proves to himself and his North American fanbase that entity of
Death is far from buried. Although the Dynamo and about eight
European shows surrounding Holland's Metal blowout, were the true
showcase gigs for the reformed(?) and rejuvenated(?) Death, featuring
founding father Chuck and a crew of new disciples, guitarist Shannon
Hamm, drummer whiz Richard Christy and bassist Scott Clendenin,
the band stormed through a set of new and old, completed by storming
finale, "Pull The Plug".
"It was awesome",
says Chuck, hailing the one true festival in North America where
the underground rules supreme. "In America, that was the first show
in three years. So it was quite a way to come back, especially with
the album on the verge of coming out. Once we were done playing
we had a great time. I saw so many people I haven't seen in a long
So It's Death-Metal time again.
The Sound of Perseverance, set to emerge in mid-September to a legion
of fans wondering what Chuck has up his sleeve since his last record,
Symbolic. Given the turnout and reception at Metalfest, Chuck assures
me that indeed, there is hope for North America. "I've been preaching
the word for America in general for a while. You know it's just
proof, it's so sickening. Basically I got fucked, that's the best
way to put it, with Symbolic. Roadrunner had a totally disillusioned
idea of what metal is. And that's why Symbolic wasn't pushed. That's
not their idea of metal, their idea of metal is Coal Chamber and
Korn. Symbolic basically got shove to the side and that's why metal
in America has been screwed because of choices made by bigger labels
deciding what metal is suppose to be about."
"Promotion is everything",
he adds. "That is honestly what really really hurt this band, not
being promoted, people just didn't know. Symbolic was such a word
-of -mouth type of record. When we were doing shows for that record,
I'd have people who would come up and say, "man I got the album
and played it for my friends who were into the bigger bands like
Pantera or Metallica or whatever and they couldn't believe it, they
were shocked, they never knew there was an album like this one out."
Music is a product, and if you don't promote it no one's gonna know
about it. Thats is what hurt Symbolic. Symbolic should have been
way more massive then it was. It got great reviews, which was really
another slap in the face, cause the reviews were so awesome for
that record and it got album of the month in all of the major metal
To play devil's advocate, it
was probably easier for Roadrunner to flog their Type O Negative's
and Fear Factory's.
"I got shoved to the side and
you know what I could have said, "fuck all of this and I'm quitting,
but I didn't. I think the album's a perfect example of, you know,
coming back saying whatever. I'm not gonna let people discourage
me. Eventually Roadrunner are going to jump back on the heavy metal
bandwagon and it's gonne be cute, it's gonna be really sickening
to see a label jump right back on what they got big from, but basically
what they've turned their backs on in the process."
"At Milwaukee", he continues,
"there was over 4000 people there in the name of real metal. That's
just proof. I don't think a trendy band that corporate America has
thought of as metal could draw that amount of people. It's such
a great way to show that metal is very much alive in America, it's
just been shoved to the side by trends. Like I said, corporate America's
idea that Korn is metal, is the farthest thing I can ever think
of. Honestly, I look at that band, I hear that band, that is not
the spirit of heavy metal. I've been doing this for half my life
and I'm 31 now. I've been in a band since I was barely 16. It's
really troubling the power that corporate America can throw down
on people like me. I'm a fan and I know how it is for other fans
of real metal music". While the little guys get pushed aside or
literally screwed in some cases, Chuck isn't one to mince words
or his feelings. But is it true you can't fight corporate America?
"I'm a stubborn bastard. It's
so on the verge of coming back with a vengeance. That's why I feel
so good about the timing of our record, the timing of getting on
to a label like Nuclear Blast, who's pure metal. Real metal. I think
it's just a uniting, if that's what it's going to take, several
powerful forces uniting, the fans being number one is a major part
of it. The right band who has the balls to call themselves heavy
metal is a big part of it. And the third part is a label that will
and can take this element and shove it down everyone's throat. I
truly believe that everything is wound up correctly right now. And
I'm proud to call this band a heavy metal band. Real heavy metal
fans are so diehard they're not gonna get shoved aside. Unfortunately
there are a lot of bands that get shoved aside and choose to be.
A lot of metal bands cut their hair off and started getting into
that trendy stuff like we were talking about before, what corporate
America deems as metal. Basically a lot of people chose that easy
way out, to be less technical and that's what metal's about. Technical,
heavy, melodic, aggressive, all of those elements. That's why Death
is a band with all of those elements. I think there's everything
in this type of music to please every metal fan. I think bands in
America are scared to stand their ground."
Why is Chuck Schuldiner so
stubborn and what seperates him from people like, for example, James
Hetfield and Dave Mustaine, who tackled the '80s just prior to Death's
era, but now tread extremely different paths?
"What makes me stubborn is
basically my love for music, just like any fan. I'm a fan first
then I'm a guy in a band. For me remaining a fan has helped me not
turn my back on what I believe in. That's crucial, you've gotta
be a fan. You just can't be someone in a band that doesn't care
about what's going on around you. I've never really talked to James
Hetfield or Dave Mustaine, but I'll tell you one thing, I'm very
sincere and passionate about remaining true to the spirit of heavy
metal, cause that's what I've always believed in. I've got to nail
Metallica cuz they are the complete opposite of what they started
out as. They are what they criticized throughout their career when
they were a metal band. It's very insulting for me as a fan to read
articles with them and they're totally adamant about saying they're
not a heavy metal band anymore. I've seen this in quotes, big interviews
with Lars Ulrich who I think spends more time trying to look like
a European model then a musician. I've read articles where James
Hetfield is claiming they are not out to save heavy metal. What
a horrible thing to say. A band that made it off of being heavy
metal, now they're so big that they've just decided, "hey screw
everyone, we're powerful and we can get away with anything." Well,
they pulled a lot of shit over people's eyes but I mean a lot of
people aren't blind to what they are doing. I think it's the biggest
joke I've ever seen. And it's pathetic. Their musicianship is pathetic,
their attitude is horrendous, basically backstabbing every metal
fan that ever supported them. I mean, I was there in the beginning.
They were a major influence on my music back in the early '80s.
I remember trying to convert people in high school into Metallica
fans. They were like, "what's this noise?" Every kid in America
sported a Metallica shirt. So you know I really take it very personally,
and I think their sincerity is lacking in large amounts. They basically
need to change their name and stop living off of it, because the
name has nothing to do with the band anymore. It's a totally different
band. They've made it very known. As far as Megadeth goes, I'm not
a huge fan of the new album, but in a way at least they've maintained
a heavy sound. He's definitely stuck with it and I'm glad Megadeth
is at least getting a lot of airplay and they still sound like a
metal band. I think Marty Friedman's holding back a lot. I'd like
to hear him go off more. I've been a big fan of Marty Friedman since
the early '80s in his first band Hawaii. I'd like to hear them put
out something a little more aggressive, they've got it in them,
they just need to get it out. It was odd, because I read an article
with Marty and he's saying that their music goes beyond the boundaries
of what heavy metal can limit them to. I don't see any barriers.
If you start out as a heavy metal artist then what's the problem,
keep growing and pushing things. That's were Death is, the new album
is pushing things to the maximum limit, if there is any. I think
if you put on the new Death album, you're gonna hear the most rebellious
metal going. There's nothing trendy. I don't follow trends. I don't
pay attention to them.Basically trends are just something temporary
that's getting in the way of our mission as a band and that's to
be sincere and put out real music. Unfortunately, America's a very
impressionable place and people are misled. That's why people walk
around with baggy pants that are ten sizes too big for them. I don't
As Chuck continues his tirade
against the corruptive powers behind the North Amercian music industry,
it's difficult to disagree with a man who has lived and breathed
metal, but has been virtually unmarketed as a musician his entire
life. What then, is the source of corruption?
"Part of it's probably money."
He answers without flinching. "Bands just want to fit in. I don't
want to fit in, that's the whole rebellious nature of heavy metal
music. Doing your own thing. That's what drew me to this music.
I look at a band like Anthrax. When Fistful Of Metal came out it
was such a godly record. I hear their new stuff and they could be
anyone, they could be anything. It's funny cause they got less and
less popular the more they went farther away from their original
format, which is kind of ironic."
While Chuck's honesty and fan-based
compulsiveness is rather compelling, the aura surrounding Death
in 1998 is truly described by their current album title.
"It took me a long time to
settle into a title," he says about The Sound Of Perseverance. "I
knew it had to be a big title. Something powerful something that
was just totally descriptive of why I'm here, why this album's coming
out and what the album sounds like. All of a sudden one day it just
hit me, and it was like that is it."
And the cover artwork's symbolism
of climbing towards one's goal needs no explanation.
"I think everything, life in
general, is a quest," Chuck philosophizes. "You want to achieve
whatever you're looking for and it's like climbing a mountain, every
step you take you're getting higher and higher and then all of a
sudden you're on top of whatever you're trying to get out of life.
I definitely appreciate still being here and still making music.
There is so much more for me to do personally as a musician and
you know a lot of different paths that I want to go down. Death
being one of them, Control Denied being another, which will come
out after we tour for Death."
The Sound Of Perseverance is
a gripping display of Chuck's unlimited scope, matched with a vicious
punishment of the instruments. The leadoff track "Scavenger Of Human
Sorrow" is, in Chuck's words, a "crushing" intro, led by a double
bass barrage and broken-boned welcome. His melodic side and lead
work encapsulates "Bite The Pain" and the jaw-dropping instrumental
"Voice Of The Soul", but the record's monster epics set Death apart,
with "Flesh And The Power It Holds" and "A Moment Of Clarity" guiding
the listener on their own twisted journey. Produced at Morrisound
by legendary knob-twiddler, Jim Morris, Chuck's crystal-clear vision
was polished that one step further, melding aggression with a certain
"One thing people notice is
that these songs are pretty long," Chuck summarizes. "But they're
not that long for the sake of writing a long song. A lot of times
they just take their own path and they just end up being that way
on this album. It's really there for a reason you know. With a lot
of the great music I grew up on in the '70s, bands wrote songs and
just let them go where they needed to go. A lot of bands from the
'70s wrote longer songs and you get more out of it. To me music
should be a journey, something that takes you somewhere. And a lot
of times it doesn't take me a long time to put together stuff and
I'm very careful about making sure that things make sense and have
a good balance."
As for the early writing process
Chuck says that he "had more time to work with this material. We
demoed off the entire record twice at my own studio. The material,
the musicianship- even Jim was just like, "wow". We busted ass on
this record. We basically recorded and mixed this album in half
the time that we did Symbolic. We did three weeks on this record,
on Symbolic we were in there for six. So I think that definitely
says something for being prepared. I wanted to keep it spontaneous,
so we went in there an just tore through things. We didn't dwell
And most certainly, it all
comes down to musicianship. Chuck proudly declaring that "everyone
is pushing their talents and their abilities" to the max. yet odds
are that Death sadly won't be finding themselves gracing the covers
of the numerous instrument-driven magazines.
"One of my missions and goals
is definitely to be the cover story of Guitar World," he admits
passionately. "That would be like a personal dream. Everyone has
dreams and goals and you've gotta shoot high in life 'cause you
only live once. My goals are high and that's why I'm still here.
That's something that I would love, really love to see happen. I'd
be so thrilled, I can't even tell you. I've been doing this a long
time, I get really tired of seeing bands on the cover just because
they're popular. And not because they're really empathising guitar
work. I see a band like Matchbox 20 on the cover of Guitar World
and I'm thinking, you can barely hear their guitars. We need to
start seeing people who really are playing their instruments on
the covers of magazines like that."
So, without the big corporate
hype machine, what do Death catalogue sales look like?
"That's a very good question.
Labels of the past don't like giving figures. I forgot the quotes
they gave me on the album Human, but I remember seeing a promo ad
they had put out to the radio and stuff saying "Human selling 100.000
units blah blah blah," I was told like half of that or something.
It's like really incredible man, that's why people unfortunately
think that if you have an album out you're successful or your making
tons of money and that's not true. Right now I am barely surviving.
I make enough money to pay my bills, I drive a Toyota that's paid
off thank God -it took me five years to do it. I feed my cats, my
dogs. I have a roof over my head and I'm thankful for it, but I
don't live an extravagant lifestyle. I have a modest house, I have
a very modest car. I don't go around buying guitars and collecting
masses and masses of equipment. I play the same equipment I've had
for years and years and years, so people need to realize that just
because you have a record out, you are not making it. Getting a
reacord deal is half the battle the other half is surviving the
road trip from hell you're going to be taking. I've been through
utter hell in this industry, not surviving sometimes. It's been
bad. That's all I tell people. I hear young bands say if we could
just get signed man that'd be it. I don't want to discourage people
but I tell them, "man, your just at the beginning. Just prepare
for hell."And that's it. No one told me. I didn't have anyone above
me telling me that. That's why I tell a lot of bands that are trying
to get signed, "don't quit your jobs. Don't even go there." It's
been hard, even for me now. Like I said, I'm paying my bills, I'm
happy and content if I can just do that."
So, Chuck Schuldiner stands
where he is (residing just outside of Orlando, Florida), seemingly
unfazed by the lack of attention and far from disgruntled. He'll
most likely remain there, pushing his own personal limits, until,
well until Death is a dead issue. And at that point, I'm sure he'll
find another path of perseverance.
By Tim Henderson