MORBID ANGEL "The Method to the Madness"

Interview by Dr. Abner Mality

The obnoxious pro wrestling personality Eric Bischoff once published a book entitled "Controversy Creates Cash". If that's true, then Morbid Angel ought to be the richest band on Earth. One of the undisputed creators of what we know as death metal, this band has always lived in its own dimension, far from the circles other extreme bands travel in. This has given them a reputation for being aloof and maybe even arrogant. Possibly they just don't want to contaminate their creativity with what everybody else is doing.

Now after a long layoff, Morbid Angel returns to action with "Illud Divinum Insanus"...and all hell has broken loose in the metal underground. The album mixes their typical technical style with traces of industrial and some would say mainstream metal music. This has led to the conservative fans howling for their scalp and threatening to boil them in oil, as if the slightest deviation from the norm is a mortal sin. To be honest, even open-minded fans may scratch their heads during a couple of moments on the album. But a lot of it is still pure, crushing Morbid Angel. To see what I thought of it, check HERE.

These guys have been heroes of mine for a couple decades now and Wormwood has never shied away from controversy, so I jumped at the chance to talk to David Vincent, their lead singer who has returned to the fold after a departure of many years. Someone told me to be careful, he has a reputation for being "difficult". I call bullshit on that unwarranted claim. His first words to me were a compliment on the name of our zine. In 12 years, no one has opened an interview in better fashion.

What follows is my conversation with the voice of the most talked about band in death metal right now and I for one found it interesting and illuminating. Hopefully you will feel the same...

DAVID VINCENT: First, I have to say I love this name you've come up with for your endeavor.

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: You know, it just kind of struck me one day like an inspiration. I don't know where I came up with! It's funny, because later I found out things about "wormwood" that I didn't know when I first used the name.

DV: It's very "Lord Byron".

WC: I understand you just got back from Europe. How did that go?

DV: Great. It went very well.

WC: What were some of the highlights from over there?

DV: Well, generally speaking, Europe becomes "festival land" in the summer. You can do a few club shows here and there, but there are so many festivals...that's what people plan their whole summer around. Which is actually cool and it's much different than any of the things that are called festivals over here. Those are actually more like tours and it's the same show every night. Over there, a festival is like a two, three or even four day event. People go and camp, they live on the property and there are up to eight stages. There's a whole compliment of really diverse music on each stage for three days in a row or so. What's cool is, you get exposed to a lot of stuff you ordinarily wouldn't get exposed to. I'm also playing shows with bands you wouldn't expect that we'd be touring with. It's just a real diverse musical situation. From a fan standpoint, even if I weren't playing these festivals, I'd be attending them because there's so much going on, so many different kinds of things happening. They're very lucky over in there in that respect.

WC: It's always been a dream of mine to check out some of the more well-known ones like Wacken.

DV: Yeah, Wacken is one of the top festivals. SwedenRock is good, Graspop, Summer Breeze...the list goes on. There's so many of them and they're all getting bigger, they're all growing each year. It's kind of like a European thing and in a lot of ways, I'm jealous. I wish we had such an outlet over here, using the European model as a plan. But then I could wish on one hand and shit in the other.

WC: I don't what the difference is, but I attended Days of the Doomed this last weekend in Wisconsin. I got to see three-fifths of the band Trouble reform and also the band Iron Man who've been around for many years. And they could barely pull in 200 people. In Europe, I'm sure the same line-up would have got in the thousands.

DV: Well, the thing over here is that people are just cynical and the Internet has made people lazy. Sadly, fandom is not the same in this country as it once was and still is in the rest of the world. One only has to go to Youtube and look at footage of some of these festivals we've played over the years to see a difference. You've got 70,000 people just going off and then over here....I don't know, I don't know what happened here. Maybe people are just more into video games.

WC: When you rejoined Morbid Angel, did you have to knock off some rust or did things just seem to click again right away?

DV:  I would say that I felt like I had to knock off some rust when I was prior to going to rehearsal, but once I got there, it was almost kind of seamless. That surprised me. I had a little apprehension, so I went back and reviewed some of the material to refresh myself so when we got to rehearsal and got to the points in question, my hands went to the right place. So old habits are hard to break, I guess.

WC: Well, they say you never forget how to ride a bike.

DV: Yeah, exactly.

WC: You've got some new faces in the band since you've rejoined. What was it like playing with Tim Yeung and Destructhor?

DV:  Both of those guys were choices Trey and I made together. They're both very, very talented, very committed, very hard-working musicians and I'm very proud of their contributions to the band.

WC: The chemistry was pretty much there right away?

DV: Oh, yeah.

WC: What's Pete Sandoval's status with the band? Will he return or is that still unknown?

DV: I wish I could answer that question. He has some serious challenges. I could sit here and tell you how unhappy we all are about it, but the fact remains how we feel doesn't change the reality of it. And the reality is, he's recovering but he's still not recovered 100%.  We had to make a tough decision and he was part of that decision, that we needed to get someone else to do the record. Such is life.

WC: The prognosis is kind of uncertain, then?

DV:  Well, you know, I'm not a physician, I wouldn't want to completely comment on that but suffice it to say that when he tells me he still feels pain and needs more test done, as much as I'm rooting for him, the most important thing for me regarding Pete is that he heals. That he follows the directions of his physician and starts to feel better. And that comes from someone who considers himself a friend and really a family member. I don't want the guy to be in pain, I don't want the guy to be suffering, I want the guy to be able to play drums because that's what he does.

WC: There's a lot of people out there pulling for him, because he's got a sound that's all his own.

DV: There's no question about it.  We're all well aware of how inspiring he's been to extreme metal drumming. He's really a pioneer of a certain style. My sentiments couldn't be anymore profound on this issue, but again, all I can do is hope for the best.

WC: What's the difference between the David Vincent who left Morbid Angel and the David Vincent who rejoined Morbid Angel?

DV:  Huh! Well, I would probably start by saying maturity and self-control.

WC: What was the songwriting process like for "Illud"? Was it significantly different because of the new blood in the band or did it follow the patterns you used before?

DV: I would say it was pretty much the same. Destructhor contributed to the writing as well. It's still a collaborative effort. I would say it was "as usual" but what is "as usual" for Morbid Angel? I don't know how to define that because it's an ever-growing monolith. It's like the Borg on "Star Trek" sees something, it encompasses it and it keeps going.

WC: Resistance is futile...

DV: (chuckles) Correct.

WC: When you were working on the album, were you aware of how controversial it would be? Did you welcome the controversy?

DV: You know, to be honest with you, I wasn't even thinking about that. I didn't even internalize that until after we were done and then I realized, wow, this is really diverse! I'm excited about such things. I look at it as art and expression. There are things that go along with being a ground-breaker. And that's OK. I've got a pretty big personality, so I can deal with such things.

WC: As an artist, you're allowed to take risks, but fans sometimes don't seem to get that.

DV: Well, some people just don't feel creative, maybe they have a different way of looking at things. There's no right way or wrong way. There's just different ways. Some people look at stuff in such a way where they get a formula together, it works for them and they stick with that. For me personally, that's boring. That's not the avenue that I choose to pursue.

WC:  While recording the album, was there ever a point where somebody said "no, this is something we can't do or shouldn't do"? In other words, was there anything that was tabled?

DV: (sighs) I don't know. Some of the stuff was a little more difficult to bring to fruition because we were trying to decide where we're going with this. Trey spent a lot of time in the studio on the guitar sound on these songs, really trying to isolate what it is that he's hearing. He had a lot of time at his disposal and he spent a couple of months on a few parts, really dialing it in and making it exactly the way he wanted it to be. Good! You put forth the effort and you get the result.

WC: The first proper song on the album is "Too Extreme". That's an interesting title. Is it like a challenge to the fans?

DV: It's not a challenge, it's just the truth.

WC: Explain that a little further, if you could.

DV: It's crazy, it's absolute insanity, but we turn it into something completely different. That was the first thing that came to mind. There's a lot of extreme things in this world...we just added something to it, something that hadn't been done before.

WC: The translation of "Illud Divinum Insanus" roughly comes out to "divine insane thing". Does that refer to the band or does it refer to God or is it something else entirely?

DV: It refers to creativity. I've always thought that true artistic creativity is something that's divinely inspired. Divine not necessarily in a Christian sense...we could get into a whole religious discussion but I don't know if we have time for that. The gist of it is that creativity is divine and our creativity just happens to be insane.

WC: What's your favorite tune off the album and why?

DV: Hmmm, I don't know if I can answer that...

WC: Is it changing all the time?

DV: Well, I'm not analyzing the album song to song yet. When I'm listening to it, I start at the beginning and listen to it in its entirety, from beginning to end, in order. I think it's all part of a complete story. I'm not able to select a favorite. It's like a complete work.

WC:  Will the Morbid Angel sound morph even further on the next album or have you even thought about that?

DV: It's not something that we really discuss. Things just sort of happen. It's much more organic than that.

WC: It's pretty spontaneous...

DV: And that's the magic of it. The magic happens when things are spontaneous. A lot of the creativity that happened on this record, a good portion of it happened on the spot, in the studio, in the moment.  There were outlines, sure. You have to  record the drums before you put the guitars and vocals on, obviously, From the initial outline to the final product, it was a journey.

WC: And that approach is the same for all the Morbid Angel albums?

DV: I believe so. We always try to avoid saying there has to be this rule or that rule. For me, the only rule I have is being true to creativity. Anything beyond that is not useful to me. Treading the same ground is boring. Is there a reason for me to keep repeating myself and recording the same album over and over again? To do the same thing I did 20 years ago? That's not being artistic, that's just being calculating.

WC: In a career that lasts 25 years, certainly you can be allowed to take a few risks.

DV:  You know, honestly, Mike, when I think about "risk", that word has a connotation...that's not the premise I'm working from. The premise I'm working from is I don't consider such things. Risk is something where you're making a decision, like you're sitting at a gambling table. You think this card is going to be next, I'm going to put a bet on that. I don't think that way when I'm writing. I just flow. I just write a lot of stuff. I might be listening to it and think, hmmm, this might be good for a video game, or this might good for some ambient soundtrack stuff. Unless somebody comes to me and says, I need a jingle for a commercial, then OK, I'll put my thinking cap on. It needs to be this long, needs to fit in these parameters. But when I write for myself, I never ever think that way.

WC: I've heard that things are coming together for a new Terrorizer album. When you write for Terrorizer, do the same ideas apply as they do for Morbid Angel? I've always thought Terrorizer was more straightforward grind than Morbid Angel. Putting some kind of ambient soundscape with that would be inappropriate.

DV: Well, I did not really write anything for Terrorizer. The writing was done prior to me recording.

WC: A lot of people are looking forward to Terrorizer as well. Is there anything you can tell us about that?

DV: I just can't comment on anything relating to Terrorizer yet, if you don't mind. It's not because I don't want to, it's because I can't.

WC: OK. When you play live with Morbid Angel, would you feel comfortable playing material from the period Steve Tucker was the lead singer?

DV:  We have on occasion played a track from "Formulas Fatal To the Flesh" and we've discussed putting some other songs in the set.  It is part of the band's history. Obviously, when you put together a live set, we have quite an extensive catalogue at this point, so it becomes increasingly difficult to choose one song over another when you know there are certain songs we HAVE to play. I'm sure you couldn't imagine Ozzy Osbourne not playing the song "Paranoid" simply wouldn't happen. Same thing for "Crazy Train" and several other songs that it's mandatory he does. We also have a number of tracks like that in our set. Suffice it to say, the things that get priority are those and of course we want to do as much new material as we can. That's what I want to concentrate on.

WC: What kind of live plans do you have for the States?

DV: Anything I would tell you right now just wouldn't be official. or one of our social network sites like Myspace or Facebook is where the very latest is announced. That's the best source of information. As things are confirmed, that's where they're announced.We don't put things out there unless they're set in stone. That's what I tell everyone...when you read it on or one of the social network sites, that's when you can believe it. Anything else is just conjecture.

WC: If you could ask any three people from history to dinner, who would they be?

DV: Oooh! That's a damn good question. Ummm...Thomas Jefferson. Friedrich Nietzsche, and the Marquis deSade.

WC: That one would be hopping! (laughter)

DV: It would be an interesting dinner. I don't think my guests would get along with each other. But since they are my guests, I would force manners and compliance!

WC: What was the last CD or album you got just because you wanted to check out the band?

DV: The new Septic Flesh, "The Great Mass".

WC: That's a pretty interesting band. Ever considered playing with them?

DV: I just happened to be over at our label Season Of Mist's office and heard these sounds coming out of someone's personal workstation's stereo. I asked what it was and was told it was the new Septic Flesh. I said, may I please get a copy of it? They trusted me with a copy and I think it's very creative and I really like it.

WC: What was the last show or gig you caught just because you wanted to see the band?

DV: Last week, I was in Europe and we took a train in Holland to see the band Krisiun play.

WC: They know how to bring the mayhem.

DV: Yup!

WC: In the long history of Morbid Angel or any of your other bands, is there any kind of a Spinal Tap moment you'd care to share with the fans?

DV: (laughs) I don't know. I can't answer that off the top of my head.

WC: Any last words to the fans out there?

DV: Sure, man. First to you, I had fun with this. And I look forward to seeing people on tour. It's going to be an interesting ride for sure.