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After the classic trilogy that ended with “Covenant” Tampa, Florida death metal formation Morbid Angel released the highly divisive “Domination”. Despite adopting a similar format to “Blessed Are the Sick” overall, it was an audience-friendly reinterpretation of its classic sound, but simplified and streamlined for wider appeal. After losing the services of its most identifiable frontman David Vincent (who also provided bass guitar) and those of their second contributing guitarist Erik Rutan - the band found itself in a quandary as the remaining duo put the band back together. Honorably, they persevered in the face of hardship, and with the hiring of Steve Tucker the band birthed “Formulas Fatal to the Flesh”, a conscious callback to their “Altars Of Madness” debut in terms of speed, ferocity and energy, fueled by a lyrical concept about the Sumerian pantheon and its various deities - The Ancient Ones, most prominently among them – and the desire to match itself with its fresh-faced and eager competitors.

There are a lot of things that can be said about “Formulas…”, but the most obvious is how the band is struggling creatively. Presented with the choice to either continue doing their own thing, or adapting its sound to a scene that had long since outplayed them Morbid Angel, or rather Trey Azagthoth, chooses to imitate the sound of their biggest competitor in the field, Krisiun from Brazil. That is not to say that Morbid Angel fully abandons what made them famous in better years, no. “Formulas…” is that strange album where the artist is unsure which path to follow. Its basic construction largely follows “Domination” in its slower and sludgy sections, while the midpaced segments try to recapture the “Blessed Are the Sick” alchemy – all this is then overlaid with a more downtuned, angrier and faster riff set to prove its relevance to a younger crowd that came to know the band through Krisiun. While it is amongst the stronger entries of the Tucker-era, it is here that Morbid Angel start the recycling of past material and the unhealthy habit of senseless padding through instrumental segues and pointless filler arose in earnest. That would come to characterize the dying years of the Tucker era, with the absolutely atrocious and indefensible “Heretic” as its questionable high point, or low point, rather.

vegas_feb42001_tuckerlive1Steve Tucker. the Cinncinnati, Ohio transplant that was chosen to replace the then-respectable David Vincent had the unfortunate task of replacing one of early US death metal’s most iconic frontmen. Next to George Fisher replacing the once-relevant Chris Barnes in Cannibal Corpse, there was no other possibility of his presence behind the microphone rubbing long-time fans the wrong way, or being passed off as a weak imitator to those who didn’t keep as close tabs on the band, but still cared enough. Given the circumstances Tucker makes the best of the material what he is given. While his low-end rumbling on the bass guitar is, admittedly, rather docile and unremarkably trite his grunt is among the better ones in the genre, recalling Monstrosity frontman Jason Avery. He doesn’t stray too far from the tones of Vincent, and given the intricacy of some of the lyrics, he does a remarkable job with what he was given. He would find his voice with the next album, but as a debut recording as high-profile and scrutinized as this, Tucker makes a worthwhile entry. That he is hated for the reasons that allowed his entry into the band is not something he has any real influence over. It is remarkable that he lasted three albums with this band, given the continual stream of anger, disappointment and hateful venom that the ardent and more vocal minorities of the fanbase continued to pile on him. Tucker is the least of this album’s problems. Problems are what characterized this album, which seemed to be in two minds about itself, creatively and musically.

“Formulas…” was the heaviest thing Morbid Angel had written up to that point. As it was a compromise between three individual, often conflicting, sounds – it is surprising that Azagthoth was able to juggle this delicate balancing act with as much elegance and grace as he did. That is to say, for most of the original material this rings true – but the corpse had already started shambling on its own at this point. For whatever reason the band wasn’t able to gather enough original material for these sessions, and thus went on to pillage its individual and collective vaults for more material, resulting in this album’s shady second half. “Formulas…” opens with an absolutely scorching set of seven original and newly written songs. All the material was written exclusively by de facto band-leader Trey Azagthoth. Once past the atmospheric instrumental ‘Disturbance In the Great Slumber’ the band reverts into inconsequential rehashing of previously archived material and instrumental segues that feel detached from the rest of the album, and whose sole purpose seems to be to pad out the album to the required length.

Consider the following. ‘Hellspawn: the Rebirth’ was a re-recorded cut of ‘Hellspawn’ from the “Abomination Of Desolation” session, which the band considered unfinished and unsatisfactory at the time of its original completion. ‘Invocation To the Continual One’ is comprised of music written originally in 1984, but arranged and recorded here for the first time for public consumption. The instrumental tracks and the interludes are charming for what they attempt to convey. ‘Disturbance In the Great Slumber’ excepted there is no real reason for any or all these tracks to be even featured here, and their sad inclusion only appears to properly distribute songwriting credits between core duo Azagthoth and drummer Pete Sandoval. ‘Himnos Rituales de Guerra’ and ‘Ascent Through the Spheres’ were composed by drummer Pete Sandoval. If the band was struggling to come up with original material, why then the lunk-headed decision to let Azagthoth run the show creatively? Sandoval more than earned his place in the unit.

morbid_angel-formulas_fatal_to_the_flesh-1999-amrc-backWhile that’s all perfectly reasonable, and excusable with any other band – it is not with Morbid Angel, the supposed quality benchmark to which all other bands are measured. A paltry seven (7) new original tracks after a three-year interval is on the thin side no matter how you spin it. Especially considering that this is supposedly the most gifted and brightest death metal act in all Tampa, Florida, if not the world at large. Once again, all these seven songs are exceptional for what they attempt to do, and given the problematic situation surrounding the creation of this album, they sound remarkably coherent. Instead of giving the listener nearly 20 minutes of recycled archive material and instrumental segues, this space could have been put to better use with three or four actual new songs. Would it have hurt to release the album a year later with all new songs and no rehashes or pointless instrumental segues that only stroke the ego its creator?

The lyrics are overlong and sometimes tongue-twisting incantations to primeval entities and other supernatural beings. While I love the concept itself, some context, history and explanations through liner notes would have helped tremendously. The booklet refers to the Most High Triumvirate Of the Living Continuum and the Most Ancient Of Days, but without context (or a decent search engine, and bit of time) most people won’t be able to make heads or tails from this, admittedly, promising concept. Behemoth and Nile were both doing similar high-concept undertakings, yet both were able to succinctly explain the meaning of each of their songs on the albums in question, but the brightest, most talented and most critically acclaimed band in the genre cannot? Who are they kidding?

“Formulas…” is the first Morbid Angel album that marked the band’s creative shift and the first to struggle with its own concept. Whether it was the absence of creative input from certain secondary members, or key members being swallowed by their own insurmountable egos remains yet to be seen. “Formulas…” does what it does rather well, and outside of the recycling of old material and the myriad instrumental segues that litter the considerably weaker second half of this album, it stands as one of the better records within Morbid Angel’s second era. From this point onwards the band would first redeem itself with the follow-up to this record, before finally giving way to all-encompassing creative inertia and masturbatory exercises of the worst sort.

We might be far from “Blessed…” and “Covenant” – but the worst is yet to come.

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Of all the Polish bands that followed in the wake of Vader’s ongoing conquest of mainland Europe and North America with “Litany”, Yattering was the most technical and also, for lack of a better term, the weirdest. The fact that they named themselves after a demon of an early Clive Barker novel is the least weird bit of all. Even though their logo includes a skeletal pentagram, there’s not much overtly anti-religious about the band’s concept, and there never was. The band was one of the most promising additions to the scene along with the youngsters from Decapitated. A string of bad business decisions and touring debacles eventually led to the untimely demise of this East-European death metal outfit. In the decade that they were active, from 1996 to 2006, they released three death metal albums, of which “Murder’s Concept” is the second.

After two demo sessions and their debut “Human’s Pain” from 1998, the band came fully into their own with “Murder’s Concept”. Outside of the broken English titles (for the album, songs and a good portion of the lyrics even) this band is surprisingly professional in its aims. As the title suggests this is a concept album about a fictional serial killer and homicide in general. I have no idea what a “murder’s concept” is, but I’m sure they meant “The Concept of Murder” instead. Where others (Macabre, for one) idolize real life atrocities committed by deviants of our own society, Yattering here approach the multi-faceted subject from a more psychological, internal and emotional point of view. Despite the band’s limited knowledge of the English language, they are able to roughly convey the feelings of their album’s protagonist as he is tempted to kill, and when he eventually kills the lyrics go through great lengths to describe his feelings and mental state.

Vocalist/bassist Marcin "Śvierszcz" Świerczyński has a serviceable grunt, but isn’t a standout in any shape or form. His vocal work will him not make stand out when compared to other known Polish figureheads such as Nergal (Behemoth), Cezar (Christ Agony), Peter (Vader) or Jacek Grecki (Lost Soul).  Axe men Mariusz "Trufel" Domaradzki and Marek "Hudy" Chudzikiewicz lay down a solid foundation of technical riffs and mad thrashings with a healthy amount of leads/solos to spice up proceedings in a highly effective manner. The biggest star of this record is drummer Marcin "Ząbek" Gołębiewski. While his playing style is busy and over-the-top with an impressive array of rolls, fills and blasts with just the right amount of kickdrum salvos and cymbal crashes, he knows when to rein it in and let the groove take over and just flow along.

Scattered through out the record are light industrial flourishes, these serve to add to the feeling of paranoia and alienation, and are meant to reflect the slowly disintegrating mental state of the protagonist. Re-recorded from their debut album here is the track ‘Exterminate’, the strongest of that session and this one. Its presence isn’t very surprising as it was contributed to Relapse Records’ “Polish Assault” compilation series, albeit in an earlier and rougher sounding demo version. From what I gather around the net a lot of people are thrown off by these industrial segues, but I honestly don’t see why that would the case. They aren’t obtrusive and they are relegated to either end or introduce a particular song. While I’m generally conventional in my tastes for this genre, these segues hugely contribute to the otherworldly atmosphere this record aims for.
The production is crunchy but on the rough side, which is not surprising since this band obviously didn’t have the financial means as its more popular and major label backed brethren such as Behemoth, Lost Soul or Vader. The guitar tone is crisp and possesses a lot of clarity and definition, this becomes especially clear during the many lead/solo sections. The drum tone isn’t overdone and never sounds thin. The difference between toms, snares and kickdrums is clearly defined and balanced just right. The bass guitar can be clearly heard, and although the playing isn’t especially poignant, it at least manages to contribute to the songs in its own minimal way. On the whole the production is roomy but organic, and digital only in minor bits and parts.

If you ever tire of Behemoth’s thelemic subjects, the esoterica of Vader or the self-empowering rhetoric of Lost Soul, this band might just be the thing you’re looking for. More earthly and societal in its subject matter, this short-lived band at least for a while was the brightest star in the rapidly expanding Polish death metal scene of the late 90s and early 2000s. That the band went into disarray due to various bad business – and touring decisions makes it only more lamentable. Just imagine what this band could have been had they been properly backed and thoroughly promoted through the right channels… If only, if only… The world might never know what could have been.