Skip to content

cover-warfather.jpg

 

It took Steve Tucker about a decade to launch his post-Morbid Angel project. While his tenure with Morbid Angel met its fair share of criticism (some of which was completely substantial and founded), his new international project Warfather is marred by faults of its own, be they inconsistent songwriting or a rather unflattering production. “Orchestrating the Apocalypse” is an adequate traditional death metal effort with its heart in the right place, but given his stature (and the collective experience present in the line-up) that simply won’t cut it anymore. That the very same ailments that crippled his swansong with Morbid Angel are present here once again, makes one wonder whether the project was rushed to completion, and if so: why? There’s certainly room for improvement, but this could, no, should have been such much more than it is – and it is a pity to see a promising new death metal unit not reaching its promised potential.

Warfather-band-2-640x458

Warfather is led by vocalist/rhythm guitarist Steve Tucker, along with scene veteran and former Sinister vocalist Eric de Windt (he appeared on the band’s divisive 1998 album “Aggressive Measures”) behind the drums. Filling the remaining positions are bass guitarist and backing vocalist slot Felipe Augusto (a Brazilian national appearing under the stage name Avgvstvs) and a masked guitarist known as Armatura. Only Tucker uses his civilian name as skinsman de Windt goes by the stage name Deimos in this project. There’s certainly no shortage of talent nor experience within this constellation. For an international unit the quartet sounds incredibly tight-knit and together, both in songwriting as in actual performance. What it lacks in punch and bite due to an overly dry and sterile production it makes up in actual engrossing songwriting. “Orchestrating the Apocalypse” reflects its key members’ experience and expertise, and while the lack of weight and oomph is detrimental to the overall presentation of the product the passionate songwriting redeems its glaring technical shortcomings. The martial and unearthly atmosphere that many of the songs hold hasn’t been heard in quite some time in both established - and underground bands in this genre. Warfather isn’t about instrumental wizardry - but honesty, integrity and passion above all else.

While the production completely robs Warfather of its concrete impact and bottom-end heaviness, the songwriting is an interesting mix of older and modern forms of death metal. The primary influences seem to be the expected Morbid Angel and early Deicide, but the strongest material recalls “In Their Darkened Shrines” era Nile, “Choronzonic Chaos Gods” Centurian and middle era Behemoth (“Pandemonic Incantations” onto “Demigod” era) while the wonderful guitar work is reminiscent of Death’s later works. The solo’ing itself is especially worth the price of admission as it done with sophistication and finesse, dripping with emotion through out the myriad leads that appear on the album. Tucker’s vocals are as venomous and bellowing as they have always been, but they too appear to be robbed off their inborn power due to the questionable production choices. The drumming is traditional, and refrains from constant blasting instead relying on thrashing beats and creative fills. This is no doubt thanks to the old school sensibilities of de Windt who cut his teeth with Sinister at the tall end of its creative high mark. “Orchestrating the Apocalypse” consists of 9 original songs, and 3 fairly inconsequential atmospheric instrumentals of varying lengths. Why most of these instrumental segues weren’t incorporated into the songs they introduce is a question worth asking as neither of them even reach the one minute mark.

The biggest strike against “Orchestrating the Apocalypse” is its proof-of-concept demo production job. The vocal production is more than commendable, but the guitar sound - while retaining that much needed crunchiness - lacks all sorts of weight and heft. The bass guitar is completely inaudible at any given time, which is a missed opportunity to say the least. One can only imagine what this record would have sounded like with a meaty, thundering bass guitar tone reminiscent of Gorefest’s “Erase”, any Bolt Thrower and Death record, Demilich’s very bass-centric “Nespithe” or Marduk’s booming “Nightwing”. The drums sound sterile and processed with rather flat sounding toms, and impotent, clicky sounding kickdrums that provide no meaningful bottom end heaviness whatsoever. All the instruments sound decent enough on their own, but the whole never gels into a unified sound. Next to that there’s no weight to any of it, which is a major shortcoming for a traditional death metal band like this. The album was recorded and mixed at TME Studios, and mastered at Maor Applebaum Mastering – so there wasn’t any shortage of resources or talent to make this sound fuller than what ended up on the finished product. If only it had been recorded at Sonic Ranch Studio (Texas), Nightsky Studio (Maryland), Studio One (Wisconsin), Audiohammer (Florida) or Californian facilities such as Castle Ultimate, Fantasy Studio, Trident or Sharkbite Studio. The biomechnical artwork by Irish artist Ken Coleman perfectly fits the band’s traditional yet modern sound. It is somewhat reminiscent of the late H.R. Giger’s work. The grotesque (vaguely human looking) deformity is intertwined with unearthly technology in a vista that is both horrifying as it is fascinating. That it avoids both the tired and expected gore/horror and blasphemic connotations usually related to this genre is a definite plus.

“Orchestrating the Apocalypse” is a commendable return for both Tucker and de Windt. It is a pity that the unflattering bassless production robs what are essentially good songs off their intended power and nuance. That Warfather refrains from playing at constant high speed is a bold move, as most of the death metal scene for some reason is still obsessed outplaying each other in terms of sheer speed. Thankfully Warfather remembers that death metal isn’t about speed, but about engaging songwriting. The record isn’t going to reinvent the wheel, and instead relies on conventions of the genre to sell its wares. There aren’t any arbitrary sound experiments, or left field excesses to be found on this album, and that is ultimately its biggest strength. Hopefully by the time its second album is released Warfather will have duly rectified its production problems to unleash a truly massive and commanding death metal effort that it rightly deserves. For a debut record “Orchestrating the Apocalypse” is far from bad, but one can’t shake the impression that this could, no, should have been so much more powerful than it is.

cover-sinister04.jpg

 

And so the time had come for Sinister to adapt itself to a rapidly changing scene that had no real need for it anymore. This record came to us in 1998 by which time Krisiun had appeared on the scene, Behemoth had released “Pandemonic Incantations” and Suffocation released its swansong EP “Depise the Sun” – blast-death was where it was at. Given the choice to adapt or perish, Sinister transformed its typical death metal sound to fit the changing musical trends. It still is undeniably Sinister in the ways that matter most, but a good deal of the time it sounds like a band trying too hard to be Suffocation…

At the helm of this revised version of Sinister was vocalist Eric de Windt, and his vocals are quite similar to those of original frontman Mike van Mastrigt. The only real notable difference is that de Windt’s grunts are far less deep. Aad Kloosterwaard does his best Dave Culross impression, and the nervous, choppy and crawly riffing takes equal inspiration from Suffocation this time around. Alex Paul provides bass guitar, but he is felt more often than he is actually heard. On all fronts “Aggressive Measures” sounds like a band desperately wanting to stay revelant, but only partly succeeding. By abandoning the style that made them the force they were, the band excises their only identifiable trait and replaces it with a sound countless of other acts around the world were doing.

The biggest stylistic departure is just how mechanical this record tends to sound. Whereas earlier Sinister records found an equilibrium between blasting fury and creepy midtempo dirges “Aggressive Measures” aggressively removes the band’s past template in favor for the taste-of-the-day, and the results are mixed at best. This is still Sinister at heart, nobody is able to replicate the band’s signature melodies or Aad’s weirdly unconventional drum patterns, but all else screams Suffocation worship. The bass guitar, once a focal point in the band’s writing, here is relegated to a mere supporting role. For a band once so proud to carve out its own sound, this certainly sounds timid and docile. It begs the question why the band decided to overhaul its sound quite so drastically. Kloosterwaard surrounds himself with capable musicians, but his influence can only have been minimal, as this sounds nothing like the Sinister of the previous three albums.

That isn’t to say that “Aggressive Measures” doesn’t have it share of signature tracks. ‘Beyond the Superstition’ and ‘Chained In Reality’ are probably the best this record has to offer, and the most clear in the Suffocation worship. There isn’t anything really wrong with the record, other than it being an imitation of something better, something more poignant. It is understandable why Sinister decided to go for this route. Suffocation released the “Despite the Sun” EP, their swansong. Krisiun (from Brazil) was making a name for itself in the underground, Diabolic released the utterly pummeling but derivative “Supreme Evil” and Morbid Angel released “Formulas Fatal to the Flesh”. The old death metal ideal was being left behind by its key players, and even second-tiers as Sinister felt the claws of irrelevance if they not kept up with the times.

The problem isn’t so much the Suffocation influence, but that it pushes out what made Sinister unique in the first place. All traditional Sinister components are still accounted for, yet their presence is minimized in favor of letting the Suffocation worship flourish. That isn’t bad in itself, but when people want to listen Suffocation they’ll grab one of their own records, and not this half-hearted, watered down stab at that particular sound. Other than that the Suffocation and Sinister elements feel out of place next to each other. The strength of Sinister was that it didn’t sound like the stereotypical Florida or New York band of the time. “Aggressive Measures” was a bid to get a footing in North America, and in the process Sinister betrayed its European fans. This is a confused record from a band that is suffering an incredibly obvious and painful identity crisis.

After recording three albums in Germany for the first time the band holed up at a studio in Holland. Excess Studio in Rotterdam was chosen for the session with the duo of Hans Pieters and Vincent Dijkers producing. The band envisioned to work with American artist Wes Benscoter. Alas they ended up working with Thomas Ewerhard as Benscoter was tied to other commitments at the time. In all “Aggressive Measures” took aggressive measures to modernize the Sinister sound for a newer and younger audience. It is a solid, but unremarkable record for a band that never really outshone any of its regional competitors in the same genre.

If you ever wonder what New York death metal sounds like when produced by a few guys from Holland, this record is a good place to start.