Retro Review: ‘Formulas Fatal to the Flesh’ by Morbid Angel

Back in 1998, Morbid Angel apparently decided they were going to take a break from Satanic lyrics and indulge themselves in the Mythos.

But, the thing that comes to mind when you think of the Mythos is water and space, which is quite a departure from the hellfire that we’re used to hearing from Morbid Angel.

The outcome was Formulas Fatal to the Flesh, a pretty solid death metal album which doesn’t really depart significantly from their prior musical fare. At least not what I’ve heard.

To start out with, let me make it clear that I can’t say I’m a Morbid Angel fan.

It’s nothing against them musically, it’s just that Trey Azagthoth really turned me off to him personally in an interview where he critiqued other bands. His comments on some of the bands, among them were a few I really liked, came off as rather harsh. He couldn’t say “that’s not my thing” he had to go and say “they suck.”

That being said, I can in no way deny that Azagthoth is a gifted metal guitarist. He adds that little extra something which elevates most of the pieces he writes, whereas another band may be content to forego or be too lazy to add any sort of nuance, no matter how much it improves a song.

Formulas Fatal to the Flesh is also the first album to feature Steven Tucker on vocals and bass. Tucker replaced original vocalist David Vincent in both roles and would be with the band from 1996 until 2003, being replaced by a returning Vincent from 2004–2014 and then replacing Tucker again in 2015.

On drums is Pete Sandoval, a death metal drum god known for not only his speed but his sound, which is akin to a herd of horses galloping on blasted ground. Although Azagthoth’s role may be the centerpiece of the band, Sandoval’s drumming was definitely a huge part of Morbid Angel’s sound and it’s hard to picture the band being successful in the death metal scene without him.

The album

Morbid Angel doesn’t waste any time getting to the blast beats with “Heaving Earth.” It’s hard to say a lot about this song. For a first time listener, it gives them a taste of everything Morbid Angel is known for: Azagthoth’s guitar melodies and Sandoval’s galloping bass drums.

From there, it goes into the the first real stand out “Prayer of Hatred.” It’s almost groovy in some parts, but its “slower bits” are where the song shines, with Azagthoth’s strings complementing Tucker’s vocals perfectly. It also has a great and memorable guitar solo, which exemplifies why Azergoth is considered a guitar god in death metal circles.

From there, it goes to “Bill Ur-Sag,” which is a good song, but “Prayer of Hatred” is almost impossible to follow up. Not that the band doesn’t try. Sandoval gets a moment to shine in it, which is something that makes this song notable.

Other standouts include “Nothing is Not,” which is a bit “slower” than most songs so far, being more of a heavygrinder than a blast beat fest. There is also the interlude “Hymn to the Gas Giant” that features an Azagthoth, playing a clean, almost ethereal guitar, unaccompanied by other instruments. The song “Umulamahri” is where Tucker gives his most interesting vocal performance on the album, adopting what sounds like a wide-throated growl, giving him sort of an almost liquid sound.

Invocation to a Continual One” is my favorite off the album. It’s the only song of the album that kind of breaks away from “this is what you expect from death metal” to me. Azagthoth sprinkles a rather cool sounding melody throughout and Tucker gives a rather awesome vocal performance while really shining on bass. Altogether, it’s the best song (also longest) on the album.

Of course, there’s some odd stuff on the album too. Especially the three tracks after “Invocation to a Continual One.” That is where things that don’t sound like they’re actually part of the album begin.

One of those odd things is “Ascent Through the Spheres,” a non-metal track that is very similar to another track called “Disturbance in the Great Slumber.” Both sound like they would be more in place as part of a 1980s Italian horror movie score than a metal album.

Then there’s penultimate track “Hymnos Rituales De Guerra,” which gives Sandoval another chance to shine on the drums. It’s a percussion-only track with a bit of a tribal and latin fair.

The closer, “Trooper,” is probably the most out-of-place track. It’s totally industrial without drums, bass or guitar. I couldn’t help but wonder “why is this on here?”

Seriously, this is the oddest final three tracks I’ve heard on an album. They’ve really got nothing to do with the rest of the album. It was actually kind of off putting.

The verdict

Formulas Fatal to the Flesh is an interesting album. Aside from the last three tracks, it’s a pretty solid effort from one of the bands that were key in defining the death metal sound.

That being said, it’s not exactly what I would call an essential album. Unless you’re a fan of the genre, or Morbid Angel in particular. There’s just not a lot of “wow” to suck a new listener in.

But, I’d still recommend going over to YouTube and giving it a listen, particularly the songs I mentioned. Azagthoth is a spectacular guitarist whose solos are some of the best in metal, a fact that he won’t let others forget.

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