By 1998 Morbid Angel
was in some pretty serious trouble, with regards to how their future would play out. Domination
, while possibly the band’s most ‘commercial’ album to date, ended up performing fairly poorly overall, since its style alienated quite a few long-time fans and overall, it sort of flopped. Furthermore, both David Vincent and Erik Rutan had left the band following the tour in support of the album. Vincent’s vocals, in particular, were up to this point one of Morbid Angel
’s most defining elements, and thus the loss of such a defining voice was seen as a huge blow to the band's identity. Basically, with this album, Formulas Fatal to the Flesh
, Trey Azagthoth and co. had the deck stacked against them on here. This is notable, because Formulas is not only a powerful return to form by the long-time masters, but it is also one of their best albums to boot.
Essentially, Formulas… is a return to the faster (yet varied) style that defined 1993’s Covenant
, but – contrary to popluar belief – this album is by no means a mere carbon-copy of that album, instead adding in a lot of very unique, quirky traits rarely seen before or since on a MA album. Arguably, this is Morbid Angel
’s most experimental album up to this point, as this sees them experiment with a rather unique, psychedelic sense of melody, as well as a deceptively large amount of tempo and mood shifts. Additionally, some of the riffs on here are even more twisted rhythmically and melodically than Morbid Angel
’s usual fair. These experiment elements virtually define this album and make it a stand out effort, for both better and worse.
For the most part, these songs are extremely varied in terms of construction and tempos, though the band for the most part tend to keep things pretty fast – this record is the opposite of Domination
in that regard: Domination
plodded too much at mid-paced speed, while you could argue that Formulas tend to stick to the top speed for too often. That
said, by no means does Formulas stick exclusively to one-dimensional blast-beats (like, say, Hate Eternal
would); as noted above, the band take the opportunity to use a wide variety of differing tempos – see the sludgy middle section of opener “Heaving Earth
”, the solo break of “Prayer of Hatred
”, or the masterpiece that is “Covenant
of Death”, which starts out at blasting speeds before subtly chugging down in speed (underneath only of Azagthoth’s most insane solos) before shifting into a psychedelic breakdown riff. It’s really impressive how easily the band shift gears even on this album.
Other fantastic tunes on this release would be the updated take on “Hellspawn
” from Abominations of Desolation
, which is a mostly hyperfast, frantic number this time out and it works because the band at least keep it fucking short unlike Hate Eternal
, with “Bil-Ur-Sag” being very much in the same vein. “Umulamarhi” is a somewhat more elaborate and controlled song. “Nothing
Is Not” really hearkens back to the sludgier songs that they wrote earlier in their career, with a much more controlled level of speed than the previous few songs and some masterful riffing on Azagthoth’s part, and an incredibly melodic solo taking form at 2:30 into the song. “Chamber of Dis
” is fast-as-fuck, but it has a great solo in the middle that leads into a killer break.
The real masterpiece of the album is the almost ten-minute long “Invocation of the Continual One”, which is possibly the single best song Morbid Angel
have written since the first three albums. Its controlled yet brisk pace, tight arrangements, and sharp, thrashy riffwork almost hearken back to the first two albums especially. Trey Azagthoth takes over vocally for this song and he does a damn fine job, with a really shrieky, raspy tone to his vocal style.
The biggest flaw with this album is the fact that the pacing is marred by the enourmus amount of filler interludes on here – “Disturbance in the Great Slumber
” and “Hymn
to a Gas Giant
” are okay for what they are (segues), but the last three are totally unnecessary and should’ve been thrown out. (“Invocation…” should’ve ended the album, full-stop) they’re not awful, but they’re easily skippable and probably should’ve been left on the cutting room floor.
The production job, much like the music, is a radical shift from the previous album in every way possible. Domination
boasted an overly bright, processed production job that took a bit of the punch away from the band’s sound. Formulas, on the other hand, manages to utilize a powerful, deep, uniquely murky production that still captures most of the instruments, but presents them in a somewhat more obscured light. The rhythm guitar tone is deep and powerful, while the lead guitar has an ‘arcane’, not-quite-totally-defined sound to it that is not only incredible sounding, but fits in with the rest of the instrumentation superbly. The drums are well-recorded and mixed, though the snare is a bit loud for my liking during the blasting sections, and the bass drums are triggered – fortunately, not offensively so. The bass is of course buried, and the vocals of both Tucker
and Azagthoth are upfront, without being overly loud in the mix.
Make no mistake: Morbid Angel
has always stood out from the pack when it comes to Floridian Death Metal
, and Formulas Fatal to the Flesh
most definitely is not a generic album. Admittedly, it is a very flawed album, because of the excessive filler interludes – which they totally fixed up on the following album – but the meat of this album ranks as some of this band’s finest moments musically. A very underrated album that not a lot of fans seem to really give its due; highly recommended.