"We're thrilled like
never before", beams a highly animated Chuck Schuldiner, the pioneering
guitarist and frontman for Florida's celebrated heavyweights DEATH. "It's
like a fresh beginning for us actually with everything that has been going
on. It's a new record, new producer, Jim Morris, and it was great working
with him, new record label because we're on Roadrunner now, so yeah, it's
like everything is going hand in hand, definitely". Yep, DEATH are
back big time, with, as he says, a new deal, new members and a fabbo new
album in the shape of Symbolic. Things have definitely picked up a little
since the last time I spoke with Chuck. Back then, internal problems were
taking their toll it seemed...
"Yeah, thank God", says Chuck with a sigh. "There were
years on that label (Relativity) spent being neglected, we got totally
thrown to the side. So finally I guess Relativity didn't want to have
any metal bands, we were the last of any metal or hard rock bands that
they had, so for the last album they totally did nothing for. Roadrunner
had been interested for a while so we made the deal with them. It took
a while but we finally got off and now we're on Roadrunner officially".
"Our last album, (Individual Thought Patterns) did great in Europe",
adds Chuck reflecting on the situation. "We did some really great
tours, and it also did good in the States considering that we really got
no tour support or anything from Relativity. We did the whole tour by
ourselves. But the press has really picked up over here and there's been
a lot of magazines taking notice of us over the past year".
"We toured with Gorefest on the last US tour", adds Chuck on
their previous on the road stint Stateside. "They're super cool and
we had a great time, definitely..." But as the man says, Symbolic
does see DEATH bringing in some ideas, not least of which is the fact
that they've linked up with Jim Morris for the first time following a
recording history with fellow Morrisound man Scott Burns. Was that a conscious
decision to get away from that "sound"?
"Well, Scott had prior obligations", informs the guitarist.
"That he didn't want to break. So we just moved forward and my first
choice was absolutely Jim, who I definitely wanted to work with for some
time now, it's always been in the back of my mind. It was killer and we're
definitely gonna be working with Jim again on the next record. Jim has
so much experience with different types of music, and that's what we need,
because we're not just one type of band. I think we have several different
things to offer and we needed a producer who has worked with different
types of stuff, stuff that we've wanted to achieve that's why this record
turned out so well". Jim has certainly worked with a lot more, shall
we say, 'traditional' metal bands. So was this a calculated decision to
maybe shift away from Scott whose basically renowned for doing the death
"Well, it just worked out great that's all", says the fretster.
"I think everything happens for a reason, and working with Jim was
perfect, because he totally knew where we were coming from, his background
with traditional heavy metal stuff, he'd been used to working with big
sounds, which is what we wanted on this record, we didn't want it to sound
compressed, big drums, real guitars, everything just back to the basics,
a real record, and I think we achieved that". Not only that, this
album also sees two recruits into the DEATH fold. What's the deal there
I wonder because Chuck has a reputation for working with somebody different
on every album...
"That's another development", furthers the guitarist. "Unfortunately
people don't always seem to realize that it's not always my decision to
keep people in the band. I can't force people to stay in this band, like
Steve (Digiorgio - bass), we really tried to make him stay but he didn't
want to, so either we fill the void or we don't have a bass player, ha!
We have to get a new one, but we were with Steve for two records and it's
definitely sad to see him leave when you know someone so well. He's a
really good bass player but it's just a matter of finding the right person.
It took me a while, I got in touch with some friends of mine from a band
called Pain Principle who're from Orlando, I called them up and said that
Steve had left the band and we really needed a bass player and they gave
me the number for Kelly Conlon, and he was totally familiar with all our
material, he came in and played a bunch of stuff with me and Gene (Hoglan
- drums). He's a very positive person too which is really great, you need
positive people around, so that worked out great. Then as soon as we realized
Andy (LaRoque) wasn't gonna be able to make it on this record, we started
making phone calls again. I knew Bobby (Koelble - guitar), I'd actually
met him when I was 16 in high school via mutual friend. He was a killer
guitarist when I met him ten years ago, heard he was still around Orlando,
did dome investigating and here we are, it's really weird but it's worked
out great". But does it ever get demoralizing having to kind of start
all over again?
"Well I don't think about it like that", reckons the guitarist.
"These people are totally professional and have learned everything
really quick, note for note, even when they were trying out. We were really
impressed with these guys, they're killer and it's definitely a step in
the right direction. For me it's not a hassle having to teach new people
stuff, especially if they're familiar with the band already. Like I said,
everything happens for a reason, and these guys don't have obligations
to any other bands like Steve had and stuff. It feels very natural right
now". So how far does he look ahead - does he envisage recording
with this line-up again?
"Oh yeah, absolutely", confirms Chuck. "That's what we're
planning, without a doubt..." Obviously Gene has been in the band
for a while now though, so did he have any kind of hand in the writing
of the material this time around? "Well Gene plays drums, and he
wrote all the drum stuff like last time", explains the mainman. "I
write the riffs and then give the tapes to Gene and tell him to go with
it, which he does. Gene's the master on drums! I have total faith and
he's kicked ass with the drumming on the new record, he doesn't need to
be told what to do and we have a great working relationship". The
latest Roadrunner biography has quoted Chuck as saying that the lyrics
are definitely less angry this time around too - he's feeling better in
himself about the way events for DEATH are going now as opposed to previously?
"Definitely", enthuses Chuck. "Absolutely. Things are much
more organized now and organization is crucial, to have professional people
working for you. Things are much more different now, definitely. So yeah,
the lyrics are much less angry, and also still dealing with reality, things
that say life is not perfect, for anyone, so there are definitely a lot
of things to continue lyrically that I feel strongly about. We got a lot
of mail in on the last record from people who really were into what I'm
singing about, and that to me is the ultimate feeling to be able to connect
on this level". Unlike some bands it seems...
"Well a lot of times in metal that just doesn't happen", he
says. "Lyrically for some people especially. A lot of times there's
just not that connection. I would rather deal with reality and that to
me is very intense, just like life". But saying that, does he ever
feel a little stifled by the framework of DEATH - does he feel limited
by what he can do within that spectrum?
"Absolutely not", he states. "DEATH has never been about
that, I think it's plain to see on the new record too. There are no limits,
you're only limited by however far you want to be limited, and we're all
very open minded. Gene has got a lot of different background influences
and so do I, Bobby and Kelly as well and we're all into moving forward
and pushing ourselves musically. We're beyond satisfied with what we're
doing musically right now, and luckily people seem to enjoy it out there
which is what counts. We've got a good thing going, definitely".
He's well known for being into the older, more traditional metal styles,
and I hear quite a lot of stuff creeping into Symbolic from the same kind
of era - is it getting too difficult to resist doing that now?
"Ha, no it's just natural", laughs Chuck. "And it just
keeps coming out more and more on each record, it's always been there
definitely, it's just creeping out a little on each record. It's just
part of my background and what's inspired me, absolutely". So would
he say he shares much in common with today's music scene or does he prefer
to languish in the past?
"I feel like an old fogey", laughs the fretster. "Nah,
you know, I really like to break out the records that inspired us but
I also really try to keep up with things, like the new Mercyful Fate album
sounds really cool, the new Dream Theatre is killer, new Slayer, cool...
the new Queensryche is very disappointing. I've heard that from lots of
people. I've waited four years and it seems too long for that they actually
put out. They should have had a triple record coming out, ha ha! No, that's
just my opinion. But I definitely try and go out and keep up with records
and the music of today because obviously I don't want to live in the past
but at the time it's just like my parents. When I grew up you'd see them
playing records that they'd enjoy that's how I'm getting now, I still
love listening to that early eighties metal and that's where it all came
from and today's music got started from. I think it's gonna come back
full circle personally, the roots of metal". But then other people
say that things just look set to get more extreme?
"Well, I don't care how extreme someone goes, it can be nothing at
this point because it's been done a trillion times before", adds
the guitarist. "We've seen it over the last twelve years. I remember
five years ago people were saying death metal was absolutely dead, and
people really can't say something can't come back, y'know? Because it
does, it really does, just like the seventies vibes, that stuff came back
really strong over the last couple of years, and I really hope the traditional
stuff comes back and that people aren't scared of melody, because they
can keep it heavy at the same time. I think the scene always needs that
bit of variety anyway. As a fan I look for variety, definitely".
Funnily enough, I point out to Chuck that the original Venom line-up is
reportedly getting back together, although cynics might add that it appears
to be more to do with the money that's involved. What did he think to
that being a long time fan of the original incarnation of that band?
"That's what I heard and that's God man, I'd love to see that",
he enthuses. "But the money thing sucks! I'd love to see Venom though,
especially the original line-up. I've never seen Venom play actually,
but hell yeah, if they ever played near me I'd be there absolutely. That's
incredible". And finally, a lot of people have spent a lot of time
impersonating DEATH over the years but who would he say has been the most
blatant about it? - c'mon Chuck, we want names here.
"Oh, I don't know", he laughs. "I'm not gonna say any names,
that's a trouble question there. No, it's flattering though, it's the
ultimate thing if someone has been inspired by us, God I never thought
we'd do that, it's a great thing to have said about you. I don't care
if someone has ripped us off, really, if anything that's really cool,
definitely..." Symbolic hits the racks on the 27th of March!