Reinvention And Steve Tucker Era – Formulas Fatal To The Flesh To Heretic
In 1998, on release of 5th album Formulas Fatal to the Flesh, Trey Azagthoth spoke of new vocalist/bassist Steve Tucker bringing a “true death metal vibe” to the band. While this may have been an admission that Tucker had less of a vocal range than Vincent, the resultant album was an awesome blast of guttural fury and musical invention. Though it sold barely a third of what Domination had, Formulas was the sound of Azagthoth, who penned every track, rejuvenated, inspired and in creative overdrive. “Heaving Earth” challenged the listener with off-kilter phrasing, while “Nothing Is Not” and “Hellspawn: The Rebirth” reminded us that even in the most brutal, churning death metal, it only takes a killer hook to elevate the whole thing to universal accessibility.
Next came Gateways To Annihilation. It was to be Morbid Angel’s last (at time of writing) trip to Tampa’s Morrisound Studios – the cradle of many a seminal Thrash and Death album – and they kicked off the new millennium with greater emphasis on sludgy seven-string riffs and Roland-powered synth guitar. Despite Azagthoth grabbing the mic and airing his Black Metal-tinged vocal chops on “Secured Limitations” this time around the involvement of Rutan and Tucker came to the fore. Though Gateways is a more sparse and regimented affair (perhaps for the aforementioned reason), there are sublime moments, not least of which is the inhuman double bass drumming that kicks off “Opening Of The Gates“.
The period that followed Gateways saw the next raft of upset to Morbid Angel’s line up: Tucker left (though he was to return), to be replaced on tour by the late Jared Anderson who sadly died of unspecified causes in 2006. Rutan too called it quits to focus on his Hate Eternal project but despite the line-up instability Morbid Angel backed Slayer and Pantera on the legendary Extreme Steel tour, their ability to hold their own on this bill cementing their status as certified heavyweights.
Away from the commercial sheen of Morrisound and with long term sound-engineer Juan ‘Punchy’ Gonzalez at the console, Heretic, their 2003 endgame for Earache Records, saw Azagthoth off the creative leash once more, unveiling a brace of polyphonic guitar passages and songs characterised by shuffling, tumbling rhythms that were seemingly oblivious to commercial constraint. On “Enshrined By Grace” and the lightning quick “Stricken Arise” the band sound great with their claustrophobic, bargain-basement production. Sadly, there were too few tracks on offer with Azagthoth opting to fill up the album run time with snippets of noise, Sandoval’s sound check and, bizarrely, an isolated guitar solo from the Gateways album. To compound matters, Tucker’s input feels rushed and half-formed, as though his decision to return to the band only occurred at the eleventh hour.
Predictably, this uncomfortable album paved the way for more line-up changes, albeit ones that gave hope for the future. Brief South American tour appearances by both Erik Rutan and the man many still yearned for the return of, David Vincent, hinted at exciting things to come. By 2006 Vincent was back in the fold as the band slogged round the festival circuit, playing a greatest hits set of the albums A to D.