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Album Review: Warfather’s The Grey Eminence

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Warfather’s 2014 debut, Orchestrating the Apocalypse, was marked by poorly organized recording strategies and idiosyncratic compositional tactics that resulted in a somewhat erratic but ultimately compelling statement of purpose.  The band serves as an outlet for Steve Tucker, one-time voice of celebrated slabs by Morbid Angel and Nader Sadek.  With Warfather, Tucker sought a forum in which to exercise his musical ambitions and intricately detailed worldview.  The individuality that gave Orchestrating its heft and repeatability spills over into The Grey Eminence, though, for several reasons, Eminence makes a less profound impact.

Warfather’s brand of death metal feeds on its own implosive energy, manically detonating only within its own atmosphere without drawing any of its power from nearby subgenres.  It’s cleaner and cleverer than the grimy punishment offered by practitioners of the old school; it’s denser and more rabid than the chug-a-noodle technicality of millennial newcomers.  That above statement could read as a declaration of the band’s uniqueness (and it was meant to), but it could be read another way:  Nothing on Eminence is immediately satisfying with any kind of grave-punching grit, nor are there any novel ideas at work here that would make the album stand out as a major monument in metal in 2016.  If any comparisons could be made, it almost feels like a less intellectualized version of Gorguts.  There are interesting tempo choices, chord perversions, flickering solos and proclamations about the horrific ways we humans treat each other through uncaring action and thoughtless negligence.  More, though, Eminence feels as a continuation of the conversations begun on Orchestrating the Apocalypse.

On first listen, I was hoping to hear distinctly arranged songs, and those expectations were mostly disappointed.  The tracks seemed much longer than necessary to make their point, and the urgent momentum that this kind of music hinges on often seemed to leak from the seams.  Tucker’s throaty growl and drummer Bryan Bever’s merciless drone-pounding made the album’s fifty minutes feel exhausting and overloaded.  As I journeyed through the album multiple times, though, I began to feel the careful construction and the odd clashing of sounds that is buried more deeply in Eminence.  The album’s character began to reveal itself further, and I heard more of what producer extraordinaire Erik Rutan was helping Tucker to create.  It’s death metal, for sure, and it’s never going to be widely appealing, but there’s depth and personality in Eminence that deserves to be heard by anyone willing to give it time.

If you don’t like death metal, then don’t kid yourself – this isn’t for you.  But if you have any interest in the genre, don’t make any snap judgments about Warfather.  Try it.  Again.  Maybe you’ll find something worth returning to later.

Warfather’s The Grey Eminence comes out September 16 on Greyhaze. You can listen to music from, and pre-order, the album here.

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