Sunday, September 03, 2006

Morbid Angel: A Retrospective On The Steve Tucker Era

A retrospective on the Steve Tucker era for Morbid Angel may seem strange to some of those reading this article. The first frontman to Morbid Angel, and favourite to many has been David Vincent. Some have even gone as far to compare the difference between David Vincent and Steve Tucker to Rob Halford against Tim “Ripper” Owens in referance to Judas Priest, or Bruce Dickenson against Blaze Bailey during the time when Bruce left Iron Maiden in the 90's. The comparison continues, as Steve Tucker has left Morbid Angel for a significant period of time now with David Vincent now returning to the fold.

Filling the shoes of what some consider to be an icon can be difficult. On one hand, the band wants to move forward, but at the same time, the guy fronting the band from the beginning is often viewed as a member that people think of when they think of that band.

The Morbid Angel albums from the Steve Tucker era have also gained mixed reaction from fans. Some fans disliking Steve Tucker, and some disliking the experimentation that guitarist and founder Trey Azagthoth and the rest of the band have done with those Morbid Angel albums.

Steve Tucker has never attempted to imitate David Vincent, he’s been his own man with a different vocal style. The major differences being that David Vincent began singing on Morbid Angel’s 3rd (Covenant) and 4th (Domination) albums before he left. Steve Tucker on the other hand would accent his low vocals sometimes by adding a higher scream on top of his growl to create a harmony of sorts with harsh vocals.

The tradition started on the second Morbi Angel album (Blessed Are The Sick) of instrumental segueways and having slow songs has stuck with Morbid Angel to this very date. At the same time, Morbid Angel has always been forward thinking, as drummer Pete Sandoval has continued to become a faster drummer with every album, and Morbid Angel have always experimented with strange sounds in the world of death metal. You can always count on Morbid Angel to have a different album every time.

“Formulas Fatal To The Flesh” was the first album to feature Steve Tucker after David Vincents departure. Many have stated that “Formulas Fatal To The Flesh” is the fastest Morbi Angel album to date, because most of the songs on the album are very fast. The sound in many of the songs is a mixture of old Morbid Angel typically for the fast portions, and a modern Morbid Angel sound for the slower parts, typically slower breaks within the songs. The song “Nothing Is Not” is the official slow song on the album. The song “Invocation Of The Continual One” is an nine minute epic with a retro sound, as the liner notes state that Trey wrote the song in 1984. Trey also does the vocals for “Invocation Of The Continual One”. On a downside though, the instrumental segueways seemed over abundant, poorly written and placed close together.

“Gateways To Annihilation” is to many the highlight of the Steve Tucker era for Morbid Angel. Favourite second guitarist to many, Erik Rutan re-joined the band after working with his own band Hate Eternal. The production is probably the best for a Morbid Angel album, which is significant, as most Morbid Angel albums have had generally poor to mediocre production. At this point in their career, Morbid Angel played a lot of opening tours with Pantera as well, getting Morbid Angel out to a wider fan base. The cover art was done by Dan Seagrave, the same artist for their first album “Altars Of Madness”, their most famous album cover. The “Gateways To Annihilation” cover ended up getting wide circulation on many Morbid Angel shirts as well.

The sound from “Gateways To Annihilation” has been characterized as the slowest Morbid Angel album out of all of them with many heavy mid-paced songs. The album may have appealed more to the Pantera/groove metal generation as many of the mid-paced songs could have been interpreted as having a very groove oriented drum beat which works well in a mid-paced tempo setting. “Gateways To Annihilation” presents the biggest team effort in song writing since the 4th Morbid Angel album “Domination”. Steve Tucker contributed to writing some of the songs, as well as writing most of the lyrics for the album. Erik Rutan added many guitar solos to the songs, as well as what has been considered by some to be the fastest Morbid Angel song “God Of The Forsaken”, although the speed issue could be debated now. It makes sense that Erik Rutan would create an ultra-fast song, as his other band which he would begin focussing his time on, Hate Eternal is based on operating at insanely fast tempos. Trey Azagthoth would also write the lyrics for the song “Secured Limitations” and contributed vocals to that song.

And then came “Heretic”... Many disliked the album at first due to terrible production, probably the worst production on a Morbid Angel album to date. Often times the guitars sounded as though strings needed to be changed, and the guitarist themselves tuned. Pete Sandovals drumming was the fastest on any Morbid Angel album to date in specific songs, and his timing is impeccable as well, practically a human clock, yet the drum sound is strangely tuned. The bass drums were not very powerful, the snare drum doesn’t give a good, solid short crack like most typically good metal snare drums do, and the cymbals are buried in the mix. Perhaps the intention of the production was to give the album a throwback feel to the old days.

Production grips aside, deep within the mix of “Heretic” are good songs, for the most part anyways. Had some of the songs been worked on so certain portions didn’t drag on so often, certain riffs weren’t repeated so often, certain verses had been chopped off, and endings improved, those many decent songs could have been great songs. The same problem with those instrumental parts on “Formulas Fatal To The Flesh” were also apparent on “Heretic” as well.

The album “Heretic” also added some unneeded and questionable things. The huge amount of extra tracks past the 14th track (44 in total), and the bonus CD which included., such as Trey’s solos which by themselves come off sometimes as goofing around or simply showing off seem to have no purpose, especially for someone to dig through all those tracks. There’s also random sounds, a version of the song “Beneath The Hollow” with no vocals, and demos of the songs from “Heretic” with no vocals. All the extra stuff comes off as pointless and boring.

Steve Tucker has since left Morbid Angel, with none other than David Vincent coming in as his replacement. Erik Rutan has also joined Morbid Angel for a European tour, and there have been rumours of a new Morbid Angel album for 2006 or more likely by 2007. Unfortunately the setlists from Morbid Angels live shows contain no songs from the Steve Tucker era. One could speculate the many reasons why Morbid Angel aren’t playing those songs live. Perhaps they want to stick to the older songs which seem to be more popular. Perhaps they wanted to play the songs that David Vincent was familiar with. Whatever the reasons why, it’s too bad that there are decent songs from the Steve Tucker era which may never again be played to an audience.

Morbid Angel


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