As the responses come in of which songs that the people are interested in hearing, that’ll be something I have to take into consideration. It’s hard for me to be objective about it. I would love to play all the stuff and all of it can be played, some more difficult. A song like “Too Extreme!” requires additional percussion elements, which is not a problem, because Timothy did play them in the studio. It’s more of a setup for live. I’m up for the challenge and so is he.
Heavytothebone2: I read a few weeks ago that you returned to Terrorizer as a bassist. You did play bass on their first record, “World Downfall.” How did you rejoin the band?
I’m kind of not really prepared to talk about Terrorizer yet. The record is not complete yet. We’re still finalizing some stuff. I will confirm that there is a Terrorizer record and it’s underway. This is something that Pete (Sandoval) did the drum tracking for just prior to undergoing the surgery for his back. I am finished with the bass tracks. So more on that later. That’s probably a separate discussion for another time.
Heavytothebone2: A lot of people when they heard the news assumed that Pete was recovered from his injuries. I guess he’s still going through rehabilitation and therapy.
The kind of injuries that he sustained are not to be taken lightly. Spinal injuries are serious stuff. It’s not a broken bone. This is the kind of stuff that can make or break someone’s...you can forget about even playing, I mean, his ability to walk. That’s why it was at a critical point where he realized he had to undergo the surgery. Let’s face it; who wants to sit on a table and get cut up? Nobody, but it was imperative. He has very good sports doctors and we’re all hoping for the best for him.
He’s been cautiously getting back into playing. He’s cautiously pushing himself, hopefully not too hard, to get back to a point where he is the speed demon drummer that we all know and love. It’s a long journey for him. I know there are a lot of people worldwide who are wishing him well and hoping for a full and speedy and complete recovery. We feel the same. The guy’s a brother.
I don’t know what more to say other than I hate seeing him in pain. I hate the fact that he’s not able to be who he wants to be right now because of these injuries. Emotions aside, these are the facts and this are what we’re dealing with. He knows that there are a lot of well wishes out there and he’s thankful for it; it’s not falling on deaf ears. That’s very motivating for him, to continue to persevere. The reconstruction and the rehabilitation that he has to go through is not easy. He is in pain.
Heavytothebone2: If you could tour with one band that you’ve never toured with, past or present, who would it be and why?
Can I ask you a question about that question?
Would that be just because I like the band or would it be because I think they would be a good fit?
Heavytothebone2: It’s up to you. I ask this question in pretty much every interview because I always get interesting answers. Some people lean towards bands that fit the style of music that they play and others pick whoever they like.
Then I would have to say that I’ve already done that. That was when the band toured with Black Sabbath in 1993. Tony Iommi was responsible for, not singlehandedly, but was a major player in this whole style of music happening. I think that’s not even up to discussion. I don’t think anybody would be able to argue with that. It was an honor for me to sit in front of him everyday and watch their soundcheck and to share the stage with awesome and inspirational musicians.
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