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 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.