MAINMAN CHUCK SCHULDINER
AN EGOTISTICAL MADMAN? OR A MISUNDERSTOOD,
NICE PERSON? AS DEATH RELEASE THEIR NEW ALBUM,
"HUMAN", MALCOLM DOME INVESTIGATES THE ENIGMA
Every genre of music
has its controversial figures, larger-than-life artisans who bring
a continuing touch of unreality to their craft. And in many ways
Rock music thrives on these stars. For the most part, fans, journalists
and the music industry in general wish to encourage the myths.
They add lustre to dull lives, and give us all a vicarious kick.
The truth? Why bother with that when the legends are far more
ridiculous and worthy of print and repetition. Does it really
matter whether OZZY OSBOURNE did bite the head off a
bat? Does it really matter whether Glenn Benton has killed
herds of bison? Well, does it? Does it?
Strangely enough I happen
to believe that is does, for whilst I can appreciate a nonsensical
rumour about a crazed lunatic leaping down the corridor of a plush
hotel, dragging a dazed rhino by the horn whilst whistling BEETHOVEN's
Ninth Symphony through his arse, nonetheless there are too many
occasions when we are all guilty of failing to respect Rock musicians
as human beings, as people with feelings, as fragile souls whose
very psyche can be crushed or permanently damaged by grotesquely
unfair stories spread about their behaviour and state of mind.
We do not grasp just how much damage we might be doing to someone
else, for no other reason than the chance to gossip at the bar.
DEATH mainman Chuck Schuldiner
has long been a victim of such maliciousness, he has been accused
over the years of excessive egotism, arrogance beyond the catcall
of reason, of being mentally unhinged. All of this came to a head
last year when, virtually on the eve of a European tour, Schuldiner
backed out, leaving the remaining pair of drummer Bill Andrews,
and bassist Terry Butler to pick up the pieces and carry on as
best they could, recruiting vocalist Louie Carrisalez (previously
drummer with DEVASTATION) and guitarist Walter Thrashler (ex-ROTTING
CORPSE) to fill in the gap left by Schuldiner's seemingly inexplicable
decision. And during the course of this trek with KREATOR, much
verbiage was dispensed in the direction of the absent guitarist/vocalist,
most of which suggested that he was a deranged, incompetent madman,
incapable of handling his life or the band. It all served to turn
Schuldiner's already suspect reputation into a confusion of controversy.
Within a short space of time one of the Death Metal genres most
important performers became perhaps its most contentious figure.
Now the only people who really
know the truth about these allegations are the protagonists themselves.
However, until now it has all been one-way traffic because Schuldiner
has maintained a calm silence on the whole affair, never allowing
the almost hysterical level of accusation against him to breach
a dignified aloofness. But, there must come a time when even the
most placid of people feels it necessary to defend himself. And
with the fourth album from DEATH ("Human") due this month in America
on Relativity, Schuldiner has at last grasp the opportunity to
hit back at his detractors.
"I'm a normal person, just
like everybody else. Sure I make mistakes, as everyone else does,
but I am not the evil person others have made me out to be. Most
of the rumours you have heard about me are lies. I am not perfect,
but I have always accepted and admitted to my mistakes. And I
learn from these. At the time of the last European tour, I did
make some decisions which seemed crazy to outsiders, but I had
to get away from everything, because I had reached breaking point.
Everything seemed to be bearing down on my head. I had spent nine
years in this business, wearing many different hats, taking the
shit for others and handling all sorts of situations. I did all
of that because I was prepared to stand up for what I believe
in. But that doesn't make me egotistical or arrogant, or give
others the right to crucify me."
"Yet, I have a normal life
outside of DEATH. I wash, clean my teeth, feed the dog. Honestly,
people would laugh if they saw the real me. I just wish
they'd be more open-minded and not be taken in by what they read
in the press. The trouble is that it seems most people want
to believe the worst about others; that's why the tabloid newspapers
do so well. I think it's sad that there are so many in the world
today who are eager to accept that a guy could be pregnant with
an elephant, or has a carrot growing out of his head, or that
I am evil incarnate. But why are they so keen to see the negative
aspects? As far as musicians are concerned I just wish people
would support the music and not get drawn in to making decisions
about whether they like any particular band based on what sort
of people they'd heard the musicians are supposed
"Look, I am an YNGWIE MALMSTEEN
fan, I like the way he plays guitar, I've read that he's an asshole.
I neither know nor care about that, all I know is that he makes
fine music. That's good enough for me. I am a fan of QUEENSRYCHE.
Geoff Tate has a great voice. Even if I heard he was a prick it
wouldn't alter my respect for his voice, and for the band as musicians.
Why should it? But I've become a victim of exactly that sort of
For Schuldiner, coming to
terms with his reputation has been a painful experience, made
even more unbearable by the fact that supposed friends of his
in the last DEATH incarnation saw fit to turn on their leader
and guiding light. And he takes no comfort from the fact that
the DEATH European tour from which he absented himself was a disaster.
"Sure, it was ridiculous
for the tour to go ahead without me, and I feel really bad that
it happened. I've heard tapes from some shows and it wasn't pretty.
I would like to apologise in person to everybody who went to see
DEATH for what happened. I was just in a state of shock about
a lot of things at the time - not drug problems, but everyday
situations. I had one particular mountain to climb, but I succeeded
and now there no obstacles for me. I know that some people are
saying things about me such as that I locked myself in a room
and refused to talk to anyone, but that simply isn't true. It
was depressing to hear some of the things being said about me,
but I've had to rise above it all. Look, I could spread counterrumours
about the rest of the band walking around with spiked dildos stuck
their arses. Now, is that true? Of course not! But it makes as
much sense as some of the things being said about me. Those lies
are so depressing. And I'm not paranoid or anything, but it seemed
that a lot of people were getting off on this shit."
"I think that I'm a good
person. I don't go around sawing cats in half as a sacrifice as
some might expect. In fact, I recently saved a little cat and
nursed it back to health. Personally, I'm into people who don't
believe everything they read and hear, but have minds of their
own. My family and friends - yes, I do have friends -
were in shock at what was being said about me. I am not a spoilt
little Rock star, but a struggling musician. I live with my parents
I've had three albums out so far, so what? It doesn't make me
important. I'm a musician and a person, that's all. And I know
there is a lot for me to prove, but I feel so positive about the
new album because it shows where I am coming from. It will prove
a lot of people to be the liars that they are."
DEATH's fourth album is one about which Schuldiner can scarcely
hide his pride. It's also a release that must have caused him considerable
thought, at least when it came to selecting the musicians to join
him at Morrisound Studios with producer Scott Burns.
"There was no way that I wanted
to work with the guys from the previous line-up. That was never
even considered. Fortunately, though, all my friends are musicians,
so I had quite a wide choice." -Thus CYNIC guitarist Paul Masvidal
and drummer Sean Reinert were recruited, alongside SADUS bassist
Steve DiGiorgio. And it's a situations with which Schuldiner is
delighted. "We've all known each for years, and it was a great excuse
for all of us to get together and record. And you know, I think
you can tell by the record that we were a happy, lively, aggressive
band. And it's strange how things work out, but it's ended up being
for the best that I am no longer involved with those who worked
on the last DEATH album."
Reinert and Masvidal will join
the DEATH touring crew, the line-up being completed by FESTER bassist
Skott Carino. However, whilst the LP is about to hit the market
in the US, a British release is still to be confirmed, thanks to
indecisions about precisely which label will land this prestigious
act. Schuldiner, though, seems to be leaning towards.....
"Roadrunner. They are interested
in the Death Metal scene and know what they're doing. I like the
way Roadrunner markes their bands. As for the style of the LP, well
it deals lyrically with real life, although the vocals and music
are still brutal. One song is called "Lack of Comprehension", for
which we've shot a video. It was inspired by the whole JUDAS PRIEST
scandal, when the band were accused of inciting a fan to commit
suicide. It is ridiculous to suggest that music is responsible for
parents' fuckups. The kid probably had a depressing upbringing,
maybe he was abused by his parents, so why blame JUDAS PRIEST? Kids
are like sponges, they grow up absorbing everything around them.
To try and lay the blame for their misfortune on a song by OZZY
OSBOURNE, DEATH or whoever is mad. I cannot believe that music can
be seriously brought into question on this issue. Take DEATH, for
instance. To me, the name is merely five letters of the alphabet,
but it in no way represents my philosophy on life. I am a peaceful
person, until someone pisses me off. I enjoy life, nature and so
on. I'm not evil and into killing people."
"Now I would say that there are certain
bands who have something of an influence over their fans, but not
to a point that kids will shoot themselves because they are told
to do so. Yet, I feel that more bands must display a sense of responsibility
in the way they present themselves publicly. The likes of DEICIDE
are playing right into the hands of those who knock Metal as being
bad. They are proving the PMRC right in their assertion that Metal
is evil, destructive and violent. More bands must start thinking
about what they're doing. They should understand that there's more
to write about in the world than zombies and Satan. I would like
to think that someone would be interested enough to pick up a copy
of "Human" and realise that I write about sensible subjects, that
not all Heavy Metal deals with death and destruction. If I can change
one persons mind about HM then I will be very happy. I will have
done my job."
What impresses me about Schuldiner,
apart the articulate manner in which he defends his case, is the
fact that he is a fan of the music, especially bands dating back
to the early '80s. He may ligitimately be able to lay claim to having
pioneered the Death Metal genre as we know it today (something he
modestly questions), but he has a honest perspective on the scene
as it stands.
"I don't really listen to much
Death Metal these days. There simply isn't the quality any more,
and not enough good bands around. Too many labels are signing up
Joe Schmo bands, just because they've recorded one demo. When I
first started out, signing a deal was like a dream to me, something
I would work towards. Now, it just seems that all you've got to
do is move to Florida, form a band and you get signed. I listen
to the older bands, like WATCHTOWER, KING DIAMOND, JUDAS PRIEST,
QUEENSRYCHE, MERCYFUL FATE, VENOM -the band who really started the
whole Death Metal trip off- ANGEL WITCH, TORCH (Sweden) and SORTILEGE
(France). I don't know, to me there seemed to be more sincerity,
honesty and integrity about the music they were making a decade
"I recall buying a copy of
MERCYFUL FATE's first mini album "A Corpse Without Soul" and being
blown away. I only bought it because the sleeve was so cool, but
you could do those sort of things back then. Sure, MF were Satanic,
but not generic and they weren't preaching about Satan. I remember
taking a copy of EXCITER's first album "Heavy Metal Maniacs" to
High School to try and change peoples minds about Metal music, but
everybody laughed at it, thinking it was just a noise. The same
with METALLICA's "Kill 'Em All". It was a joke when it came out:
now the band outsell even KISS!"
"I'm not saying that there
are no good young groups any more, but intelligent Metal
is rare. And Death Metal has now become exclusively about being
evil, Satanic and playing full speed ahead. Bands are creating only
one mood, trying to claim that they are superbad. It's not what
I'm into at all. I've heard people claim that DEATH is wimpy. Why?
Because I don't sing about Satan, and don't play at a million miles
an hour? I grew up with the likes of VENOM, and I think I know what
I'm talking about."
"But overall, I think the way
people listen to music has changed for the worse. The arrival of
CD's and the death of vinyl I personally regard as very sad. You
don't get such a buzz from picking up such a small item as a CD,
as you did with the packaging on an LP. And you can programme a
CD player for selective listening. People are encouraged to be lazy;
they no longer explore records and take them in. I'm very saddened
that "Human" isn't coming out on vinyl at all in America."
In many ways, Chuck Schuldiner
is a traditionalist. And that's something I applaud. In an era when
trends and fashion seem more important than respect for quality.
Schuldiner is a breath of fresh air. Does that make him insane,
an egotistical lunatic? If so, book me into the nearest asylum!