Unquestionably one of the most
important and influential death metal acts to have ever emerged
from the North American continent, Florida's DEATH came together
in late 1983 when guitarist/vocalist Chuck Schuldiner and guitarist
Rick Rozz (real name: Frederick DeLillo) got together with drummer/vocalist
Barney "Kam" Lee to form Mantas. Drawing musical inspiration
from Venom and Slayer, the trio (no bassist had yet entered the
picture!) went about composing original tunes and making very
rough, crude rehearsal recordings to send out to various tape-traders
around the world. Out of these sessions came a completely unproduced
five-song "demo" entitled Death By Metal (mid-1984),
which --in spite of its primitive nature-- ended up establishing
the group as one of most promising contenders for the American
death metal throne, a status that at the time was being firmly
held by San Francisco's Possessed. The recognition they received,
however, was not enough to help Mantas along in their hometown
of Orlando, where the group were still not being taken seriously
by any of the clubs or fellow musicians.
"The local situation
was fuckin' nearly impossible," Schuldiner later recalled.
"A lot of people looked down upon us. We got a lot of shit
from the local band scene; all the bands from around (Orlando)
thought we were pure shit. We were noisy back then, but we were
putting out brutal death metal, and it was too much for people
to comprehend." This complete lack of local support for the
band's music was at least partly to blame for the constant internal
turmoil within the group and Mantas' eventual break-up in late
Vowing to carry on making music that was "faster and heavier"
than anything he'd done before, Schuldiner immediately announced
his plans to form a new band -simply called DEATH- and relocate
to either Tampa or California after his 18th birthday (which was
to occur in May of 1985), a move that he felt could improve his
chances of securing a stable line-up for the group. Within weeks,
however, Chuck reconciled with Rozz and Lee and commenced the
writing sessions for what would become the legendary Reign
Of Terror demo.
We have gotten so
much heav"ier (since reforming), it's almost beyond comprehension,"
Schuldiner stated on the eve of the demo's recording. Laid down
over a five-hour period during October 1984 "in the back
room of a music store where they keep recording equipment",
Reign Of Terror cost a grand total of $80 and was never
properly mixed down due to a lack of time in a proper recording
studio. In spite of this, the six-song tape was circulated worldwide
through the vast tape-trading network and put DEATH on the map
as one of the genre's most extreme and brutal groups.
On December 30th,
1984, DEATH performed with local Tampa heroes Nasty Savage at
Ruby's Pub and made an audio recording of the show that they would
later release as an "official" live tape. "We're
going to trash the (Reign Of Terror) demo, because it
sucks compared to our live tape," Chuck was quoted as saying
at the time.
months later, on March 9th, 1985, Chuck, Rick and Kam finally got
the opportunity to record a "proper" studio demo, a three-song
recording made specifically for the purpose of finding a record
deal. Not an "official" demo release, the Infernal
Death tape (as it would later become known) was to be the last
recording made with this line-up, as Chuck slowly grew apart from
the other members and began to set his eyes on a Michigan bassist
by the name of Scott Carlson (then of Genocide, and later of Repulsion).
"Scott sent us a tape
of himself jamming, and he absolutely kills," Chuck enthused.
By the time Scott relocated to Orlando (replacing Rozz), he brought
along with him Genocide guitarist Matt Olivo, and the two joined
Kam and Chuck in a short-lived incarnation of DEATH that ended when
Lee finally exited, leaving the remaining three members drummer-less.
Several frustrating months followed during which Chuck, Matt and
Scott atempted to find a replacement for Kam, but the task proved
impossible, ultimately causing Scott and Matt to return to Michigan
and leaving Chuck the daunting task of finding an entirely new line-up.
In September of 1985, Chuck
relocated to San Francisco at the urging of ex-D.R.I. drummer Eric
Brecht, and the pair soon hooked up in yet another version of the
band, this time with the intent of their band "being the fastest
ever". Ultimately, however, Chuck realized that a full-speed
assault did not allow for the different musical shades and colors
which made DEATH such an import muscial entity, and in December
of that same year, he returned to Florida, bandless once again.
It was around that time that he got a phone call from Toronto death
metal upstarts Slaughter, who -just a few short weeks prior to entering
the studio to begin recording their debut album, Strappado--
asked him to move up to Canada and join their ranks. Frustrated
with his local environment.
their offer and in January of 1986 moved to Toronto to start rehearsing
with the group. 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, where he started plotting his next attack. Within weeks
he was back in San Francisco where he hooked up with a promising
young drummer by the name of Chris Reifert, and in April of that
same year, the pair entered a California studio to record the infamous
three-song Mutilation demo. By far the best-recorded tape
Chuck had laid down up until that point, Mutilation rapidly
made the rounds in metal circles, and the demo soon found its way
in the hands of Combat Records, who proceeded to snap up the group
to a multi-album deal.
In July of 1986, Chuck and Chris entered a Florida recording studio
to start work on their debut album for the label, but due to various
technical problems, the sessions didn't go past the initial basic
tracks and the whole project was moved over to Hollywood's Music
Grinder Studios. Paired up with producer Randy Burns, DEATH spent
only a few days recording the LP before Chuck and Chris returned
home, leaving Randy to mix the album. While waiting for the album
to be mixed and mastered, Schuldiner and Reifert came in contact
with a young Californian guitarist by the name of John Hand, whom
they welcomed in the band, even going so far as to have his photo
included on the back cover of the upcoming record. It was a decision
that would later haunt the group, as Hand would leave the group
prior to the recording of their second album and thus never recorded
so much as a single note with DEATH.
in May of 1987, 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. However, with Chuck once again having returned to Florida
and Reifert basing himself in San Francisco, Schuldiner --in yet
another surprising move-- decided to join forces with three-fourths
of Florida's Massacre (including Rick Rozz). This marked the first
touring incarnation of DEATH, which made its first major live appearance
at that year's Milwaukee Metalfest. During the successful club tour
that followed, DEATH aired three brand-new numbers ("Born Dead",
"Open Casket" and "Pull The Plug") that Chuck
had written for the group's sophomore outing, which showcased a
more mature, focussed direction for the band while retaining the
brutality that had become the group's trademark.
of 1988, DEATH had returned to the recording studio (Tampa's Morrisound
facility) and, under the guidance of Dan Johnson, laid down their
much-anticipated second album. A polished-yet-savagely-heavy effort,
Leprosy, like it's predecessor, had its roots firmly in
the Slayer/Venom/Hellhammer school of songwriting, but with an increased
emphasis on the kind of melodic passages that would later become
central to the group's sound. 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, including groups
such as Entombed and Napalm Death (who ended up recording their
Harmony Corruption album at Morrisound Studios in an attempt to
recapture Leprosy's distinctive production).
Although the DEATH line-up would change once again, the band had
made an indelible impression with their first two releases. Indeed,
it was albums such as Leprosy that help to forge a path
for the hundreds of death metal bands which would soon rise in subsequent
years, although none of them would be able to erase the importance
nor savagery of tracks such as "Pull The Plug". The fact
that some of these songs remain fan favorites even to this day speaks
of their time-tested craftsmanship and the importance of the band,
not only in the American metal scene but with an impact whose influence
would soon be witnessed throughout the world.
An appearance at the Ultimate Revenge II video shoot (a
live video/CD which also included Dark Angel and Forbidden, among
others) took place in October, 1988, followed by more touring through
much of 1989. By the end of that year, the volatile relatiosnship
between Chuck and Rick had gotten virtually intolerable for Schuldiner
and a parting of the ways became inevitable. "Rick was basically
kicked out of the band due to the fact that we were all into progressing
as a group and getting better as musicians, and he simply was not,"
Chuck was quoted as saying a few months later. "He was stopping
me from writing the kind of material I wanted to write due to his
inability to play the songs, and we all knew it was time for a change."
place, DEATH enlisted James Murphy, a Florida resident who'd previously
spent time in Agent Steel and Hallows Eve, and began work on the
all-important third album, entitled "Spiritual Healing".
Produced by Scott Burns, Spiritual... represented yet another
step forward in Chuck's quest towards incorporating an increased
level of musicality into the group's songwriting, while at the same
time shying away from the Satanic and low-budget gore movie-type
lyrics that were becoming commonplace in the genre. "I think
that Spiritual Healing is very much representative of what
death metal can sound like when it's done with strong emphasis on
musicality and less so on hyper-speed and stupid Satanic lyrics,"
Chuck said after the album's release. "We believe that we can
turn a few more people into death metal with this record and change
a lot of people's minds about what death metal is supposed to sound
In spite of some of the early criticism from the die-hard death
metal fans who viewed the musical progression on Spiritual...
as a negative one, the album went on to be a highly successful one
for the group, with DEATH doing more touring and in front of larger
crowds than ever before. Unfortunately, it also marked the last
time the group would record with this line-up, as pressure in Chuck's
personal life and internal band disagreements caused Murphy to be
dejected from the group first, followed by drummer Bill Andrews
and bassist Terry Butler a few months later.
In the decade that followed,
DEATH issued several more critically-acclaimed releases while gradually
gravitating towards a much more technical musical approach, one
that would inevitably alienate some of the group's longtime fans.
Along the way, Chuck came to be rightfully regarded as one of the
pioneers of the death metal genre, while Spiritual Healing
came to earn its place in the annals of death metal history as one
the finest albums ever released under the banner.