Skepticism and apprehension tug eyebrows upward any time a well-known band’s powerful, long-standing vocalist is replaced, regardless of genre. Steve Tucker is eternally a part of death metal’s fabric with his contribution to Morbid Angel, impressive on its own, much more so considering he replaced one of death metal’s greatest frontmen: David Vincent. Some purists remain stubborn, but at the end of the day, Steve Tucker’s work with the death metal juggernauts proved that he, too, is one of the genre’s greatest frontmen.
Morbid Angel fans were struck with a sense of déjà vu as Tucker made headlines last year for replacing Vincent, once again, nearly two decades after he first joined. He hasn’t been dormant outside of that scope, however. In the last five years he was involved with the all-star extreme metal band Nader Sadek, and his project Warfather released its debut, Orchestrating the Apocalypse, in 2014.
Warfather’s debut was intense yet the chaos seemed uncontrolled in terms of structure and production. The creative burst representing their sophomore effort, The Grey Eminence, on the other hand, was properly captured at Manna Studios, helmed by none other than Hate Eternal’s Erik Rutan. This is the first time, in fact, that Tucker and Rutan have worked together in the studio since they played on Morbid Angel’s Gateways To Annihilation album which was released in 2000.
The Grey Eminence is everything that its predecessor should have been. The songs are streamlined, the production is clear and bombastic. There is a method to the madness that can be appreciated by someone who likes an act like Slipknot yet might not be aware of the heavier and more extreme world of death metal. That isn’t to say that the album is mainstream or accessible per se. Rather, the battery is catchy and succinct.
There isn’t much by way of surprise. Warfather plays timeless death metal, or “pure blackened, apocalyptic death metal,” as Tucker calls it. There has been a dark and arguably spiritual quality inherent with Tucker’s music since his days with Ceremony. His raucous growl is like a conduit to an otherworldly energy that separates him from people who are just regular dudes singing in bands. This authenticity bleeds into his stringed instrument performance, as well, six-stringed guitars in the case of Warfather unlike his bass work with Morbid Angel. Only bassist Avgvstvs remains with Tucker from Warfather’s Orchestrating the Apocalypse lineup. New drummer Bryan Bever shines with his hard-hitting performance that reigns in and anchors the collective chaos into a memorable, digestible whole.
The Grey Eminence prevails with a constant sense of urgency, as with the epic introduction of “Headless Men Can No Longer Speak” that is followed by passages that are subsequently just as intense. “Judgement, The Hammer” kick-starts with a memorable, mid-paced groove that builds momentum and tension, the energy finally released like a slingshot with frantic, jackhammer blast beats and barked vocals that match the music’s intensity, highlighting Tucker’s ability to tailor his death metal bellowing to a variety of moods and atmospheres.
Warfather’s to-the-point approach steamrolls across the entire release, and while there is no noticeable fat, the songs run too long—ever so slightly, but noticeably—especially with “Heedless Servant,” rendering certain riffs less potent than they would have been otherwise. This is but a minor chink in an armor that’s build for war, built to last.
Steve Tucker isn’t just “that guy” from Morbid Angel. Warfather dispelled that fallacy by releasing one of this year’s best death metal albums.