An artist by the name of Chuck Schuldiner was well known for being the guitarist/vocalist/songwriter and founder of a death metal band, simply named Death. He was also known as one of the original pioneers of death metal, who influenced, defined, and defied the sound of the genre. In 1983, when he formed his first band named Mantas, the number of death metal bands that were signed on a record label could easily be counted on one hand. After he changed the name of his band to Death and released their first album, “Scream Bloody Gore”, the followers of this new genre spread like wildfire, due to his strong influence. By the time his fourth album, “Human”, was released, he had already defined the sound of death metal with his guttural vocals, melodic tunes, fast riffs, and streaming solos. With the release of each album afterwards, he proceeded to defy the sound of death metal by making music with a style that was very different from any other music in the genre.
Charles Michael Schuldiner was born of Jane and Malcolm, on May 13th 1967 in Long Island, New York. He had two siblings, Frank and Bethann. In 1968, when Schuldiner was one year old, his family moved to Florida.
When Schuldiner was nine years old, his sixteen-year-old brother, Frank, died in a car accident on a trip back home from his uncle who lived out of state. Chuck was very close to his brother before he died, so to help him with his grief, his parents bought him a guitar to occupy his mind. His parents also decided that guitar lessons would be good for him, too. However, he did not take them for too long before he realized that he wanted to be self-taught. “I took two lessons and he (guitar instructor) showed me "Mary Had A Little Lamb" and I said screw it and went on my own.” [Chuck Schuldiner, “Guitar Corner”]
Schuldiner’s earliest and main musical influence was the band Kiss. When he was thirteen years old his mother took him to see Kiss. “He heard Kiss play and they were his favorite band for years, having quite an influence on him… When he was thirteen years old I took him to his first Kiss concert.” [Jane Schuldiner, “Memories of the Master”] Schuldiner was also inspired by such bands as Exciter, Iron Maiden, Merciful Fate, Venom, Watchtower, Anvil, and Black Sabbath. His main guitar influences were those who were well known in the 1980’s. “I was lucky to start playing guitar in the ‘80’s, when so many great players were around to inspire me like Yngwie Malmsteen, Van Halen, and especially Dave Murray and Adrian Smith of Iron Maiden.” [Chuck Schuldiner, “Guitar Corner”]
In 1983, Schuldiner formed his first band, Mantas. Mantas was made up of three members. Rick Rozz, whose real name is Frederick DeLilo, played guitar. Barney “Kam” Lee played the drums and performed vocals. Chuck Schuldiner played guitar and he wrote most of the material. In the summer of 1984 Mantas recorded their first official, five track, demo, “Death by Metal”. Soon after the recording, the band broke up. Schuldiner searched for new members to make up a new band named Death, but with no success, decided to return to his former band mates, Rozz and Lee. From that point on the band was know as Death and the cover on the previously recorded demo, “Death by Metal”, was changed to reflect the new band name. It was around this time that Schuldiner had to pick up the task of performing on vocals as well as guitar. Similar to Lee before him, Schuldiner sang in a guttural style. Apart from the lyrical content involving death, gloom, and darkness, it was this style of singing that was the distinct quality that set death metal apart from any other musical genre. “First I tried to sing in a normal voice, but that didn't work, so I went for the more brutal approach”. [Chuck Schuldiner, “Precious Memories”]
In October of 1984, the band recorded their first demo since the name change, entitled, “Reign of Terror”, but it was considered as their second demo in all. This demo also featured five tracks.
By March of 1985, Death had recorded their third demo, “Infernal Death”, which featured three tracks. This is the last recording that this line-up recorded together. Once again Schuldiner began his search for new members to fill Death, but this time he journeyed to San Francisco, CA.
Meanwhile, Kam Lee and Rick Rozz stayed together to join a band called Massacre, which had been around since 1984. Massacre was formed by Allen West and Bill Andrews. Eventually West left the band and was replaced by Terry Butler.
In California, Schuldiner made contact with a drummer by the name of Eric Brecht. Things didn’t work out so Schuldiner ended up returning, after only a few months, to Florida without a line-up for Death.
It was January of 1986 when Schuldiner was contacted by Canadian death metal band, Slaughter. They urged him to join their outfit and he accepted. He moved to Toronto recorded one track with the band, but stayed for only about two weeks. “Although initially enthusiastic about the prospect of being in an actual "band", Schuldiner quickly realized the need to pursue his own vision and not follow somebody else's lead, and promptly left Canada to return to Florida…” [Borivoj Krgin, “Biography of Death”]
Once again, Schuldiner returned to San Francisco, California, but this time it was to join with a drummer by the name of Chris Reifert. Together they recorded Death’s fourth official, three-song demo, “Mutilation”, which was known as their best demo yet. Like all the prior demos, this demo circulated nationally through an underground tape trading circuit. However, a copy of this demo made its way into the hands of the well-known metal label, Combat Records.
Schuldiner’s music career took off when he signed a contract with Combat Records, which was a metal division of Relativity Records. Soon afterwards, Death started recording their first album. Their first attempt at recording was in a studio in Florida, but after running into problems they returned to California only to complete the recordings. The album, “Scream Bloody Gore” was recorded in a Hollywood studio by producer, Randy burns and was released in May of 1987. Soon after the release, death metal started its growth. “Death's debut record “Scream Bloody Gore” was immediately met with praise and accolades, with magazines and fans hailing it as one of the most important death metal releases of all time.” [Borivoj Krgin, “Biography of Death”]
Schuldiner returned to Florida leaving his drummer in California. Since the two lived at opposite ends of the country, they discontinued working together. Schuldiner joined forces with three fourths of the band Massacre (Bill Andrews, Terry Butler, and once again Rick Rozz). “[…]all but Lee left the band to record with Schuldiner in Death on that band's Leprosy album, forcing Lee to disband Massacre.” [BNRmetal, “Massacre”]
Death’s second album, “Leprosy”, was released in 1988. This album was a bit more progressive than the prior. The guitar solos and song structures were more complex and Schuldiner’s lyrics began to become more realistic. “Not surprisingly, this powerful combination was an instant "hit" in the metal underground and became a major influence on hundreds of bands that emerged during death metal's "resurgence" in the late '80's” [Borivoj Krgin, “Biography of Death”]
Soon after this release, Rick Rozz was excused from the band for his lack of progression in guitar abilities. Guitarist James Murphy replaced Rozz. Murphy stayed with Death long enough for the band to record the third album, “Spiritual Healing”, released in 1990. Like it’s predecessor, this album was more progressive than it’s previous album. The guitar work was more advanced and the lyrics were even more realistic, in the sense that they were about controversial events that occurred in everyday life, as opposed to songs being about blood, guts, and gore like on the previous albums, especially “Scream Bloody Gore”. For example, one song, “Living Monstrosity” is about babies, born addicted to cocaine. Another song, “ Altering the Future” is about abortion. Both of which were events frequently spoken of in the news at that time.
Death planned a European tour after the release of “Spiritual Healing”. Schuldiner found himself under unbearable pressures including personal problems and problems with the music business itself. Unfortunately, Schuldiner found that he had no choice but to cancel the tour. Without the support of his band, he was left behind as the band toured Europe with a guitarist and a singer to replace Schuldiner. The band betrayed him as they ridiculed him at every show. There were incidents where the band had the audiences chant obscenities about Schuldiner in an attempt to turn his fans against him. This betrayal caused Schuldiner to disband, leaving Andrews and Butler with having to resort to their former band Massacre. Schuldiner hired a lawyer and gained the rights to the band’s name, Death. “After all, Death is still my band… I thought they were my best friends, but I was wrong. At all times musicians are replaceable, friends are not.” [Chuck Schuldiner, “Lost All Credits”]
After Schuldiner had some time to himself, to think things over, he regrouped with three new musicians, guitarist, Paul Masvidal and drummer, Sean Reinert, both from the band Cynic, and Steve Digiorgio from the band Sadus. Since Reinert and Masvidal were still committed to their band, Cynic, they promised only to record for only one album with Death. 1991 saw the release of the Death’s fourth album, “Human”, which was written exclusively by Schuldiner. The progression of this album set it apart from the previous albums, by far. The guitar solos were highly technical and melodic. Reinert proved he was the most sophisticated drummer Death had seen yet, with his fast and technical beats. Not only did the progression level on this album increase, but the sound and style of writing made a considerable change as well. One cause of this change was the influence from his new and temporary band mates.
Paul and Sean played on the Death record, Human, with Chuck Schuldiner and Steve DiGiorgio of Sadus. They described their relationship with Chuck as "very laid-back", and were able to help Chuck with the writing by giving him input, which had been missing on the earlier Death records. The result was a classic record, and Death even got some MTV airplay. [Vincent Eldefors, “Cynic”]
As on the two previous albums, the lyrics were of realistic events. However, this time Schuldiner put a lot more feeling into his lyrics and music. It is evident that Schuldiner put a lot of his anger from his past experiences with former band mates and others he dealt with in the music industry, into his lyrics and music. "This is much more than a record to me: it is a statement, it's revenge." [Chuck Schuldiner, “I am Just a Human Being”] On the same album, Schuldiner defines the sound of the genre as he begins to defy it.
In a 35 minutes (sic) hurricane the man justifies his fame as the death metal king. The clever thing about it is that besides being one of the inventors of the genre, he always is one of the leading re-newers. With the help of the fabulous Cynic musicians Paul Masvidal (guitar) and Sean Reinert (drums) and Sadus' Steve DiGiorgio (bass) he again pushes back the borders within a jammed genre by miles. [Robert Heeg, “Human Review”]
Human consisted of a song called, “Lack of Comprehension”, which was the first Death song that produced a video to get any MTV exposure. Unfortunately, MTV only showed the video two times.
In 1993 Death released their fifth album, “Individual Thought Patterns”, which was the last album to be released under Relativity Records, as their contract had ended. The album was recorded with a new drummer, Gene Hoglan (formerly of the band Dark Angel), and guitarist, Andy LaRocque. However, since LaRocque was committed to the King Diamond band, this would be the only album he would appear on. Bassist, Steve DiGiorgio remained with Death to record on this album as well, but he was unable to attend neither the American or European tours for this album. Scott Burns of Morrisound Studios, produced the two previous albums as well as “Individual Thought Patterns”, but this one would be his last cooperation with Death.
As can be expected from Death, this album was as progressive as the previous. From the technical riffing and solos to the rapid fire drumming, this album had everything that the album, “Human” had and more. However, Schuldiner’s songwriting style took yet another turn in a very different direction. Further defying the sound of the genre, this album gave death metal a new approach.
Loads of charming inventive riffs, smoothly wrapped around cunning constructions and lush supplied with virtual guitar solo force. Death loving musicians who have any insight in the remarkable capacities of this great band will be fascinated effortless by the entire album, because Chuck never leans on standard patterns. [Wim Baelus, “Individual Thought Patterns Review”]
One noticeable change was in the sound of the vocals. Schuldiner’s voice had a higher pitch than before.
Another remarkable quality about the album was that it hadn’t the evil sounds that infested the genre. “If the devil played metal he would sound like Deicide (a satanic death metal band)… God on the other hand would create "Individual Thought Patterns" which is not merely a compliment.” [Wim Baelus, “Individual Thought Patterns Review”]
“Individual Thought Patterns” featured the brilliant song “Philosopher”, which would also be the second video by Death to be shown on MTV. This video was actually shown many times on the “Headbanger’s Ball Show”. The video received a great deal more exposure when it was featured on the “Beavis and Butthead Show”. However, the two cartoon idiots mocked Schuldiner and the video. Apparently, Mike Judge, the creator of the cartoon show, was not a Death fan.
In 1995, Death released their sixth album, “Symbolic”, which had a crisp guitar sound that was closer to that of a traditional metal band. This was another brilliantly progressive album with intelligent lyrics.
“Six albums and eight years after the first offering, Chuck Schuldiner and his brainchild Death have not slowed down. Symbolic is an assault on those who believe heavy metal is a thoughtless music.” [Perry Grayson, “Things Seem So Eternal”]
Jim Morris, one of the founders of Morrisound Studios, produced this effort. Once again Gene Hoglan performed on drums, but Death had two new members who were new to the business. However, these new members were no rookies to their instruments. On guitar was Bobby Koelble, and Kelly Conlon performed on bass. Like the past two albums, “Symbolic” was completely written by Schuldiner. This would be the first album under the new record label, Roadrunner Records. Soon after the release and tour for this album, Schuldiner began writing music for a new project band called Control Denied.
In 1996 Schuldiner began his search for a completely new line-up to fulfill his dreams of forming a traditional metal band that would be Control Denied. The two main purposes for the new project were for a new band name and a normal vocal style. These were the two qualities about Death that Schuldiner felt was holding the band back from its potential.
I wanted to take a break from Death, rest my vocal chords for a little bit and be (solely) a guitar player. I wanted to get together a band that was similar musically; aggressive, melodic, heavy, brutal, non-trendy of course, but with a singer who was along the lines of Rob Halford (singer of Judas Priest)… [Chuck Schuldiner, “Death Lives”]
Schuldiner found himself dissatisfied with the lack of promotion Roadrunner Records had given for “Symbolic”. So he decided to pursue a new record label that could fulfill his needs. That label was Nuclear Blast America. With the help of his new label, Schuldiner decided to put Control Denied on hold in order to work on one more Death album.
In 1998, Death released their seventh and final album “The Sound of Perseverance”. The line-up for this record consisted of Scott Clendenin on bass, Shannon Hamm on guitar, Richard Christy on drums, and of course, Chuck Schuldiner with his usual guitar-vocal position. This album was the most brutal yet melodic of all releases. Schuldiner and Hamm did not hold back from flexing their guitar skills on this effort.
When it came to wizardly complicated riffs, Chuck was clearly one of the masters. But because the genre he played in was not popular among the mainstream, I don't believe he ever received the same kinds of accolades as the likes of George Lynch, Eddie Van Halen, Steve Vai, or Joe Satriani. [Metal Nightmare, “A Eulogy for Chuck Schuldiner”]
This was yet another progressive album where they may have even outdone themselves. Although it seemed in the past that Death was on a mission to defy the sounds of the genre, this album was very definitive of it.
In 1999, Schuldiner gave life to Control Denied by using Hamm and Christy from the recent album. He acquired a new singer, Tim Aymar and regained former Death bassist Steve DiGiorgio. That same year they released “The Fragile Art of Existence”, which was in result a total defiance to death metal for it had a sound similar to a 1980’s traditional metal band. No guttural vocals or songs relating to death were found on this record.
In the spring of 1999, doctors discovered that Schuldiner had a malignant brain stem tumor called pontine glioma. He underwent emergency surgery in January of 2000, which in time showed to be successful. He was progressively healing and all was looking well until 2001 while working on Control Denied’s second album, “When Machine and Man Collide”, his tumor recurred. After months of struggle, Schuldiner tragically lost the battle with his disease on December 13th 2001 at 4:00 p.m. May his soul rest in peace.
At the beginning of his career, Schuldiner’s mission was to create the most brutal music in the industry, which is called death metal. As the genre popularized, his goal was to define that sound, which he did on his first four albums. However, his goals changed as he proceeded to defy that sound to the point of turning to traditional metal. This musician was a true pioneer of death metal, but evidently he was also a sentimentalist.
Chuck Schuldiner (1999).
Jane Schuldiner (2003).
Memories of the Master
Chuck Schuldiner (2002).
Borivoj Krgin (1999). Biography
BNRmetal (2003). Massacre
Chuck Schuldiner (1991).
Lost All Credits
Vincent Eldefors (2001).
Chuck Schuldiner (1991).
I am Just a Human Being
Robert Heeg (1991). Human
Wim Baelus (1993). Individual
Thought Patterns Review
Perry Grayson (1996). Things
Seem so Eternal
Chuck Schuldiner (1998).
Metal Nightmare (2001).
A Eulogy for Chuck Schuldiner