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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.