Chuck Schuldiner~Allen West~Richard Brunelle
GUITAR WORLD FIRST PROPOSED CONVENING A DEATH METAL ROUND TABLE,
THOSE CLOSE TO THE BANDS RESPONDED WITH PURE SKEPTICISM: "IT'LL
NEVER HAPPEN- THEY ALL HATE EACH OTHER." THE "THEY" IN QUESTION
WERE KEY MEMBERS OF DEATH, OBITUARY, MORBID ANGEL AND DEICIDE,
THE UNCHALLENGED KINGS OF THE FLORIDA DEATH METAL SCENE. AND
IT WAS TRUE THAT NO SUCH GATHERING OF THE GODS OF GRIND HAD
PREVIOUSLY BEEN ATTEMPTED. BUT IN DEATH METAL, AS IN LIFE, THERE'S
A FIRST TIME FOR EVERYTHING. GUITAR WORLD EXTENDED THE INVITATIONS,
HOPING THAT THE BANDS COULD OVERCOME THEIR REPORTED ANIMOSITIES-
THEIR HATRED- TO ENGAGE IN A NICE, GUITAR-RELATED CHAT ABOUT
DEATH METAL, PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE. THE QUESTION REMAINED-
DID THE BANDS REALLY HATE EACH OTHER? CERTAINLY, DEATH
METAL- WITH ITS VICIOUS, CHURNING GUITARS, GUTTURAL VOCALS AND
BLOODTHIRSTY LYRICS- IS COMPATIBLE WITH EVEN THE MOST EXTREME
HOSTILITY. IT WAS A GOOD BET THAT THE INTERVIEW WOULD BE ANYTHING
BUT DULL. DEATH, OBITUARY AND MORBID ANGEL ACCEPTED OUR INVITATION,
WHILE DEICIDE DECLINED.
The meeting was
set for Tampa's Morrisound Studios, the most important death
metal recording facility in the world. The first to arrive was
Chuck Schuldiner, guitarist, vocalist, and overall mastermind
behind the veteran outfit Death. With the demise of Venom, Possessed
and other first-generation death metal groups, Death became
the prime mover of the genre's musical growth and development.
Schuldiner is clearly in good spirits as he sets down his guitar
and shakes hands with the staff at Morrisound. He appears especially
excited about the roundtable. "This coverage is a good opportunity
for "hands like ours", he says. "It does a lot for the genre,
and it means that we're starting to be taken seriously. Hopefully,
this will clear tip some misconceptions about death metal."
Next on the scene is Richard Brunelle, guitarist for the speed-demons
Morbid Angel. Like Death, Brunelle's band has built on the classic
sounds of Venom and Possessed, taking the music to levels of
extreme intensity. Unlike Death, Morbid Angel adopted the Satanism
associated with the earlier bands. But while Venom and Possessed
utilized Satanic imagery as a gimmick, Brunelle, guitarist Trey
Azagthoth and company are true believers. "We're all pretty
much one when it comes to anything regarding the supernatural
or the occult," says Brunelle. "I'm totally intrigued by it,
and I read about it as much as possible. But you can only go
so far: the next step would be walking through walls." (laughs)
Brunelle exchanges pleasantries
with Schuldiner and offers his own feelings about the round
table. "I hope this will show everybody that all the bands down
here don't hate each other. If anyone out there is going to
read this looking for us to talk shit about each other or get
into a fight, I'm sorry if we ruin their day." The last of the
summoned players to enter the studio is Obituary's lead guitarist
Allen West-- a pint-sized, thin-haired thrasher affectionately
known around town as "Big Al." Through three crushing albums
(Slowly We Rot, Cause Of Death and The End Complete), Obituary
have made an indelible mark on the death metal scene with slow,
grinding riffs that are in sharp contrast to the quick-wristed
speed emphasized by bands like Morbid Angel and Possessed. While
their music packs a deadly wallop, Obituary are the quietest
and least controversial of the local bands. And West, a veteran
of the well-respected death metal ensemble Massacre, is the
group's most reserved member. "We look at all these guys as
our friends," he says. "If a band starts talking shit about
us, we don't even acknowledge it. We'd rather just keep to ourselves
and not get involved in all that." With
everyone present and accounted for, the three death metal elitists
adjourn to an unoccupied room and engage in a discussion that
is about ashate-filled as a 4-H meeting. Which only proves that
rumor rarely has anything to do with fact--- in life, and in
WORLD: Deicide was invited to participate in this discussion,
but they refused. How do you all feel about that?
RICHARD BRUNELLE: I think this is just their way of getting
attention. But I don't have any quarrels with anybody in Deicide.
As for all that kind of soap-opera stuff that exists between
some of the bands, I couldn't care less.
CHUCK SCHULDINER: If Glen (Benton,
Deicide's bassist/vocalist) doesn't want to be here, that's
his right. But by not being here, he's only feeding a negative
vibe that already exists in the public eye. He should learn
to put personal things aside, and get together with the rest
of us. Maybe it would change the way people look at the scene.
GW: Richard, apparently Deicide
didn't want to be part of an interview that also featured Morbid
Angel. What are the origins of the feud between you and Deicide?
BRUNELLE: I'm not really sure, but it's strictly between
David (Vincent, Morbid Angel's bassist/vocalist) and Glen. They've
always been at each other's throats and talking shit about each
other, but they've been friends for a long time. I just think
that both bands are getting bigger, and Deicide aren't handling
it too well. For us, everything is the same as it always was.
GW: When did you all start playing
death metal, and who were your key influences?
SCHULDINER: I began playing this
music in late 1983, when I started Mantas. I was 16. At the
time I was listening to Venom, Anvil and Mercyful Fate-- the
bands that started this whole underground movement. Before that
it was definitely Kiss-- Ace Frehley made me want to play guitar.
ALLEN WEST: I started in 1985 with
Massacre. I was always into Hendrix, Michael Schenker and Uli
Roth. Later on, really heavy bands like Hellhammer/Celtic Frost
came out, and I got into them. S.O.D. was another big influence.
At that time I also looked up to a lot of the older bands around
here, like Death and Morbid Angel.
BRUNELLE: I started playing death
metal in 1984, influenced by dark, evil-sounding bands like
Mercyful Fate and Slayer. I wanted to take what those bands
were doing and go even heavier, which remains the whole concept
behind my playing.
What do you think is the main difference between newer death metal
bands and veteran acts like Death and Morbid Angel?
SCHULDINER: Our influences are different. When I was growing
up, death metal wasn't around. The newer death metal bands use what's
around today as an influence, instead of the early stuff we grew
GW: Chuck, when you started Death,
your playing skills were really unsophisticated. Today, you're one
of the genre's most respected guitarists.
SCHULDINER: I feel really grateful
and honored when people pay me compliments like that, because I've
really worked hard. I want people to know that there is diversity
in death metal-- it doesn't all sound the same.
BRUNELLE: Chuck's had a lot of experience- which you can't
buy- which has helped him a lot as a player. I admire him for sticking
it out so long. I feel bad for him that he's had to put up with
so much bad shit over the years --line-up changes, management fuckups,
fights with the press.
WEST: That freaks me out, too. It used
to be that every time I turned around, Chuck was having some problem.
It's great that he's still playing after all he's been through.
SCHULDINER: Thanks. It's been great
watching everyone in these three bands grow as musicians over the
years. We've all been on the scene for quite some time, and it's
given us all a chance to grow literally
How has your approach to playing changed over the years?
SCHULDINER: When we were getting
ready to record our first album, Scream Bloody Gore (1987), I
just wanted the heaviest, rawest guitar sound. My production values
have changed over the years, and a lot of that has come as a result
of working with Scott Burns (producer at Morrisound). He has a
great ability to make sounds come across clearly, which is crucial
to our music. As a guitar player, I just like to keep pushing
myself and striving for something better with each record.
GW: Death's personnel has changed with each of your four
albums. Why has it been difficult for you to maintain a steady
SCHULDINER: It's just been difficult to find the right
people to work with. People think that Death is a one-man band,
but it isn't- what we do can't be done with just one person: our
last album, Human, proved that. For that album I had much better
musicians, and I would like to use the same lineup for the next
GW: What do you have planned for
SCHULDINER: I already have the whole thing written. It
will be a longer, more advanced album than Human, but it will
still have the sound that people have come to expect from Death.
It'll be a bit trippler and moodier, but not too far out there.
There will also be some acoustic stuff on it, which is a first
GW: Acoustic guitar isn't too common in death metal?
BRUNELLE: I like the acoustic a lot,
and we've used it on our albums. Using a bit of acoustic stuff
gives the band a better sense of dynamics, rather than just going
with the same electric sound all the way through.
WEST: I can't see an acoustic guitar
ever showing up on an Obituary album. (laughs)
Chuck, aren't you considering a solo project?
SCHULDINER: I would definitely like
to do something more melodic. But it wouldn't be a Death album--
it would be a completely different project.
GW: There have been periods when
you've removed yourself from the public eye.
SCHULDINER: Through the years I've
learned who my real friends are, and got sick of being around
negative people. When I took myself out of the scene, I was just
sifting the shit out of my life-- and if that meant having 10
less friends, then fine. I really enjoy just being a normal person
sometimes-- feeding my dog and mowing the lawn. I don't ever want
to give that up. Privacy is crucial to me, and in this business
people constantly try to invade your privacy.
GW: With each successive Death album, it seems that you've
taken it upon yourself to expand the musical boundaries of the
SCHULDINER: I've always thought it
important to stay one step ahead of everyone else. With each album,
I concentrate on making a definite progression-- in myself, in
my playing and in my state of mind. I just don't want to put out
the same record every time. As a music fan, I like bands to stay
within their sound, but progress at the same time-- which is the
way I approach things.
GW: Obituary doesn't seem to take that approach.
WEST: No: we've had the same sound for a long time now.
We're happy with it the way it is, and we don't plan to change
GW: What is Morbid Angel's attitude with regard to change?
BRUNELLE: It's real important for
us to change. Our next record will be nothing like the first three.
It'll still be the heaviest death metal imaginable, but we plan
to reach new heights with our music.
There's an obvious emphasis on excellent musicianship in Morbid
Angel, more so than in most death metal bands.
BRUNELLE: Yeah, but songwriting is the most important thing
in our band. What does it matter if you know a million scales,
if you can't write a good song? Musicianship won't put you on,
GW: How has the death metal scene
changed since its inception?
SCHULDINER: It's done a complete
180. All three of our bands have watched the scene develop from
nothing to what it is today. But with the good comes the bad,
and as the scene has grown, so has the corruption.
GW: Are you treated differently today?
BRUNELLE: The main thing I notice
now is that we no longer have to go on tour and eat nothing but
bread and sleep in rest stops. It's still a bit rough, but at
least we can get a decent night's sleep now. When we first started,
we were eating dirt. At least now we're eating.... sandwiches.
WEST: When we started, this music didn't get any respect--
now, everyone respects us. Plus, people are always looking to
feed off our success, which is something they never did before.
I'm just glad to see that people are finally realizing that kids
don't just listen to what's on Top 40 radio.
GW: Is it surprising that all of
you are now able to earn a living playing death metal?
WEST: No. The Tardys and I always knew we would make money
off this. We knew that what we were doing was new and different,
and that somebody had to like it.
SCHULDINER: I remember people telling
me that I would never sell enough albums to make a living-- but
I always had enough faith in the music to stick it out. I figured
that this was something different, and that people would catch
Chuck, why do you think Death played such a large role in igniting
the death metal scene?
SCHULDINER: I think that a lot of
great bands like Possessed and Venom started fading away right
when we were starting, which helped us pick up where they left
GW: It's been said that you believe some of these newer
bands are ripping you off, and that your resent them.
SCHULDINER: I've heard blatant ripoffs-
as I'm sure the guys in Obituary and Morbid Angel have too-- but
I don't resent them. There's room for everyone. Those bands will
learn the hard way that you can't make it by ripping someone off.
GW: What makes Morbid Angel different from Death and Obituary?
BRUNELLE: Our guitar sound. We work
hard on getting a very distinct sound, and we set our standards
a little higher than most bands. We also play incredibly fast.
Pete (Sandoval) is one of the fastest drummers alive, and that
helps set us apart.
GW: What about Obituary?
WEST: I would say it's our singer,
SCHULDINER: Definitely. He's very convincing- and very
WEST: Our guitar sound is pretty
distinct, but I've never heard another vocalist do what John does.
I don't even know how he does it.
GW: He doesn't even sing actual lyrics,
just bits of garbled speech.
WEST: That's because we don't want
people to take our lyrics and say we were this kind of band or
that kind of band. It's a good way to avoid problems.
Death metal thrives on icredibly heavy guitar tones. How do you
all achieve your sounds?
BRUNELLE: I'll give you the sure-fire
way to get the Morbid Angel guitar sound: Get yourself a Gibson
Flying V, a Rat distortion pedal with the overdrive all the way
on, tune to Fb (Eb-Ab-Db-Gb-Bb-Eb, low to high, or one half-step
below standard), have the action high enough so that it doesn't
buzz, use a 100-watt Marshall head and, preferably, a Rane equalizer.
That's the sound right there.
SCHULDINER: The distortion pedal
can be crucial to getting a good sound. I've always had good luck
with Boss pedals-- just the standard orange one with three knobs.
BRUNELLE: How about the "Heavy Metal" pedal? (laughs) What
SCHULDINER: (laughs) Yeah-- I think
they carried things a bit too far with that one. If you already
have a lot of gain with what you're playing through, you might
just need a simple overdrive. Right now I'm using Axtra guitars
and I'm always tuned to D (D-G-C-F-A-D, low to high, or one whole
step below standard)-- it feels so natural to tune that low, and
it gives such a heavy edge.
WEST: We also tune to D, and run everything through Rat
distortion pedal. We tried using Boss pedals, but the Rat gives
a heavier sound.
GW: Richard, what's it like working with Trey Azagthoth?
BRUNELLE: Trey and I are pretty much
on the same level-- though there are some things about him that
can only be Trey. His whole approach to picking and songwriting
is very awkward because there he uses a lot of 32nd notes, and
it's taken me this long to get it down well enough to write songs
for Morbid Angel. I think we work really well together because
our lead styles are so different. He is very chaotic, and I try
to complement that with a more melodic style.
GW: Trey and David are-- how else can I put it?-- very
BRUNELLE: The way I see it, I'm the
one who brings everyone back down to earth. The band has a lot
of fantasy and weird stuff going on around us, I'm basically the
solid foundation. Compared to Trey and David, at least I'm on
GW: It was recently rumored that
you were no longer in Morbid Angel.
BRUNELLE: I was never officially
out of the band. Basically, I wanted to be more of a songwriter,
which I hadn't been able to do in Morbid Angel. I started looking
to do a solo project, so I could put my music out. But we've worked
it all out, and some of my songs will be on our next album.
GW: Isn't Morbid Angel's contract
with Earache Records up?
BRUNELLE: Yeah. We're not re-signing
with them, though we'll still with them in Europe. We will be
signing with a major label in the States-- I can't say which one.
GW: That will make Morbid Angel the
first death metal band with a major-label affiliation.
BRUNELLE: Yeah. We've got some geniuses working for us,
and we've gotten a very sweet deal-- but I think we've earned
SCHULDINER: I think it says this
music is highly marketable, which I've known for years. There's
a lot of money to be made, for both the labels and the bands,
but it's up to the labels to realize that and deal with it correctly.
BRUNELLE: None of the majors know what to do with this
music yet-- not even our new label. Our manager will have to teach
them what to do, and they'll learn from him. You have to have
the proper team behind you, or these deals don't mean anything.
WEST: Every major label has signed
poser bands that didn't make it, and I think it's about time they
signed a few death metal bands, and see what happens. They might
be very surprised.