The only predictable thing about Morbid Angel founding guitarist TREY AZAGTHOTH is his unpredictability. Try talking to him about things Morbid Angel and you very well find yourself getting a discourse on Sumerian philosophy or a testimonial on behalf of self-help huckster Tony Robbins (I, myself, have gotten both over the years). On this late August afternoon, with the release of Morbid's thunderous new album Gateways To Annihilation imminent and the band having secured a month of American dates opening arena shows for Pantera, Azagthoth is pinch hitting for bassist/singer Steve Tucker. Tucker, who took over for David Vincent on Formulas Fatal To The Flesh and who has a greatly expanded presence on Gateways..., had his interview schedule interrupted by a family crisis. As he calls in from Tampa, Florida., Azagthoth's distracted air and the incessant tap-tapping of a computer keyboard in the background tells me that this time, too, the conversation is headed for a 180-degree turn before it really gets going. "I'm watching a little something on the computer," offers Azagthoth, by way of explanation. "I'm working on Quake 3, but I'm just watching right now.” Watching as opposed to playing? I inquire, not being terribly well-schooled in video/computer games. "No, not right now," he says. "But, I have a Quake 3 Arena and I play it continuously, like for two days and nights straight without sleep and then I sleep for a night or a day and then I play it again. Any cool people who want to join the clan and want to be a part of it can play, it's gonna be cool. We've got a lot of players and a website, morbidangel.com/sailorscouts. That's Sailor Scouts as in "Sailor Moon" because I love "Sailor Moon". I love Japanese animation and things that are silly and fun, and we've got a clan like that, it's silly and fun and we've got some great players. If people want to hang out with me, that's the best way to do it, because that's where my head is right now." Eventually, the conversation does turn to the ominous, impressive Gateways..., an album that offers a stark contrast to the flamethrowing brutality of Formulas... It's a behemoth that recalls Blessed Are The Sick in its purposefulness and classical beauty thanks to Tucker's authoritative vocals, the music sinister focus and the guitar interplay of Azagthoth and Erik Rutan. Gateways... may well be the ultimate triumph for a veteran band with many shining moments - including being the first death metal band to gain a major label deal - already to its credit. And with the Pantera tour, many potential new fans will finally face the monster that is Morbid Angel.
Obviously the Pantera tour is a big deal for you guys?
We're looking forward to it, definitely. It's the biggest tour we've done. We've played festivals that are bigger than this, but not arenas for 30 days in a row or however many we will do on this tour. I don't care about the details, we're going to play and it's gonna be cool and we're gonna play a lot of the new songs and the old songs mixed in as well and play a lot of places, wherever we can get it worked out.
Do you have a relationship with Pantera?
Phil [Anselmo, Pantera singer and death/black metal aficionado] likes the band. Him and David knew each other back in those days and really the reason why we're even doing it is because he asked us. We have wanted to do something like this for a while now. We didn't really have many expectations, it was like whatever happens we'll see, but it would be nice to play for a lot of people here and we're finally going to be able to. We're very, very excited and very appreciative of them for giving us this favor, that's for sure.
Are you much of a fan of theirs?
Not really the kind of stuff I listen to, no. I think they're really good at what they do and I do really like that song "Walk". I think that is a really cool song, that song has a really cool riff and beat. Right now, all I'm listening to is Pink Floyd and The Gathering. I love The Gathering, they're a great new band, they have so much passion and they take you places. I like music that takes you places. I like heavy stuff when I like it (I've always been like that) and it does not have to be just Morbid Angel. It just so happens that Morbid Angel in a lot of ways represents what kind of music I like and I don't think there are a lot of bands out that are like Morbid Angel. We do our own thing and it's got a vibe and it's got a flow.
How was the reception to Steve with the last album?
Fine. It was good. His performance onstage and his attitude were something the fans really liked.
Were there any rough spots along the way?
There might have been, I didn't really notice any of that. Our fans are more dedicated to the band and the music than any one person. They don't really care who's playing it as long as it kicks ass. Maybe there were some factions that were angry that Dave left, but if there were they kept pretty quiet.
How long did it take Steve to get acclimated to the band? Was he on the same wavelength from the get-go or was there a long break in period?
As we toured, and we did so much touring for that album, he definitely grew more connected and confident. You just can't come in and be fucking connected, no matter what, especially with a band like ours that doesn't have a conventional mindset. It takes time, and you get settled in, and he got settled in really good after time and repetition.
Did Steve have much input on the songwriting on Formulas...?
On the last record, no, I wrote all the stuff, music and lyrics, for the most part. Maybe at the end he contributed a little bit, but he was still really new to the band at that time. But the new record, he and I worked together on a lot of the stuff.
Were you of the same mindset when it came to the material?
It was really cool, he came up with some cool rhythms and he showed them to me and I added to it and some stuff, like "He Who Sleeps" he wrote himself, I worked a little bit with him maybe on the arrangements and that was about it. And then I wrote some songs myself as well, so there's stuff we each did alone and a lot [were] co-written, at least when it comes to the music. And Erik wrote some music for "God Of The Forsaken" and the instrumental, "Awakening". As far as lyrics, [Steve] wrote all of the lyrics except for "Secured Limitations".
Are Steve's lyrics, concepts, ideas, philosophies in sync with your’s or does he bring a different perspective?
We were definitely on cue, or he wouldn't have written lyrics.
Except he's not writing in Sumerian.
No, there was none of that on this album at all. That was all part of the theme of the last album. We weren't going to do that again, I wouldn't think.
As if things weren't tough enough for Steve replacing Dave, having to come in and sing in a different language while also playing the fast, difficult music on Formulas... must have posed quite a challenge?
Yeah, that was tough. It took a lot of work. But that's one of things I admire about Steve, he's not afraid of a challenge. He got right in there and did it and worked through the tough spots and got the job done. And he did a great job.
Where does your interest in things Sumerian come from?
The drive and the passion that got me to go after Sumerian stuff and spiritual stuff did happen when I was a kid. I used my imagination, which was creative visualization, and did stuff that would be considered like astral travel or whatever without knowing what I was doing just because, I don't know, I guess that's just the kind of guy I was. And later I was interested in like, what is it? What kind of books are there about it? I spent a lot of time researching it and whatnot, but my Sumerian is not proper Sumerian, it's slang (laughs).
How did Erik come back into the fold, I figured with his other projects (Hate Eternal, Alas and his production work) he was gone for good?
It made sense. He plays the songs so well and does a great job touring and his soloing really compliments the band, so we figured it made sense and he agreed. I don't know where he finds the time for everything, but he can do it and he's a member of the band and he's going to do great things with us. And I'm sure he'll do great things on his own, as well.
Since he's been doing production lately, did Erik help out in the studio?
No. It was just me and Steve and Jim [Morris]. Steve and I are thinking the same things when it comes to this band. And things went together great like that. Steve and I are real tight like that with the band and writing songs and him understanding my ideas and vice versa.
Did you ever have that kind of relationship with Dave?
Yeah, it was really cool with Dave too, at the beginning (and actually for quite a long time). Towards the end, his ideas and mine definitely were going in different directions and that's when he ended up leaving. The band is democratic, but it is my band. I don't need to say that, but if there's any question about who's the founder of the band, who's the one guy who is more of the leader - I don't think of myself as The Leader, and I don't think of the rest of the guys as working for me, it has nothing to do that - but as far as who's vision is the band, it's mine. Who created the band? I did. Who's responsible for its style? I am. No one can change the fact that I thought of the name and wrote the first stuff back in the early '80s. That's the truth, but it doesn't really need to be said. I've said that before, and that's why Formulas... came out. That was me regaining control of Morbid Angel after Dave left and resetting the course of the band because people were talking shit about us for some of his lyrics and statements, which made us seem like some really hateful band, which is not what we're about at all. And we didn't have a major label deal anymore and I think a lot of people were wondering how we'd respond to the changes and the adversity and whatnot. We needed something to shake things up and clear the air. That's what Formulas... was all about.
Where does Steve come from lyrically?
His concepts come from the theme that we created, and the theme is the inner workings of the universe and the silent spaces between thoughts and the belief - at least for me - that there is no inherent meaning, that all meaning is created in the mind and no meaning is any more true or false than any other. The goal is to create meanings that make you feel great and allow the joy and the perfection of spirit to flow through and not be all bogged down by a bunch of crazy ideas and details.
How did you arrive at that theme?
My whole philosophy on life has really changed so much that it's really deleted judgment and needing to give definitions to things. The album's not about that at all. As far as the meaning of things, man, it's all about just having a great time, that's what should drive all of us.
The music's so grim and ominous, how does that mesh with that?
The concept here is just letting the energy flow without worrying about what it means. So in that way it all goes together. It makes sense because it's not supposed to make sense, you know what I mean? Really, the album is something for people to listen to without instruction and to go into openly and empty and put together their own meaning, like a journey. It's not like that last album with all these concepts and directions.
- Peter Atkinson
Abominations of Desolation (1986)
Altars Of Madness (Earache, 1989)
Blessed Are The Sick (Earache, 1991)
Covenant (Giant/Warner Bros., 1993)
Domination (Giant/Warner Bros., 1995)
Entangled In Chaos (Earache, 1996)
Formulas Fatal To The Flesh (Earache, 1998)
Love of Lava (bonus CD included with Formulas... re-issue, Earache 1999)
Gateways To Annihilation (Earache, 2000)