Magazine: Spark Magazine / Czech Republic
Article: Tradicuí Symbol Pro Kvalitní Hudbu

Written by: Nikolas Krofta
Translated by: Lukas Sedlacek
Published: March 1995



The sixth full-length album by Death, simply entitled "Symbolic," is without a doubt the greatest masterpiece of Chuck Schuldiner and his ensemble so far. Throughout the history of the band every album released was another step in the direction of the earlier albums "Leprosy" and "Scream Bloody Gore" combined with the technicality of the newer ones, "Human" and "Individual Thought Patterns". The experiment that started with "Spiritual Healing" has now worked up to absolute perfection. Combining the totally top sound, which this time doesn't originate from the hands of Scott Burns but straight from the co-owner of Morrisound studios, Jim Morris, "Symbolic" is the album which no death metal bands won't surpass (sometimes there is the question of whether the music of Death is still pure death metal. But read on…), at least till the next Death album is released… But let's not forerun. "Symbolic" is coming out at the end of March at Roadrunner and I have just started talking about the present situation with the person best suited to do so, Chuck Schuldiner…


Spark: Chuck, first my best compliments to you. "Symbolic" is the most advanced Death album in all respects, and that's not only my personal opinion. As far as I know it should have been released after the EP with some covers of your favourite bands like Kiss, Angel Witch, Iron Maiden, etc.
Chuck: First of all, thanks for the honour. I'm glad of course that "Symbolic" meets so much acceptance so far. But that one with the EP is really news for me (laugh). I haven´t heard about it so far. Where did you hear that?

Spark: Well, about half year ago this news was printed in some magazines.
Chuck: Really? Well, to tell the truth I haven´t thought about that, although I would be a liar of course if I said that I would not be interested in it. It would be fun surely.

Spark: One cover you did in the last few years at least. It was "God Of Thunder" from Kiss, which was released on the Roadrunner compilation "At Death´s Door II". This compilation is maybe unknown for most fans. Do you think that this cool and ultra-heavy cover will appear, say on the first Death single?
Chuck: I don´t know if we´ll release some singles, but…"God Of Thunder" appeared on Japanese version of Human. Sure, I´m very satisfied with our version but I don´t think that Roadrunner has any interest in releasing that song again in some form.

Spark: Speaking of the record company, you abandoned your old American company Relativity and now Death are globally signed with Roadrunner. For example Corrosion of Conformity had the contract for the States with the same company as you had and at the end they converted straight to its distributor, the major company Columbia/Sony. Wasn't this change also possible for Death?
Chuck: It may have been possible, but I guess this step would be very hazardous. Lot of majors companies can't work with really heavy bands, they don't know how to sell them and this kind of cooperation could bring bad results for us. Roadrunner at present is the biggest independent company (or maybe the smallest major company, author) in the world and they have experience with our music. Such a company is more agreeable for me, to tell the truth.

Spark: European branches of Roadrunner have got a good reputation, but how is it with the Roadrunner activities in U.S?
Chuck: Well, I'm satisfied. Relativity had never done so many of the things for us that Roadrunner does. I just spent a week in a hotel in New York and done about 70 interviews. I think that Roadrunner is very professionally organized even in the States. They do a lot for their bands. It's visible also in what's happening in their office, where I was recently.

Spark: On the last European tour for the support of "Individual Thought Patterns" we saw probably the best line-up ever. Besides you, Gene Hoglan at drums, Steve DiGiorgio on bass and Craig Locicero from Forbidden on guitar. What a pity that this line-up couldn't record the album…
Chuck: You´re right, but the new line-up is also prodigious. Craig is of course an outstanding guitarist, on the European tour we had perfect relations and a lot of fun, but his band, Forbidden, you know, they needed him again. My new guitarist Bobby is also cool. I don´t wanna say that one is better than the other. They both are relatively similar in their guitar style, they're big traditionalists and they perfectly fit into my concept. The same with my new bassist Kelly. With both of them there is no threat of other activities, besides Death they have no duties. They both are from local bands which played progressive hard music. So, for Death the best conditions…Looking for new band mates Gene and I were not interested in the biggest or greatest names. We were looking for somebody who would mean motivation for us and who would get along with us well. We needn't go far away because Bobby as well as Kelly are from Orlando and its surroundings, and that's very close to us. That´s a big advantage because we can rehearse more often. That wasn't true with any line-up in the past and it is very good feeling.

Spark: While in the sound of "Individual" the bass played a big role, on "Symbolic" the guitars are dominating. Is it for that reason that Steve DiGiorgio doesn´t play in Death anymore?
Chuck: Not at all, Kelly is also as capable as Steve… The main reason for the domination of the guitars is our new producer Jim Morris. He defintely "opened" our sound, it all sounds very fresh now. The guitars on "Individual" sound a litle bit with muddy, maybe this was the reason why the bass played so important a role in the whole sound. On "Symbolic" the guitars are more in you face, straighter, sharper. They are higher and thus they are cutting more. On this theme we were talking with Jim before the beginning of the studio works, we told him how we would like to sound and he understood it in all ways. The same was true with the sound of the drums. On any Death album they didn't sound so good, so bright. I think it is connected with Jim's experience. Jim has worked many times with bands playing completely different styles of music like pop, rock, blues, commercial hard rock or melodic metal. These experiences helped us and thus "Symbolic" very much.

Spark: And what happened with dream team Death - Scott Burns? Does it belong to the past?
Chuck: Scott was producing other bands at the time of the "Symbolic" production. He didn't have time for us. I was thinking about the cooperation with Jim for some time and while it was now possible I took the chance. We were so glad that Jim surely would be producing our next album!

Spark: Back to Craig. When I was talking to him on the last European Forbidden tour, he said that almost every new song by his band, which is made by him or the other guitarist Tim, is created under the influence of "light" drugs. What about you?
Chuck: Definitely I have nothing against the smoking of light drugs before creating songs. I think that using light drugs during composition can lead you to a different mood, it would help you to understand things much better. It definitely belongs to it, the connection of drugs and music, that´s the heritage of the many rock 'n' roll generations before us (laugh).

Spark: And what about the taking the drugs before the gigs?
Chuck: Well, that´s something else. It depends on the situation, sometimes it's pleasant, but gigs require absolute concentration and that's why I usually try to keep sober.

Spark: One of your ex-guitarists, James Murphy, joined Testament a few months ago. Could you imagine that you would accept an offer from some "bigger and more famous" band and leave Death?
Chuck: I would never leave this band! If the work with Death allows me, I would be ready to go into a project or some band on the side. Certainly I would accept an offer, say, Ronnie James Dio, to play the guitar on his next solo album, actually I firmly hope that I will make something similar in the future. I would like to work with some classical vocalist, it would be enjoyable for me…but Death is my biggest priority, it's one of the most important things in my whole life. I couldn't just leave it!

Spark: Changes in line-up are a part of Death as much as the releasing of six superb albums. But at least at the drum post there haven't been any changes in a few years. It seems to me that you finally find in Gene Hoglan, someone who fits you on all hands, let's say a kindred soul…
Chuck: Gene is good fellow and playing with him in the same band is just wonderful. We have got many things common. We both come from bands with similar musical style, and Gene was one my most favourite drummers while playing in Dark Angel, I love older albums by that band, really. I'm glad that Gene is with me and that on "Symbolic" he got so much freedom for his instrument, which he deserved a long time ago.

Spark: Certain musicians need for getting the best results a firm surrounding, like non changing line ups. You may not belong to that group of people…
Chuck: Before Gene had come to my band I had a certain idea of Death's music. The idea I watched through all the troubles and through all the line up changes. Now I have got in him a man on my side who shares my ideas about music and I must say that now I work much better than before. Drums are a very important instrument in our music and I think that the good relations with Gene both musically and personally make "Symbolic" such an outstanding album.

Spark: Actual, relatively small successes of bands like Obituary show that pure death metal genre is not so popular as it was two or three years ago. It's probably because most bands have stagnated or have started playing something which is not connected with death metal at all, but with Death there is no danger of stagnation, using acoustic guitars, synthesizers, more melodic riffs, solos and new vocal techniques, are the clearest attributes of the natural evolution. How far is it possible to go in death metal, where could the music of Death develop?
Chuck: Firstly I would remark that compared to the song "Cosmic Sea" from the "Human" album there haven't been used any synthesizers on "Symbolic", only in the beginning of "Empty Words" can be heard such an extreme guitar effect. While recording the album I said to Jim that people would think that it is synthesizer and I was right! (laugh) But I think from the look of evolution we're not at the end of progress yet, if not sooner so on "Symbolic" at least our roots have appeared, roots which lie in the music of the 70´s and the 80´s , in the classic rock and metal bands which we were speaking of the cover EP, and also melody which have always been somewhere deep in us. "Symbolic" is the result of the natural evolution, the evolution in which we never betrayed our roots.

Spark: While speaking about the word evolution, I would like to hear from you, comments on all Death albums.
Chuck: Definitely I'm satisfied with all our albums even at each of them there could be something to change or to do better. Each album was very important in its way, it displayed what was happening in my music and life at that time. When I´m listening to our very primitive debut "Scream Bloody Gore", I must say it was an album which didn´t pretend anything and it was the base for what Death is today. I myself must smile to what we were worried about back then, how we expressed ourselves, how we were thinking, what was important for us and how much the standards have changed through the years. "Leprosy" was definitely a step forward. It was more technical and it was already clear where we would be directed at in the future. "Spiritual Healing" was very progressive mainly on the production side, besides it was our first regular cooperation with Scott Burns. "Human" is a more aggressive and progressive album than all before, and moreover very dark. Also "Individual Thought Patterns" was the album going a step forward. I say that it couldn´t be worse if a band released two consecutive albums which are almost identical. I don't want people to say that I deceived them. I don't like this character at my fave bands too. (laugh). I have never wanted to repeat what people could already have heard from us. And I don't think you have to fear for that on "Symbolic".

Spark: Especially on "Human" and "Individual Thought Patterns" your lyrics were concerning the music business or your relationships with your ex-members. On "Symbolic" this tendency has stopped, it seems to me that at present you are concerned about different things. For example at the lyrics of "Crystal Mountain" I first thought that it had been inspired by fantasy literature even in the meantime I know that the truth is slightly different…
Chuck: (laugh) Yeah sure, the title "Crystal Mountain" sounds like fantasy in a way, but in fact it deals about the troubles we had with our former neighbours in Florida. They were, let's say religious fanatics, bigots, they lived on their, in a certain meaning, "Crystal Mountain", in their "crystal perfect world" and they were against everything and everybody. Everything around them they disapproved and criticized. It was quite ironic that their family was the first of everybody to go to the church each Sunday… Religion certainly isn't a bad thing, but if it serves to make somebody feel better while hurting others and then go to church to beseech God for forgiveness on Sunday morning…I guess it doesn't work very well (laugh). "Crystal Mountain" was definitely a good title, but it's not connected with fantasy in any way. It's a story which is connected with my own person. But there are more lyrics that are important personally for me on new album. "1000 Eyes" is about growing of criminality. That's a worldwide problem but here in U.S. it is probably the worst. Recently I saw a documentary on TV, where it was said that in a few years there would be in each street, each house, each flat, each bathroom, just everywhere, cameras which would be controlling everything and be serving as an eye of the law. And if we do not do anything about it, it will really come to pass that this, "thousands eyes" will be hunting us! Here in Florida it is so far with the criminality that you cannot go by your car because you have to fear somebody killing you to steal the car… This is the newest "fashion" here! It's a really insane vision: somebody killing you for your car! The lyrics of the title track "Symbolic" are retrospective, it is today's look on my life up to now. It's about how an innocent child watches the world, how it is watched by an adult man, how I have been changing my opinions, how I started playing my music, how this music has been evolving etc. The word Symbolic seemed to me strong enough to title the whole album. All the lyrics on "Symbolic" are about reality and I must say that maybe for that reason they aren't so angry, so evil, like on the last two albums. On these I was trying to shake off the aggravation and mixed emotions, now I have focused on lucid slogans.

Spark: Have the lyrics changed also because your life have changed for the better?
Chuck: Everything in my life is now better organized, I know who I can rely on and who not to. Especially at the beginning of the 90´ it wasn't so and I must say that I myself, and my band have gone through situations which I would never like to relive again. But even in the hardest times there always appeared the light on the horizon, for instance even a letter from a fan who wrote me, that he doesn't care what's written or said about me, that he simply likes my music and wants me to continue. That helped both me and the band.

Spark: In the past even in the hardest times and situations you were able to manage the best results. Are your albums testimonies for that people who were slandering you, who were often liars?
Chuck: Each member of Death who left the band or had to leave did so for certain reasons. If people must justify their leaving or kick-off by lying and they have nothing better to do, that's just their business! I don't rant in vain, I continue in my own work trying to manage my success…

Spark: That Death is one the most important things in your life seems more than just a phrase…but if you give so much energy and time into something: is the band an existence base for you? In other words: does Death sustain you?
Chuck: During last year the situation has gotten stabilized, so the band allows me to survive! For the last eleven, twelve years this was the first year I didn't need to worry. Though I did: I'm far, far, far away from saying that my work sustains me easily. But at present I don't need to think about how to pay the rent next month and this is really worth it. After such a long time it's a very good feeling.

Spark: Back to your activities outside Death. Last year you participated with some riffs and solos in the project "Jesus Kiling Machine" by Voodoocult? How do you see this cooperation now?
Chuck: I got into Voodoocult through guitarist and producer Waldemar Sorychta who I have known for a very long time, yet from his former band Despair. He made a call one day and asked me if I had any interest in cooperating with Dave Lombardo and German vocalist Phillip Boa. I was game immediately of course, so Waldemar with Phillipe got over to me in Florida to Morrisound, they played me several songs and I, very spontaneously, recorded some guitar parts into them. Definitely it was very pleasant change. And as I said: beside Death I may do something like that. But it can't restrict me in my own work.

Spark: Well, and if you are not working with Death, how do you relax? What do you do in your spare time?
Chuck: Just normal things: I like playing with my pets. I've got cats and dogs, I like walking out on the beach, fishing, meeting with my friends, we throw parties where we make hamburgers and drink beers, going to movies, watching videos…

Spark: Many fans will may be disappointed now: some people certainly expect that "Evil" Chuck spends his spare time in a slightly different way…
Chuck: (laugh) I hope I have not disappointed anybody now. We are all normal, happy guys who like animals and nature. That's the most important thing in this hectic business: to stay normal! It's important to not let yourself go dotty and to lead normal lives.

Spark: What would you say about that one Norwegian label that decided to release demos of famous death metal bands. They started with Morbid Angel, now it's your turn…
Chuck: Well, certainly they won't do it, that's for sure. If yes, it will be big trouble for them, moreover it would be illegal. For me it´s enough that there exist bootleg CDs with our two demos and one Live CD…


to talks

Translated by LS/MM for EmptyWords-Published on February 22 2003