"I'm a dreamer,
and I've been following this dream for 15 years of my life, throughout
all this garbage and soap opera that occurs in the industry. All
I want to do is write music and do whatever I can to further the
re-emergence of heavy metal in America."
For Chuck Schuldiner, there is
no life after Death... life is Death. Even after the band's
selfimposed hiatus in early 1996, the return of this most vital
entity was imminent. After forming his power metal alter ego in
Control Denied and working within that realm for the better part
of the last two years, Chuck has returned with a new label [insert
massive applause to Nuclear Blast here], a refreshed Death lineup,
and the expected bitter musical/vocal vitriol.
The new, seventh Death full-length,
The Sound Of Perseverance, is a wake-up call to the entire
metal scene, with staggering instrumental chops as its backbone.
The album fuses the best elements of '95's Symbolic (crisp
production values, blatant melodicism) to '91's Human
(dizzying technicality, rhythmic finesse), adds several new stretches
outward and beyond, and spits out one of the most refreshing displays
of metallic vision since... well, since the last Death album.
Death has yet to disappoint. After
taking in several cuts (that is, being blasted and blown away)
from The Sound Of Perseverance in the control room of Morrisound,
Chuck and I retreated to discuss the hiatus, the reincarnation,
the new members, and the state of the Death metal art in 1998.
First and foremost, Chuck's adamant about quashing any rumors
or misconceptions you may have heard or read about Control Denied
in the drama of the Death hiatus.
was a statement related to Control Denied, a rumor, that
I quit the Control Denied thing because of lack of label interest.
And that is so untrue. That is the farthest thing from
the truth. I do things when I feel they're right. There
was and is 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."
And then there was all the talk
about Chuck borrowing Control Denied material for Death and vice
whole big rumor got started on the Internet. I fucking despise
the Internet, I think it's a load of crap. It's ridiculous
for me to have to sit around and explain to people that what they're
reading on there is bullshit. I need to really clarify this in
this interview, that whatever they read on the internet, if it's
not from me or part of a Nuclear Blast website, it's not official
and they should not even pay attention to it."
if it's in toilet paper like Metal Maniacs, right?
and continues. "The rumor that I'm having to borrow material
from Death for Control Denied is bullshit. The way it's presented
is that 'Chuck's running out of ideas' which is the biggest, most
absurd statement. That's so far from the truth. I've got 40 minutes
of riffs written for the next Death album, and at the same time
I'm writing material for Control Denied. I'm always writing. I can
assure people there's no "borrowing" going on. Al material
on this album was 100% written for Death."
In the end, as much as rumors have
always plagued and bothered Chuck, his musical spirit has remained
noble, his intentions nothing but respectable. He doesn't pretend
to fully understand the motives behind his critics and spirit
such a delicate stage in America, why does anyone want to put
someone down who's trying so hard to do something positive?"
The Sound Of Perseverance is
all the shielding Chuck and co. need to deflect gossip and various
other diarrhetic afflictions of the mouth. In its early stages
the record was demoed with the basswork of Human/Individual
Thought Patterns bassist Steve DiGiorgio. Due to Steve's commitments
with Sadus, however, Chuck was left bass-less, as well as guitar-less
and drummer-less. With Symbolic members Bobby Koelble and
Kelly Conlon busy with their own projects, and Gene Hoglan fiercely
committed to Strapping Young Lad, it was time for yet another
new lineup. Enter world-renown new members Shannon Hamm (guitar),
Scott Clendenin (bass), and Richard Christy (drums). Who? Exactly,
I know what you're thinking: a Death record without some sort
of "all-star" lineup? I introduce them as "world-renown"
because after this record they damn well should be. The dexterity
with which these guys wield their respective instruments will
have you in rapture within mere minutes of "Scavenger Of
Human Sorrow." By the album's midpoint epic, "Flesh
And The Power It Holds," anyone, fan or cynic, should be
thoroughly convinced that Death '98 is as wickedly talented as
any previous incarnation. So where have these guys been hiding?
"I think a
lot of people are going to be shocked because people expected
me to go for big names. I think on Individual... it started
peaking. I mean, I had connections and I could've used connections
for this one, but the world is a big place and it's full of a
lot of talented people. You don't have to have a 'name' to have
the passion, conviction and talent, and that's why I went straight
for Scott and Shannon. And for drums, I just thought 'okay, I'm
gonna take my time here.' The first time I ever met Richard, was
at a bookstore readin' a magazine, and he came up to me 'cause
he was into Death and he said, 'are you Chuck from Death?' Then
I met him again at a party that was thrown by a mutual friend,
and that's the first time I really got to sit down and talk and
have a beer with him, and he was tellin' me he's really into the
Human-era band and he was very familiar with us, and I
remember him saying, 'I really enjoy playing along with those
records,' and I was thinking, 'wow, this guy must be pretty damn
good!' I meet a lot of people, and some people talk and some people
deliver, and Richard delivered the goods. When I announced
locally that I was auditioning drummers for Death, Richard called
our mutual friend and he gave Richard my number and he said, 'what
songs do you want me to learn?' and I told him 'Flattening Of
Emotions', 'Overactive Imagination', 'Suicide Machine'."
So basically, all the real easy
Chuck chuckles, "I had to do that! It was the most logical
thing to tell someone to come in and be prepared with the most
challenging material I've written. He came in and just crushed
and at the same time he's one of the most sincere, really
cool people I've ever had the pleasure of playing with."
All three members are some of the
most down-to-earth dudes you'll ever meet, too. Within hours of
arriving at Morrisound, the serious musician sides gave way to
the music-loving fans inside them. Scott, walking into the studio
sporting a Yes t-shirt, becomes most animated when talking about
King Crimson and Rush. Shannon, expressing disappointment in the
last Fates Warning record, goes on the exlaim the glories of Symphony
X and Savatage. Richard (despite having an almost unhealthy fixation
on celebrity John Davidson) lives for Rage, Cynic, Kataklysm,
and Watchtower, just to name a few. Having been Death fans before
joining, this is a dream-come-true for all three, and that attitude
just seeps out of The Sound Of Perseverance at every turn.
The days I spent with these
guys were extremely comfortable, there were absolutely no ego-trips
coming from anyone, including Chuck.
a lot of talk about what I'm supposed to be like and a lot of
rumors have flown around, but I don't care what anyone says, I
have a great working relationship with people. All I ask is that
people be real. That's why I love these guys, and that's why I
love working with Jim Morris, he's such a real person and we just
click. I have so much respect for Jim. I had respect for him before
I worked with him, just from all the stuff he's done with
Savatage and Crimson Glory, so this is the ultimate situation.
The past three weeks that we've been doing the record, every day
has been an exciting day that I look forward to, and I think it's
very mutual for me and Jim. Everything's just been so smooth,
I'm extremely psyched, everyone came in and kicked ass."
Morris also produced Symbolic,
a most appropriate example of the right producer at the right
time. Death's continuing exploration of more textured and melodic
areas simply outgrew the Scott Burns-style treatment. Morris'
background with bands like Iced Earth, Savatage, and Crimson Glory's
godly and timeless Transcendence is exactly what
the band needed to further its metal crusade. The instantly likeable
Morris took time from his mixing duties to share some thoughts
on how his ear for the melodic meshes with with the fiercely intense
delivery of a band like Death. "I come from a very musical
background," says Morris. "At this point in Death's
career, I think that matches up nicely. That's the thing I like
about this record. It's the most musical and harmonically advanced
record that the band has done. I'm lovin' it. I like the aggressiveness
of it, the heaviness of it, and the melodies. It's right down
my alley. There's no better extreme record to do than this record.
This record now, in 1998, is very much on the cutting edge of
where the heaviest of heavy metal is going. There's some things
that, for the last eight years of so, have been extreme for extreme's
sake. That's not something I'm interested in. I love heavy stuff,
but I also like to hum the song. I mean, I doubt that you're going
to catch 'Scavenger Of Human Sorrow' on Muzak in the elevator
[laughs], but you can sing these songs, you can sing the guitar
parts. People who are into Queensryche will be able to get stuff
off this record, as will people into Morbid Angel."
And his favorite song on this album,
the one he's most satified with? Morris had to think about this
considerably, and then finally responded as if there was no contest.
"'Flesh And The Power It Holds', because it's the biggest
journey. I tend to like music that tells a story. That's the thing
about metal in general that is the coolest thing, it's the most
theatrical. So I generally tend to like the stuff that takes the
And for Death, particularly Chuck,
it has all been a long, strange, convoluted, but ultimately
gratifying trip. Death, the band and the musical form, has come
a long way since 1983, when Chuck released a demo dubbed Death
By Metal. As much as death metal's been compartmentalized
as an entity apart and away from heavy metal, it simply began
as an extreme outgrowth of traditional metal. Chuck was there
when Death, Bathory, and Possessed began getting labeled death
have never wanted to be a catagory of a catagory. I started
out in 1983 and I thought, 'well, this is it, I'm forming a heavy
metal band.' Somewhere down the line this article came out on
one of our demos, and it said, 'death metal band Death', and I
was like 'death metal?' and all of a sudden that stuck, and at
the time I thought 'Oh, that's kinda cool', but it was so innocent
back then. This was late '83, right after the Death By Metal
demo was out, and that's basically where it started."
That's a line being crossed quite
often these days. More than ever, bands are bridging the gap between
metal's various categories, hopefully blurring the lines between
death, doom, black, thrash and traditional heavy metal, rather
than creating a need for yet more categorization.
Chuck concurs. "Exactly. It's extreme metal."
The fight for non-categorization
is surely made tougher by your band's name.
I outgrew it a long time ago, as far as I'm concerned. I don't
mean that in a bad way. The only reason I kept the name was because
people identify with it. It's a name they know."
In 1983, "Death" was
a really extreme thing to call your band.
was. Very extreme. We tend to, because of the name, get labelled
immediately in a category taht I don't feel comfortable being
in. But it just stuck."
As many progressive metal fans
as you attract, you seem to draw just as many fans of ultra-brutal
stuff. These will surely be the people down front yelling for
"Mutilation" and "Zombie Ritual" until they're
blue in the face. Is it tough to write up a set list at this point?
to always keep in mind that those people are just like me in the
audience, wanting to hear something from my favorite band's old
records. In fact, on this next tour, we're going to bust out songs
we haven't done in years."
And of course, there's the requisite
"Pull The Plug". Chuck knows he can't play a show without
our 'Living After Midnight' song," he laughs. "We're
reaching deep into the past for this tour. I always need to remember
that that person in the audience is just like me, and some people
are going to be coming out wanting to hear old stuff."
Well, I doubt you'll get too
crazy, like, "Alright people, this one's called 'Witch
"Yeah, that'd be getting a little crazy! 'Witch Of Hell.'
While we're at it (showing our
ages and everything): Where the hell is John Hand?
to get a shirt that says that! He didn't even play on Scream
Bloody Gore, he actually joined after we recorded it and
his picture just happened to be on the record. Once very three
of four years I get asked that and I always laugh. I have no idea."
It's hard to believe a time when
there was no Death. In a long line of worthy masters, Death surely
deserves a tribute album. Already, bands like Atrocity, Incantation
and Nocturnal Breed have recorded Death covers.
album? That'd be wild! I'd be very flattered if that happened.
The thing with covers, I like when people put a little bit of
whatever they're doing in with it. For 'Painkiller' we
didn't do any leads that they do, I did my own. Our vibe on top
of their vibe."
Indeed, Judas Priest got the Death
treatment, having more success with this one than the attempt
at Kiss' "God Of Thunder" several years back. Musically,
it's a throttling, molten sonic attack, but it's vocally where
"Painkiller" is going to blow people away. Yes, that's
Chuck singing. Yes, that's Chuck screaming to the
rafters. My first listen in the studio resulted in a dropped-open
jaw and a few double-take glances at Chuck, asking repeatedly
if it was really him singing. Morris confirmed that it
is. The song was originally intended as a bonus track on the Japanese
release of The Sound Of Perseverance. Fortunatelyu, everyone
thought it was way to good to hold back, so the song is currently
planned to see a worldwide releae. Chuck's unshakable will to
do anything he can to aid in the re-emergence of metal in America
is no doubt a goal worth fighting for. He's seeing all kinds of
bands, like, say, Limp Bizkit, being called "metal"
by mainstream press and the major labels currently running full-steam
towards L.A. with a fistful of dollars and a contract. Bullshit,
says he, and so do I, and so, apparently, do many of you. Chuck
sums it up thusly:
is something that's going to be dated. 'Trend' means 'temporary'.
Something sincere is going to outlast something temporary. All
those bands, like most of the ones on the Ozzfest? Gone. Real
soon. Real metal is going to come back and kick everyone in the
ass. All these bands who cut off all their hair are going to be
taking hair pills to grow it back, and they're going to be buying
jeans that fit normal. You're not going to see any of that in
the band Death."
Scream Bloody Gore - 1987, Combat
Leprosy - 1988, Combat
Spiritual Healing - 1990, Combat
Human - 1991, Relativity
Individual Thought Patterns - 1993, Relativity
Symbolic - 1995, Roadrunner
The Sound Of Perseverance - 1998, Nuclear Blast