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Morbid Angel

It's quite late in the evening when the phone rings. “Hey this is Trey. Sorry about the background noise, it's my coffee-bean grinder. Americans don't know shit about coffee so I grind them myself”. “Well, that's an original way to start an interview” I thought. “Perhaps the interview can become original as well”. A story about Morbid Angel's latest landmark 'Heretic', but even more about the ideas behind the music. An good humoured and enthusiastic Trey Azagthoth tells the tale about Steve Tuckers' come-back, paradigms, art and the relation between those three.

By: Marco | Archive under

Trey, there's a three-year span between the release of “Gateways…” and the release of “Heretic”. It seems you had a lot of time to write material.

Yes I had. We did a lot of touring but I don't write while touring because that distorts the kind of power that I use while writing. I kinda had to wait until we were finished touring and then I could unwind and decompress of all of that stuff and getting into the right frame of mind to start creating. But yes, it was a long time between “Gateways…” and the last one.

Had Steve already returned of the band when the music was being written?

No, actually he didn't. I wasn't even concerned with a singer, I wanted to focus on writing the music and whenever I write the music I take the approach of trying to make the music sound awesome all by itself when it's instrumental. Of course the vocals just make it even better but it's not like the song is weak unless it has vocals. I know a lot of other people that think like that. Maybe that's the paradigm, maybe that's the rule. A lot of people fall back on depending on the vocals to make the song more essential or whatever. I don't know.

But for me, I don't look at it like that. So, basically we got probably six or seven songs going before I even started thinking about who was going to sing on the record. I spend a lot of time with that, to get something started. I used my drum machine, my computer, my little studio, my guitars… I would come up with riffs, I come up with drum beats, I come up with arrangements and then I would come up with the other guitar parts. Pete also wrote a song, 'Stricken Arise'…

Pete wrote Stricken Arise?

Yes, he came up with the drumbeats, the arrangements of the drums and then he had some basic ideas for rhythms and then I went ahead and added some extra stuff to it in the rhythm department because Pete is drummer, he isn't a guitar player so his ideas for rhythm are really basic but it was all I need to get started. I kinda got an idea where he was looking for and I was able to build off of that and as a guitar player I can go a lot deeper into it actually and make all these cool harmonies and variations. But Pete definitely wrote all the drums and arrangements. It's his song. To me I think that if someone starts the song they're pretty much the main writer, whoever comes with the initial ideas.

I came up with the rhythms and arrangements of the two remaining songs and I worked with Pete as opposed to the drum machine, working back and forth, asking him to do different kinds of drumbeats or try different things and he tried it. He would add his own personality in there, then I would take it back home to listen to it, studying it, seeing what changes I would like to make and then he would work on it like that. Those two remaining songs are the first two songs on the record. We wrote songs all these different ways but by the time we had six or seven songs I was starting to think about who we're going to have as singer because maybe it will take a while to find the right person.

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And I talked to Steve first because I figured that was the best place to start. So I talked to Steve, I wanted to see what he was thinking, what he was doing, letting him hear the material to see if he would see anything in it, if he felt inspired. I only want people to work with me that are totally inspired and totally excited about what this band is about. Steve seemed to be very inspired by what we had as music and I gave him some really simple, basic guidelines as for what I was looking for for singing because it's not like that I want a singer to come in and just do whatever he wants because it's pretty much clear that I'm the one that started the band. If there was such a thing as a band leader or whatever, it would be me. I'm the one that shaped the band, I pretty much call the shots in that way. If I don't like something it just doesn't happen. Steve was totally into the basic guidelines because I really didn't ask him anything that was different from what he wanted to do. I came together very naturally.

He started singing and I asked him “Steve, just sing anything you want, just put vocals anywhere, the whole thing is open and go for and I figure out where to put solos later”. I gave him all that freedom, I asked him, “I want you to definitely use some 'underground' tones but also it has to have some catchy phrasing. Not just that rumbling cookiemonster voice, it has to be singing with a totally over-the-top tone, really underground growling, guttural and screechy”. And he said “hell yeah man! That's my style”. It all came together so naturally and then of course he did the rest. He wrote the lyrics, he threw in all the singing and he did a brilliant job. I was blown away and totally stooped about what he did. He contributed such a great thing to this record for sure.

Was it Steve doing the vocals on 'Stricken Arise' or was it you?

No, he did all the vocals

Those vocals do sound quite different from the rest?

Yes they do. It shows what Steve can do. Steve is capable of doing a lot of different things and Morbid Angel has always been into doing different kinds of things, expanding our horizons all the time and to explore things dynamic and fresh and to create as opposed to manufacture. I'll put it this way, through the development of the singing he often listened the recordings back to see what I thought of it, Sometimes I gave him some advice, like “hey Steve why don't you try it like this?” or “have you ever thought about looking at it like this?” But I never told him what I wanted him to do, I always made suggestions. If I didn't like something of course I would say so but almost everything he did for the first time was perfect. It was just what it needed to be. I was all like “yeah Steve, hell yeah, that's some killer stuff!” or “Fuck yeah Steve, that's awesome!”

You're sounding extremely enthusiastic.

Yeah. When I think about this record and its' feeling I do feel very excited.

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“Heretic” has become a very powerful, ultra heavy and very complete album. To me, it's 'finished'.

Yeah I totally agree. I think it has a lot. Everything. It has fast stuff, it has heavy stuff, it has different kinds of singing, it has all these different kinds of guitar solos and sounds. It has a lot of cool stuff going on.
I don't want it define it too much because I think music is up to the fans to define. The one who looks at the painting is the one who should having the freedom to interpret the art as opposed to having the artist posting next to the painting telling what it means, even what it is supposed to mean. This idea of what something is supposed to be… sometimes I do explain but other times I'm thinking “aargh this is such a dumb way of doing things”.

To me it appears that, when it comes to “feel”, 'Heretic' once again differs from all the other Morbid Angel releases so far. How do you reflect on this?

I don't think it differs that much. It's all a matter of interpretation. To me personally, I think it's all pretty much the same because of the way I look at stuff. All of our records sound different from each other, all of our records are kind of coming out in being different of what's going on in the scene, the genre. I think all of our records spoke out saying “hey, we're from outer space. We're just checking in and swung by your planet. Here's our product and whatever”. That kind of a thing. I don't even know what other people are doing. I'm really more influenced by internal influences rather than by external ones.

I think all of our records are a little different though as far as the fetch, keep doing the same thing over and over again. But we did contrasting things with the first two records, 'Altars…' and 'Blessed'. I remember very clearly especially in Europe some interviews I did. Could be in Germany, I'm not sure. People said “Hey Trey I heard the record. [lowers voice] I don't really know what to think of it. Why did you guys slow down?” Silly questions. I actually hung up on some of those people. I can't relate to that way of thinking I'll let someone else do those interviews.

The records were different. 'Altars…' was successful to a degree. It came out, people liked it, it was cool. But people expected us to do another records just like that one with the same feeling and the same sound, but we did something different. For me, the only way I can really create is to keep things fun. If I feel I have to fabricate there is no heart involved. I can't do it and I won't do it. So basically I get excited when I feel I'm doing something new. So all of our records have been new I think. A new expression, a new way of doing stuff. On 'Covenant' for instance when I first started using seven-string guitars, making two videos. It almost looks like two different bands. I thought that was really neat. And I like to do everything like that. So I do that as much as I can.

How are the reactions so far?

The reactions have been really good. For some reason or another people see things in this record that causes them to be very excited. Of course people have different kinds of ideas of what they think it sounds like or how they want to associate it. But at least I've noticed that everybody has said “yeah, this record rocks!” No one was saying “weeeell this record is okay but I wish you guys would make a record like 'Altars Of Madness'” (laughs).

Over the past years I grew accustomed to the eerie feeling that often accompanies instrumental Morbid Angel tracks. Yet, it seems there are no bounds to the amount of desolation which is put in for instance “Place of Many Deaths”. Surely, not all inspiration comes from computer games like Quake or Doom, now is it?

'Place Of Many Deaths' was very inspired by Quake III, there's actually a map called 'Place Of Many Deaths'. So yes, I did draw a lot of inspiration from that game, but in my own way. Other people might not ever see the connection. They could play the game, play the map, winning the map and still never see the association with that experience when listening to the song. Our message is that there is no meaning other than the meaning they can give to it. All have their own realities in their heads. It's just that sometimes our realities cross we're indoctrinated and are conditioned to all believe the same things as a foundation. Our reality is a product of our beliefs, a paradigm. That's why I made that little statement in the press release.It's all about thinking for yourself and using the gift of imagination to create your own world, your own reality.

Once you break free from the limiting paradigms of society and start thinking for yourself, you can become 'zero' again, you can become 'innocent' and have only your own thoughts, playful thoughts, passionate, loving thoughts and then you can communicate with nature and be free to interpret your experiences without people blocking you from that internal void. It's just basic philosophy but yeah, thinking for yourself is very powerful thing. It's a distinction of understanding that there's a static reality, that systems are all man-made and that there is no inherent meaning to anything that we create. It's always been useful to me.

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“Victorious March of Rain the Conqueror” sounds very impressive. I think it could easily feature as an intro theme of a more epic kind of video game!. What do you think?

[enthousiastic] That one was written by Pete!

He was responsible for the 'Memories of the past'

That's true.

That guy has some hidden talents!

Yes he has. He's working on keyboards for a long time now.

To what extent are you trying to play an original style of music? Is it more than just music? Or is it some kind of way to formulate your philosophical views?

It's music. When you study stuff about philosophy, when you meditate or when you communicate with nature you start to feel that you want to share some of these insights with other people. Not be selfish, but to do your part. There's a lot of people that write books and share their ideas. People like Tony Robbins and Deepak Chopra [two motivation gurus from the US -M.] sure make a lot of money, but their messages are amazing. They are not scam artists. There's a lot of time and effort put into the research behind their presentation and the delivery of the message.

I'm still compelled in the same way to share a message that I think is useful rather than to just talking about sex, drugs and Rock 'n' Roll, I think that's so boring. I've always been into magic, I've been with a cult and I've been into the secret teachings of all ages and I think -or 'hallucinate' at least- that people into death metal are into spiritual things. Maybe they think it's 'Satan', whatever, but beyond the mundane. Magic interests people and I thought 'hey, it works out really good.” I'm interested in sharing this thing.

I'm not introducing a new doctrine by any means and I'm only introducing my own interpretation, my own insights, to inspire others. I think that just being inspired and being excited about something makes life so much easier. When you're inspired, there's no more work, it's all play, all fun. There's something powerful about that. So I inspire others to seek out their own truth within themselves, that is really the only place we can ever find the truth if one exists. Because I don't think there aren't any static truths, just as I don't think there is any static reality. There's a lot of power out there and it comes from our hearts and I think our heart is our guide, the guide that beats the rhythm of the universe.

The bottom line is, the music is enough. The lyrics are just poetic stories like any other kind of poetry. All kinds of messages inside of them are the story. And stories don't have presented meaning. They are for people to ponder upon. So I never want to rob people of that opportunity. It creates a good habit, so basically that that it's all about: music is enough.

All tracks on “Heretic” are connected through numerology: the study of numbers, of their hidden meaning and symbolism. Can you –in short- describe the meaning of this concept behind the music?

Numbers are important. They're always been important to me and this album has 44 tracks and has silent tracks, the silent tracks have certain amounts of seconds. It's some stuff to play with.

“Heretic” was recorded with the assistance of Morbid Angels' long-time front-of-house engineer Juan 'Punchy' Gonzalez. What made the band decide to ask him to record “Heretic”? Are you satisfied with the result?

Yeah! I think the album turned out awesome. It's fun to work with Punchy, I think he's a very brilliant engineer. He knows how to work with the equipment and working in a small studio makes the whole experience better. We didn't have to worry about time going by because our studio didn't cost as much money as a big studio. It was great, we were able to clear our minds a little and to record the music later on.

Some criticism. A number of people think the guitar sound could have been better. How do you plea?

Those people can go listen to another band!

Morbid Angel is a three-piece once again. And with the very recent confirmation of the 'Blackest of Black' tour in mind: are you going to perform live with this line-up?

We'll have another guitar player live, we don't need one for writing, or in the studio.

Any ideas about who this is going to be?

I really don't any information about that at this time.

Last question: How would you describe “Heretic”?

I really wouldn't want to describe it but I'll give some hints: inspired artists that have a great time with their freedom and do what they will with their time and with their efforts and create music that is coming from a higher place you couldn't try to fit into any kind of genre.

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