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Many things in life are granted to us which we innocuously take for granted, things which we fail to fully appreciate or allow ourselves to be open and vulnerable to. The beauty of the sunset each night, a solar eclipse, the purring of a cat, the guitar solo in "Another Brick In The Wall Pt. 2", the cookies your grandmother baked... all of these things, in our engagement-with and reactions-to, are monumentally telling about the type of person we are, and our ability to appreciate the things in this world.
The genius collective mastermind of Trey Azagthoth and Pete Sandoval have graciously allowed us to engage in just such one of these cosmic wonders, and the way that metalheads speak of and react to, in my mind, speaks volumes about the prospect of death metal's future being vibrant, bright, varied, and fulfilling.
Many people mistake this album for something standard, like Reign In Blood, or Legion, which are straight-forward journeys of simple-minded blasphemous violence. And they are great, they satisfy our need for intensity and our thirst for rage. However, death metal can only go so far in parameters and formats such as these, as the mid-to-late 90's downfall of death metal surely made abundantly clear.
Rather, this Morbid Angel album hs more in common with "Dark Side of the Moon", or "Animals" than it does with Covenant, Imperial Doom, or Effigy of the Forgotten. This album is about opening up to emotion, and allowing one to submit to the range of human experience that the cosmos has set up for us. In their own twisted, brilliant way, Trey and Pete have simply created the violent death metal equivalent to such transcendental and groovey moments as the harmonized twin-lead guitar majesty of Pink Floyd's "Dogs" or the breathtaking psychedelic serenity of Dead Can Dance's "Nierika" or Shpongle's "Shpongle Falls".
This record is a benchmark for death metal, a sign-post to how macrocosmic and transcendental death metal's fans will allow the genre to become. Sure, other bands incorporate non-metal elements into the music itself, with Nile's Egyptian melody, Mithras' psychedelic space journeys, Vital Remains' neo-classical shred, etc. But no band has ever crafted an album as such an artful statement as this, to be taken on a journey into uncomfortable territory, to force us to think outside the box and incorporate non-metal elements into the whole picture-flow.
Because with this record, Trey is posing the question: how open are you? How in touch with the spirit are you? He has written songs that are clearly barometers for the enlightenment of metal fans: do the solos in "Prayer of Hatred" generate feelings of inexpressable wonder? Does the climax to the solo "Heaving Earth" dissolve away your limitations, allowing you to feel the grace of infinity, if only for a moment? Does the 2nd half of "Covenant of Death" take your breath away? Do you pick up on the arcing spiritual journey that the 2nd half of the album takes you on, specifically the musical sequence of Hellspawn - Covenant of Death - Hymn to a Gas Giant - Invocation of the Continual One - Ascent Through The Spheres, and the way that your soul is lifted up by the outro solo of Invocation of the Continual One and gloriously released into blissful nirvana of Ascent Through The Spheres?
See, you're not supposed to pick up on the fact that this stuff isn't death metal. You're not supposed to care or think about there being clean guitar in the ending to "Covenant of Death". This music is supposed to transcend genre-identification and pidgeonholing, and to rather become something more... it is supposed to be recognized as simply "great emotive, moving music". You aren't supposed to care about the ending to "Covenant of Death" not being typical death metal; you are simply supposed to sit there, with your jaw hanging wide open with drool hanging out of the side of your mouth, stunned, and thinking "Wow, holy fucking crap, that was INCREDIBLE." You're supposed to get goosebumps as the last sections of "Invocation of the Continual One" prepare you in anticipation of the climax release of the outro guitar solo's commencement.
Many people don't understand this, and thats okay. There are great standard death metal and standard Morbid Angel songs. The violence of "Chambers of Dis" is ridiculous, and the churning, chewing stomp of "Umulamahri" is awesome. The slow acceleration at the beginning of "Hellspawn: The Rebirth" is downright diabolical and demonic.
This album is full of pure brilliance that is laughingly obvious. Its a shame that death metal as a whole can't see the magic, but such is the way of humanity... we are not equal, and some people do not have the same ability to see beyond their narrow stereotypes and ego-satisfaction needs.
So, this album showed exactly what death metal will experience from here on out: a struggle, a struggle to pave new path when most don't want it. The struggle to do something new, when people want to listen to Altars, Deicide, and Effigy forever, yet always proclaiming themselves to be accepting and open-minded. This album is the benchmark album for whether metalheads are indeed open-minded and sensitive to the human condition, and it is a barometer for how far death metal will go and how greatly it may or may not succeed.
For I can only hope that future generations will pick up on the brilliance contained herein, and how Morbid Angel shattered the mold and changed the world when everybody thought them to be dead in the water, following Dave's departure and a sterile, lifeless 4th album. Hopefully they won't be scared of being called a "wuss" for enjoying the vaulted melodies of "Disturbance in the Great Slumber" or afraid to let themselves enjoy the glistening sparkle of "Hymn to a Gas Giant" lest they forever be branded a "pussy".
In the meantime, I will content myself by letting the sublime tension-releasing climax of "Covenant of Death" warm my soul and expand my consciousness, allowing me to glimpse tranquil vistas of brilliant sunsets in worlds unknown and spectral wonders that have yet to be dreampt.
Relax, open yourself up, disinhibit your social posturing, put on "Formulas Fatal To The Flesh", and let it blow your mind. It wants you to let it do so.
Morbid Angel – Formulas Fatal to the Flesh
You can say that Covenant was the turning point, the sign of change for Florida veterans Morbid Angel when they boarded the ship bound for the shores of modern death metal. It was 1993 and death metal, though it had been around for a while, was for many achieving its apex and defining what would be called its modern form. For a lot of bands the early 90’s was the setting for the departure from thrash and the grasping of an identity they could truly call their own. Morbid Angel was just such a band and like it or not Covenant replaced the rapid-fire punky rhythms and raspy assault of the band's first two albums with a streamlined, down-tuned, and overall fuller and heavier sound that represented the trademarks of death metal to come.
Some rejoiced at this development and others bemoaned it, upset by the more linear beats and riffs and not impressed by the gruffness the band adopted. But without getting into Covenant itself too much, it can be said that understanding that album can’t be done without a longer gaze, and whether Covenant was the beginning of something new or simply another step in a continuing path, Morbid Angel were both adopting the new death metal standards and adapting their signature sound. Proof of this came along with ‘95’s follow up, Domination, a divisive album characterized by great success and damning failures. The inconsistency of this album ushered in a tumultuous period for the band, a period defined by successes and failures. While Domination found itself on the wrong side of that line, Its successor did not.
Formulas Fatal to the Flesh, on the surface, is a return to Covenant values: the mix is consistent and robust, the most dense and punishing of the band’s career – only Gateways to Annihilation was comparable, and it didn’t have the crunch of it’s predecessor. The guitar work is, structurally, also a return to Covenant, abandoning the large, epic and often pointless style from Domination and keeping things active throughout. New vocalist Steve Tucker also continues the rough baritone David Vincent had adopted since Covenant. Looking a little deeper, though, we see that Domination isn’t entirely forgotten: the riffing itself is much the same grinding, rolling affair that made the good moments of Domination so good, and the drumming is a similar barrage of blasts and double bass rolls, though not without the nuance Pete Sandoval has always managed to work in. Formulas, ultimately, corrected many of the mistakes of Domination while, at its core, staying true to that album’s essential musical traits. To see Formulas only in reference to Covenant, while tempting, makes it impossible to understand.
In the first place, Formulas was the heaviest material the band had put out to date. From the first devastating chord of “Heaving Earth” it is evident that this is not just an evolution but an overreaction. After the hollow sound of Domination, Formulas, employs an extremely crunchy, buzzy and distorted guitar tone that envelopes all the riffs, chords and harmonies. These songs have to be listened to actively and with diligence to be heard and understood. “Heaving Earth” is full of complex riffs that slip right under your nose if you’re not paying attention, and “Chamber of Dis” features some blistering finger work that employs the standard chug-chug as well as some truly painful discordant harmonies. Make no mistake, this is technical death metal, just not in the style of a Necrophagist or Spawn of Possession. The violence of the music is almost in direct opposition to Dominations attempt to thrive on pace and progression.
The riffs are not all fast and technical though – for every face melting, finger-burning section there is one that demonstrates the harmonic brilliance of the band. “Nothing is Not” is perhaps the best example of this – a slower song featuring extremely low chords and perfectly paced mid tempo riffing that brings out the sheer power of the material here. It’s that typical death metal style but with Trey Azagthoth’s soon-to-be-trademark sluggish- and sludginess. Songs like “Umulamahri” trudge along deliberately, as though resisted at every step but forging ever forward with unstoppable force. Here is the sonic precursor to the sludgefest that is Gateways to Annihilation, probably Morbid Angel’s most definitive statement of uniqueness and originality coupled with precise and controlled power. This is the legacy of Domination, what the album should have and tried to achieve with significantly stunted success.
One of the champions of that unsuccess was the vocal production. At times, we had good, powerful, if not overly guttural, growls, but at other times the ridiculous reverb and various effects rendered them totally silly. Even at their best, they lacked the fullness of the bellows on display throughout the genre. Steve Tucker’s delivery isn’t that different, but it’s utterly consistent, never varying from that harsh, rasping bark. The sort of flat quality to his delivery allows his outbursts to glide along the surface of the instrumental juggernaut that they accompany and complement the discordant, dissonant element of the sound. His barks are fast and his timing is excellent, allowing him to keep up with the faster sections, and he never falls into the sort of muddy, incoherent gurgling that, while enjoyable, would detract from the constrained madness that this album is. The vocals here are clearly meant to ruffle no feathers, to be a fitting accompaniment to the music that has been so refined.
Depth is another quality that sets apart the music found here. Whereas Domination was overly transparent, with all the sounds too isolated and unable to cohere with the necessary power of a death metal offering, Formulas is immersive in the best way. All the sounds layer perfectly on top of one another in a decipherable yet synergistic fashion so that they individually overpower everything else and work together to form a massive whole. On the low end, Pete Sandoval’s drumming demonstrates how all metal drums should sound: the bass drum is deep and low, loud yet not triggered to death so that it covers everything else, with the sort of soft thud that makes it almost enchanting; tom hits are marked by a very percussive quality – they sound like a drum, not just like their actual tone; the snare is perfectly crisp, rising up above all the others with just the right amount of reverb – it pops when he blasts and yet flows smoothly when called upon repeatedly. Aside from the tone, the drumbeats are almost all great. His blasting is crazy fast, as on “Heaving Earth” and “Chambers of Dis” and his double bass beats are groovy and catchy as on “Nothing is Not” and “Prayer of Hatred.” Fills are fast and well placed but never overdone or overabundant. Pete, like the rest of the band, perfectly toes the line of technicality, mixing in just enough to impress and amaze without sacrificing the identity or functionality of any song.
But there’s a whole other side of this album that hasn’t even been mentioned – the genius and novelty of Trey Azagthoth. I could write this whole review about his riffs alone and that wouldn’t even do him justice. Aside from the fast, heavy, technical riffs and awesome harmonies there are the mind-bending solos, another vestige of Domination’s innovation but here allowed to shine. “Heaving Earth” gives the first taste, this one short but sweet, a lick ascending from utter darkness into magnificent splendor and then flaming out, like a solar flare erupting from the molten surface. “Chambers of Dis” has two, each featuring blazing shredding and whining, high strung chords that tear at the fibers of the mind. Trey passes seamlessly from high to low, at times dropping so far he can barely be heard and at others soaring so high the sounds are barely distinguishable as actual notes. “Covenant of Death” features some classic tapping and arpeggios with the typical overdose of gain out of which bursts forth a great melodic lead traveling at light speed. And there are many others. Throughout the album are the searing melodies of Azagthoth, dancing along the surface of the crunchy guitar tone, meandering into and out of the hellish miasma underneath. When he wants to he can be extremely melodic, such as the end of “Covenant of Death” and the incredible next song, “Hymn to a Gas Giant.” Trey’s guitar work here is at times like a caustic sludge, at others like an eruption into flame and at others like a cloud of nebular gases sublimely wafting through the void. He touches upon the greatest evils of the mortal world and the most supreme limits of existence just as this album traverses an equally vast and analogous region. Nothing could demonstrate this better than the final true song on the album, “Invocation to a Continual One,” a microcosm of the album itself, containing, within its nearly 10 minutes every feature of the album mentioned above packaged within the kind of punky beats of the band’s older material, as though to show you, all at once, where they were, where they are and, presumably, where they’re headed.
This album is everything Domination should have been: starting with a standard death metal formula it incorporates even heavier, sludgier tones, fast and pummeling drumming and rhythms, powerful and abrasive vocals, coherent songwriting and enchanting melodies. That said, it does suffer from a few shortcomings: for a 13 song endeavor, it’s a little short on material. The final three songs are all ambient interludes, which Morbid Angel do very well, but which here are thrown in at the end, separating nothing, leading to nothing, transitioning between nothing; further, true to its form as a response to the somewhat eclectic Domination, it can get tedious, especially with such a deluge of notes and strokes in the first 30 minutes. That said, it does what Domination could not, making the most of everything it has and making it seem like more, the opposite of its precursor.
That we view Formulas so heavily in terms of Domination is a testament to both the struggles and ambition of the band beginning with Covenant, traits that run right through to the following albums as well. Despite all its successes, Formulas was not the definitive statement for this adventurous outfit, a title that, if ever applicable, belongs to the subsequent offering, the demolishing Gateways to Annihilation. It’s as though it swung so hard in the opposite direction from Domination that it too missed the mark, and despite being a compelling and laudable album was perhaps mired a little too much in the conventional. Still, its merits, many of which are shared among the bands discography, are undeniable and its execution is a marvel, and if it is only one chapter in the story that is Morbid Angel we can only be thankful that such a saga exists for us listeners to parse.
Written for www.leprousgarden.com
While I freely admit to loathing the shit out of this album for many years, I think it's important to take into account what transpired to lead into its creation. Long-time bassist/vocalist David Vincent had parted ways with Morbid Angel, moving on to help his wife out with the Genitorturers. This led to the search for a replacement, and thus Steve Tucker was brought on, leading to some derision and division among the fan base. Vincent left some huge shoes to fill, and through his three studio albums with the band, Tucker has done his best to do so. He's got a similar, deep vocal tone and four string acceleration suited well to their style, but I simply don't feel that he was given the most interesting material here to work with...
So I didn't have high expectations for what I'd be hearing, and after the insane deluge of hype and press surrounding its manifestation, it was a rather enormous disappointment. An even further experimental work than Domination, which received mixed responses (it happens to be one of my favorites in the band's discography, with a wealth of memorable content I still listen through on a normal basis). That said, after about a decade of numbness towards Formulas Fatal to the Flesh, I have so slightly warmed to its molten Mythos evocations. Not warmed to the point that I'd consider it a good album. I'll stand by the opinion that it's the worst they've ever recorded. But there are a handful of metallic tracks here with interesting components, and Sandoval seemed to set himself some new records for manic, inhuman blasting. "Chambers of Dis", anyone? Fucking ludicrous, in particular his ability to shift on and off these rhythms (i.e. "Covenant of Death").
It's honestly the most 'showy' Morbid Angel album, with extremely brazen, clean production values that surpass the swampy depths of Domination and the flat and average Covenant or Blessed Are the Sick. The guitar tone is fibrous and crunchy, yet loses nothing in the fits of sheer speed that populate the compositions. Admittedly, the bass lines are predictable and boring, rarely given the top billing, but then, so too were Vincent's. What really drags the album's flow under would be the ambient, instrumental vignettes which feel amateur and cheesy, and don't seem to mesh into the metallic onslaughts. I'm speaking of the forgettable "Disturbance in the Great Slumber" and its shoddy, uninteresting attempts at synthesized chaos, or the flighty and sporadic guitar instrumental "Hymn to a Gas Giant", or the VGM-like "Ascent Through the Spheres". About the only interlude of interest would be the "Hymnos Rituals de Guerra" and its warlike, programmed percussive sensations, but even this could have done with some better atmospheric accompaniment. In short, these all should have been snipped free of the album, and the metal left to do the talking.
I've already mentioned "Chambers of Dis", and it's the one song I would take away from this album and include on a career highlight reel for its voracious swiftness and diabolic thundering urges. It's also one of the few points at which this album recaptures the sinister miasma of their legendary Altars of Madness, trumping it in sheer force, with bristling leads and a whirling muted barrage deep in the bridge that creates a sense of vertigo, of falling into the unknown. But for this, there are a number of faster, less intriguing pieces present. "Hellspawn: the Rebirth" is pure Morbid Angel, an old tune given official release at long last, but the majority of the riffs lack distinct character, and the same goes for "Heaving Earth". "Covenant of Death" is about half kick-ass, while the slower, crawling fare like "Nothing is Not" or the epic and bizarre "Invocation of the Continual One" are sure to lose a few minds in their labyrinthine corridors.
My own gray matter cannot be counted among the victims, I'm afraid. For all the variation the band have brought together, Formulas Fatal to the Flesh as a whole feels disheveled and rushed, as if a majority of random riffs and elements were packaged together with mildly conceptual libations to beings that don't exist, and some decent lyrics ("Nothing is Not", "Prayer of Hatred"). Punishing if you just want your eardrums kicked in like the pedals beneath Pete Sandoval's feet, but largely lacking in the malevolent dimensions that made their debut album (and Domination) so great. From a technical standpoint it bears its burden, and it seemed stifle the concerns over the band's new front man. But in the long run, I've found it nothing but an experiment in controlled chaos, a buffet of brutal scattershot urges with little cohesion. An opiate of atrocity with no lasting addiction. Mediocrity unbound, served with an ADD additive.
After the departures of David Vincent and Erik Rutan, as well as the bankruptcy of Giant Records, the future of Morbid Angel seemed unclear. On a deeper level, it seemed that the band was creatively bankrupt for some time, taking their music further from its roots and attempting to appeal to the masses. By 1997, they recruited a new vocalist and then began working on the follow-up to 1995's dismal offering, Domination. It was time to get things back on track. Unfortunately, Trey was unaware of the true point where they deviated from their course, so he aimed to pick up where Covenant left off, rather than going back to a more pure time for the band. In February 1998, Formulas Fatal to the Flesh was unleashed.
To be honest, I was looking forward to the release of this album. For me, Morbid Angel was an upper-tier band, based on the first two records, alone. I also caught them live, on numerous occasions. With Domination being their only horrible offering, I hadn't given up on them yet. As a matter of fact, they were one of the very last Death Metal bands that I even attempted to keep up with, as I was extremely dissatisfied with what most Death Metal bands were doing in the mid-to-late 90s. My first impressions of the album are quite similar to my current opinion, though I think I have a better grasp on a few things.
First off, the big change here was in the vocal department. Steve Tucker replaced David Vincent and most people were turned off by this. Many claimed that Vincent was the voice of Morbid Angel and that Tucker was generic and vocalists like him were a dime a dozen. At the time, I felt the same way. Looking back, I was a bit unfair to Tucker, as were most. True, his style is boring and he didn't sound any different from the hundreds of other Death Metal vocalists of the time. However, and this is the thing that I neglected for so long, he put forth more effort than David Vincent did in his last album performance. In fact, it would appear that Steve Tucker was doing his best to emulate the vocal style of Covenant, imagining that was what Morbid Angel fans wanted. Right or wrong, I think he deserves a little more credit than he got. A boring and generic performance beats the awful vocals of Domination. The only real complaint is the section of "Umulamahri" that features similar distortion to that found on "Where the Slime Live".
As for the music, itself, what we have here is a very strong attempt at creating Covenant Pt. II. The more I listen to this, with such focus, the more apparent it becomes. Right from the beginning, "Heaving Earth" is somewhat reminiscent of "Rapture". The comparisons can be made throughout the album, and it's not necessarily a bad thing. On one hand, it implies that the band has run out of ideas and that they are merely repeating themselves at this point. Nonetheless, at least they were trying to correct the mistakes of the previous album and to re-establish themselves. And, really, it's not so uncommon for a band to begin rehashing old ideas, after so many albums. The real concern should be whether or not the music is enjoyable for the listeners. In this aspect, they succeeded. Formulas Fatal to the Flesh, while not being very original, is much more listenable than its predecessor. Unfortunately, it still suffers from some level of inconsistency.
It's already been mentioned that Trey Azagthoth is recycling some ideas, here. One must take a closer look to understand why. Is it that his creative well has run dry? Maybe it was important to reiterate past themes in an attempt to make the definitive statement that this is the sound Morbid Angel shall be known for, and to forget the foul 1995 release. That is entirely plausible. So, upon closer inspection, it may not be a lack of ideas, but rather an effort to reinforce the trademark sound of the band.
Another point could be made that the old material recorded for this album strengthens the argument against Trey's creative prowess. "Hellspawn: The Rebirth" is an old song, from Abominations of Desolation, that was re-recorded for the new album. "Invocation of the Continual One" was, supposedly, written back in 1984 and not recorded until 1997. Between the two of them, that's 12 minutes of material that had to be taken from the past, in order to fill out the new record. In their defense, Domination was the only album that didn't feature a re-recording of an older song, so this is nothing new. In fact, it's kind of interesting that the band could still incorporate old material into a new release. As for "Invocation of the Continual One", this is my pick for best song on the album, so it's a good thing that these old riffs were finally used. Even if the song had been sitting, unfinished, for 13 or 14 years there's no reason to not include it. Sometimes, these things need to ferment for a while before they are ready. Additionally, Trey's vocal performance on this one proves that he could have taken over vocal duties and the band would have, probably, benefited from it.
The final mark of inconsistency is the fact that the album contains so much filler, much of it just tossed at the end, randomly. "Disturbance in the Great Slumber" suits the album well, much like "Doomsday Celebration", from Blessed Are the Sick. No problem there. "Hymn to a Gas Giant" leads into the next song, well enough, but it's not completely necessary. As for the ones at the end of the album, none of those are needed. If they wanted to end the album with some ambient outro, one would have sufficed. Three in a row just reinforces the feeling that things weren't properly arranged and, in all honesty, none of them are worthwhile. Of course, it's simple to just stop the CD after the last real song, so the presence of these "bonus tracks" isn't terribly detrimental.
In terms of production, the band returned to Morrisound (though not using Tom Morris or the dreaded Scott Burns). The overall sound is a vast improvement over the previous album. Not to beat this to death, but it's about as close to the production of Covenant as was possible. The guitars are still muddy, which one could suppose is the desired sound. The guitar solos are crystal clear, really managing to pierce your ears. This may have something to do with the fact that Trey served as co-producer. Also the drums to seem to be mixed in a little better, for the most part.
All in all, the biggest flaw of Formulas Fatal to the Flesh was its timing. If this album had come out in 1995, it would probably have been hailed as another classic. The fact that it was released in early 1998 lessened its potential impact. Since Covenant, Morbid Angel released an E.P. of terrible remixes, the horrid pile of vomit known as Domination and then a lackluster live album. In other words, their stock had dropped in the previous 4 or 5 years. Outside of the poor timing, this album should be considered on-par with Covenant, which seemed to have been their goal. No, it didn't signal a return to the brilliance of Altars of Madness or Blessed Are the Sick, but it was the best thing they had released since 1993. It's filled with great riffs, some really good arrangements and a level of energy that hadn't been seen from this band in years. They really seemed as if they had something to prove. It's a shame that they weren't able to fully capitalize on the momentum that they began to regain with this one. If you haven't given this album a listen, do so. "Invocation of the Continual One", alone, is worth the price of the CD.
There was a time when Morbid Angel was arguably the most fearsome band on the planet. A time when their guitars oozed menace, their lyrics dripped with venom, and their overall effect was one of paradoxically elegant savagery. That year was somewhere around 1989, when they had just birthed an album called Altars of Madness and inspired fear and awe in those that heard it. However that year was not 1998, when they had just excreted the wasteful lump of potential that was FFttF, the subject of today’s review.
Having parted ways with both mastermind vocalist/bassist David Vincent and ill-fated Richard Brunelle-replacement Erik Rutan, remaining members Trey Azagthoth and Pete Sandoval chose to fill the bass/vocal lineup vacancy with a guy named Steve Tucker. This is a choice I would view as poor, as Tucker’s growl has little in the way of distinguishing qualities. But by itself this is not problematic; it is when his passionless growling is coupled with vapid death metal almost equally devoid of distinguishing qualities that the overall level of listener suffering is raised. Whether or not it was an attempt to return to the Covenant sound after the crippling misstep that was Dominashit I’m not entirely certain. But what is certain is that as far as Morbid Angel albums go, Formulas is remarkably formulaic. In small doses, tracks like “Chambers of Dis” and “Heaving Earth” are devastating, displaying about the same tonal carnage as a track like “Rapture” or “The Ancient Ones.” But in series with sludgy garbage like “Nothing Is Not” and the copious “ambient” tracks, the event is earaching. On one hand it’s because the tracks are severely uneven, but the guitars don’t sound particularly good either. Though Trey’s tone is immediately recognizable, it is a muddier incarnation that adds only to the overall wall of noise. There are glimmers of past brilliance, notably in the form of “Invocation of the Continual One,” which features Azagthoth himself on vocals and the most ambitious writing of their entire career to date. There’s also that mellow bit in the back half of “Covenant of Death” which easily ousts all the separate keyboard-laden segues, but considering the quality of ‘those’ tracks, it wasn’t a difficult task.
Indeed, the instrumental tracks deserve a special segment of derision. A fifth of the album consists of that atmospheric crap that Morbid Angel is contractually obligated to have on their albums in order to stand out from their peers, despite the fact that the “pieces” serve only to further disrupt the flow of the album. Yes, they’re disrupting a somewhat monotonous album, but the sound of these distractions is far too jarring for them to act as an appropriate change of pace. They also awkwardly conclude the album: three consecutive ambient tracks are the grand finale. I’m certain that there are some dopes out there that would attribute this as a soggy misshapen puzzle piece in Trey’s master plan: to these I can only offer my opinion that perhaps his vision has gotten a little blurry over the years. Lyrically, he’s still wading through the same paganism/demonism fodder that he’s been trying to push since day one. And you cannot discuss this album without mentioning the fact that its title is so painfully alliterative that it’s almost Seussian in its absurdity. And the fact that it’s a veiled numerological reference to the number of the beast is so fucking cheesy that I can only imagine Trey twirling his mustache and cackling madly at the very thought, just like some Old West villain who just tied some unfortunate dame to the train tracks. Yes, the whole album can be thought of as a train wreck. Sure, the cargo holds were full of great ideas, but how many of them were salvageable after impact?
They still had the most original lead guitarwork in their field and one of the sturdiest drummers, but Morbid Angel really failed to deliver in the actual song department for this one. Consider it failed. Fallacious. Farcical. False. Fucked. For fans only. But don’t consider it good.
When David Vincent left Morbid Angel, many people thought it would be impossible to replace him. Then Erik Rutan left, leaving but Trey and Pete to write the bulk of the material on this album. Following up the smashing success of Domination (a record I do enjoy, despite its somewhat unorthodox and potentially "commercial" nature) was not going to be an easy feat, especially since they had just been dropped from Giant and alienated a lot of the br00tul death crowd with Domination. The future looked bleak.
But FFttF blew those doubts clear out of the fucking water.
Trey wrote pretty much the whole album here, with a bit of help from Pete. What we have is an entire album of viscious, warped riffing. There's the churning riffs of "Heaving Earth," the slight melodic touches on "Prayer of Hatred," and the ultra sludge of "Nothing Is Not." And I believe that this album displays his best and most characteristic solos. Just have a listen to the solo in "Nothing Is Not." Pure godliness! And Trey even does vocals, a screechy black metal-esque rasp on "Invocation of the Continual One," and amazingly, it works. The ending of that song is just fucking amazing, too, by the way.
Even though I'm not a fan at all of his now triggered drumming, Pete's role on this album is immense. His drums certainly take a bit of a back role to Trey's unrelenting guitar assault, but he's got no lack of tricks up his sleeve. His little fills in the slower parts of "Prayer of Hatred" are almost prog-rock like, whereas elsewhere, he seems to know just the right fills to throw in where necessary.
Steve's vocals are much less comprehensible than David Vincent's, and appear to be lower in the mix. This is kind of irritating, hence I took some points off. He seems like he's a bit intimidated by his role in the band, and a bit uncomfortable, but in the end, you get used to his vocals.
The production and overall feel of the album are both raw and very spontaneous, bringing in that Altars of Madness feel, but with more variety in the riffage. I love the fact that some lyrics are actual sumerian invocations, because they add immensely to the obscure atmosphere of the album.
The instrumentals at the end tend to really take away from the whole of the album, especially "Trooper" which really seems out of place. Perhaps, had they been mixed in, I could have added an extra four points to the score. Other than that, this has to be the best thing Morbid Angel has done since Blessed Are the Sick and the closest to a "br00tal" death metal album without the idiocy.
Following David Vincent's departure from Morbid Angel and Steve Tucker's recruit Morbid Angel releases "Formulas Fatal To The Flesh". It marks a solid evolution from the last album "Domination" in which the contemporising and commercial "hate and frustration" metal has left a significant influence.
Departing from the slowed down, near-grooviness of the last album, the first track "Heaving Earth" swoops in. The crushing heaviness of the ensemble is immediatly felt, and after a certain amount time the blast beats kick in just to push this heaviness to other extremes.
We notice a significant change vocal-wise : Tucker's vocals are extreme and less comprehensible than Vincent's is, yet they participate in the huge atmosphere created.
The album has many memorable songs such as "Covenant Of Death", "Bil-Ur Sag" and "Chamber Of Dis", all of which create a crushing and suffocating atmosphere through the usage of 7 string guitars, pummelling and break-neck tempos delivered by the drums, booming and powerful bass and of course the occasionally layered growls.
The songs carefully and intricately alternate between soul devouring blast beats and slower, groovier intervals. As a whole, the album creates a disturbing, eerie yet brutal environment that leaves solid ground for the Sumerian mythology inspired lyrics.
As much as I wish I could say this album is great, some factors influence my choice to give this album a higher grade ; the instrumentals for instance. The synthesisers do not aid in creating a disturbing atmosphere and break the flow of the album. Some of the intervals last too long, sometimes seem pointless and leading nowhere.
In overall, this album proves to be Morbid Angel's finest in terms of speed and brutality, but it still lacks the precision and to-the-pointless of older albums, such as "Covenant". Nevertheless, this album is a worthy purchase if you're into ultra fast, precise and brutal death metal.
Formulas Fatal to the Flesh is an album of frightening perfection and compelling vision.
I remember back when this was released many (myself included) were skeptical as to how Morbid Angel would sound without David Vincent; not only on vocals, but without his input on the music. For me, all fears vanished upon listening to the first song. Over the course of the album, it becomes apparent that this is an even more focused band than before. Formulas Fatal to the Flesh seemed to blow every previous Morbid Angel release out of the water. The music was faster, the vocals were faster, Trey Azagthoth's riffs were completely skewed into something even more odd and obscure than many thought was possible, Pete Sandoval's drumming was light years ahead of nearly every other extreme metal drummer, and the lyrics brought to life the most essential concepts that Morbid Angel had used since their inception.
Formulas Fatal to the Flesh has far too many highlights to mention. "Prayer of Hatred" features a thick-sounding, mid-paced middle section that is sure to get the listener headbanging every time. The simple string-bending riff is a great embellishment during the verses of this part as well. The opening riff of "Hellspawn: The Rebirth" may cause the dead to rise and devour the living if played near a cemetary during the alignment of certain celestial bodies. At least, it's worth a try! "Covenant of Death" has some of the wildest solos on this album; sheer unrestrained power before a sudden, mind-numbing stop and some crushing doom riffs bring the song to an end.
Trey Azagthoth's love of anime is reflected in the bubbly atmospheric pieces like "Disturbance In the Great Slumber," "Hymn to a Gas Giant," and "Ascent Through the Spheres." For these happy-sounding interludes to be included on an album that features some of the fiercest songs Morbid Angel has ever created, shows that, much like Celtic Frost before them, this band was never afraid of taking risks or experimenting regardless of how some narrow-minded listeners might have reacted.
Formulas Fatal to the Flesh features some of the most bizarre and unique riffs, solos, structures, and lyrics in all of metal. Pete Sandoval's drumming at times seems to defy human ability in terms of speed and complexity. Of course, it always did, but even more so on this CD. The overall impression is one of awe at how well the music and concepts meld to create an imposing monolith of an album. Morbid Angel's vision of The Ancient Ones is brilliantly portrayed and willed into being on these amazing songs.
Morbid Angel just never give up. They are unrelenting in their efforts. Every time they release a new album I go out and buy it and more times that not I am blown away by it. "Formulas Fatal to the Flesh" succeeded in doing that but only for a handful of tracks.
The dreaded filler tracks are back on this album. I hated these on the "Domination" album but to have five separate tracks devoted to fillers and instrumentation is inexcusable. The only real track that I can stand out of the filler tracks is more of an instrumental solo than anything else and that is "Hymn To A Gas Giant". Trey tears up for about a minute and then the same theme from that track continues over into the next. 10 minutes later after that track there are three consecutive filler pieces. To say I was disappointed would be an understatement. It would seem that Morbid Angel just wanted to get this album over and done with so instead of writing three more awesome songs they decided to press some notes on a keyboard and add some cool ambient effects. Not up to par guys.
Besides that major flaw and dent in the albums score everything else is really well done. This is perhaps the heaviest album since "Covenant" was released with most of the non-filler tracks being an unrelenting trip through the bowels of hell, something which Morbid Angel has always been able to give its listeners.
A personal favorite track of my own is "Covenant Of Death". It's just very, very heavy and probably the best track off this album. The awesome musician again has returned. No need to point out what is obvious. Morbid Angel never fails to deliver a show of technical and brutal strength on each of their albums.
All in all "Formulas Fatal to the Flesh" is not a bad album but it is not a great album either. At the very least I can say that Morbid Angel have returned to their brutal sound reminiscent of "Covenant" days and it shows and it is good, but the fact that five separate tracks are nothing more than ambient noise is inexcusable. I hope that Morbid Angel to not continue down this path of ambient experimentation. I would hate to see one of the greatest Death Metal bands of all time go the way of the do-do.
And so the era was over. The impossible had occurred; David Vincent had left Morbid Angel. Certainly the question circa 1998 was how such a man could be replaced: indeed, his bass, vocals, and writings were a defining portion of the entity known as Morbid Angel. A replacement was found in the form of Steve Tucker, ex-bassist/vocalist of little known (and unproductive) death metal band Ceremony. However, could such an unknown figure possibly replace one of the most legendary frontmen in death metal history?
To be fair, such doubt was not only logical but a product of the era. After the near disintegration of death metal in the mid-90’s, the latter part of the decade, while the genre rose to its feet again, was shaky and doubtful. A severe brush with commerciality in the form of the attempted Earache/Giant deal left most metallers rather paranoid of mainstream influence afterwards. Although such incidences did not kill death metal, they certainly brought the genre to its knees, awaiting the executioner’s blade. If ‘Formulas Fatal To The Flesh’, the sixth LP by Morbid Angel, had failed, death metal would likely have collapsed under its own weight and today would be a mostly forgotten genre.
Luckily, it was not to be the case. Perhaps ‘Formulas Fatal To The Flesh’ is not so much important on its own terms, but as to what it allowed from the future. By being so willingly anti-commercial and esoteric in nature, this LP proved that death metal wasn’t dead yet. And this is what the scene needed at that time: reassurance that the legends were still powerful. While a certain segment of the metal-listening population derided this release (most likely out of a rather self-fulfilling prophecy of theoretical failure), the vast majority saw it for what it was: not brilliant, but solid in a genre that had been anything but for a few years past.
Aesthetically, ‘Formulas Fatal To The Flesh’ is specifically designed to resemble ‘Covenant’. The music is sharp and very dark in tones, an element which is used to distance the music from morbid Angel’s previous LP, ‘Domination’, which was overly bright and clear. One of the most noticable examples of this is in timing: ‘Domination’ was done entirely with electronic metronomes, whereas ‘Formulas Fatal To The Flesh’ has no artificial timing mechanisms, giving it a rougher, more organic sound overall; this ‘back to basics’ aesthetic was another reassuring element of this album, eschewing popularly accepted modernity in order to appeal to a metal scene that wanted none such inclusion. Production, too, is murkier than that found on ‘Domination’; perhaps obvious, but still effective for its purposes.
And it’s a fast, fast album, possibly the fastest and most frantic of any of Morbid Angel’s music since the chaotic frenzy of early tracks such as ‘Bleed For The Devil’. This (admittedly somewhat artificial) extremity combined with the rougher sound and instrumentation was precisely what death metal needed in 1998: a return to ‘Altars Of Madness’ and, in a way, ‘Seven Churches’. ‘Formulas Fatal To the Flesh’ matches the musical and ideological ideals of death metal in order to represent itself as the genre in its carnal state. Once again, precisely what death metal needed. There was no time or room for ‘progression’; dependability was needed above all.
Steve Tucker is most importantly described as ‘capable’. He is deeper, more gravel-throated and less distinctive than David Vincent, but an attempt to replace the latter with someone as stylistically specific as he would have been to risky at such a phase. Tucker’s voice represents ‘Formulas Fatal To The Flesh’ as a whole: extreme, yet foundational in nature, without unnecessary departures or movements away from the commonly accepted formula. His basswork is, like Vincent’s, buried in the morass of Azagthoth’s guitars. Tucker is conceptually flexible to Azagthoth’s bidding, and it can be seen in the far higher than typical influence of H.P. Lovecraft’s work on the music and lyrics here. Azagthoth controls this album down to the last letter but shows admirable restraint in his music: it does not meander to much nor stray from its goals. Probably the only example of Azagthoth restraining his ego throughout his musical history. His guitarwork is intensely remniscient of previous Morbid Angel works (critical to the success of the album), but not entirely unoriginal: the riffing present here is not heard on other albums, though it does bear more than a passing resemblance to that found on ‘Covenant’.
Sandoval’s drumming is simpler than usual, with less obscure fills present than usual. It serves its purpose, like all things; the binary formula of blast/double bass forms the critical platform for the rest of the instruments to ride upon and does not distract from the melody-based nature of this album. One could almost call this Morbid Angel’s black metal album, as the general atmosphere and instrumentation could be said to match it in many ways, though the thicker sound does something to throw off such comparisons.
‘Heaving Earth’, opener of ‘Formulas Fatal To the Flesh’ is tight and percussive, and begins on one of the major themes that is present in the album: that of ancient Sumeria. Frequently throughout the LP Tucker will use ancient Sumerian in his lyrics, alternating from typical English to further the archaic feel of the album. Such words are tight, percussive and guttural, composed almost exclusively of one or two-syllable words. It matches the music perfectly in these dimension, almost sounding like an additional drum of Pete Sandoval’s kit, where rhythms are used to carry the meaning of the melodies. This album is violently rhythmic, like ‘Covenant’, and particularly violent in this respect.
This album showcases the highest use of ambience in Morbid Angel’s work to date: a full five tracks are dedicated to such works, with a block of three composing the ending of the album. Such tracks are highly varied: ‘Hymn To A Gas Giant’ to a very strange, wafting guitar piece, ‘Hymnos Rituales De Guerra’ is entirely composed of percussion, and ‘Ascent Through The Spheres’ functions as a bridge in between. Closer ‘Trooper’ is pure synths and sound effects of warfare and is likely the most powerful ambient work that Morbid Angel has ever composed.
However, ambient works, while more important here than on any previous Morbid Angel album, still take a back seat to death metal. Songs such as ‘Bil Ur-Sag’ and ‘Chambers Of Dis’ are savage in their intensity and conviction; a very, very appreciated return post-’Domination’. On the other end of the spectrum, ‘Nothing Is Not’ is the sole slow track that would set the pattern for their next album ‘Gateways To Annihilation’s devastating sludge. However, despite these mild departures, the emphasis is squarely on high-sped, ripping death metal exemplified by tracks such as ‘Hellspawn: The Rebirth’ (a redux of an ancient, demo-era track) and ‘Covenant Of Death’ (the name of which is no coincidence at all). Tracks such as these are fast, punishing, and strong. There is no impartiality or weakness on this album. It is a proud, strong album, fitting the otherworldly atmosphere and philosophical implications of this LP.
On its own terms, ‘Formulas Fatal To the Flesh’ is good, but not stunning. But when taken into account with the time of its release, this album can be appreciated much more for what it is: one of the albums that saved death metal.
After a streak of four killer albums, this was the first real stumble made by the mighty Floridians. David Vincent had so much character and sinister presence in the vocal realm that replacing him with a Max Cavalera-sounding wannabe was simply a bad move on Trey's part. Steve Tucker went on to develop much more his own identity vocally, but this was not an auspicious debut, in my opinion.
My biggest complaint about this album is quite simply the fact that it is too fast all the time, without the dynamics and evil, spine-chilling feel of classics like "Altars of Madness". It sounds more like a Krisiun album than Morbid Angel, not a good thing in this case. The songs are rushed and hectic (rather like the intensely shitty "Heretic"), and seem to be more about how fast and chaotic they can be as opposed to writing massive hymns to the Ancient Ones.
The lyrics are far too goofy and mysto-crapo, too, lacking the elegant darkness of the David Vincent era--Trey kind of went off the deep end in writing this one, I'm afraid. The ending instrumentals are simply throwaways, as well. If they had been spaced throughout the album more evenly, I'd have appreciated them more--chalk it up to bad sequencing, I guess. As it is, they end the album with a squeak instead of a roar.
And the production is not quite up to the standard set by past efforts as well. The bass is buried as opposed to the solid brick wall it was before, the guitars are thinner and the drums are more obviously triggered than before, it sounds like.
The songs blur into a single continuous wall of blasting and wild riffing that simply don't gel together into anything really special. I found this album disappointing, to say the least, as compared to the ones that came before and the monster that came after this one ("Gateways to Annihilation"). Then again, it ain't as awful as "Heretic" was. But this would be far from my first choice if asked to recommend a definitive MA album for a newcomer to death metal.
Morbid Angel's fifth studio effort was one of the most anticipated albums ever to me. After the departure of Dave Vincent following the listener-friendly "Domination" album, I wondered what Morbid Angel's next move would be. With all but a few of the major bands in the genre evolving to more gentle styles, splitting up or plainly dissapointing, Morbid Angel carried the hopes of thousands of brutal death metal fans.
I honestly believe that "Formulas Fatal To The Flesh" breathed life back into death metal. Every single regular track (excluding the instrumental interludes) are blistering, ravaging chunks of high-speed death metal, mixed with the swampy, crawling sounds that seem to emerge from some mysterious H.P. Lovecraftian abyss underseas. Opening tracks "Heaving Earth" and "Prayer Of Hatred" introduce a faster-than-ever Morbid Angel. Pete Sandoval drums amazingly creative and accurate and lets the competition know that he is the standard they have to live up to. "Nothing Is Not" slows the pace down, and contains highly memorable lyrics and masterful dynamics, reminding somewhat of "Where The Slime Lives".
Other outstanding tracks include "Chambers Of Dis", where Sandoval again excells in speed, an updated version of "Hellspawn" (which was also featured on the "Abominations Of Desolation" album) and the epic (!!) "Invocation Of The Continual One". This song again has its roots deep in the eighties, some of the riffs were written by Trey Azagtothback then. Hence the old fashioned catchiness. If ever you want to hear psychotic mastery of the guitar, listen closely to the final solo Trey whipps out. It sends shivers down my spine just thinking of it.
"Formulas..." is almost a Trey Azagtoth solo project, having written all the lyrics and by far most of the music. Newly recruted vocalist Steve Tucker does a decent job to enhance the depths and eeriness of the songs, even though he is not as versatile as his predecessor. Poor guy though, to have to memorize all the ancient Sumerian mumbo jumbo Trey writes in. "Formulas..." bares a very distinctive production (again, Azagtoths work) which is not clear at all, but very old school and very deep. Lyrically the whole album stands out against all the other Morbid Angel albums for its philosophical impact. Songs like "Heaving Earth" and "Nothing Is Not" are extremely metaphorical and reveal their true depth only after close examination. Trey Azagtoth obviously walks the thin line between madness and genius.
Closing off, I like to state that "Formulas Fatal To The Flesh" paved the way for bands like Nile and Hate Eternal by pushing the boundaries of speed and style. Unfortunately Morbid Angel has chosen to simplify their themes on the following albums and mellow their sound with it. As it stands, "Formulas..." has no peers besides Morbid Angels first two albums.