As much hate as Morbid Angel's new album (deservedly) got, thank god for it. Why? Because it was genuinely terrible. It was completely, inexcusably awful. There was no ability to say it was merely okay, or listenable, or tolerable: it was openly horrendous, leaving absolutely no doubt to the complete artistic failure that it embodied. It also left no question as to the utter depth of the misplaced passion the musicians must have felt towards the music; there's absolutely no way to half-ass something that terrible. It showed that, no matter how terrible the band may have become, Morbid Angel is still dedicated to their craft, even if their overall level of skill has eroded to absolutely nothing. They are paraplegics attempting to run a marathon: it's disastrous and shameful, but god bless 'em for trying. They're still doing better than the person walking it.
Death and black metal have been around for over twenty years at this point; they are no longer secret and ethereal, least of all to fans and musicians within the genre. I have no doubt that just about any person out there these days with functional arms and ears could manage to create a tolerable one-man black metal album, or, in many circumstances, go even further and create something openly pleasing to listen to. This is no indication of an overall increase in skill among artists and musicians; merely that, at this point, everyone knows how to write a decent, workable black or death metal riff. The tabs are all over the internet, and with downloading, those with careful ears can pull apart the technical aspects of their favorite bands with ease. Extreme metal has lost the challenge of its construction; everyone can make something listenable.
But that's what it is: merely listenable. Truly great, enduring art, of course, goes above and beyond the merely tolerable and listenable and becomes something else entirely. It goes without saying, though, that these days I run across many plain, prosaic, inoffensive death or black metal records; many more than I do genuinely good ones. In contrast to the older days of the genre, there's more "good" (and I use that term loosely) metal albums than ever before simply because the tropes of the style have become so intensely codified in the public consciousness. Still, I find myself generating more rage towards the merely adequate than I ever have the openly awful. True awfulness is rarely arrived at through laziness or a lack of creativity: the genuinely terrible is usually a passionate but woefully misguided piece that indicates a catastrophic failure of understanding on the part of the artist in question.
Mediocrity, on the other hand, more often arrives from refusal of work and willful ignorance than from misdirected artistry. In essence, mediocrity, much more than failure, is the antithesis of metal: it shows that a person was capable of more but chose not to. They didn't hitch their wagon to a star or even the moon; instead, they direct their sights somewhere down an artistic cul-de-sac, and usually one heavily explored by musicians before them. The true poison of art isn't the terrible, but the plain and unassuming; those albums made by musicians who have no goals other than to create "a black metal album" and evidence no understanding or creativity beyond that.
What strangles art more? A genuine attempt that ends in failure, or the lack of attempt at all? We could use more failure in the metal scene. Morbid Angel, I salute you while I hang you on the cross. We could all learn something from your example, even if it's just what not to do.