Berlin, on the
Friday before Christmas, is much the same as it always is
in mid-winter; dull and drab. However, on this occasion there
is one saving grace because that fab Floridian four-piece
DEATH are in town along with four other like-minded acts for
a bit of a festive death metal extravaganza.
Joining them on the bill is our very own NAPALM DEATH, labelmates
PESTILENCE, those "Kings Of Cheese" CANNIBAL CORPSE, along
with Swedish opener DISMEMBER.
Again, much like our recent stint with CANCER, the general
idea is for lensman Nick "Game Boy" Matthews and
myself to join DEATH and PESTILENCE on their tour bus to experience
a couple of days on the road with 'em.
Thankfully, things get off to a relatively smooth start, when
we arrive at Berlin's Tegel Airport and get a taxi to the
venue, some ten minutes away near the centre of the city.
When we get there the Neue Welt is already showing signs of
enjoying a good turnout, as have the other shows on this tour
so far. In fact, audiences have often been so high that venues
have been up to 500 people over the actual permited capacity.
Germany, unlike everywhere else in the Western world it seems,
is not suffering from any kind of recession at all!
The Neue Welt is an imposing
place, relatively modern looking and, after a climb up some
stairs, the inside proves to be ideal for this sort of gig
with no seats and plenty of room for the lunatics to throw
themselves around in. A small bunch of people are standing
near the entrance, next to the merchandising stall, including
NAPALM DEATH's Barney Greenway and the German Roadrunner PR,
Alexandra. We go about introducing ourselves but it's not
long before DEATH manager Eric Greif turns up and takes over
proceedings in his usual way. Before we do anything Eric wants
a word with me, and tells me that they've had some problems
back in the States with a couple of other Trash 'N Burn
people, who have made it sound like DEATH are difficult folks
to deal with.
But , as I explain to Eric, that hasn't got anything to do
with me, so in theory it shouldn't affect our plans for the
next couple of days, and so with that it's down to business.
Eric gets about introducing me to DEATH mainman Chuck Schuldiner,
a guy who has had just about everything possible said about
him. Considering that, my first impression of him is one of
surprise. He's nothing like the bitter and twisted weirdo
everybody seems to say he is. Then again, I guess I could
have caught him on a good day.
Now with the schedules being so tight, and the band having
a lot of press lined-up the following day in Cologne, Alexandra,
suggests we do an interview right away, as it may well be
the only chance we get, so Chuck and I nip into the food room
to find out just how well this tour has been going so far,
and also to try and get some details on teh never ending controversy
which surrounds this band.
I begin by asking the guitarist/vocalist
just why they decided to come over and do this series of German
festivals. After all, aren't they half way through the U.S.
tour right now?
we're about half way through now, " he says in his usual Florida
drawl. "But we go back and finish it after Christmas. Then we
come back over in February for a whole European tour. I just
felt that doing these festivals was so important in order to
show people that I am able to do it, that I'm not difficult
to deal with and that I'm very eager to perform. DEATH has always
had a very strong following in Europe from day one, even on
the demo level. We've always had very dedicated people writing
to us, there's always been a demand there."
More so than back in the States
think the people over here are a little more dedicated," considers
the frontman. " And I also think that they may listen to the
music a little more too. It's not that I'm being biased towards
the U.S., it's just that the people over there seem to be more
concerned with being violent, and just thrashing and not paying
any attention to the band. Over here I find that a lot more
poeple actually watch the band and really absorb the music,
it's definitely a very different kind of vibe and I've been
enjoying myself very much."
all of DEATH's upheavals over the years he feels that the band
have a lot of ground to make up, both over here and back home
in the U.S.?
the guitarist agrees. "But I think the new "Human" album proves
a lot. And what the whole thing comes down to is the music,
and I think that's what a lot of people have forgotten within
this whole big mess, all of which was started by a bunch of
very vicious lies. People get obsessed with things like 'Is
Chuck a monster? What's the deal?' But it's like who gives a
fuck. Do I make music? Yes. Do I put albums out? Yes. And it's
that which I think people should be concerned with. Sure, people
should be curious as to what the hell is going on, but it's
the music that really matters. People shouldn't assume all these
things, that's the wrong attitude to have in any part of life,
just to go around naturally assuming things all the time. It's
much better to leave your mind open to things, and use your
judgement when you find out the way things really are. That's
why I'm here, so that people can find out the truth for themselves."
The guitarist certainly seems
very sincere as he talks, and I'm definitely already beginning
to doubt a lot of what I've heard about him in the past. Put
it this way, to me Chuck Schuldiner doesn't appear to be much
of a monster; more like someone who just wants to get things
done right. You can also tell that he believes passionately
in his music. But, if he really is as genuine as he seems, then
why has the whole DEATH story become overblown with all this
controversy surrounding him?
"Because of lies,"
comes his blunt reply. "People have lied about me because they
can't see anything else. They've lied about me to get ahead
themselves. I'm not into that, I don't need to lie, I mean,
I could sit here for an hour and tell you all sorts of juicy
titbits of truth that would really embarass quite a lot of people,
but I'm not going to because I don't want to stoop to that level.
You know what I'm saying? See, I prove myself through writing
music, not doing things like using songs that are five years
old (nice little dig there Chuck!), I feel that I'm very sincere
about what I do, and there doesn't seem to be a lot of that
in this form of music these days. People should start ignoring
all the garbage that's out there.
That's why I put on the album thanks to people who've supported
me for my music and not the rumours. That's printed on "Human",
and that's it, that is how I feel about it. When I pick up a
QUEENSRYCHE album, or whatever, I'm not doing it because they're
supposed to be cool, they're a killer band and they
write good songs, which is what I've always been into. When
I started out in this business I never had this reputation,
although sure, I have done things that have made people wonder
about me, but I'm just a person, and I may have made mistakes
but I've learnt from them, and I've also found out who my real
friends are. It's helped me to get a much better line up of
musicians now too."
Something I would agree with
wholeheartedly, having enjoyed DEATH's latest and best opus
"Human" many times over. And as the man says, it's really the
other musicians he's recruited that has given this new incarnation
of DEATH its best ever qualities, for a start, CYNIC guitarist
Paul Masvidal is a fretster of immense talent, whilst the rhythm
section of Skott Carino and dynamite drummer Sean Reinert (who's
also a member of CYNIC) add a whole new and highly dynamic edge
to DEATH's fearsome sound. Having said that, however, there's
no denying the useful effect of all the controversy that surrounds
Schuldiners himself. Let's face it, it's probably helped him
sell a few more records over the years hasn't it?
true," claims this six-stringer with a typically 'evil' chuckle.
"I was just talking about that with a friend of mine the other
night. But, the new album is what it all comes down to; that
was kind of like my revenge. People were saying things like
'Chuck's dead' or 'He's playing in a glam band' or 'He's in
a mental institution'. But what lies, where did any of that
come into reality? It didn't. People should sealize that everything
that was said about me was pure lies. I've prove that and I'll
be more than happy to prove it again."
Actually, when you think about
it, the guitarist has proved quite resilient over the years
to all these malicious stories and rumours. I wonder, did he
ever feel like simply jacking the whole thing in?
I've been very disillusioned at times," he admits. "I mean,
I've been doing this for eight years of my life now and have
seen literally nothing, just because you've got an album out
and you're touring doesn't mean you're rich. I'm far off being
rich, and right now I'm living at home. I don't own a car, I'm
a pretty simple person in all reality."
So, at what point did he think
to himself, 'Right, that's it, I've got to get things sorted
the last "Spiritual Healing" tour," recalls the frontman. "Because
I was just so emotionally tired at that point. Everything seemed
fucked!! Things were screwed, and after eight years I had just
become so tired of taking all this shit. I've always taken responsibility
for the things that other people should have been helping me
with, and after all the years of that building up and mixing
my business with my normal everyday life it just became too
much man. I'm not a super human person."
What appears to have helped the
frontman get things in order again, at least on the face of
it, has been the reappointment of Eric Greif as DEATH's manager.
Mind you, having heard some of the gruesome stories about that
collaboration previously I must admit to being a little surprised
the pair have decided to work together again?
came to the conclusion that it was stupid just fighting all
the time, taking each other to court and all that stupid shit.
I needed the organization and he wasn't really wokring with
anyone at the time, so it was a case of putting the past behind
us which is what I hope other people can do too. That everything
that happened is in the past."
So much so that I guess he must
get pretty tired of people like myself asking all these tedious
questions all the time?
but it's also good to be given the chance to tell people that
all the things they heard were lies; plain and simple," he says
adamantly. "People have been taken in by others whose only plan
was nothing to do with the music, it was simply to ruin me,
to ruin the name Chuck Schuldiner."
But, I put it to the guitarist,
why would people be so concerned with doing that to him?
they have nothing left after DEATH," he says with direct reference
to previous members of the band. "That's the reality of it."
Admittedly there has been one
positive result from all this back biting. It's made Chuck ever
more determined to make DEATH work, and even though he was pretty
quiet between albums he was always writing. So how did it all
come together as regards the new album "Human", because musically
this is the best DEATH disc we've ever heard I think?
without a doubt," confirms the frontman. "I mean, Sean the drummer
has really helped to bring DEATH to a more professional level,
because there is creativity in the drum department now, it's
not just like a machine, it's really helped compliment what
I'm doing as a songwriter."
Which is all well and good of
course, but is this line-up gonna have any longevity?
both Paul and Sean have CYNIC," says Chuck a tad hesitantly.
"And I know that they really believe in their band which I totally
understand, and I support them for that. They're also in a very
different band to what this one does, so DEATH has been good
for them in that respect. But at this point in time all I can
say is that we'll have to wait and see, I'm just happy that
the album is out and that we're touring. After that I'm gonna
start putting my material together, and I've already written
pretty much the whole of the next album, musically at least
75% of it. Lyrics will be the next process."
In which case people will probably
look at the current DEATH line-up and see the other guys as
mere hired hands. I mean, they don't appear to have an awful
lot of input on the creativitiy side do they?
right," says Chuck, seeing my point. "But they're definitely
playing an important part in things. I write the stuff, but
I can't do it all alone and the perfect example is Sean, who's
brought out quite a lot of spiciness in the music. So all musicians
do matter in this band because they're putting in their talents
and abilities. It's definitely not a one man band, it's just
that I've had main control of DEATH. DEATH wouldn't be DEATH
without that level of control."
Additionally, if the other guys
do intent to go back to CYNIC, isn't that going to put Chuck
back to square one. It'll certainly blow the chemistry currently
giving the band a real exciting edge?
so far it's worked," states the guitarist. "And I'm not gonna
stop even if this line-up doesn't continue to the next record.
I think it is a really good line-up right now, but we're having
to live every day as it comes. It's really just a day-to-day
kind of thing, and whatever happens happens. The new album will
still be true to what DEATH is all about, whoever is in the
Now anyone who's been into DEATH
for any amount of time will also be aware of how much Chuck
likes to use melody in his musici, although it's not always
immediately apparant. So how doest the guitarist feel now that
so many people, both fans and bands, seem to hate the very thought
that very annoying," he says. "But a lot of those people have
only been into the scene for a couple of years. See, that's
what kills me about people; they pretend they popped out of
their mothers stomach listening to death metal. That's bullshit;
these people grew up on MAIDEN, PRIEST, all the same shit I
did. In fact, I grew up with even better stuff like ANGELWITCH,
RAVEN, ANVIL and MERCYFUL FATE. All those bands' music had melody
in it. People can't deny where they came from, and I'm not sitting
here trying to be Mr. Death Metal, saying things like 'I've
been listening to VENOM since I was five years old; that's bullshit
man, and I'm not gonna lie. People who say that are in this
very naive mode, the sort of mode I was in five years ago."
Now aged 24, Chuck has been into
the scene for a while and clearly knows what he's on about and
I have to agree with a lot of what he says. People do love to
pretend that they've been into a scene since it started, something
which in reality is rarely the case.
doing this since I was 16," the guitarist elaborates. "So eight
years is pretty damn brutal. But you have to evolve and life
changes as you get older. I mean, I can't sing about zombies
when I'm 24-years-old and after doing this for eight years,
I'd like to think that after all that time doing something,
I've progressed. The thing is that when people talk shit and
say that DEATH is wimpy and are going nowhere, especially if
they're in a band with that attitude. They're not gonna break
any ground or get into anything new. I'm trying to create new
things, and a new outlook in DEATH and that it's not supposed
to be satanic to be death metal, or super-fast to be death metal.
Death metal can have all sorts of stuff within it, and melody
is just something I've always had. If people want to get technical,
"Scream Bloody Gore" had melody, my leads on that have got somewhat
of a melody to them, like "Zombie Ritual", which is a song that's
considered a favourite with people who like the old stuff. People
who say that I'm wimping out now better go back and re-listen
to my roots."
Chuck also makes a point of listening
to a wide variety of other music, something he sees as totally
healthy, as he goes on:
of all the barriers people put up. It's like you can only listen
to some band called ROTTING ARM from Coongarmonga, or whatever,
it's just stupid limiting yourself to listening to one type
of music. People have that right, but in my opinion it just
isn't for me, it's too limiting. I like hearing melody, a great
singer and stuff, but then again, I like heavier stuff and love
throwing on something real heavy, like "Seven Churches" by POSSESSED,
or some killer SLAYER, or whatever. I get that craving for heaviness;
I just don't do it all the time, I just can't limit myself like
that, and I don't care what people say."
Chuck, and DEATH itself has certainly
matured over the years, and "Human" sees the man taking a much
more introspective, really based approach to his songwriting.
Was it done intentionally, to get more of a positive vibe going
in the band?
yeah," he says. "I wanted to make this album come across as
being very real, and wanted the title to reflect upon me as
a human being so to speak. I think people tend to forget that
people in bands are human, although I must say that a lot of
people have been very understanding and they'll say 'Well you've
had to do what you've had to do' and that's cool. That means
a lot man, when one person says that to me. But the title definitely
describes me, and the whole thing is meant to be very real,
I didn't want it to be an album that seemed false, and I'm happy
with the way things turned out. Scott Burns (producer) did a
fantastic job he's a very professional person, and that definitely
Obviously with the band about
to wing their way into the UK with labelmates PESTILENCE and
VIDGRESSION, who are also managed by Greif, I'm curious to know
how the new material fits into the live environment. Does it,
for example, fit in reasonably well with the older stuff?
states the guitarist. "Because once Sean puts in his own touches
to the older stuff he totally spices it up so to speak. I think
it fits in really well, and the new stuff is very aggressive
but also melodic in certain parts; it's definitely got all the
elements that people have come to expect from DEATH."
And what would he say about the
quality of their live show right now, because DEATH have long
suffered criticisms about their stage performances. Has it improved
at all with this latest line-up?
reckons the frontman. "Everything feels that much stronger this
time round, and not having to worry so much about whether people
are playing things wrong or right has helped out a lot. I feel
much more confident about the people that are around me now,
which is very important because it's so much less to worry about.
I certainly know that it's the strongest line-up we've ever
On the down side, the band are none too
happy with their American label Relativity at present, although
speak highly of Roadrunner, the European licensee for the "Human"
album, as Chuck adds:
looking for a new label in the U.S.," he says wearily. "Because
right now we're being continually fucked with. This is our fourth
album now and every time we've been given the same old excuses,
and it's never any different. Things like not taking out any ads,
there's nothing like that, no money, nothing, and I'm sick of
it man! Those people are fucking with my career and my future,
and this band should definitely be bigger in the States. This
is a legitimate form of music now, and it could be a
career, if only the label would help make it that, that's all
I ask for."
We carry on talking until my
tape is full, and about all sorts of topics, particularly about
Chuck's love of vinyl LP's which are now becoming so scarce.
I even tell the guitarist that James Murphy (a one time member
of DEATH as you'll recall) told me Chuck had even missed shows
when they were on tour in the U.S. so he could go to specialist
stores on vinyl buying missions! This brings a stormy response
from the frontman who dismisses the story as a blatant lie,
and says if he were to do that he'd simply be losing money every
time they missed a gig. He's certainly got a point I suppose...
Anyway, by now it's 'round
about five in the afternoon, it's getting dark and the fans
are starting to crowd around the doors outside. Inside, meanwhile
the venue is bustling with bands, crew and media people alike.
And, like any tour, there's a lot to do prior to the gig, apart
from eating food, drinking vast amounts of coffee and generally
chatting away to anyone and everyone.
Chuck goes to take a shower,
although photographer Nick has asked him to make an appearance
with his guitar as there is a door to the venue that has a great
mural on it which is ideal photo session material. A half hour
later the DEATH frontman obliges, although we're forced to do
the pictures quickly as there are now literally hundreds of
fans outside pushing to get in, much to the obvious panic of
the security! Actually, at one point I start to wonder whether
there might be a riot, because these people are certainly charged
up on a lethal mixture of German beer and sheer enthusiasm!
The rest of DEATH keep
a relatively low profile prior to the show, whilst PESTILENCE
show themselves for a natter and the other bands are similarly
jovial. Those youthful Swedes DISMEMBER in particular have to
be the happiest looking death metal band I've ever seen, and
are clearly loving every minute of this chance of a lifetime
series of gigs.
Seven o'clock sees the doors
open, or rather, get broken down, as the baying crowd outside
can no longer be contained. Standing at the top of the stairs
when this happens, I decide to beat a hasty retreat, fearing
almost instant death under the feet of the leather clad mob.
Seeking refuge in the food room we watch the crowd virtually
clean out the merchandise stall in a matter of minutes, shortly
before storming into the cavernous main hall. Luckely they get
what they came for too, as everyone delivers the goods.
DISMEMBER whip through a set
that needs work but fare well, CANNIBAL CORPSE are as amusing
as ever, despite photographer Nick remaining unconvinced, still
saying that they're totally crap and moaning that it's an appalling
way to spend his birthday! PESTILENCE, meanwhile, are rather
like a youthful version of DEATH themselves, but it's really
NAPALM DEATH who have the most success tonight. At about half-past
eleven it's time for the headliners themselves to come on, and
after the evenings thrashing, the crowd are starting to look
a tad on the tired side. Indeed, some of them are already heading
home, and the hall begins to lose some of its original electric
Considering that, the Floridians are excellent and prove a lot
better than I'd expected. Having said that, however, band of
the evening award has to got to NAPALM in terms of sheer head
removal, but all in all everyone seems happy enough with the
gig. The small dressing room afterwards is a pretty cheerful
place, with everybody seemingly getting along. It's certainly
a lot friendlier that I'd anticipated.
It's about half-past one
in the morning when we finally get onboard the DEATH/PESTILENCE
tour bus, after a brief sojourn by Nick and myself to buy a
couple of well dodgy hot dogs. Once again, with so many people
on board, the bus is full, so we get the small lounge downstairs
at the back to sleep in and while the rest of the guys are messing
about upstairs, Chuck plays Nick and I a bootleg tape of a 70's
KISS gig, a recording that was given to him by Marky from the
Swiss combo CORONER. Manager, Eric Greif, meanwhile, says there's
a club they might go to later, and whilst the three of us decline
to join them, most of the others take off in search of a few
late night drinks. Now what should have been a brief nightcap
turns into something of an all nighter, and I awake at about
six in the morning to hear a collection of drunken revellers
return from said club. We're supposed to be on our way to Cologne
by now, and thanks to this we're more than a little behind schedule.
Ironically, as it turns out we
could have done with some extra time too, because on route to
Cologne, the NAPALM DEATH/CANNIBAL CORPSE bus suffers a transmission
failure. This explains why we're stopped on the hard shoulder
of the autobahn on a murky Saturday morning in the middle of
nowhere. Next thing we know, the rear door of the bus opens,
and a couple of the guys load in a guitar and bass cab from
the other bus, which they inform us is totally knackered. In
which case NAPALM DEATH, CANNIBAL CORPSE plus associated crew
members join our bus, making a crowded place even worse. Still,
with everyone aboard we head off again in search of Cologne.
However, believe it or not, by mid-afternoon our bus is having
troubles of its own. I'm sitting in the lounge downstairs, enjoying
the ride and looking at the bleak German countryside when all
of a sudden billows of thick black smoke start wafting past
"Thought I could smell something
burning!" says Nick, and sure enough it turns out our turbo
has just decided to blow up. Unbelievable, but true nonetheless!
This reduces us to a slow crawl on larger hills and at one point
I wonder whether or not it would be quicker to get out and walk.
The smoke too, is getting worse by the minute, and is now filling
up the inside of the bus. Nick and I decide to go upstairs and
join the rest of the guys leaving NAPALM DEATH guitarist Jesse
Pintado downstairs risking death by Carbon Monoxide fumes in
a desperate bid to get some sleep!
Of course, at this speed,
the journey takes ages. Manager Eric points out that Germany
is much like his home state of Wisconsin to look at. Yes, I
agree, although I bet he usually travels through it at rather
more than five miles an hour like we are now! Thankfully, Nick
finds a Nintendo 'Game Boy' computer game onboard the
bus, and so we while away the rest of the afternoon running
our own mini-marathon, which results in the photographer hammering
me something rotten!
By the time we get to the
venue, Cologne's Live Music Hall, it's dark and pouring with
rain. It's around six o'clock by the time the bus negotiates
its way around the back of the venue and we get to pile off
and finally stretch our legs after the arduous journey. The
venue is smaller than last night, although must still be capable
of holding around fifteen hundred people.
The dressing rooms are at the
back of the stage, up a flight of steps, which later become
wet and perilously slippery. The main room upstairs is where
the caterers have set up all the food, although by the time
we get to it most of the decent stuff has long since gone. Half
a frankfurter sausage in a piece of dried bread is not what
constitutes a hearty meal, now is it? In which case Nick and
I decide to leg it to our hotel in order to check-in and hopefully
get some food at the same time. After all, it will be the first
thing we'll have had since those clodgy hot dogs last night.
Band and crew meanwhile, are left to while away the time once
again, although it isn't actually that long until the show because
of our late arrival, in that respect sound checks are out of
the question (a common occurrence on these sort of things apparently),
so everybody just has to hope that they'll sound okay. NAPALM
DEATH aren't worried though, having enlisted the services of
Mitch Dickinson, who you may remember was doing the live sound
of CANCER in our last on the road report.
When we arrive back at the venue
after checking in (and still minus any food incidentally!),
the fans are pouring in through the doors, and we very nearly
don't get past the security, who look like they're members of
a motorcycle club. Inside the atmosphere is already pretty good,
although up onstage conditions are a lot more cramped than last
night. DISMEMBER rage through a tidy opening set, faring rather
better than the night before, CANNIBAL CORPSE decimate the very
eager crowd, PESTILENCE provide the more cerebral metal of the
evening (apart from DEATH that is!) whilst NAPALM DEATH hammer
their point home in the usual bruising fashion. Upstairs in
the dressing room a German video crew are interviewing as many
people as they can get hold of, and generally the whole atmosphere
is pretty good
It's late again by the
time DEATH are due on, although the crowd seems more lively
than it did at the same time last night. DEATH blast through
another selection of scorching material, which is the same set,
they've been using on their U.S. tour, and by the end, the fans
look suitably tired, but happy.
Photographer Nick has been busy
all night, taking shots of everything and anything, including
bus driver Maurice, people eating food, people not eating food,
front of stage, back of stage, the toilets etc etc! Yep, you
name it, we've got pictures of it, although come the festival's
close he decides to pull off his pièce de rèsistance
and plans to get everybody involved in this Xmas Rock Hard bash
in one huge picture. Easier said than done I reckon, because
by now people are beginning to relax and wind down by drinking
beer and generally larking around. Miraculously, however, with
the help of band managers and assorted crew members, it all
comes together. Standing in front of the stage, is assembled
one of the largest gatherings of death metal musos you're likely
to see this side of the Milwaukee Metalfest of a good year.
For those that made it possible:Thanks Again!!
After Nick takes a few more individual
shots of DEATH we eventually run out of time, as our lift back
to the nearby hotel is about to leave. Most of the gear has
been loaded out by now, so there's basically just time to say
goodbye before we leave 'em all to it. Tomorrow the Festival
has one more show, and then it's panic stations as everybody
heads home to their various locations all over the world. DEATH
hope to be home on the evening of Christmas Eve, enjoy a brief
break and then head back for the rest of their U.S. stint. Then
of course they'll be back over on this side of the pond for
that U.K. tour. And, having witnessed this latest DEATH line-up
in action, it can certainly vouch for its killer live intensity.
So, and all I can really add is that you'd better get along
and see 'em because who knows if you will get to witness such
a strong band together again. We can only hope. Great stuff!