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Altars of Madness (1989)
 

Altars of Madness is the first full-length album from the legendary Florida Death Metal band, Morbid Angel. Recorded at Morrisound and released in early 1989, this L.P. features many songs that had been previously recorded on various demos and even an unreleased album from 1986. Fate determined that it would be this unholy release that brought together the evil forces that inspired Black, Death and Speed Metal to create a timeless classic.

Morbid Angel was one of the first Death Metal bands that I got into, so many years ago. At the time, I had only discovered a few others, such as Cannibal Corpse and Deicide. I immediately associated the vocal style with those bands but, musically, I thought of old Slayer. I remember sitting there, in the record store, previewing the album. I was supposed to just give it a quick listen and get the general idea; however, I ended up going through the entire L.P. right then and there, reading along with the evil and Satanic lyrics. Not only was I still young, but I was still fairly new to Death Metal, so Altars of Madness was very important in my musical development and my understanding of that particular sub-genre. I became obsessed with the album, listening to it every night, many times over. Naturally, I vandalized many school desks with my crude rendering of the Morbid Angel logo, as well.

"Immortal Rites" begins with the main riff being played backward. The guitars possess a hellish tone, similar to that found on Hell Awaits or Seven Churches. Sinister tremolo riffs flow throughout like blood from an open wound. The vocals are higher-pitched and raspier than the Death Metal vocals that I had experienced up to that point. David Vincent's ghoulish approach is far better than the deep and guttural style utilized by the legions of generic vocalists that came after him. Trey Azagthoth and Richard Brunelle unleash Hell through their guitar riffs, as the dark melodies haunt your mind. Of course, Pete Sandoval earns his keep as drummer, being quite proficient. As everything progresses, it manages to create an epic feeling, despite the relative brevity of the song.

The next song is "Suffocation", which wastes little time in breaking into a furious speed. There are a few tempo changes, as well as a razor-sharp solo near the end. In the grand scheme of the album, it serves to heighten the level of intensity.

"Visions From the Dark Side" begins with a brilliant tremolo melody. This hearkens back to the first Possessed album, in particular, "The Exorcist". It would seem that this album managed to influence many Scandinavian bands that were soon to begin releasing albums. As already mentioned, David Vincent's vocals are in top form, on this album. This is, certainly, his best performance. It is difficult to choose a favorite song, but this one definitely contains one of the best riffs on the whole album.

"Maze of Torment" starts out with a very memorable riff that will creep into your brain at the strangest times. Within moments, the song bursts into a high speed frenzy, unleashing Hell and suffering. Already, by this point, it is amazing that there is no filler on this album. It is rare for a Death Metal release to be so consistent. As the song progresses, the pace slows down to a ghoulish crawl, creating an eerie feeling.

The next song is "Lord of All Fevers and Plague", which is a bonus track for the CD version of this album, ever since the original release. This song is very fast-paced, for the most part, though it features changes in tempo and Trey's identifiable solos weaving in and out. The lyrics were written by Azagthoth, displaying his interest in Sumerian mythology. Late in the song, the tempo shifts again, reverting to more of an old school drum beat underneath the solo. It is very apparent that the songs on this album were crafted over time and perfected before being recorded.

"Chapel of Ghouls" is next, and is one of the most recognizable Morbid Angel songs. The song begins fast enough, though it slows down a little and includes a brief solo before resuming the previous speed. Around the 2:00 mark, there is a mid-paced and epic riff that creates an eerie atmosphere of old graveyards and murky forests. Trey's solo adds to this effect. AS the song build to its climax, a chorus of demonic vocals erupts from the bowels of Hell:

"Demons attack with hate
Satan in the fires of Hell awaits
Death against you all
God hear my death call"

This classic album continues with "Bleed For the Devil", which maintains a fast pace, throughout. It is relatively short. Vincent's vocals sound even more hoarse and raspy, containing the essence of death and evil.

"Damnation" carries this feeling on, though being a little less straight-forward than the previous song. The vocals are scathing and the guitars embody the 80s sound, especially the lengthy solos. Despite being recorded at Morrisound, this does not have the generic and boring production job usually associated with that studio. The overall sound is very reminiscent of early Slayer, especially the abysmal feeling of Hell Awaits.

Rapid-fire gunshots begin the next song, "Blasphemy", with the furious drumming of Pete Sandoval coming in and emulating this with precision. The original version of this song appeared on the Thy Kingdom Come demo, though is rawer form. This song is unrelenting in speed and aggression; however, the solos still maintain a lot of feeling, unlike many other Death Metal bands that toss solos in as if they were obligatory and meaningless.

This unholy classic concludes with the song "Evil Spells". This was originally recorded for the 1986 album, Abominations of Desolation, under the title "Welcome To Hell". The pace is neither fast nor slow; rather, it is more relaxed. There are sections that speed up a bit, yet these are brief. This song possesses a haunting atmosphere and serves well to bring such a monumental album to its conclusion.

With Altars of Madness, Morbid Angel established themselves as one of the elite bands in the underground scene of the late 1980s. This legendary album set a standard that has not quite been matched by any Death Metal band, before or since. In the liner notes, it says that "this album is dedicated to the underground and all Speed, Death, Black Metal fans everywhere." Altars of Madness is truly the point where all of these styles converged to create something memorable and special; something that Morbid Angel has not been able to repeat. Few albums stand the test of time like this one has. If you don't own this, impale yourself and rid the world of your feeble stupidity.
 
(13 Mar. 2009)

 
Blessed Are the Sick (1991)
 

In the early winter months of 1991, Morbid Angel entered Morrisound to record the follow-up to their seminal debut, Altars of Madness. By that summer, Blessed Are the Sick was unleashed upon the unsuspecting metal community. From the guitar tone to the vocals, the overall sound is much thicker, lacking the thin and sharp qualities found on the previous album. For some, this is the primary complaint; that the individual instruments fail to stand out as they once did, instead blending together and being somewhat flat. Regardless of this matter, the musical progression present on this masterpiece more than makes up for any such grievance. Whereas Altars of Madness bears an overtly Satanic approach and seems to be more raw and aggressive, Blessed Are the Sick takes you down to a darker place.

It was a dark and gloomy November night when first I obtained Morbid Angel's sophomore effort. Nearly a year had passed since I was introduced to the band, through their brilliant debut. I had absolutely no expectations, going in. Of only one thing was I truly certain; I was set to experience something very significant. Just looking at the cover art, I could tell that something was different. As opposed to the hellish, abysmal image that adorned the cover of Altars of Madness, Blessed Are the Sick greeted me with J. Delville's painting, "Les Tresors De Satan". From this alone, one might discern that a more atmospheric and sophisticated approach might be lingering within. As a result of the time period during which I discovered this album, and despite any failings with regard to the production, I consider this one to be on fairly even ground with the first one.

The first time that I listened to this, the darkness of night encompassed all. Only a few candles illuminated the room as the introduction carried forth sounds of screeching Hell, accompanied by random cries. Almost reminiscent of the early moments of Slayer's Hell Awaits, this set the tone for what was to come. You can almost feel yourself being flayed, as the skin is torn and burned from your tortured remains. The screams get louder until the realization hits that they're your own. A journey has just begun; one that shall take you through the darkest depths.

"Fall From Grace" begins with mid-paced riffs that convey a sense of doom and despair. Sandoval's drumming does well to crush any bits of hope from your withering soul. Just under a minute in, the pace quickens and it becomes apparent that David Vincent's vocals have altered, to an extent. They are still, easily, recognizable while being a bit deeper than before. The images that come to mind are not so much of suffering souls, burning at the fiery depths. No, here one gets the sense of damned souls reveling in the decadence of their own damnation. Trey Azagthoth and Richard Brunelle compliment one another's guitar-playing very well, as the solos flow naturally throughout the soundscape. Near the end, clean and ominous vocals make a sinister declaration:

"I ride the flesh and the sinners of hell
I am Belial
I bend my knee not but for my selfish desire"

Following this, "Brainstorm" unleashes its fury at top speed, hearkening back to the first album. Even the vocals possess more of a throaty rasp that on the previous song. Filled with searing solos and scathing vocals, one would hardly even notice that this track is as short as it is. The pace slows, very briefly, before returning to the blistering speed of before. Structurally, this song is comprised of all the same elements as the others, though the delivery is so lightning fast that it is gone before you know it. Yet, part of the beauty of this album is that the songs may or may not stand on their own. They can, if need be, but they form a cohesive work that serves the principal aspiration of the album, itself.

"Rebel Lands" appears to maintain the frenetic pace from the preceding song, though it quickly adopts a slower technique. For a song that clocks in under three minutes, it is amazing how well these musicians managed to infuse it with an epic sensibility. The solos are utterly brilliant, weaving through like snakes of fire, almost hypnotizing the listener. The hauntingly memorable melodies act as the perfect lead-in for the track that follows.

The title, "Doomsday Celebration", really seems to be like a mission statement for the album, in its entirety. What is heard here isn't so much an anger-filled war upon Christianity, yet the complete and total rejoicing in those ways which serve as the antithesis of those morals held by such feeble sheep. Trey Azagthoth handles the keyboards that sound very much like an old organ, creating some dismal atmosphere befitting of an old horror movie. Transiently, there is some strange imagery created of a war, long ago, but this spectre only burns like an old photograph, lost to the ages. The somber, horrifying feeling returns with the cold winds, as this interlude flows into the next song.

Commencing with, perhaps, one of the most memorable riffs of the album, "Day of Suffering" crushes all in its path. The heavy guitar riffs and pounding drums are accentuated by the deep and hateful vocals. After less than a minute, the speed increases to an almost frenzied pace, and the malice truly bleeds through.

"Lord of light
I will swarm against you now
Gods perverse
Wickeds at my side
Misery
Thorns to lance your every word
Nazarene
Now I crown you king in pain"

This is followed by, what may well be, the finest piece on the record; "Blessed Are the Sick / Leading the Rats". Much slower than the previous songs, this one proceeds at a sinister crawl. The blood trickles from your eyes as this hellish atmosphere drags you into the murky depths. The refrain sums up the feeling conveyed by this record.

"World of sickness
Blessed are we to taste
This life of sin"

The song slowly drifts further down into the abyss, toward the realm of the suffering souls and the dreaming dead. Claw and grasp as you might, resistance is utterly futile. Leaving trails of blood behind you, it will only suffice as a lasting tribute to the frailty of the human condition. The song ends with a beautiful and serene flute passage, of some sort, no doubt another trick of Azagthoth's keyboards. It's like watching this terrifying spectacle of a damned soul being dragged beneath the surface, into the grave that shall lead down toward the realm of total suffering. Once the earth closes up, a bird lands on that very spot, unaware of the danger... just then, a hand reaches up and takes the weak creature without struggle. Such images that this powerful music conveys. The lyrics still echo within your mind, reinforcing the dark and grim feeling.

"My touch is inhumane
Nocturnal beast inside
Is void of light
And empty shall remain"

"Thy Kingdom Come" speeds things back up, though it consists of a variety of riffs and tempo changes. Being an older song (appearing on the Thy Kingdom Come demo), this one bears more similarities to the feeling that was imparted by Altars of Madness. This is evident not only in the lyrics, but in the musical delivery. The pace is faster than the demo version though, otherwise, it remains quite faithful.

The next song is "Unholy Blasphemies", which was first recorded for the Abominations of Desolation album, in 1986. Naturally, this version lacks the rawness of the previous one, though it is more streamlined and concise. It is about half the length of the original. Nowhere does it drag, though that impression may only plague the earlier recording only because I heard this one about six months earlier. David Vincent's vocal approach seeks not to match the raspy sound of Mike Browning, rather he continues with the deeper style employed throughout much of this album.

Now, we arrive at the real high point of the whole record. "Abominations" is a song that had existed for five years, already, being recorded for various demos by this time. This is really one of the most atmospheric songs found here, possessing a great amount of dark feeling. After a minute or so, the tempo changes in such a manner as to emphasize the epic nature of this blasphemous piece. One can hear the sound of cold winds, blowing in the background, adding to this feeling. The solos come forth from the abyss, wrapping around your brain and suffocating all thought from it. As expected for lyrics written earlier in their career, they bear more of a venomous sentiment than some of the others, building to a hellish climax.

"Liars in wait, priests of the night
Make images to burn by the moon
Robbing the spirit, raping gods law
Send up our hate, to burn heavens gate"

The sound of the blowing wind flows into the next piece, "Desolate Ways". This compliments the previous song, and truly functions as a part of it. It adds a sense of balance. This tranquil, yet very somber acoustic piece allows Richard Brunelle to showcase his genius for creating melodies that are capable of piercing your soul. This dismal song has a way of reaching into your very core and gripping those hopes and dreams that you cherish so much and sucking the life right out of them. There is a mournful essence, here, that drags your spirit down and leaves you empty. It forces you to relive every traumatizing moment of your pitiful existence and to wallow in the loss of all that you ever held dear. What you hear are not the beautiful sounds of powerful music, but the draining of your soul, to the point of darkness not before conceived of. Overcome with unbearable grief and despair, you are beckoned forth by the luring comfort of the grave. In that thought only do you find any sort of peace.

A chaotic eruption of lead solos destroys the quiet, peaceful feeling. "The Ancient Ones" functions much like a hellish epitaph, moving along at at energetic pace, without really being all that fast. The vocals seem to have returned to the raspier side, as the solos split your skull wide open. This version maintains the old school feeling that was found on Abominations of Desolation (where the song was known as "Azagthoth"). Having picked up your devastated remains, whatever was left after the soul-annihilation of the previous acoustic piece, this drives you on toward the end of all that you ever knew. Picture a withered figure that has fallen near the trail, not far from the conclusion of his epic journey. This song is like a carriage, drawn by black horses, that has stopped by to pick up the remnants of this traveler to deliver them to final damnation.

And, at last, this monumental album concludes with the somber piano instrumental, "In Remembrance". The feeling here is one of finality. It's all over. There is no turning back. No second chances, no resurrection. Sorrow is yours, until the end of your worthless existence. Even then, there is no salvation; no sanctuary to house your wretched soul. It is to the great nothingness that you will belong. Into the yawning abyss, you will fall until there is nothing left.

Blessed Are the Sick is every bit the classic that it is hailed as, one to be revered for the ages. If you don't own this, do yourself a favour and remedy the situation with haste. This album will forever stand as a testament to the brilliance that once was Morbid Angel.
 
(1 July 2009)

 
 

Covenant is the third full-length from Morbid Angel. It was recorded in Morrisound and produced by Tom Morris, with additional input from Flemming Rasmussen. The material was then mastered, by Rasmussen, back in Copenhagen at Sweet Silence Studios. Of course, many know Flemming from his work on Ride the Lightning, Master of Puppets, etc. And, in a way, it is somewhat appropriate since Covenant can be compared to Master of Puppets, to an extent. Both are the third album by their respective creators, and both represent the point where the bands' styles were simplified for mass consumption. Of course, this was Morbid Angel's first album on a major label, as Covenant was released in 1993 by Giant Records, in the states. They also made two promotional videos, for "Rapture" and "God of Emptiness".

Though I don't recall seeing either video until a year or so later, those were the first songs that I heard from this album, played for me by an acquaintance from school. Already familiar with Altars of Madness and Blessed Are the Sick, I was eager to get my hands on another Morbid Angel album. I didn't care about the new label, nor was I concerned by the fact that they had made videos. I was only interested in the music. Still, after a few months of listening, the weaknesses began to show through. Whereas I would always listen to the first two in their entirety, I found myself skipping past some of the tracks on this one. That wasn't a good sign.

"Rapture" served as a good opener; it was simple yet effective. "Pain Divine" built on this with intense drumming and a great tremolo riff that would have fit well into some of the Black Metal of the era. "World of Shit (The Promised Land)" slowed things down, for the first half, but sitll managed to keep my attention. "Vengeance Is Mine" is where things began to get a little boring. Certain issues with the production start to become more noticeable. For one, the drums are way too loud in the mix, and it seems that the songs rely far too much on Pete Sandoval's drumming to carry them along. It's also clear that David Vincent's vocals are a lot more monotonous than on the previous albums. He mostly keeps to the lower end of his range, robbing the songs of a once-dynamic element. Also, regarding the production, the guitars are even muddier than on Blessed Are the Sick, and there's something about this that always bothered me.

As the album continues, "The Lion's Den" is another fairly boring song, seeming too catchy for its own good. The songwriting has been simplified for Covenant, almost as it they were attempting to appeal to a broader audience. The song structures are more basic and, overall, less engaging. And, somehow, the absence of Richard Brunelle seems to detract from the listening experience. "Blood On My Hands" follows suit, containing one or two interesting riffs, but never realizing its full potential. "Angel of Disease" is another re-recorded song from Abominations of Desolation and, though I appreciate the different vocal approach (and possibly different guitar tuning), it almost sounds as if it's from a separate session. While it is one of the more interesting songs on the album, I think that very fact ruined it for me, since I ended up listening to it over and over. With "Sworn to the Black", the deep vocals and mid-paced riffs return. The album is very tiring by this point, as many of the songs sound far too similar. And, again, the memorable and catchy nature of many of them is irritating after the first few listens. After a brief ambient piece, we finally reach the end.

"God of Emptiness" attempts to be dark, epic and filled with a sense of doom. It comes close, at certain moments, but it fails in the end. The gargled vocal effect is detrimental to the overall atmosphere, and some of the riffs are useless and boring. The song is also very repetitive, repeating the same few verses instead of taking a few minutes to write something else. Of course, with the awful effect on David Vincent's voice, it wouldn't really matter what was being said. As the song reaches its conclusion, it improves a bit with another slow riff and come clean vocals, though not too similar to what was found on "Fall From Grace". The album ends on a decent note, possibly leaving many listeners with the impression that Covenant was better than it really was.

Throughout the album's duration, there are far too many parts where the pace is slow yet the drumming is overactive. The drum fills and double bass are quite excessive. Oddly enough, though the band had simplified their sound a bit, they managed to overlook the kind of simplicity that was really needed. The slow riffs should have been accompanied by sparse drumming, and more effort put into developing their ideas instead of playing six variations of the same song. The clearer production only made the songwriting flaws more evident, as well.

Covenant isn't a terrible album, but it doesn't deserve the praise that it gets, either. It's enjoyable, in its own way, but can be very boring an monotonous. While I can listen to Altars of Madness or Blessed Are the Sick multiple times in one sitting, it's difficult to make it through this one without skipping through half of it. This is a simplified version of Morbid Angel, streamlined and aided by an assortment of catchy riffs in order to appeal to the masses. This was their attempt to grow beyond the underground and, to an extent, they succeeded. Unfortunately, it cost them their dignity and tarnished their name. They would make the full transition on their next album.
 
(27 June 2010)

 
 

In 1993, Morbid Angel released an album that simplified their sound and presented it to the ignorant masses. As planned, their popularity increased and the record sold well. It was a far cry from their previous works, but it was still bearable. However, in 1995, they crossed the line with Domination. A new studio, a new producer and a new band member as well. Erik Rutan, of Ripping Corpse, was brought in as a second guitar player. He also contributed to the songwriting. I would like to be able to blame him for what happened on this album, as he is the only new element that was introduced into the equation. More likely, Trey decided that it was time to experiment. That was common for many bands, by this point in their career, as well as the era that the album was written and recorded. Whatever the reason may be, the end result was a pile of stinking feces that should never have been released to the public.

It's difficult to even decide where to begin, when attempting to list off the countless faults that this album possesses. The most obvious flaw has to be David Vincent's vocals. His performances on Altars of Madness and Blessed Are the Sick were great, the former being one of my favourites ever. On Covenant, his style was a bit boring and one-dimensional (suiting the overall vibe of the album, really), but it was completely acceptable. For Domination, apparently, he lost any and all will to put forth real effort. I'm not just talking about the horribly comical effects used on "Where the Slime Live"; he sounds bloody awful throughout the entire album. He sounds incredibly weak, as if he lost his voice right before recording. His vocals are strained, pathetic and irritating in every way. It's no wonder that he left the band, shortly after this, as he must have just lost interest in what he was doing. Words fail to convey my utter disappointment in his "efforts" here.

The next problem to address has to be the songwriting. Trey must have run out of ideas, long ago, or become obsessed with the idea of 'making it big'. True, there are still some good riffs that have managed to sneak onto the album, and the solo work is still what one would expect, but the overall composition of the songs leaves a lot to be desired. There are way too many catchy riffs, and it's very blatant. To be fair, even the better songs probably don't get the credit that they might have, due to Vincent's awful vocal performance and the overdone production job.

Regarding the production, it's far too clear and modern for a Death Metal album. Of course, Morbid Angel weren't alone in this and some small credit should be given to them for straying from the typical Morrisound production, but it was too little, too late.

Even the artwork was a joke, as it looked both cheap and too modern, at the same time. The primitive computer-generated art and bright colours was the last thing anyone wanted to see, and certainly aided in the damaging effect that this album had on their career. While it's not important to everyone, I appreciate when the aesthetics fit, and even accentuate, the atmosphere being created by the music. Of course, this abomination doesn't really succeed in imbuing the listener with anything but disappointment, so the cover may be more accurate than it first seemed.

It's sad to see a great band throw away their potential and become a caricature of itself. That is exactly what Morbid Angel did with Covenant and Domination. For whatever they may have gained in the short term, they sacrificed their credibility and have never really recovered. In short, Domination represents the death knell for Morbid Angel. Despite their efforts they were neither accepted by the mainstream nor fully welcomed back into the underground after this betrayal.
 
(27 June 2010)

 
 

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.
 
(27 June 2010)

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