Article: Precious Memories Of Chuck Schuldiner
Written by: Perry M. Grayson

for EmptyWords
Published: April 2002



----- Original Message -----
From: Perry Grayson <>
To: yvonne kluitman <>; Jane Schuldiner <>
Sent: Thursday, April 11, 2002 8:41 PM
Subject: Consumed

Yvonne & Jane!

Here's the long version of my Chuck tribute article. I cleaned it up a bit since you last saw it. I could go over it a million times and still find things that I'd want to polish, rephrase, add or fix. This should give folks an idea of just how much I had to cut the piece down for METAL MANIACS. It went from 14,000 words to 6,000 in MANIACS. It was a crazy task to slice 8,000 words out, but somehow I managed to do it and still feel satisfied with the end result--that I was doing Chuck justice. Chuck was well aware of how musicians get consumed by band stuff and sometimes overlook everyday things that are equally as important. Things are getting very hectic for me and Artisan right now. So, before I lag interminably, I'm giving you this 14,000 monstrosity without nitpicking it any further. It's important is that Chuck's memory remain bright in the minds of metalheads worldwide. I may be busy, but never too busy to remember Chuck--'cause I probably wouldn't be the metal fanatic I am today without his inspiration.
Take care.

Me(n)tally Yours,



Life ends so fast, so take your chance, and make it last.
-C.S., "Pull the Plug"

This is not an ordinary article for me. A retrospective on Chuck Schuldiner and Death has been long overdue. Unfortunately Chuck will not be around to read this for himself. Chuck passed away at the age of 34, on Thursday, December 13, 2001, after a long bout with brain stem cancer. I'd been researching and writing this piece for several months when I first got the news from Yvonne Kluitman, the official Death & Control Denied webmistress. It was a sad day for metal and music period when Chuck died. His suffering is over, but his memory remains brighter than ever. In these pages his life and achievements will be celebrated to the fullest. Chuck was a musical hero to many people across the globe, from California to Holland, from Iran to Japan.

I'm a firm believer in not waiting till an artist is long gone to acknowledge their unique and groundbreaking work, but the U.S. has an annoying habit of neglecting some of its finest musicians, authors, and other artists until long after they're dead and buried. A sorry situation! In '96 I published an article on Death in my zine Yawning Vortex to spread the word about Chuck's new project, Control Denied. My services seemed imperative again when Chuck fell ill with cancer in '99. I'd intended this to be a retrospective, not a memorial. But things are not as we'd hoped. Too often everyday obstacles are enough to keep us from concentrating on what really matters. Words will not be wasted here. This is for Chuck Schuldiner, a man who stood fast to his vision and crusaded for metal for nearly 20 years. Some have said that there's no need to tell detail Chuck's metal past, but I for one think it's a necessity. For every Death fan there are countless others who have never been exposed to Chuck Schuldiner's music. Telling this story is a necessity for Chuck's memory to live on!

Trying to reconstruct the early history of a band without the participation of its founding father is an outright understatement. Reconstructing history without Chuck's participation is something I was forced into. Chuck had been ill for over two years when I first started this article. He and I last spoke on a tour bus one magical day in December '98. Instead, I dredged up many old interviews with Chuck. Many who were close to Chuck also shared their positive thoughts with me.

Through Chuck's struggle with cancer, the spirits of the worldwide cult of metalheads were with him. The support and well wishes of metal people from across the globe echoes in these pages. The sorrow for his loss is overwhelming. At the same time, we take solace in the 8 albums full of uncompromising metal Chuck forged in his lifetime. We cannot lose sight of the fact that Chuck felt metal is an artform, just as valid as other types of music being performed today. In "Suicide Machine" Chuck wrote: "How easy it is to deny the pain of someone else's suffering", but we cannot overlook Chuck's struggle for life or his contributions to modern metal. We ignore the endurance Chuck has had in dealing with the hell known as cancer. Where do you find the words to say at a time like this?

The need for an article like this becomes two-fold. First: to make people aware of how much Chuck battled for the metal cause. Second: to give back to Chuck and his family a massive sign of appreciation for the indelible music that he forged with Death and Control Denied since 1984-to show once and for all that the love Chuck had for metal fans is mutual and that we will definitely not leave him behind! The support of Chuck's fans just goes to prove that some headbangers are indeed kind and sensitive individuals-that, as Chuck was fond of saying, "metalheads unite" in time of need.

The Birth of Death

1983 The recently issued Death Live in L.A. video offers up a portrait of Chuck as most envision him. A longhaired, energetic heavy metal axeman and gravel-throated vocalist, soft-spoken and to the point, wielding a jet black B.C. Rich Stealth. But Chuck didn't always have 8 studio albums under his belt. He was born Charles Schuldiner on May 13, 1967 in Long Island, New York, the son of teachers Mal and Jane Schuldiner. About 15 years later he was well on his way to entering the metal underground and becoming the "Evil" Chuck fans admire and respect.

We must all start somewhere. The Death story began a long way from the famous Whisky in Hollywood or the Dutch Dynamo Open Air Festival. It requires a journey back to the early 1980s to quiet and humid Altamonte Springs, Florida, a suburb of Orlando. Here Chuck spent most of his life and became an incurable metal maniac-at the age at which many impressionable and discontented kids do. It was late 1983, according to metal journalist Borivoj Krgin, when Chuck was joined by guitarist Rick Rozz (a.k.a. Frederick DeLillo) and drummer/vocalist Barney "Kam" Lee to form the band Mantas, the precursor to Death. The primitive metal birth pangs for Chuck & co. were filled with urges to shock their audiences, fueled by tons of youthful bravado and plenty of clashing personalities. All of which is par for the course for teenagers putting a band together, much less one of the heaviest on the planet!

Looking back on the beginning, Chuck told Guitar School in September 1993: "When I first started the band, I'd only been playing guitar for six or seven months-I couldn't even play a lead. My main goal was to bash out the most brutal riffs ever with the most brutal guitar sound ever, but I always had an urge to become a better guitarist. Even though things were very crude back then, I still had a vision of becoming a very musical death metal band. I knew it would take some time to get to that point, and I worked hard to get there." Complexity must evolve from something. Chuck pointed out to Ill Literature in '95, "I remember when we first started...Rick, Kam and myself-we didn't even have a bass player...Though we've certainly come a long way since those early days, it seems like things were a lot simpler back then." Reflecting on his youth, Chuck told RIP Magazine's Jon Sutherland in '93, "If you listen to my early demos, you can hear the Venom influence." While chatting with Brian Harris of Metal Mania video show in '91, Chuck also cited influences like Kiss, Anvil, Mercyful Fate, Exciter, Raven, Slayer, Hellhammer, and Celtic Frost as "early stuff that I feel lucky to have been a part of." If you're reading this, hopefully there's no need for Chuck or I to explain who any of those bands were. Suffice it to say, Chuck considered them pillars of the metal genre.

When asked about the formation of Mantas in an online interview with Frank Stover from Voices from the Darkside, Kam Lee said, "It was during high school. I was starting to get into darker metal like Venom, Hellhammer, and Mercyful Fate. I would bring the albums to school to show my classmates and watch them get spooked cause the stuff was so dark and satanic! This caught the attention of Rick [Rozz] who was in another band at the time. Then Rick asked me if I would try out as a drummer...That's how it all started! Later that week Rick contacted Chuck, and everything from that point is history!"
1984 Well, "history" leaves a lot to fill in. Borivoj Krgin pointed out that Mantas "had a bassist for one very rough recording they did (pre-Death by Metal), but it was certainly no one that was in the band long enough to even qualify as a full-fledged 'member.'" A couple of unofficial rehearsal tapes were made (including the one with bass, referred to in the underground as Emotional), followed by Mantas' first official rehearsal demo, Death by Metal (Summer 1984). The homegrown DBM cover is a photocopied picture of Chuck, Kam, and Rick standing in front of a sign warning "Danger, High Voltage," along with some brief thanks. The original track list was "Legion of Doom," "Mantas," "Power of Darkness," "Evil Dead," and "Death By Metal." Kam told Voices from the Darkside, "It was recorded in Chuck's parent's garage in the summer of 1984, and yes 'Power of Darkness' was always on it...Chuck did the vocals on that one..."
A Death feature from the German fanzine Raise the Dead from late 1984 tells us "Mantas split up to reform with the same line-up, and finally found a bass player, Dave Tett, under the name of Death." The bassist announcement was short-lived however, typical of the many difficulties Chuck would continue to have finding like-minded musicians to complete the Death lineup.

Mantas' first gig supposedly occurred on August 1, 1984, but trouble was brewing. Borivoj's liner notes to the Death reissue CDs explains that "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 1984...Within weeks, however, Chuck reconciled with Rozz and Lee..." Chuck told Metal Mania, "I wanted to reform a new band with a new lineup called Death. I unfortunately had to resort to my old members..." The bass-less Death by Metal was then "reissued" with a black cover adorned with skulls and an inverted cross. Kam explained to Voices from the Darkside that "'Zombie' replaced the song 'Mantas'" on the newer of Death by Metal.
Listening to early Mantas & Death tapes, one notices Kam and Chuck vying for vocals. Chuck screams "Power of Darkness"-and on "Beyond the Unholy Grave" both duel on grunts and screeches. "He'd get tired after a while, so I picked up the vocal duties. First I tried to sing in a normal voice, but that didn't work, so I went for the more brutal approach," Chuck reminisced to Guitar School.

Death concentrated mostly on making plenty of rehearsal tapes that made the rounds in the underground with fanzines and tape traders. The Chuck/Rick/Kam lineup only played a few shows-as Kam put it, "covered in blood and makeup around the eyes and stuff!"
Death by Metal found its way into the hands of Hirax vocalist Katon DePena. Katon recalls contacting Chuck, "back in the earliest days of tape trading...about 1984. He was very young at the time but already showed signs of becoming one of the special elite in the metal underground. He liked extreme music and was very into Hirax. He had all of our earliest demos and rehearsal tapes. He used to write to us all the time...Chuck sent us the rehearsals because he wanted to see what we thought about his band. We thought they were great and we encouraged him to keep making tapes...Anybody that likes Death should also search to find the early Mantas recordings. I have some favorite demos and that's in there with all of them. Fuckin' great. Two guitars and drums, no bass...just complete raw metal."

Borivoj Krgin recalls first hearing about Mantas "at the Metallica/Anthrax/Raven gig at the Roseland in New York City back in August 1984. I happened to see a flyer of theirs...put up by two guys, Mark [Conrad] and John [Gross], who used to do a zine called Guillotine in Florida during 1984, since they came up to New York for the Metallica gig. Anyway, the flyer looked interesting, and it contained a phrase along the lines of the 'the heaviest' or 'the sickest' or something like that, which immediately caught my attention. So I wrote to the address on the flyer...included cash for the cassette, and I got a letter back from Chuck a few days later along with a copy of the Mantas Death by Metal rehearsal/demo."

Death's second official demo was October 1984's Reign of Terror. Borivoj Krgin divulges that "it was never actually mixed (which is why the Kam's toms sound way louder than his snare, for example)-and if I recall correctly, it cost a whopping $80 to record-no bullshit!" In the aftermath of Reign of Terror, Death gigged at Ruby's Pub in Brandon, Florida, on November 9th and December 30th. The December 30th show was taped by John and Mark of Guillotine and sold as the band's only official live recording. The cover, complete with guillotine, volcanoes, and a stick figure reaper, was drawn by Kam Lee. Rick was out of the band soon after the December gig.
1985 Next came the so-called Infernal Death demo, one of the final recordings made by the duo of Chuck and Kam on March 9, 1985. The tunes on Infernal Death were "Arch Angel," "Baptized in Blood," and "Infernal Death." The latter two were later resurrected by Chuck on his first studio album. Several more rehearsal tunes were committed to tape by Chuck and Kam when the two members of Flint, Michigan's Genocide relocated to Altamonte Springs in May 1985 (around the time of Chuck's 18 birthday) to join Death.

Under the name Genocide, Scott Carlson (bass) and Matt Olivo (guitar) had been busy bashing out high energy and speed riffs in Michigan. Scott was the first to contact Chuck: "I mailed him a copy of our demo, which was just a crappy garage rehearsal demo just like Death's. I read about them, and they sounded so close in spirit to what we were doing that I sent Chuck a tape after reading about him in Guillotine Magazine, figuring we should just be in communication. It just sort of spawned from there." The melding of Genocide and Death seems to have sprung from logic, Scott points out. "Matt and I were a musical concept without a drummer or a second guitar player. Back in those days you had to have two guitarists. And Chuck and Kam were a musical concept without a bass player or a second guitarist. It sort of made sense to merge the two projects together. We packed all of our stuff into one Chevy Malibu and drove straight down there. 24 hours straight till we knocked on Chuck's front door."

Practices took place in the Schuldiner family garage. Matt fondly recalls, "It was probably an average of a 110 degrees in there, completely humid. But we loved it. You'd only complain because you needed water. It was intense and so much fun. Because we already knew the songs. There were never any lulls in the rehearsals. We just played." The boys from Genocide were Mantas and Death fans. Matt, Chuck's one-time axe partner, made him dig up "songs he didn't play any more, like 'Curse of the Priest' and 'Legion of Doom'." Scott chimes in, "Corpse Grinder. I don't think he liked 'Corpse Grinder'".

Scott remembers the only sour point of their entire stay: "At first it was like bliss. We found a kindred spirit in Chuck and John and Mark from Guillotine. But Kam was kind of going through a lot of personal problems, and he wasn't really able to fully able to commit to the band. We were all just so young and naive that we just saw it as him being a wimp or a poser, whatever. It was just at the time that we were mad at Kam, but in the big picture I totally understand his position. I don't have anything bad to say about him. I've hung out with him since and had fun. And the death metal world ended up a being a better place because of it. You got Massacre, Death, and Repulsion out of it."

Chuck, Scott, and Matt became quick pals. Their sick and twisted humor was a perfect match, just as the tunes they played were shocking in brutal intensity. Matt focused a lot on the memorable times they had: "When we first got there we partied and just had so much fun and talked for so long about playing death metal. It was a ritual that we would sneak into this drive-in theater and watch the same movie every night just to basically get out. It was just the time of your life type of thing. And it was sort of contrasted by the situation with Kam, because that was the only thing stopping us from just going to the moon."

Both Matt and Scott paint a picture of the hard worker Chuck was, plugging away at a fast food job to be able to afford the equipment he needed. "Here was Chuck from Death," Matt explains, "the coolest up and coming metal band ever, and he's wearing a Del Taco uniform with this little hat with his hair pulled up. He looked like one of those Orthodox Jewish guys 'cause he had this funky hair that was coming down the sides. But there was nothing in the back 'cause it was pulled up." He may have worked his ass off, but, as Matt notes, "Chuck always had really great support from his parents. He was never out in the cold with his metal." Here we see just how supportive Jane and Mal Schuldiner were to their son. Scott relishes their time living at the Schuldiner's house: "Chuck's mom was too sweet to deny us. She made dinner for us every night. She was an angel. Jane was one of the greatest moms I've ever met. Chuck's dad was always cool. They never gave him grief about anything...except like taking out the trash, but when it came to serious stuff like Chuck's future they never once stepped in and made decisions for him."

Label interest was already brewing. "We had talked to someone at Combat that said make a demo and you've got a deal," said Scott. "So, Matt and I went down the mall where Kam hung out all time to try and talk him into coming back to the band. And he was just totally against it. That's when Matt and I knew that we were up the creek without a paddle. We weren't gonna get anywhere. We just decided to go back home and regroup. And Chuck went and started his adventure."

"When there were hints of us first leaving," Scott said, "I think he started to make phone calls. He was friends with Katon from Hirax. I think he was putting out his feelers on the West Coast. It was right after we left that he went to San Francisco. We were all very young at the time. When we left we didn't really know how to talk to Chuck about it. We knew it was gonna bum him out. Instead we talked to his mom about it. And she talked to him about it first."
San Francisco was looming on the horizon for Chuck, and Repulsion awaited Matt and Scott. "We were packing up our car when Chuck came out," Scott told me. "He just wished us all the luck in the world and we did the same for him. We all hugged and just packed up our stuff and had one last beer together and just drove off and left Chuck with something to thing about-what he was gonna do next."

By September, Chuck's plans to relocate to San Francisco were in full motion. Soon he found himself in the land of the Golden Gate, teaming up with ex-D.R.I. drummer Eric Brecht and a bassist also named Eric. Bassist Eric's last name remains a mystery. Borivoj used to "refer to them as 'Chuck and the two Erics' when I would converse with Chuck on the phone, which is something that I frequently did back in those days. With this lineup, Chuck recorded the lightning fast seven song rehearsal demo dubbed Back from the Dead by fans. It was also during this first jaunt to San Francisco that Chuck stepped foot on stage again. Chuck was now very much the focus of attention for the crowd, considering he was now handling all vocal duties, while grinding his metal axe with feverish abandon. Two gigs were recorded and circulated among tape traders from the infamous Ruthie's Inn (the first in October and the second in November). It would be quite a while before Chuck made a triumphant return to the limelight, during which time he honed his axe-slinging skills. Previously Chuck's solos fit right in with the early high speed, uncontrolled bursts of Slayer's Kerry King, Hellhammer & Celtic Frost's Tom Warrior, and Kreator's Mille Petrozza. It was during this period when Chuck began to reevaluate his lead playing abilities, focusing on both speed and memorable melody. It was a slow transition, but it started when Chuck realized speedy tempos weren't all that mattered for Death. Out of key solos were the rule and not the exception of the day in the early thrash/death scene, but Chuck stood out above the hordes after a relatively short while as one who could reinvent himself given the briefest breaks between recordings.

Borivoj Krgin maintains that "they had this idea to make Death the fastest and heaviest band in the world, which is an idea that Chuck quickly grew tired of-unsurprisingly. Eventually, he went back to doing what he did best-playing super-heavy riffs at varying speeds, but always concentrating first and foremost on crushing brutality rather than speed." San Francisco, the town that had already accepted and started the career of Metallica, was the right climate for Chuck. But the lack of dynamics in the first Bay Area incarnation of Death eventually led to his return to Florida by December of 1985.
1986 A quote from the German metal zine Deathfuck partially unravels Chuck's short jaunt to Toronto, Canada, in January 1986 to join the early death/thrash band Slaughter. "It's unbelievable...Evil Chuck, who just joined Slaughter in early January, left 'em again in the same month! Official news from the Slaughter headquarters tell that Chuckie baby had to leave 'em coz of a total lack of band dedication and further sexual differences!" It was Slaughter bassist Terry Sadler who, years later, explained perhaps the biggest reason for Chuck's hasty departure from Toronto to Snakepit editor Laurent Ramadier in mid 2001: "He lived in my parents' basement with me for a while and my parents had no idea. They found out and the shit hit the fan. They wanted him and me out! I think that Chuck overheard our fighting and he took off...We had no bad feelings towards Chuck, but his friends kept leaving messages for us that we sucked and that Chuck was too good for us! We know for a fact that Chuck never felt that way, but the rumors started flowing and bad feelings began! We now wish Chuck the best of luck with his health, and we're not kids anymore slagging each other!"

Matt Olivo received a call from Chuck while he was in Canada: "He was totally bummed out and pissed off. 'Cause he had fallen on the ice, which started the breaking of the camel's back-all the shit that had been building up. He just wanted to get the fuck out of Toronto." Chuck told Borivoj Krgin in in an '87 Metal Forces interview that "it didn't take me very long to realize that I'd made a big, big mistake, so I left after only two weeks."

Chuck wasted no time in heading out west again after his return to Florida. In San Francisco again, Chuck used old contacts in attempts to find new band members. Concord, California's Chris Reifert, then 16, was still in high school, but like Chuck, he was already playing in and demoing with metal bands, most notably one called Burnt Offering. Chris remembers playing metal even earlier, with "one band that we had for a while called Guillotine...we made some practice tapes, but we never made it into the studio. That was in '83 or '84. I was like 14 in '83, so I was just learning how to play fast."

In that heyday of thrash metal, many of the bands were still unsigned, including Death. Chris admits to being one of Death's young converts. "I bought tapes from the band, like Death Live in '84, in the mail. There was this good record store in San Francisco, the Record Vault, and they sold bootleg copies of all sorts of metal demos. I got 3 or 4 of the Death demos that way." Chris revealed that he met Chuck before any formal advertising could be done for musicians. "Early in the year. I heard he was looking for members out here. I already knew about the group...I was pretty excited...I got the gig. He was going to put an ad on the radio on a local station. A friend of mine told me about it before it even got aired. I got the phone number." Chris can be heard furiously pounding the skins behind Chuck's whirlwind guitars and acidic vocals as early as a two song rehearsal tape from late March, 1986. For a rehearsal tape, the sound quality was quite clear when compared to its predecessors. It's simple to see, in retrospect, that Chuck's bond with Chris Reifert was the defining point for improvement in Death's seedling sound.

Chieko Redmer was a young Friscan metal and punk fan in '86. She met Chuck at the infamous venue Ruthie's Inn: "I was completely wasted! I could barely even walk straight. I remember that he was standing against the wall inside, and I ploughed right into him-almost knocking him down! I didn't know who he was, but he helped me up and saw that I was very sick! I remember telling him I was about to puke. He was so nice that he escorted me outside so I could throw up in the planter outside! This was a pretty nice thing to do for a total stranger, not to mention it being embarrassing for me! He was a total gentleman. The funniest thing was that he presented me with a Death business card that had the Reaper logo and his phone number on it and the slogan 'Corpse Grinding Metal'! It was too cool! Very suave! We started hanging out after that, and I met Chris Reifert. Chuck was staying up here in Antioch and with Chris as well part of the time. They would practice at Chris' house in Concord. I'd go over there to watch...they did some great covers and joke songs they wrote. I never forgot how funny Chuck was! His wacky personality and silly sense of humor that is very unique. He would say all these goofy things back then like 'understand rubberband?' and 'know what I mean, jellybean?' Those days were great times for sure. No responsibilities, just partying till dawn and a lot of laughs. It was a bummer when Chuck went back to Florida, but Chris and I remained friends and ended up dating for like 7 years and are still in touch. Chuck never seemed to lose his 'humbleness' even though he got famous."

In April, Chuck and Chris quickly followed up on Combat's request for a professional demo. As a duo they crafted the Mutilation demo, the most polished of the early Death recordings. As Chris put it, they did the deed at a "little studio in Lafayette." And according to Bernard Doe of Metal Forces, Mutilation was made with "Chuck also playing bass." Doe conceded that Mutilation was "the band's best recording to date; both in terms of material and production." The underground and Combat Records were in agreement about Mutilation. Despite the fact that the band was still only a duo, Combat signed them up to a five album deal. Chuck was 19 and had managed to get a record deal now under his belt. He was starting to achieve some of the goals he'd been pursuing since the first days of Mantas.

So, you're signed to a label, and it seems like everything in the world is finally going right for you. Is the world at your feet? Or do you have more work to do? Chuck was well aware that his career as a professional metal guitarist was just beginning, and before anything else could be done a first album would have to be planned out and recorded. Chuck went from the working title of Zombie Ritual (glimpsed in Bernard Doe's short Metal Forces write-up) to Scream Bloody Gore, the title of one of the newest tunes conceived in Chuck's Frisco frenzy.

In Summer of 1986, Chuck and Chris flew back to Florida with big pipe-dreams about their first album ever, far from the recording capitol of the world. It was in Florida where Chris notes Death "recorded a version of the album and it got scrapped. I can't remember what the name of the studio was anymore. We found it, and figured it would work out. Keep in mind we were still teenagers at the time, so we were making dumb decisions left and right. We just went to this studio figuring we could do a good sounding record here. We did the rhythm tracks and sent it to the label, and they said 'Hell no!' and wrote it off as a mistake." A return to California was imminent, Chris explained. "Then we started over again in L.A. We just started the whole thing all over again, which was for the better. It sounded really good at the Music Grinder."

While back in S.F. Chris and Chuck befriended neighboring thrash band Sadus, whose bassist, Steve DiGiorgio, would later record on Death's Human and Individual Thought Patterns. Says Steve: "They got a hold of Sadus' first demo. On the label we put Darren's [Darren Travis, Sadus guitarist/vocalist] phone number for contact. Chuck and Chris were kicking around listening to it, and tripped out that we were so close. Antioch and Concord are like neighboring towns. The phone rang one day, and the dude on the other end says, 'Hey, we're in a band called Death from Concord. We dig your demo. Do you guys wanna hang out?' So we got directions and drove out to Chris' house. We met Chuck there. He was our age. We were just fresh out of high school, so we had a lot of time to kill during the day. We hung out and talked to him. We asked him where his band was, and he said, 'Oh, they'll be out of school in a couple of hours.' And we're like, 'School? Holy shit! These guys are young.' He played the Mutilation demo. We're like, 'Holy shit, I can't believe this. These guys are brutal.' His 'band' got there a little while later. It was just Chris. That was it. 'How the hell do you two guys sound like that?' So we went in Chris' room and all sat around the edge of the wall. Chuck played guitar through one amp and had a mic set up through another. Chris played drums, and they ran through a lot of songs. We were just fuckin' blown away. We were like 'You guys are heavy for just two dudes.' We figured that we didn't know many other bands in the area. We were always on our own, and here's a couple of guys our age doing our type of thing. So, we just started hanging out. Go have a beer sometimes, go burn a joint, go hike up a mountain sometimes. Once in a while we'd jam. That's basically how we met."

Steve continues: "Back then we were young, and no one had money. Jon Allen had a drum kit that was barely hanging in there. But Chris had a really nice, huge Tama set, and Jon was just blown away. Chris was like, 'I know, man, but we can't practice in my house very often. And Sadus had a killer practice space. So, slowly this deal got worked out to where we loaned them our practice space if Chris would leave his drums set up so that Jon could play it when Sadus jammed. We started sharing a practice room. That eventually led to me learning the songs and filling in on bass with them. Then we were doing double sessions. Sadus would set up and go through our set. Chuck and Chris would kick back and have a joint. And they'd get up there. All the Sadus guys would pull up a pillow and watch us jam and have a joint. I'd just be like, 'Alright guys, time for a break.' We'd all go jump in the pool at Darren's house or something. It went like that for a few months. Kind of one band in a way. I was the common denominator. They were looking for a bass player the whole time, but no one was around."
Land of No Return: The Professional

Chuck expressed his approval of the Scream Bloody Gore recording process to Metal Forces, "I was totally happy with the way the record came out. Randy Burns gave us a super-heavy production, and he was very easy to work with in the studio. The only thing I kind of regret now is not hanging around for the final mixes. I think the rhythm guitar could have been a bit louder in the mix." Not too shabby for the brief period of about 5 days Chris claims it took to track SBG.

"Right after we did the LP as a two-piece," Chuck told Metal Forces, "we ran into this guitarist, John Hand, whom we really liked at the time, so we got him into the band. He played with us long enough to have his photo appear on the back of the album, but he just couldn't play our newer material, so he had to go."
Steve DiGiorgio remembered the lack of Death gigs from that period, "We decided to do some shows, and just figured we'd double session it. Chris was also double session for a band called Desecration. We were actually gonna do a Desecration, Sadus, and Death show where me and Chris both double setted. But that never happened because Chuck went back to Florida and never came back."

Something was indeed making Chuck grow homesick. He told Metal Forces, "when I first moved to California back in late '85, the scene was just starting to flourish. There were lots of places to play, and the fan support was just overwhelming. Unfortunately, as time went by, most of the clubs closed down and the scene just sort of died out. I knew there was no way I was gonna be able to get a band together there, so I decided to go back to Florida. I told Chris he could move back down with me, but he said he didn't want to." Chuck and Chris were metal brothers, though, and Chuck wished him "good luck in the future" in his thanks list on Death album number two, Leprosy.

SBG was released in May 1987 on Combat in the U.S. and Music for Nations in Europe. Chuck was far from taking a rock star attitude after getting signed and seeing his first album issued, telling Metal Forces that "the reaction from the fans has been just amazing, especially from Germany and the U.S. I really have to thank everybody for their great support, because it wasn't for them, we wouldn't be here right now."

From the first cut, "Infernal Death," this two-man band screamed youthful discontent aimed to shock the world. SBG was a further extension of the over-the-top stance Chuck had been taking on the Death demos. Pile-driving catchy riffs combined with gore-riddled lyrics. The gore he would outgrow, but the riffs would only become more memorable as time and albums passed. Fans and Chuck himself would never forget such tunes as "Zombie Ritual" or "Denial of Life," though. They were immortal pieces of the Death canon. Chuck splattered listeners with corpse splattered imagery similar to modern gore flicks like George Romero's Dead trilogy or the Italian "giallos" of Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, and Umberto Lenzi. Chuck's teenage infatuation with horror was no secret from Metal Forces readers. Horror, of course, is different from the jokingly satanic lyrics of Venom and Hellhammer. When asked about the "satan" in metal topic, Chuck told Metal Forces, "I'm not into it. We had some satanic lyrics back in the old days, but most of those were written by our former drummer/vocalist Kam Lee. As soon as he left the band I kind of took control of that side of things...My lyrics are based more on the subject of death and real-life gore. I get a lot of ideas from seeing gore flicks. For example, 'Torn to Pieces' is about the movie Make Them Die Slowly and "Scream Bloody Gore" is about Re-Animator." Also, it's no surprise that "Regurgitated Guts" neatly paraphrases the plot of Fulci's The Gates of Hell. There is no doubt that the first Death album, like the demos before it, brought with it a revolution, spurring the rise of the Florida death metal haven where once there had existed no scene whatsoever.

The Long Road Lies Ahead
Death is oh so strange
The past no one can change
What you can't predict
Is how long you'll exist
-C.S., "Open Casket."

1988 Exit Chris Reifert, re-enter guitarist Rick Rozz, along with the rest of the Massacre instrumentalists, Terry Butler (bass) and Bill Andrews (drums). Like Chuck, they to were having lineup difficulties in Massacre, the band they had been in with vocalist Kam Lee. Chuck went as far as to tell Metal Forces that he'd buried the hatchet with Rozz to try and work with again. Rick was quoted in the June 1988 Cross of Iron zine as saying, "Massacre is now history."

As to touring plans, Chuck intimated, "I think that for now we will just concentrate on writing new material with the new lineup. We're probably gonna do a few local shows in the near future, but I doubt that we'll be doing a full tour until after the second album is released." Already a second Death record was beginning to take shape, and there hadn't been a tour for the first. Tour or not, Chuck had finally managed to get a full lineup, and he quickly set about breaking them in on the local Florida scene. One of the things that would help secure a tour for Death was a manager. Eric Greif met Chuck at the Milwaukee Metalfest in Summer 1987, but Eric told me his tenure began a bit later. "In '88 Chuck and I began speaking directly about management as we got along immediately like brothers. He was looking for a manager who would go beyond the standard business role and instead fight alongside him in the trenches. Chuck fed off what we called 'channeled brutality', and he liked the way I raged on his behalf."

Chuck told Metal Forces about the changes since recording his first album, "My current songwriting style involves a lot more technical riffing and more complex song-arrangements than before, but I'd say that our sound has pretty much remained the same. Our next album will still be brutal as hell, but it will be a bit more musical and professional than SBG."

Leprosy's lyrics betray the inner conflict between the past-life blood and gore of "Evil Chuck" and the newly emerging philosophical, down-to-earth Chuck. Such tracks as "Forgotten Past" and "Born Dead" were ushered to their graves by the lyrical contemplation of crowd favorites "Pull the Plug" and "Open Casket". "Pull the Plug", in particular, became the song Death fans went absolutely nuts for whether they were in their bedrooms or in a crowded club. In his own words, Chuck told us that "Pull the Plug" is about "being on a life support system and having the right to die." Chuck explained at the time to Metal Hammer scribe Robert Heeg that "the lyrics are more serious and on the next album they will get even more realistic. Now my ideas come from newspaper articles."

The improved production of Leprosy was the fault of no inner conflict between old Chuck and new. It was his conscious effort towards a polished, tight metal sound. "We want a clean sound," Chuck said, "yet one that smashes you right off your feet!" Speaking of producer Dan Johnson, Chuck raved, "Dan is divine!" Speaking to Denis Gulbey of Sentinel Steel, Chuck said Dan "worked with really cool bands, really great productions..." Cool bands Chuck was fond of, like the far-from-death metal Savatage. Sure, there was the studio clarity of Death's new approach, but Chuck felt just as strongly about the music itself. Rick oozed enthusiasm about his renewed partnership with Chuck and the Leprosy material to Cross of Iron zine, calling it "unbelievable riffing". The fact that Scott Burns engineered Leprosy also added to its raw, yet clear approach. In time, Scott would help Chuck get his music committed to tape just as Chuck envisioned his sound.

Touring for Leprosy was hit and miss. While it was great experience for Chuck to get on the road, things were often disorganized and ended in shambles. One of the highlights of the Leprosy tour was when Death's set was filmed for Combat's Ultimate Revenge II live video on Oct. 23, 1988. A thrash crazed audience cheered for Death and their metal brethren Forbidden, Dark Angel, Faith or Fear, and Raven. The resulting video and compilation record gave Death fans something to munch on before the delivery of a third album. Even though Chuck was displeased with the finished product ("Unfortunate Revenge...I encourage people to hold a big bonfire of Ultimate Revenge II videos and go sick."), he did have a good time. "I think the [band] members had more fun just partying after, honestly. It was great, a lot of people in the audience seemed to have fun, and that's what ultimately counts."
Within the Mind of Not-So Evil Chuck


Laurent Ramadier charted the rest of the Leprosy tour: "Two months later the band started on another tour along the East Coast and in the Midwest, which lasted all of December. Anvil opened a few shows for them (Anvil was one of Chuck's fave bands of all time). On the 23rd December 1989 Death arrived in Europe, at last, for a tour that should have lasted a month...but they went back to the States at the beginning of March because of problems with the tour organizers." Bad luck, but the learning experiences continued for Chuck on the Leprosy tour. Going out Stateside following the Europe fiasco, Death was joined by co-headliners Dark Angel. As many of known Dark Angel's Gene Hoglan eventually wound up drumming devastatingly on two Death albums. Further turmoil ensued for both bands. Dreams of Damnation and ex-Dark Angel guitarist Jim Durkin informed me that he "got along really well with Chuck and everyone before I left the tour and didn't look back. Chuck and I had a lot of fun hanging out and jamming. It had nothing to do with us two."

Things would unfortunately have to get worse before they got better, but through it all Chuck stood his ground. Chuck's former manager Eric Greif recalls how, after the failed tour, Rick Rozz was asked to leave Death. "Chuck finally made up his mind to terminate Rick from the band and I agreed...Though I always felt that Bill and Terry only went along with it because Chuck was so adamant...Chuck's main reasoning was clear. He felt that Rick's playing was sloppy, that he relied too much on the whammy bar, and (yes, its true) that Rick was too interested in his hair and in 'image'. I also recall that he had missed some practices." Leprosy may have sent Chuck reeling to reorganize, but it was album number three where Chuck encountered a real mutiny to test his sincerity to the music.

1990 If "Pull the Plug" was an appetizer for Chuck's new lyric writing direction, 1990's Spiritual Healing was a cereberal feast. "Living Monstrosity", in Chuck's own words, is about cocaine abuse among pregnant women, while "Altering the Future" tackles the very relevant nationwide issue of abortion. The only shock and gore here were real-world truths Chuck had decided to comment on and explore. Chuck was not indulging in fantasy; he was now tackling concerns faced by everyday people. At 22, Chuck's guitar playing, songwriting skills, were reaching a new level of development. Spiritual Healing is the album on which Chuck's razor sharp lead guitar abilities finally took explosive flight. In a special thrash metal issue, Chuck told Guitar Magazine, "I started practicing more and came up with the idea that, for this band to move forward musically, we'd need a cleaner approach, something real dry and in-your-face...Our rhythms also became a lot more complex...we were just naturally going off in a different direction." In '98, Chuck told Rock Hard's Boris Kaiser that Spiritual was "too pure for some people. We lost some fans, but we gained more."

Dan Johnson was not available to produce Spiritual, so Chuck went with enginner/co-producer Scott Burns, a man who knew what Chuck meant by an "in-your-face" recording. Spiritual was the first fruit of Chuck and Scott's producing relationship, one that would last for three Death albums. Burns became known for his sparkling and buff recordings for death metal bands, but this reputation actually began with Spiritual. "I wanted to clean it up, but keep it really heavy. Scott definitely had the same goal in mind...I felt there were a lot of productions out there getting lost, and working with Scott enabled us to achieve what Spiritual Healing was...A lot of people started taking us more seriously, which made me really happy. I was always really serious about the music."

Eric Greif unraveled the second guitarist change that took place on Spiritual, "Chuck was set on a number of guys but the name James Murphy kept coming up on the scene....before he was asked to join, I had a long talk with James about our arrangement. This was around the time that we began the sessions for Spiritual Healing. We stayed in a motel in Tampa near Busch Gardens for the entire two months or so that the album took to complete, and it was then that the four of us began to notice that James somehow didn't fit in as a person. There were quirks and idiosyncrasies that made Chuck and I look at each other and scratch our heads, though I must say that James did just about everything to try and fit in to the strange humor and in-jokes that Chuck, Bill, Terry and I had as a team. Playing-wise, James was very technical and accomplished, considering that he was quite young." For all this failure to fit in, James Murphy, in his own right, remains one of metal's finest axemen. He too has battled cancer recently. We wish him the best. Though James was let go from the Death fold after touring the U.S., he has remained a constant participant in the metal scene with his accomplished guitar and recording skills.

After James Murphy came touring guitarist Albert Gonzales of Evil Dead. Gonzales left the Spiritual tour as well, and he was replaced by a young Florida axeman named Paul Masvidal (of Cynic) for the few remaining North American dates. As incurable Death fanatics know, Masvidal would resurface again. Manager Eric Greif notes that he was "arbitrarily fired by Chuck following an argument we had as I returned from a trip I'd made to Mexico with Borivoj Krgin and Sepultura...But he actually still wanted me to manage him after the out of court settlement! Chuck always overcame animosity for logic's sake. I came aboard again until our final falling out during the Human tour."

The European leg of the Spiritual tour was fast approaching. Considering the aborted Leprosy tour of Europe, Eric Greif commented: "Chuck's contention was that he did not feel the Spiritual Healing tour of Europe was adequately organized. Considering Death's previous negative European experience with the Belgian agency Metalysee (that tour being one of the worst experiences Chuck had encountered as a musician thus far), he did not want a repeat of that. He kept exclaiming that he wanted his 'next European tour to rage for the fans'. Chuck also had mounting personal issues at the time, and no manager to fall back on.' The gall of the other Death members was likewise revealed by Eric: "Bill and Terry countered by claiming that Chuck waited until the very last minute to pull out, and they felt his apprehension was not warranted. They argued that Chuck had missed several opportunities to bring Death back to Europe and that they were sick of they went anyway... That bold move was the end of Bill and Terry." The rag-tag lineup, referred to by some as the A.B.C.T. Project, was by no means Death. It consisted of Andrews and Butler, soundman/guitar tech Walt Trachsler (ex-Rotting Corpse) on guitar and drum tech Louie Carrisalez (ex-Devastation) as vocalist, and they hit Europe for a month with German thrashers Kreator. This incident led directly to Chuck terminating Bill and Terry from Death, and Chuck re-hiring me as manager."
Only Human

In March 1991, Chuck spoke with Rock Hard's Arno Polster about the obstacles he had been facing since touring for Spiritual Healing got underway. Despite adversity, Chuck showed resolve: "No drug problems! I had some troubles with some people in the business and some personal problems as well. I came to a point on which I thought everything was doomed to fail. As if the devil was in it! I needed to get things in perspective again. The moment however was more than inconvenient. DEATH...I gave birth to that name in 1984 and I have every right to it. As long as I write songs I will continue under this name." He further explained to Rock Hard, "The good side of the matter is that I now know who my real friends are. Some people turned their back at me and others stood right beside me as things were going bad. I always gave 100% of myself for the band and now others are taking advantage of it with their 'ex-Death-members stickers' on their albums, while I stay behind with the mess. I am glad Human turned out to be so good. I didn't use five year-old songs, all compositions are brand new. They express my feelings at the beginning of 1991!" These quotes bring us to Chuck's most evolutionary jump, the transition to a new level of technicality, complexity, and above all a melodic bent. All these came with 1991's Human album.

One of the most overlooked contributions Chuck gave to the metal scene was through his Spiritual Healing liner notes. Chuck thanked a list of bands for inspiration, which sent young headbangers like searching for slabs of metal vinyl from before our time. Chuck was instrumental in stearing me toward early metal pioneers like Sortilège (France), Acid (Belgium), Witchfinder General (U.K.), Tank (U.K.), Heavy Load (Sweden), and Overdrive (Sweden).

"This is much more than a record to me; it is a statement, it is revenge," read Chuck's message on the Human album following his thanks list. Even after all of the negative shit that he had dealt with, he had risen again. This time it was with the help of his old Frisco metal brother Steve DiGiorgio. Chuck explained the positive vibes that were flowing after such negativity surrounding Spiritual Healing to Metal Mania video show's Brian Harris: "It just worked out great because after the falling out of the previous lineup-I've known Sean (on drums) and Paul (on guitar) for quite a few years. They play in the band Cynic. They still have Cynic going actually. They took time out to help me on Human along with Steve DiGiorgio from Sadus. We had a really good time. We are all friends, and we had a great time partying, rehearsing, and recording with Scott Burns. It was a really great situation to be in. We got a new bassist, Skott Carino, 'cause Steve is full-time in Sadus. I'm really grateful to the people who have helped me get this out."

Eric Greif was again raging for Chuck as manager. "I remember that by that period, in 1991, Chuck decided that he would hire players instead of making them permanent bandmates, so that our band and corporate decisions were made equally between Chuck and I. On the other hand, we had a kickass line-up for Human, and it was rather a shame that something more lasting couldn't have been figured out. Of course, Paul and Sean were also focused on their band Cynic on the one hand, and Chuck was wary of the legal aspects to the revolving door of band members that he had just endured..."

Human was, in all seriousness, the first Death album to genuinely display the progressive and technical edge that Chuck had been striving for so long to inject into his music. Chuck shared a love for the insanely proficient progressive metallers Watchtower with Paul and Sean from Cynic, but Human still retained the signature Death sound. Chuck's progressive angle came with the same thickness and heavy guitar textures that had characterized Death's sound from day one. Sean and Paul's love for jazz fusion further helped Death's sound evolve by leaps and bounds.

Chuck summed up the struggle of being a metal musician with integrity to Brian Harris of Metal Mania, "It definitely deals with things everyone has to relate to or deal with, being human. I think a lot of times people forget that people in bands are human. You know we all are capable of making mistakes. And unfortunately, when we do, we're looked down upon in a weird way by the public. I've made mistakes. I've done things I had to do that don't make sense to people, but instead of people assuming I'm a jerk for doing it they should think 'Maybe he has his reasons.' It ties in I've been totally misperceived by the business, the public eye I should say. It really has a lot of different meanings. I think I speak on behalf of a lot of bands when I say we have problems we have to deal with, just like anyone else. I'm not rich just 'cause I've got albums out. I'm still struggling to survive. Right now I'm living at home temporarily. It's just a normal life. Not the business part, but we [musicians] all lead normal lives just like everyone else."

"Suicide Machine", a sort of follow-up to "Pull the Plug", was one of the biggest steps forward in the lyric department for Chuck on Human. Chuck explained the genesis of the idea to Rock Hard, "In America, there's a doctor who invented a machine with which he can deliver sick and suffering people to death. There's a lot of excitement about it and the press baptized the appliance a 'Suicide Machine'. I think it's a great invention. When somebody really is incurably ill, suffering for example from Alzheimer's disease, and it's his wish to die, then we must allow him that choice before an endless suffering takes place. When a dog or a horse is badly injured or severely ill, we put them asleep so they won't have to suffer. Why don't people have that same right? We also have feelings. When you prick a dog with a needle it will bark or yelp. I would also. Why do people have to suffer if they could pass away peacefully?"

Viewers tuned into MTV's Headbanger's Ball may have been lulled into a sense of false-serenity during the clean-toned intro to Death's first video clip, Human's "Lack of Comprehension", but thirty seconds later their ears were assailed by a powerful burst of Death's signature blower heavy style. "Lack of Comprehension" voices all the bottled thoughts Chuck had towards authority figures (parents, principals, teachers, priests, etc.) who use music (metal in particular) a scapegoat for their own guilt when youths lives are endangered or lost-as in the case of the high publicized lawsuit against one of Chuck's favorite bands, Judas Priest. Touring took Death across the U.S. from November to mid December. It was at the Whisky in Hollywood where I experienced Death's live show for the first time. That had an awe-inspiring effect on me at 16, giving me something to aspire to.

1992 Next, Chuck & Co. flew to Germany to start the European jaunt. Though a success with the crowds, there was behind-the-scenes trouble once again-calling the U.K. leg to a halt.

This time it was money difficulty, something Chuck himself had very little to do with. Borivoj Krgin wrote in Terrorizer that "Death's equipment was impounded by the group's UK promoter as a means of alleviating the debt incurred during the tour." Paul Masvidal, who (along with Sean Reinert) would not return to the Death camp after the InHuman tour, cited the problem at the end of the tour. "We had our equipment held up 5-6 months in England due to money problems with a bus company in London." Chuck told Borivoj Krgin in Terrorizer, "Beyond horrible financial status, position that we were in, due to management problems, which was another big part of other problems...there were a lot of things that were unaccounted for, and we were surprised with a $14,000 bus debt at that point, which we were unaware of a meaning, the bus payments were not made for five weeks while we were on tour thinking that everything was getting paid for, like it should be. I'm not in charge of the business. I'm a musician. I trust people that they're gonna be doing the business properly for me." As to whether either of the Cynic guys would return, Chuck noted, "It mainly comes down to Sean being very involved with his own band (Cynic), and not having our equipment for five months after we got back from Europe didn't help our schedules at all. So, we all kind of were put on hold, and their stuff was put on hold. They're just really behind in their schedule, and I really just can't wait around, I've really gotta keep busy here. So, he's gonna do this with Cynic, and I'll definitely try to get to mine, on my schedule that I'm looking at. It's a drag. I really enjoyed having Sean on the record and on tour, and he's a drum-god, he's an excellent drummer."
When Metal Brothers Unite

Human was a progressive/aggressive metal opus, but 1993's Individual Thought Patterns went even further with sonic experimentation on Chuck's part. For Individual, Chuck hired ex-Dark Angel skinsman Gene Hoglan, Sadus bassmeister Steve DiGiorgio, and King Diamond's tasteful lead guitarist Andy LaRocque.

Speaking of his new comrades, Chuck told Metal Hammer, "One by one very gifted musicians but perfectly fitting in the musical concept of Death. Indeed they had to play songs I wrote but in their own way brought in something personal that made the whole more valuable." Of that quartet, only Andy LaRocque could not stick around beyond album tracking. Chuck was rather happy to admit the broadening of horizons. "It's a fact the definition death metal no longer has to go together with the band Death."

"I wanted everything about the album to be top-notch...I grew up listening to a lot of bands that had a twin axe-attack, and I think it's somewhat important to have if you really want to be heavy. I t adds variety to the music...just knowing that I was working with such a talented shredder like Andy really made me work hard. I just needed him to do leads on four songs, and have him double a few of my rhythm tracks." Chuck told Watt Magazine, "I hope ITP lifts metal as an art form to a higher level. The album proves you can, without tuning your guitars extra low, sound heavy and melodic at the same time. I dare take chances as a songwriter. I don't set myself any boundaries. I leave the known roads. Progression is what keeps music exciting."

Some folks seem to have noticed the accessibility Chuck's music was now displaying. Clear production values and plenty of memorable melodies intertwined with diligent technicality on ITP. "The Philosopher", which became another crowd pleaser in the same way "Pull the Plug" and "Lack of Comprehension" did, was chosen to be Death's second music video. The clip eventually aired on MTV's Beavis & Butthead. "People come up to me and say, 'hey, I just saw you on Beavis & Butthead," Chuck told Ill Literature, "it was so cool!' so, in a way, it just exposed more meal fans to Death's music."

As on Human, many of Chuck's lyrics for ITP were inspired by the hardships he'd undergone in the music industry. Chuck's love for the simple things in life as opposed to "business" was explained further to Watt. "I keep watchful though, not getting ripped off again. The big shots in their ivory towers steal every last dime out of bands' pockets. I don't understand why. Don't they have anything else to do? It sounds extreme, I know, but I don't misuse my power. I don't make up stories. What I tell in my lyrics is my personal opinion about people I've had to do business with. I can assure you, for that matter, every band can tell you the same. I often long for the times when I recorded demos and played in little clubs. We did it all back then. Nobody restricted us. But when you release one album all of a sudden your life changes. Businessmen decide about your future, and they expect you to be a rock star 24 hours a day. Horrible. I love to keep as far away from that circus as possible and I believe in my life at home: movies, taking a walk, swimming and hanging in the marina.

Finally, Chuck and Death were able to tour properly, even if they needed to get touring guitarists to fill Andy LaRoque's shoes. When Borivoj Krgin asked if any nonsense that had happened between Death and Dark Angel was water under the bridge, Chuck replied, "Oh, definitely, yeah, by all means. Everything's fine. It's really cool, because I've always known about Gene since the early days of the underground. When we used to correspond and talk to the same people, and we were all in the same circle." This time Steve DiGiorgio was aboard for the tour. In the second guitar position, Ralph Santolla from Florida-based Eyewitness was along for the brief Festival tour of Europe that happened before the release of ITP and the U.S. tour that followed. Shredder Santolla was then replaced by Forbidden's Craig Locicero for the European tour Death embarked on with Anacrusis. Steve DiGiorgio explained the devotion of some of the European Death fans to me when he talked about a gig in Florence, Italy. "That loyalty can go the other way as well. That was the show that Anacrusis came off the stage just covered in looches...they just got spit on. Chuck was so worried. He was like 'I am not playing.' And we were like 'Dammit, this sucks.' It was my first time in Italy, and that's where my family's from. I was looking forward to the homeland and all that. I'm like, 'Fuck, I can't believe it. We're here, we're ready, and we're gonna cancel. No way.' But then, right as we were about to have that final doubt, the whole crowd just went 'DEATH! DEATH! DEATH!' So, we're like 'Let's just get go up there.' Chuck said, 'Hey, first time we get spit on, I'm done.' Me and Gene go, 'Well, at least he's trying. Let's do it.' They loved us. Not a single thing came on that stage. It didn't have anything to do with whether they thought Anacrusis was good or bad. They were just there to see Death, and that was there way of showing their support.

1993 was when Chuck first voiced his intentions of taking his music to a new level by bringing in a melodic singer with range-something beyond Death. "In the future I plan to do a more melodic, straight-forward heavy metal side project with a singer in the Rob Halford style." While being interviewed by Borivoj Krgin, Chuck further explained, "I'd love to get a great singer, like Christian Augustin, formerly of Sortilège and do something really different. I really have that creative urge inside me, and definitely one day I'll do it." Chuck would stand by his word, even though it would take years to undertake the new project. There were still Death albums to concentrate on.

Reaching into the Dark, Retrieving Light
1995 1995's Symbolic (released by Death's new label, Roadrunner) is the album on which Chuck's efforts finally culminated into a sound that was massive, heavy, moody, emotional, and full of technical twists and turns. The approach on Symbolic was one that Chuck would continue to build on when he recorded his next two albums. The sonic canvas of Symbolic included the double bass drumming assault of Gene Hoglan once again. But Steve DiGiorgio was busy, so Chuck took on a local bassist, Kelly Conlon, who was let go before touring began (and replaced by another local, Brian Benson). As second guitarist, Chuck chose Florida native Bobby Koelble, an old schoolmate of Chuck's whose playing he had long admired. As for co-producing and engineering the album, Chuck chose Morrisound co-owner Jim Morris, who had helmed albums by Crimson Glory, Savatage, and Iced Earth. The result was the big sound of Symbolic.

The lyrical subject matter on Symbolic explored similar topics to those found on Death albums since Human. "Crystal Mountain" delved into religious corruption, "1,000 Eyes" tackled the growing loss of privacy in the world, and the title track spoke of innocence. "Do you remember when things seemed so eternal? Heroes were so real...Their magic frozen in time." These words send a shiver up my spine as I sit here writing this, because...not only was Chuck my hero, but I know he was such a huge role model for thousands upon thousands of young musicians worldwide. On the subject of lyrics, Chuck told Sentinel Steel, "People can read into Chuck's life in a very big way. I think a lot of people do realize that, and they write in...or they'll tell me 'those lyrics are pretty deep, they seem like they're painful. I've felt that pain.' Because life's not perfect...I have moments when I feel like I'm on top of the world, and other moments when the world's on top of me. Depression, happiness. We're all in the whole same fishbowl..."

Chuck staged a "Death for Life" Benefit gig, which raised money for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and the B.E.T.A. Chuck told Ill Literature, "My mom works for B.E.T.A. (Birth Education Training and Acceptance)...If we can make a difference financially or otherwise-even if it's just creating a mutual awareness, then all the hard work is well worth the effort. I guess it gives a sense of purpose to people like us...longhaired youths who play in heavy metal bands and listen to music. We do have value in society." Chuck's giving nature would be echoed by his fans later on down the road, when Chuck himself was in direly in need of cancer treatment.

The Symbolic tour brought Death across the States (with Seattle's Nevermore), Europe, and at long last to Japan, a country that has an especial fondness for metal. In selecting Nevermore, Chuck was exposing some fans to metal with clean vocals at a time when some were still not willing to acknowledge bands without gargled death grunts. No videos, and as always, no radio airplay, but with Symbolic Death found huge success, especially when they hit the road.
Perseverance and Moments of Clarity


After coming off the road in '95, Chuck set about working in his home studio for the melodic metal project he'd been planning for years. He even announced to the Death fan club (the Metal Crusade) its name, Control Denied. While looking for band members, Chuck found drummer Chris Williams. "I had a feeling," Chuck told Sentinel Steel, "if I let people know I'm looking around, world will get out soon enough through Chris. Ironically, that's where I met Shannon [Hamm]."

Shannon and I met on the '98 Death tour. We kept in touch afterwards. He was one of the first I contacted when starting this piece. Says Shannon. "When I first came to Florida in 1994 I started checking out these magazines looking for musicians around here who were into what I was doing. I ran into a band called Talonzfury. I became really good friends with the drummer, Chris, and he knew another guy who was friends with Chuck and found out about Chuck auditioning people for Control Denied. Chris went over there and auditioned and got the job as the initial drummer. About a month later he told me Chuck was looking for a guitar player. He told me 'Why don't you get some tapes together and send 'em over here.' So I did. Chris brought me a tape with three songs on it to learn. That's how I met Chuck. We became really good friends. Then it was just two guitarists, and then of course Chris invited Scott [Clendenin, bass] who was also in his band. So we all came from the same place here. We did a couple of demo tapes." Chuck's quest for a singer for Control Denied led him to inquiring about his former touring partner, Nevermore's Warrel Dane. Warrel, busy with Nevermore, couldn't commit to the project.
1998 Control Denied would have to be put on hold. The search for a vocalist was going slow, for one-and Chuck was only too aware that Death fans were still hungry for more. Chuck told ex-Metal Maniacs associate editor Jeff Wagner: "I do things when I feel they're right. There was label interest in Control Denied, but I felt that the time was right to bring Death back. Believe me, when the Control Denied material does come out, it will not be dated." Another slight lineup change occurred here. Shannon explained , "That's when we started working on the Perseverance stuff. Then he let Chris go and got Richard in on the drums."
The Sound of Perseverance, the first of two albums Chuck would record for Nuclear Blast Records, came in '98 to bludgeon listeners over the head with in-your-face infectious heaviness. From the very first instant of Chuck's wailing lead guitar intro to "Scavenger of Human Sorrow", the album evidenced that Death was still a force to be reckoned with. For the moment, Control Denied was sidelined, but only because Death had work to do. Chuck wasted no time in taking his new lineup on the road to break them in properly. First to Denmark, then Holland's illustrious Dynamo Festival. "Playing to a crowd of almost 25,000, it was only this incarnation's third show together, resulting in an inspired, urgent performance," Jeff Wagner raved in Maniacs.

For the U.S. tour, Chuck chose the new Swedish metal act Hammerfall. Chuck told Maniacs editor Mike G.: "It's a great bill. Hammerfall embraces a gloriously true metal tradition and Death take that tradition and expands upon it further." It was at the second of the two Southern California tour dates that I had the opportunity to finally hang out with Chuck. Chuck signed all of my Death LPs and CDs, and I apologized for bringing so much, for being a fan-boy. But he was really understanding and cool. "I'm the same way, definitely," he said, "like with KISS." I spent the afternoon inside the Ventura Theater while no one else was around but Chuck's longtime friend Maria Abril. It was...unreal. I got to watch Chuck jam unaccompanied while he waited for everyone else to show up for soundcheck. He didn't kick me out or wonder what I was doing there. As a matter of fact, he was one of the kindest musicians I've ever met-and even put me on the guest list for the show. How many people get to spend time like that with their music hero? After soundcheck and before Hammerfall took the stage I talked metal with Shannon and bassist Scott Clendenin. When the gig ended it was off to the bus to hang with Chuck & Co., where we listened to Pat Boone's In a Metal Mood and laughed like there was no tomorrow. A golden day that will live forever in my mind!

With the tour coming to an end, Chuck yearned to return to his new project. "I don't like having to do what I do vocally in Death. I'm tired of the so-called death vocal style. Night after night after night. I like clean vocals...In my other band, Control Denied, I'm just the guitar player. Control Denied takes what I do in Death to the next step. Control Denied is a metal band...We're certainly not gonna pull a Metallica on people."
What is Yet To Be...
1999 After returning from the road, Chuck entrenched himself in work on Control Denied. New vocalist Tim Aymar (from Pennsylvania's Psycho Scream) had been welcomed into the fold before The Sound of Perseverance tour. Chuck replaced bassist Scott Clendenin with ever trusty metal brother Steve DiGiorgio. "It was something that needed to be done...that I hated to do. Scott's a great bass player, we had some really good times, but it was just inevitable," Chuck remarked on the amiable parting.

A shocking press release was issued by Chuck in spring 1999, just after tracking for the first Control Denied album, The Fragile Art of Existence, was completed. "Toward the end of our time in the studio, I started experiencing some pain in my upper neck which I initially thought was a pinched nerve or strained muscle. Having completed the recording I consulted with a chiropractor followed by a massage therapist and acupuncturist who recommended I go for an MRI...Well, I was right about the pinched nerve but unfortunately it was being caused by a brain stem tumor.

"I am in my fourth week of radiation therapy with some of the most sought-after physicians in the field. I am also blessed with the immense love and support from my family and friends which is such a big part of getting through something like this. To try to put this into simple terms is obviously difficult but let me say this: it is a mind, body and soul expanding experience. The treatment has been going well and with this type of aggressive radiation the prognosis is very good. Patience is something I have learned to embrace in my fourteen years of living music and now it is time to further master the art of patience on my road to recovery.

"I've always felt a personal connection between the music and the fans/friends who support it. It is that support, that goes beyond the music itself, which I appreciate with all my heart and soul."

The words sent Death fans reeling with sympathy for their ill metal comrade. Months of radiation followed, during which time The Fragile Art of Existence was finally released. A medical fund was organized for Chuck. He lacked insurance that would cover the enormous expenses such a volatile disease as cancer brings. Chuck's family's assets were being poured into the best care he could possibly receive. The Schuldiners encountered much friction from hospitals that were reluctant to treat Chuck without being paid up-front. "Every single dime has been for him, but Chuck would do it for me 1,000 times over, " Chuck's sister Beth told MTV News.

The Fragile Art of Existence is the album Chuck had wanted the public to hear since 1993. A clear production, a solid and capable lineup, and songs loaded to the brim with themes both personal and relevant to all of the human persuasion. Its heavy, melodic, and epic direction was made all the more accessible by Tim Aymar's powerful and raspy voice. Words penned by Chuck for this album bespeak a stunning awareness of his mortality. The title track closes out the disc with the most prophetic of these lines: "No time for self-pity / No time for dwelling on what should have been / But is yet to be." In "Believe" there are further messages laced with experience from Chuck's life. Chuck tells us: "If I was paid for disappointment, I would be a wealthy man / The magic lives in sincerity, in truth, behind the thoughts I choose to stand... / Awaiting discovery". Chuck told Jeff Wagner, "These are words and things I need to re-embrace-not for music, not for that outlet-I need to re-embrace key words for a new survival...Life is fragile."

Just before Chuck underwent surgery on his brain stem tumor, MTV News covered his story online on the web. Family, friends, and fans braced themselves as Chuck entered the hospital. Successful surgery gave us a deceptively bright hope.

Chuck made another statement to the metal community following his surgery: "I am alive and letting the metal flow! I just finished writing the last song for the new Control Denied album...100% trend free. The responses to The Fragile Art of Existence have been really awesome. Thank you for embracing it! I also want to thank everyone around the world for the incredible support you have shown me. I read the emails and the letters and appreciate your kind words and honesty...I'm settling down here in Florida, feeling good and looking forward to getting busy again with the new record and tour to thank all my metal brothers and sisters in person with some new metal...Shazaamm!"
Only the Good Die Young
Time it waits for no man
My future is revealed
-Iron Maiden Steve Harris & Bruce Dickinson


But the recovery went awry, even though we had hoped with all our metal hearts that Chuck would fend his cancer off and continue to astound us with new slabs of raging metal. It was spring 2000 when Chuck began feeling ill once again, and this time things were even more serious. Cash donations and proceeds from the Thrash of the Titans gig (to aid Testament's Chuck Billy and Chuck S.) in San Francisco showed a huge display of love flowing from the fans, but all the money in the world cannot stave off the horrible side effects of experimental chemotherapy drugs and the gruesome killer known as cancer.
By November 2001 Chuck's condition seemed to have improved somewhat. He even emailed, the official Death/Control Denied website, something he rarely did. But only weeks later Chuck was hospitalized again, in the grips of pneumonia-his mother constantly at his bedside. Those who knew feared with each new day that we would lose Chuck. The news we all dreaded came, when Yvonne Kluitman from Emptywords tearfully informed us that Chuck had passed away on the afternoon of Thursday, December 13, about an hour after returning from the hospital to his Altamonte Springs home.

None of us wanted to believe Chuck was gone at first. We wished he'd pull through, but deep down we all realized that most people don't exactly recover from brain tumors. Chuck endured a painful disease that affects myriads of people-but few people can fathom. It seems too ironic when we consider some of the lyrics Chuck wrote in his life time. I don't enjoy writing words like "at least he will no longer suffer".

Chuck was human-not perfect-and just as fallible as anyone else. He enjoyed the simple things in life. When not playing guitar, he spent much of his time with his dogs and cats ("The Guys"), fishing and canoeing, collecting records, and cooking. Chuck was especially fond of his pets. A very humane soul, Chuck rescued his dog Heidi when she was just a puppy from the horrid fate of being trapped in a bag and left to die in a dumpster.

Chuck was never one to shrink from growing popularity with metal fans and the intricacies such fame brought with it. He told Guitar World in 1995: "We didn't fade out or get crushed by the people in the industry who were always trying to crush us. I'm proud that I've never had a drug problem or complained that success sucks and shot myself like Kurt Cobain. Sorry, but success is something people like me dream about. Not to see my name in print, but for our music to be acknowledged on a large level." And when it came to his concept of metal, Chuck was uncompromising. Demo-era Death guitarist Matt Olivo told me shortly before Chuck died that "Chuck doesn't do his own thing just for the point of it or something. He does it because he's simply incapable of doing something for someone else. He doesn't have one dishonest bone in his body when it comes to his own music. He has to do his own thing."

A quote from Chuck's old manager, Eric Greif points out how Chuck stared misery in the face, and slayed it with optimism. "One particular moment will live on in my brain forever: we were travelling in our tour bus, somewhere in snowy Sweden, and I think we were the only guys still awake. We sat on the front stairs, near the driver's cab, having a deep conversation about our lives, our futures, and the band. I was quite down at the way things were going, and he put his arm on my shoulder and pointed at the stars that were shining quite clearly. He said that I had nothing to fear-that fate would lead the way forward and that things would turn out as they were meant to. Chuck was like that-there were moments of sheer depth, honesty and conviction-and those were the features that will linger forever in my mind."

As for me, I can only say that I feel fortunate to have known Chuck Schuldiner, a true heavy metal hero, even for a brief time. No, we will not forget you, Chuck, and perhaps we'll meet again on the tour bus to infinity...

Precious Memories of Chuck Schuldiner (1967-2001) By Perry M. Grayson © Copyright 2001 by Perry M. Grayson

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EmptyWords-Published on April 27 2002