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Death By Metal (1984)
 

1984 was a special time for Metal, in general. Several seminal Thrash bands had not long before released, or were working on, their debut albums. Black Metal was in its infancy with the likes of Venom, Bathory, Sodom and Hellhammer making hellish recordings. Then we have the birth of Death Metal in its proper form, with the Death By Metal demo from Mantas (later known as Death).

To imagine that something this extreme was already being written at a time when Dio and Ozzy were among the standard-bearers for Metal is quite odd, when put into perspective. Bands like WASP and Motley Crue were all over the radio, along with many more even softer acts. Even the Big Four were still relatively unknown at this point. Yet bands existed that were already pushing the envelope even further.

I wish I would have been old enough at the time to have listened to this for the first time with unsuspecting ears. The intense high-speed riffs already blew Metallica's debut out of the water, and Kill 'Em All had only recently outdone Venom's output in terms of speed. The guitar riffs were powerful and dark, such as the intro to "Legion of Doom", and just hellishly evil and violent in the case of "Beyond the Unholy Grave". As if the songwriting was not extreme enough, the vocals were something that were still relatively new. Kam Lee's approach must have been influenced by Cronos, yet here his voice is much more powerful. It is not as demonic or evil as what Quorthon was doing at the time, but it was certainly among the most brutal for the era during which this was recorded. Schuldiner contributes vocals for "Power of Darkness", with some of the most insane screams that he ever let out.

Out of the five songs that are on the official version of this demo, only "Evil Dead" and "Beyond the Unholy Grave" managed to see a proper recording, later on. While it can be somewhat understood that they left behind the Venom-on-speed approach of "Death By Metal", the omission of "Legion of Doom" from Scream Bloody Gore was a questionable decision. Though the production on this demo is fairly decent, the vocals really are buried and the riffs don't have even a fraction of the power that they do on Death's debut full-length. In truth, it would have been nice to hear all of these re-recorded.

This is an essential recording, not just for fans of Death, but of those interested in the beginnings of Death Metal as a sub-genre. The sound is harsh and unprofessional, which is just how this sort of music should be presented. If you are only familiar with the likes of Scream Bloody Gore and Leprosy, and disappointed by the weak direction that the band went afterward, this is definitely worth a listen.
 
(22 Apr. 2014)

 
Scream Bloody Gore (1987)
 

Death began in 1983, under the name Mantas, playing music that was heavily inspired by Venom, Slayer and Celtic Frost. However, a short time later, Possessed became the main inspiration for the band. Their name was then changed to Death, which was a good representation of what they were about, at the time. Tons of rehearsals and demos were released, in those early years. In July 1986, the band set out to record their debut L.P. Scream Bloody Gore was actually first recorded in Florida, though as Death was unsatisfied after hearing the initial rhythm tracks, they traveled to Hollywood to record it again with Randy Burns, which are the recordings that made the album. However, the incomplete first sessions were still locally used as a demo tape once they returned to Florida. At any rate, Scream Bloody Gore was released in May 1987, on Combat Records.

I was barely acquainted with this band when my best friend came over one day, during summer vacation. Back then, he was a prime source of music, often bringing things by for me to record. I was impressed when I heard the primitive sounds of Death's debut album. Rarely had I ever encountered a band that was so appropriately named. I found myself neglecting this tape for a while, but as summer faded into autumn, it began getting more attention. Around this time, my friend and I watched a lot of old horror movies, and this suited that atmosphere perfectly. Seven Churches, by Possessed, is often cited as the first Death Metal album, yet anyone with a brain can clearly tell that it was a Black Metal record. There may have been a song titled "Death Metal" on there, but it was dominated by Satanic themes and owed quite a bit to Venom. It is more accurate to say that that album was an influence on the Death Metal scene, with Scream Bloody Gore being one of the first pure albums of that sub-genre.

The L.P. begins with "Infernal Death", opening with a monstrous riff that is slow and filled with an aura of morbid doom. "Evil" Chuck's screams sound similar to Jeff Becerra, if he had died and then crawled out of a coffin, years later. The production is raw, and it suits the music perfectly. After the epic intro, the song bursts into high speed. Tremolo riffs alternate with power chords, joined by Chuck's decomposed vocal approach and decent solo work. All of this combines to create a great opener for this classic album.

"Zombie Ritual" begins with a dark and creepy guitar harmony, with a crushing riff backing it up. This is rather brief, as the tempo picks up for the verse, before slowing down again during the chorus. The bass is quite audible, adding to the sense of doom. The lyrics are filled with gore, perhaps from someone that has overdosed on horror movies. Every bit of it fits together, flawlessly, to create a sound that is the epitome of death. The structure seems more advanced than most will give them credit for, as well. Of course, these songs had been around for some time, being perfected over the years.

The next song is "Denial of Life", which begins with something almost reminiscent of Possessed. Much like what Bathory did with Venom's creation, Death took the influences from Possessed and improved upon the sound to a great extent. Chris Reifert's drum work is just right for this sound, keeping things simple but not boring the listener in any way. The riffs are very memorable, which can be said of the album as a whole. Unlike later so-called Death Metal bands, the focus is on the guitar riffs and the insane vocals. Lyrically, it doesn't get much more death-oriented than this.

"Created by your mind
To overtake your life
Sacrificial suicide
End it with a knife
Much too late
To change your mind
A bloody corpse
Is left behind"

"Sacrificial" begins with more slow, doom riffs. Along with the rotted corpse vocal approach of Chuck, this helps to create an aura of foggy graveyards and open tombs. For the chorus, the pace picks up, yet it returns to the previous theme for the verse. The lyrics are violent and gore-filled, possessing a very misogynistic tone. The structuring of the song displays a maturity that many might miss, as it consists of peaks and valleys, melodies that capitalize on the momentum created by the previous riffs and vocal lines, all flowing together quite well.

This is followed by "Mutilation", a fast-paced journey into a maelstrom of violence and insanity. While some may perceive it as simplistic and straight-forward, this song displays the depth of talent possessed by Chuck and his cohorts. Whereas some bands just, randomly, toss riffs together and call it a song, there is a true sense of cohesiveness when it comes to the songs presented here. The narrative flow of the central theme is accentuated by the powerful delivery of both music and vocals, making this one of the most memorable tracks on the album.

"Massacred, hacked to death, my revenge
Slicing deep, into your flesh, the pain intense
Dreams of hate, misery, fill my mind
Puke in your face in disgust, it's time to die"

While such lyrics may seem clichéd or primitive, keep in mind that this style had not yet been copied and watered-down to the point where it no longer had meaning. Furthermore, the lyrics still hint at a certain level of introspection that is lacking in those that followed suit. They indicate some manner of motivation for such violence, as an expression of inner rage rather than simply random descriptions of killing with no purpose.

Side two starts out with "Regurgitated Guts", which begins with a brief build-up, followed by a mid-paced thrash riff. Coming after such an intense song, it shows true brilliance in the positioning of the songs to place this one where it is. The song alternates between the thrash riffs and more typical Death Metal riffing. More drawn-out chords are used, near the end, underneath the brief solo. This only adds to the epic feeling of the song. The song then returns to the fast picking and blasting drums to reach its conclusion.

The next song begins with a heavy, doom-filled riff and a blood-curdling scream. "Baptized In Blood" is yet another extremely memorable song of pure Death Metal. The speed is pretty intense, slowing down only for the chorus. There are a couple riff changes that serve well to compliment each other and a killer lead solo as well. The lyrics, as on several of the tracks, tell an interesting horror-inspired tale.

"The dead they gather around
Praising the child they found
Possessed, the child shall kill
The future is now revealed"

"Torn To Pieces" slows the pace down a bit, while still maintaining the morbid feeling conveyed by the album. The riffs owe a bit more to Thrash and Speed Metal, during certain sections. The pace picks up, considerably, during the chorus. The best riffs of the song are in the last minute or so, being somewhat reminiscent of early Slayer. The lead solo goes well with this, followed by Chuck screaming, "Torn... to pieces!" a few more times.

The next song is one of the best-known from this album, being based on a classic horror film by the same title and beginning with an incredible melody that makes for one of the most memorable moments of the record. "Evil Dead" is one of the shortest songs on here, yet it makes an incredible impact. Following the brilliant intro, the song bursts from the murky shadows, at full speed. Musically, there are a lot of power chords, alternating with fast picking. The solo is a blistering aural assault, building tension for the climax of the song.

"Covered in blood, all hope is lost
Forever to rot, controlled by the powers of the...

Evil dead! Evil dead!"

The L.P. concludes with "Scream Bloody Gore". This song begins with sort of a build-up, erupting into a full-on assault. Years before so many imitators had become known for writing sick lyrics, "Evil" Chuck had already perfected this approach, leaving little for anyone else to add. The vocal delivery is genius, building in intensity as the chorus approaches and the unleashing screams of complete possessed fury. This is a good dramatic effect, adding to the sense of urgency. As the song nears its end, it slows down a great deal, resembling the opening riff of the album. The song continues, as Chuck unleashes one of the best lead solos of the record.

Scream Bloody Gore is the standard by which all other Death Metal albums are measured, and they all fail miserably to capture the essence of death, decay and morbidity that this L.P. possesses. This undeniable classic is essential for anyone claiming to be a fan of Death Metal. Buy this or end your life.
 
(25 Apr. 2009)

Leprosy (1988)
 

Leprosy is the second full-length album from Death. Recorded in Morrisound, this L.P. was released in November 1988. For this outing, Chuck Schuldiner recruited three members of Massacre. This album takes what was created on Scream Bloody Gore and continues in that vein, though retaining less of the aggression and fury found on that classic. Death's second album is primitive and raw, and it is the embodiment of Death Metal.

This was actually the first Death album that I purchased. I was seeking their debut, but found this instead. I obtained this around the same time as Slowly We Rot and Blessed Are the Sick, so it is forever linked to those albums as well as the season of decay in which I bought it. These songs possess the atmosphere of cold autumn nights, for me, since that is when I spent most of my time soaking this all in. I would go on to buy many more Death albums, in the following years, yet none of them had the same effect as Scream Bloody Gore and Leprosy. For me, these albums are the epitome of Death Metal.

The L.P. begins with the title track, unleashing heavy, doom-filled riffs that create an aura of decay. After a mid-paced beginning, and Chuck's dead and rotting vocals, things speed up a bit. The fast parts don't seem quite as fast as those found on the previous release, however. There are a variety of tempos found in this song, alone. Also, the feeling is somewhat reminiscent of old Slayer. This is primitive, yet epic in its hideous glory. The lead solos really add to the song as well. This is a good example of less being more, as Death accomplishes quite a lot within this limited framework.

"Born Dead" is a little faster, containing eerie solos and very memorable riffs and vocal lines. "Evil" Chuck's screams are very primal and sound as if his throat is rotting or sliced open and bleeding in the night. Unlike later Death Metal albums, the focus of this is the guitar riffs and nothing else. The drums are simply there to keep time, rather than being the driving force behind the music.

The somewhat relaxed thrash riffs continue on "Forgotten Past", though things do speed up as before. It is amazing to see how much can be accomplished within the boundaries of this musical style. The songs sound very similar, yet they are completely identifiable from one another. This song features a very nice tremolo riff that doesn't get quite enough time to evolve, though the excellent lead solo that follows it more than makes up for this.

As the title indicates, "Left To Die" features lyrics that are quite morbid and bleak. The opening riff is godly, especially as it transitions into the slower riff that accompanies Chuck's death-scream. Leprosy truly is filled with nothing but classic songs. It is odd that the pioneers of this sound managed to do so much, yet those that followed released piles of monotonous garbage. Everything about this song is great, from the killer solos to the primitive riffs and the undead vocals. Chuck Schuldiner doesn't get enough credit for the performances from the first two Death albums, as too few people regard these albums as highly as they should.

The next song is well known, among fans of the band, and remained a staple of live shows for the duration of the band's existence. "Pull the Plug" begins with more mid-paced riffs. The tempo actually changes several times, taking the listener on a dark journey. You can feel your lungs rotting from the inside, as you are unable to breathe. The lyrics resonate in your mind as you fall into the realm of decay.

"...Release me from this lonely world
There is no hope..."

"Open Casket" begins with crushing riffs and a building sense of tension as you are carried forth toward the endless graveyard. The slower riffs in this song are filled with doom and dread, accentuated by Chuck's vocals which are consumed by the stench of decay. This feeling continues on "Primitive Ways". Again, with regard to the solos and overall production, one cannot help but be reminded of the early Slayer albums. The song arrangements are somewhat complex, compared to Scream Bloody Gore, yet still raw and simplistic.

This classic album concludes with "Choke On It", which really does feel like the ending of an epic journey through a foggy landscape of forgotten crypts and decaying flesh as the moon illuminates the night sky. The opening riffs are slow and serve to imbue the listener with a sense of doom, before speeding up for a bit. Again, the song slows down to a morbid crawl, as emaciated hands reach up from the damp soil, pulling half-decayed bodies from their shallow graves in search of mortal blood. This song features some of the best riffs of the whole album, which says a lot considering the high quality of this release.

Leprosy is a classic album that should be owned by anyone claiming to listen to this style of music. It belongs to an elite group of albums that also includes Scream Bloody Gore, Altars of Madness, Slowly We Rot and Consuming Impulse, among many others. The first two albums from Death are essential and these are the first records that come to mind when I think of Death Metal.
 
(18 Mar. 2009)

 
 

If someone put me on the spot and asked me to pick the one album that I feel is the most pure representation of what Death Metal is all about, the first thing I would think of is Scream Bloody Gore. With that album, Death managed to codify everything that Death Metal stood for. A year later, they built on this with their classic sophomore effort, Leprosy. Then, sometime in 1989 or 1990, Chuck Schuldiner began to lose focus and no longer displayed a strong understanding of the very creation that he had played such a crucial role in giving birth to.

The third Death record, Spiritual Healing, marked the beginning of a strange journey. Musically, this album wasn't too far off from the previous one. It's at this point that one can notice that this band progresses in a fairly even manner. Each album sounds like a mixture of the one before and the one after. At any rate, the main changes on Spiritual Healing were the vocals and the lyrics, themselves. There is an annoying vocal effect that is used, throughout the entire album, and it takes away from the atmosphere quite a bit. In the end, it could have been overlooked. But, more importantly, the lyrics took a completely different path from anything related to Death Metal. Instead of lyrics about zombies, gore and horror, we find lyrics that display some sense of social consciousness. The themes include abortion, drug addiction, religious hypocrisy, and even taking shots at those who had been speaking ill of him, personally. All in all, the lyrics have nothing in common with what he'd written for the previous seven years. Gone are the days of "Mutilation" and "Regurgitated Guts". Instead, there's nonsense such as "Defensive Personalities" and "Within the Mind", the latter seeming to be the result of reading too many New Age books. Some would argue that the lyrics and even the packaging are inconsequential and that the music is the only thing that matters. I strongly disagree with this. Ideally, everything should come together to create a certain atmosphere. Lyrics, song titles, album art and even band photos can all do a great deal to add to and accentuate the feeling being conveyed by the music. If one, or more, of these things is not in line with the rest then it detracts from the overall work. It's difficult to come to terms with an album like this one, as the lyrics are much better suited for their Thrash Metal contemporaries. Had Chuck decided to create a new band, around this time, it may have been a better idea in the long run. But to utilize the Death Metal sound and vocal style, yet produce an album bereft of any true Death Metal spirit, it marks a turning point in the career of this legendary band.

Beyond the lyrical concern, there is another matter that must be addressed. The songwriting is still what one would expect from Chuck Schuldiner. There is some progression from the previous album and, as mentioned, this would continue with each subsequent release. However, the music is not as enjoyable as it should have been and the problem has a name: Scott Burns. By this time, Morrisound Studio had become the place to go if you were a Death Metal band. Unfortunately, the employees of this studio were either very lazy or very arrogant. What I mean by that is that once they found a particular sound that they liked, they tried their best to never stray from it. So one could assume that they were too lazy to really put in the hard work to get the very best sound out of every band and to accentuate the individual strengths of each group, or maybe they were so arrogant that they felt they had achieved the 'perfect' sound for this type of music and saw no need to alter it. Compare Spiritual Healing to Blessed Are the Sick, Cause of Death, Deicide, Tortured Existence, etc. Some bands even came from overseas to get this sterile and cookie-cutter sound. Take a listen to Harmony Corruption and Testimony of the Ancients, for example. If you listen to all of these albums, you'll notice that everything seems to run together. In particular, the faster parts are completely interchangeable. The guitar tone and mixing of the drums is practically the same on every album, from around this time. It's not that all of the bands were trying to sound alike; in fact, each one had their own distinct approach to songwriting. The problem was that they all put their fate into the hands of an idiot like Scott Burns, who had no artistic vision, whatsoever. It was all paint-by-numbers for him, and the bands that went to Morrisound did what they felt they needed to, in order to get the sound that people had begun to expect. The typical Morrisound production job smoothed out any and all rough edges and left the end result neutered and 'safe'. Some classic albums were recorded there, but they were all held back by the horrible efforts of Scott Burns. Spritual Healing is no exception to this.

If you can get past the useless lyrics that have absolutely no place in Death Metal, as well as the sterile production, what's left is still quite a competent album with songwriting that is solid and interesting. There are a lot of good, memorable riffs. It can be said that this record is more for fans of Chuck's style of music and fans of Death, itself, rather than people looking for great Death Metal. This was the last album to feature the guys from Massacre. After the tame album that they took part in, they chose to focus on their own project and went on to record From Beyond. Chances are, you're better off picking that one over Spiritual Healing, if it's Death Metal that you are after.
 
(26 April 2010)

 
 

Released through Relativity Records in October 1991, Human is the fouth L.P. from the legendary Death. Much had happened since the previous album, with Chuck backing out of a planned European tour and putting the remaining members in a tough spot. They went on to tour without him, and some other controversies arose from this that, ultimately, led to him kicking everyone out of the band and starting fresh. Unfortunately, he turned to his progressive/technical friends, Steve DiGiorgio and the two nancy boys from Cynic. The end result is a rather mediocre album that gets more praise than it deserves.

Chuck had already been distancing himself from his musical past, even as early as the Spiritual Healing tour, playing only one song from the classic Scream Bloody Gore album. He was very vocal in interviews around this time, trying to dispel rumours (many of which turned out to be true). It was said that he wasn't really into Death Metal anymore, which is quite obvious by the changes that one can witness with Human. Musically and lyrically, Scream Bloody Gore and Leprosy were just pure Death Metal in its truest form. What followed was a total 'wimp-out', with Chuck choosing to write about "real life issues that people can identify with". Right, because that's what Death Metal is supposed to be about... He even kept pushing the fact that Death was just a name and had no meaning, citing that he was just a young kid when he chose it. This effeminate and weak creature cared way too much regarding what people thought of him, going out of his way to make sure no one thought he was evil because he played in a band with such a name. Gone were the days of zombie rituals, unholy graves and open caskets. With song titles like "Flattening of Emotions" and "Lack of Comprehension", one has to think this is a prime example of what Euronymous was talking about when referring to "life metal".

Human was a statement against those that claimed that Schuldiner no longer wanted anything to do with Death Metal. The thing is though, if the aggression found here is merely a response to critics, is it still genuine or is this yet another way to corrode the artistic integrity of a band? Doing something just because it is expected or to prove that he could doesn't give the impression that he had a passion for this style, more that he had a reputation to try to clean up. But moving beyond that, what does this record have to offer, musically?

There are absolutely some great Death Metal riffs, here and there. Whatever his motivation in writing them, the more intense parts are pretty good. The songwriting is quite solid, yet this doesn't do enough to combat the many flaws with this outing. Firstly, Human was recorded at Morrisound, meaning that it has that same bland and non-threatening production that was the trademark of scumbag Scott Burns. The guitars have a rather dull tone, too modern and slick for my tastes. Then, of course, a Morrisound production job wouldn't be complete without the annoying, clicky bass drums. The raw and primal vibe of Scream Bloody Gore was long a thing of the past by this point. The primitive feeling is completely gone, exemplified by Reinert's overactive drumming. Chuck described in interviews how he wanted the album to reflect their developing skills, in order to display what they were capable of as musicians.

No. No, no, no. Making an album is not about everyone having a wank and patting themselves on the back. The purpose is to create, not to show off how technical one can play. Only if it serves the music should one do such a thing. If the atmosphere of the album requires someone to hold back from demonstrating everything that they can possibly do, then that is a sacrifice that must be made for the purity of the music. Just look at Fenriz's performances after Soulside Journey; he could clearly play just as technically sound as the next drummer, but he realized that the style of music he was playing demanded a different approach. Personally, I am not a fan of so-called progressive or technical Death Metal, as I feel that the raw and primitive vibe is an integral part of what makes it Death Metal in the first place, along with the lyrics and the imagery. Human is lacking in all regards. That is not to say that it doesn't have its moments. Again, there are many good riffs and the solos are well done and even Chuck's vocals sound better than the effect-laden performance of Spiritual Healing. It's just too bad that he's whining about personal issues and not exploring darker themes.

If looked at with less scrutiny, Human isn't a terrible album. In fact, most fans of Death will probably find little or no fault in it. In that respect, it can be enjoyable. The thing is, it's not what it could have been. A gritty production, toned-down drumming and lyrical themes that actually were suited to this kind of music would have made all the difference in the world. Death Metal is not supposed to be so slick and professional and modern, and it certainly should not be polluted with these weak and pathetic lyrics. If "Evil Chuck" was so afraid of being associated with anything dark and had lost the passion for Death Metal, he should have put the band in the grave and gone on to do whatever progressive, melodic garbage he wanted, just under a different name. In my book, Scream Bloody Gore and Leprosy are the only essential releases from Death. The rest is negligible.
 
(9 Sept. 2016)

 


In June 1993, Death returned with their fifth full-length, Individual Thought Patterns. This album just further solidified the fact that Chuck Schuldiner was more interested in honing his technical skills, to the detriment of the actual songwriting. There is absolutely no Death Metal atmosphere to be found here. Between the terrible songwriting and the horrible production, the end result is a pathetic and limp album that serves more as a masturbatory endeavour than anything else. Everything about this is the opposite of the classic albums that made this band so legendary in the first place.

The inspiration to create something dark and evil had long ago faded from Chuck's being. Listening to what he had to say in interviews around the release of this abomination, he was again going on about how he wasn't "anti-life" and how Death was "just a name". The idea that anyone might associate him with anything dark truly seemed to bother him. That's rather clear from the "Life Metal" lyrics that further destroy any possibility for this collection of weak and non-threatening tracks to have any real Death Metal vibe. As with Human, he said that the lyrics were written with hopes that "people can relate to them". The musical influences that he cited included Queensryche and Watchtower and so on. Listening to this pathetic offering, it's difficult to imagine that these musicians were involved with such albums as Scream Bloody Gore, Darkness Descends and Illusions. Even the faster parts feel so contrived and disingenuous. The riffs are utterly generic and fail to create any kind of feeling at all. Hoglan's drumming is incredibly overactive, but it's not as if his performance takes away from anything since the songwriting is so uninspired. Schuldiner's ability as a guitarist has definitely developed over the years, yet he is still out-classed by King Diamond guitarist Andy LaRocque, whose solos are probably the best parts of the whole album. Even the vocals have deteriorated from the late 80s, sounding more like a girl trying to imitate a Death Metal vocalist than the possessed ghoul from Scream Bloody Gore and the old demos.

One could lay some of the blame for this atrocity at the feet of Scott Burns, the dimwitted producer that is responsible for the incredibly sterile and plastic sound that afflicts Individual Thought Patterns (and so many other records). Even if Chuck had written a authentic Death Metal classic, the despicable Morrisound production would have rendered it dull and lifeless. The guitar tone on this album is typical of the time period, possessing no edge or heaviness. It's as smooth as can be and, coupled with Schuldiner's weak material, the guitars end up sounding quite fragile at times. The bass is too high in the mix and gives a soft and cartoonish feel to the music. The drumming is just a mess of clicky double-bass that pollutes the whole album, as much the fault of Hoglan's style as anything.

If you're simply a fan of Schuldiner as a musician, you may not find anything wrong with Individual Thought Patterns. You'll certainly get a fair dose of his typical songwriting. However, judging this as a so-called Death Metal album, it fails miserably. This 'technical / progressive' garbage is a disgrace to the band that once created such classic albums as Scream Bloody Gore and Leprosy. If Chuck no longer wanted anything to do with real Death Metal, he should have laid aside the name and continued to make boring Heavy Metal with a new project. Keeping a name that he didn't even like anymore, especially with completely different line-ups and a different musical style, was all about brand recognition and nothing more. Avoid this like the plague. In fact, I need to go listen to the Back from the Dead demo just to cleanse this filth from my ears...
 
(24 Sept. 2016)

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