The American vocalist/guitarist Chuck Schuldiner is generally
regarded one of the founders of the death metal genre, which -of
course- was named after his brainchild Death. Even though, in
the early 80's, the young guitarist from Orlando took the microphone
out of pure necessity, soon after, a lot of new bands started
imitating Chuck's deep growling 'grunt', having heard albums like
'Scream Bloody Gore', 'Leprosy' and 'Spiritual Healing'. Yet the
guitarist always kept mixed emotions towards his reputation as
a death-metal-godfather and prototype 'grunt' vocalist.
After all, Schuldiner grew up with
more melodic bands such as Maiden and Priest. Influences he would,
on later albums, expose more and more. With the arrival and departure
of renowned musicians such as Gene Hoglan, Steve DiGiorgio, Sean
Reinert, Andy LaRocque and Paul Masvidal, Death became more and
more synonymous with high-grade, technical, extraordinary, anti-commercial
metal. Music that a lot of people have since called 'Schuldiner
In the mid 90's Chuck at long last
rallied around a stable line-up. In an attempt to break away from
the restrictions of the death metal genre, he started a new band,
Control Denied, in which he handed the microphone over to Tim
Aymar. The 1998 Death release 'The Sound Of Perseverance' might
be regarded as a final goodbye to the old Death-sound. Although
Chuck handles the vocals for one last time, the CD was recorded
with the Control Denied musicians Shannon Hamm (guitar) and Richard
Christy (drums). The most distinctive track on the album is a
surprising cover of 'Painkiller', where Schuldiner shows great
vocal similarity of Judas Priest vocalist Rob Halford.
While recording the first Control
Denied album, Schuldiner received some terrible news about his
health. It would be the start of a long battle against an unfair
disease, from which the vocalist/guitarist recovers considerably
for a short time. Yet, he would never be able to tour with Control
Denied. 'We'd rather wait until we have released a second album,
so we won't have to play any Death songs live', explains bass
player Steve DiGiorgio early 2000 in Aardschok. It was a statement
that turned out to be mainly 'wishful thinking'. In November of
2000, Control Denied starts the recording of a second album, but
unfortunately Schuldiner never saw the completion of it. Regarding
that matter, at the January memorial service the other Control
Denied members and producer Jim Morris agreed that they will do
whatever it takes to get the album released.
On December 13th 2001 Chuck Schuldiner died from the brain tumor,
which was discovered two and a half years earlier. After the IM
by Dennis Verboven in the last issue, Aardschok spoke with several
people who, throughout the years, worked with or were in one way
or another connected to the Death/Control Denied guitarist. The
memories below were distilled from a series of long, often impressive
phone calls. Above all appears an image of a calm, conscious musician,
with an undeniable passion and a limitless love for heavy metal.
As the owner of the Morrisound studio in Tampa, producer Jim Morris
witnessed the birth of most Death albums firsthand.
"Straight from the beginning I considered Death to be special.
The band wrote good guitar parts, but above all Chuck's vocals were
something completely new. The power of Death was the combination
of the two. 'Leprosy' was the first Death album recorded here. Chuck
worked with Dan Johnson on that album, and the next three CD's he
made with Scott Burns. The first Death album I produced was 'Symbolic'.
I found it to be a really wonderful CD. It was the most melodic
death metal I had ever heard. I really like heavy albums with a
lot of melody, and from then on I started meddle with his music
more and more. Chuck was a musician who went into the studio very
well prepared. He made very elaborate demo's, which most bands wouldn't
hesitate to release on CD. As for producing, I was mainly concerned
with the technical side of recording on a Death album. Getting sounds
etc. Sometimes we changed the compositions a bit, but overall we
just did whatever was in Chuck's head. He usually knew exactly how
he wanted everything to sound and generally he didn't rest until
he came pretty close. On the first day of the recordings of the
first Control Denied album, we noticed something was wrong with
him. Chuck had trouble with his 'vibrato' and couldn't play his
own riffs anymore. We joked about it, because we thought he was
stressed because of how the world would react to Control Denied.
We visited several doctors, who all diagnosed him differently. Until
we found a doctor who discovered what was really going on. It's
very sad that Chuck wasn't able to finish the second Control Denied
CD, and I sincerely hope that all what was inside his head can one
day be heard on CD. Chuck was a devoted musician and a real metalhead.
But privately he was very committed to his family. In that way a
lot like myself, and that's probably why we got along so well."
Although bassist Steve DiGiorgio officially swells the Death ranks
on 'Human', he also played with the band for quite some time in
the 80's. At that time Schuldiner lived in California and recorded
some demos with Steve.
"Chuck was huge, he was 'larger than life'. And like with
all the musicians who passed too soon, Chuck first seems to get
full recognition after his death. I met Chuck for the first time
in 1986. Chuck and his drummer at that time, Chris Reifert, heard
the Sadus 'DTP' demo. They called the number that was on it and
it was our guitar player Darren who answered the phone. He told
us: I just talked to a guy from a band called Death. We thought
that was a cool band name and met up with them that evening. We
were all 17, 18 years old and basically just had fun together. We
drank and smoked a bit, and listened in the car to their 'Mutilation'-demo.
Everyone got along great, but I just happened to play the instrument
that Chuck was still looking for. I played quite a while with Death
until Chuck suddenly returned to Florida. Later I played on several
Death albums, and worked on the pre-production of the first Control
Denied album. It wasn't until recently that I realized that Chuck
was totally different from other musicians I have worked with. He
really cared about every single note in a song. I got total freedom
from him and even then he used to incite me to make my bass playing
even more intense. He didn't mind sharing his place in the 'spotlight'.
Chuck wanted us to give it all, because he knew his album would
only get better by it. Within Death there were never any ego problems.
We just wanted to write the best possible songs. It was all about
the music with Chuck, and that inspired me. The most beautiful thing
was this 'wink' you got when things were really going well musically.
You're familiar with the goose bumps you get, when you hear a piece
of really cool music? Well, Chuck got that from his own music, when
other people did something cool with it. He encouraged us constantly.
And that's why I felt so in place with Death. This crazy cancer
year, since James Murphy and Chuck Billy were also struck with this
disease, changed my whole outlook on life. It put all 'normal' problems
into a different perspective and made it easier to deal with certain
things. Look what Chuck Billy did, sharing the proceeds of his benefit
concert with Chuck's family. He came up to me one day and said:
I'm sick and tired of hearing about those money problems and denied
treatments. I am going to send that friend of yours a lot of money".
He didn't even know the Schuldiners, yet he transferred a huge amount
to them. This impressed me very much. In fact it left me speechless.
If a person that is suffering from cancer himself, does that. What
could I do? I talked a lot with Chuck last year. He even played
me parts of the new recordings through the phone and that music
sounded really cool. Chuck finally realized that everybody would
compare Control Denied and Death anyway, so he said: lets just make
a real intense, and ultimately extreme CD." Therefore, the
music sounds pretty complex again, with a lot of 'crazy' drums.
It's quite in tune with Death as well."
Steve is still playing
in Testament and he's also working on other projects, Sadus and
Darkhall being the most well-known of course. Steve is also involved
with Eric Peterson's band Dragonlord and along with the other Sadus
members he's working on a solo-album by Chuck Billy.
The former Dark Angel drummer paid his respects on 'Symbolic' and
'Individual Thought Patterns', but has known Chuck since his teenage
"Chuck and I were pen-pals. Way before I joined Dark Angel,
I was a fanatic tape trader. Everybody wrote letters with each other
and exchanged demos. I was in close contact with Katon of Hirax,
Kerry of Slayer and Jim of Dark Angel. And Chuck was also among
these people. In fact, I even played 'Infernal Death' with my first
band. We met for the first time in L.A., where he recorded 'Scream
Bloody Gore' with our producer Randy Burns. We toured together in
1988 and afterwards we even had a temporary fall out. Dark Angel
split up in September 1992 and in October I heard Chuck was searching
for a drummer. I knew 'Human' and was impressed with the progression
Death had gone through. My first reaction back then was: 'imagine
you have to drum this'. And yes, less than a year later I had to.
Chuck sent me a tape with the guitar riffs, which he taped with
two ghetto blasters. What he did was: He recorded one guitar part
on the first ghetto blaster. Then he would rewind it, play it back
and meanwhile play along a second guitar line. These two guitars
he recorded with the second ghetto blaster. After listening to these
tapes for a week, I flew to Florida and we started jamming. During
the 'Symbolic' days Chuck bought a drum machine. But because since
he was thinking as a guitarist, he programmed very impossible drum
parts, that only could have been played by an octopus. Still, I
figured it would be a challenge to play those parts. We took a lot
more time with 'Symbolic' and jammed a lot. That's why those two
albums are so different. With 'ITP' we hit the studio within a few
weeks. For 'Symbolic' we jammed for a long time in his garage. We
even recorded some demos with just me and Chuck playing, that sounded
pretty cool. I really would like to hear those again. Although I
co-wrote for about four songs on 'The Sound Of Perseverance', Chuck
eventually opted to work with Richard Christy. Whereas I want to
go for a more solid approach, I guess Chuck had a different idea.
It was my opinion that we'd proven ourselves as far as technical
music goes. I just didn't want to sound like I was throwing my drumkit
down that stairs anymore. My time in Death was great. Chuck often
used the word 'magic', and that's exactly what that period was.
We had a perfect working atmosphere and everybody could play their
instruments quite well. Therefore I really regret that we never
toured with the 'Symbolic' line-up. To play with Steve, Bobby and
Chuck, would have been the ultimate band. Working with Chuck was
wonderful, especially from a creative point of view. He always encouraged
me to push back my bounderies and to do all kinds of extra things.
'Go sick' is a thing he used to say often. 'Play whatever you want.
As long as I can play my riff with it, it's okay with me'. I really
loved that freedom and the way we fed off each other. Although we
all lost our metal brother, I tend to think mostly about his family.
His mother is one of the kindest ladies I have ever met. Imagine
losing two sons. That must be extremely hard. Therefore my thoughts
are really with her."
After his departure from
Death, Gene wasn't exactly unemployed. He shortly sat on the throne
for Testament and next moved to Vancouver. Besides his job with
his new employer Devin Townsend, he also drums with Leeway, Just
Cause and Daemon. In addition he has a brutal band of his own by
the name of The Almighty Punch Drunk and he's the permanent percussionist
with the female vocalist Frygirl.
After 'The Fragile
Art Of Existence,' Chuck's contract with Nuclear Blast ended,
Schuldiner threw in his lot with the Dutch label Hammerheart.
In October of 2000 label manager Guido flew to Boston to personally
meet up with the bandleader in order to speak about the Control
Denied contract. Guido cherishes the memory of that meeting, but
also hopes that next to that he will be able to release the second
album 'When Machine And Man Collide'.
"I started out as a fan and I still consider 'Leprosy'
to be a monument within extreme metal. It was very cool to meet
Chuck and even cooler to sign him to our own label. At the time,
in Boston, Chuck seemed 100% okay. He was fully recovering, was
able to play guitar again. A week before my arrival he even recorded
a very good demo with Richard Christy. In those few days, we walked
a lot together. We went to record stores and even tumbled drunk
out of a pub. Chuck appreciated the personal contact very much.
He was very happy with our deal, that compared to previous contracts,
was very clear and simple. The band indeed started the recordings
at the end of November last year but, as you know, Chuck never
was able to complete them. But because there are very complete
demo's, on which he even sang the vocal lines, I think it won't
be a problem for the rest of the band to complete the CD properly.
Besides that, other musicians such as Erik Rutan have already
offered to, if needed, contribute a solo. I still assume that
the CD will appear on Hammerheart. I have a contract with both
Chuck's and my name underneath. It's legally valid, although the
family's creditors might have their own ideas about that. The
fact that the family doesn't name Hammerheart anywhere anymore,
is a little frightening indeed. But when people start to alter
agreements made between Chuck and me, then that's it as far as
I go. I made a deal with him back then, and paid him quite an
advance. I don't feel like fighting all sorts of legal battles
over the back of such a famous musician. The fact is that I don't
want to be accused of being a vulture. Hammerheart is going to
release a lot of beautiful things in 2002. Let's hope Control
Denied is one of them."
Guitarist Shannon Hamm has been playing in Control Denied since
1995 and is also to be heard on Death's last album 'The Sound Of
"I came with the band thanks to Chris Williams (RIP12-12-2001/YK),
the original drummer of Control Denied with whom I played in a band
at that time. Chris drummed on the first demos of Control Denied,
but eventually Chuck decided to go with Richard Christy. That was
right after the 'Symbolic' tour. Chuck gave me some demos to sort
out and after that we just stayed playing together. Oddly enough
he never told me I was in the band, we just kept making arrangements
for every next time. Chuck and I clicked instantly, musically but
certainly also outside the band. We practiced three times a week,
here in Orlando, and in between we often barbecued or played basketball.
I was quite surprised that Chuck was struck with this disease. Since
he didn't smoke, he didn't drink and even during tours, in the middle
of the night at a place like Waffle House, where everybody was eating
greasy stuff, he would sit there with an orange juice and something
healthy to eat. Deep down I of course realized that Chuck eventually
could die. The doctors gave him six months at the most after the
first diagnosis. That he held on so much longer, is only because
of his tremendous fighting spirit. After the first operation he
recovered so well. We were practicing again, recording demos and
even started working on the new CD. When next Chuck had another
setback, he took the recorder back home to work there at his own
speed. Even a half year ago he still was talking about the new album
all day: "We just have to finish that CD, that CD just has
to come out". He kept thinking positive until the very end
and just didn't want to simply be beaten by a tumor. We will finish
the CD definitely. Chuck already played all his guitar parts at
home. Whenever the paperwork is done, we are going to copy those
parts onto the main tape where Richard's drums are. Then I will
have to play my parts, and then we can get Steve DiGiorgio and Tim
Aymar to Florida to complete the music. Compared to other musicians
Chuck was very organized. He had a clear vision of what he wanted
to achieve and could bring that across quite well. The atmosphere
within the band was perfect which certainly attributed to the music,
because it always came very natural. It's quite ironic that Chuck
had finally found a stable line-up. We were a real team and everybody
felt that way."
Although Shannon was devoted
to Control Denied the past few years, he also wrote some music of
his own and after the Iced Earth tour he wants to record a demo
with Richard Christy. His commitment to finishing the Control Denied
CD stays undiminished.
Former Acheron/Incarnation drummer Richard Christy was brought into
the band as the successor of the initial Control Denied drummer
Chris Williams and automatically ended up on 'The Sound Of Perseverance'
"I had been a big Death fan since 1989. So when I moved
to Florida I of course knew that Chuck lived in Orlando. One day
a friend and I saw him in a book store, where he was reading a magazine.
He was very kind to us and we talked quite a while. Later I met
him at a few parties and when I heard he was looking for a drummer,
I auditioned. We played three songs off 'Human' and one track from
'Individual Thought Patterns', and actually it clicked right away.
A few days later I was hired. It was quite an honor to play with
a musician I admired so much. And it also was a big honor to succeed
drummers like Sean Reinert and Gene Hoglan. Chuck turned out to
be very nice and we very quickly became close friends. We went to
bars together and had a lot of fun. I believed for a long time that
Chuck would recover, because it was so hard to think of the worst
case scenario. Chuck was a strong personality and faced his fate
unbelievably bravely. The fact that he died had a large impact on
me. It really hit close to home. Musically there absolutely was
a certain chemistry between Chuck and me. When we were writing for
the new Control Denied CD, we wrote a new song almost every evening.
The material that we wrote, evolved from the first album; good melodic
music, with technical parts reminiscent of Death. I really hope
the album will be released, because that is what Chuck certainly
would have wanted. During this Iced Earth tour it's sometimes pretty
difficult. We play almost the same venues where we played with Death
a few years ago. So every time I walk inside a venue it all comes
back to me. I remember what happened that day and the good times
we had. My period with Chuck was the most beautiful time in my life.
I will never forget him".
Richard is currently touring in Europe with Iced Earth. His band
Burning Inside still exists as well and just released the album
Out of frustration about the lack of correct information about Death
on the internet, at the beginning of 1999, Kees and Yvonne Kluitman
started the EmptyWords site. Because of its informative character
and the cooperation of Chuck's management, the site quickly developed
into the most consulted source of information about Death and Control
Denied. It was a process that, sadly enough, was considerably hastened
by the message about Chuck's illness. Kees and Yvonne opened a European
bank account to raise money for the unfortunate musician and they
started functioning more and more as the 'portal' for the news from
the family and the management. The message of Chuck's passing also
reached the metal world through the opening page of www.emptywords.org
on December 15, 2001.
Kees: "Very unreal news, which we carried around for a day
and a half. There were signs that things were getting worse. We
had not heard from Chuck's mom in a few weeks, contrary of the regular
contact in the months prior. We immediately opened a book of condolences
on the site, and the amount of messages that came in was overwhelming.
Meanwhile there are around 14,000 entries and that number is still
growing. Messages from fans from all parts of the world and even
famous bands like Slipknot, Opeth and Cradle Of Filth. Chuck's family
takes a lot of comfort from these condolence books, which we are
working on making visible on the site. At the beginning of January
we went to Orlando for Chuck's memorial service, which was very
impressive. Besides Chuck's family a lot of (ex)-band members were
there, and also people like Jim Morris and Chuck Billy. There was
a lot of walking down memory lane and the family made a special
film that gave a beautiful impression of Chuck's life. In that week
we also visited a few special places, such as Chuck's studio and
the garage were the band has practiced for years. Unfortunately
we never met Chuck before his passing. Very sad, because he appreciated
what we did and told us he was looking forward to meeting us both.
It just didn't happen. In spite of it we oddly enough have the feeling
as if we already knew him for years. We will certainly continue
with Empty Words and try to keep everybody posted with the last
news, i.e. about the new Control Denied CD that still has to be
released. Next we already have a lot of new interviews and stories
that need to be translated. Especially Yvonne has been very busy
the past weeks with answering emails and bringing people in contact
with each other. But the most important thing is that we want to
keep the memory of Chuck alive through Empty Words".
As the vocalist/bassplayer of Gorefest he toured the States in 1993
with Death, and also did several European tours with Schuldiner.
"When we heard that Chuck had died, our old guitarist Frank
and I drank a beer to honor him. The first time I saw Death was
at "Het Beest" in Goes, during the 'Leprosy' tour. That
night I even traded t-shirts with Chuck. When I gave his white skull
shirt back, years later, he still remembered our trade. He always
cared very much for other people. When we did the 'Full Of Hate'
tour in the spring of 1993, we saw Chuck watching our drummer Ed
Wardby every night. Because Chuck was always in need for new musicians,
we feared the worst. Eventually it turned out that he was going
to invite us for their American tour. Everybody had warned us that
Chuck was a very difficult human being, who regularly cancelled
gigs. But we shared the bus on that tour and we had no problems.
Maybe it was because we never asked for that much. We sometimes
had to put our drumkit in front of Death's, but apart from usual
small things like that, Chuck didn't seem to fear the competition
of his support bands. Death was different from other bands anyway.
They had a relatively limited show and Chuck usually didn't speak
between songs that much. He clearly was in this business for one
reason only: the music. And that music was very special. I found
'Scream Bloody Gore' and 'Leprosy' very good and I was also very
impressed with 'Human'. Actually Death played a kind of 'guitar-hero-death-metal'.
We did two more European tours together, but after that the contact
quickly disintegrated. I saw Chuck for the last time at D.O.A. 1998.
It struck me that he already announced to his new band members that
'the guys from Gorefest' might drop by. Which to me was once more
a proof of his caring for other people."
After Gorefest split up, in October 1998, Jan-Chris went 'low-profile'
for a while. Meanwhile his new band Cold Pop Culture is on the rails,
also featuring former Orphanage drummer Erwin Polderman. But, warns
Jan-Chris, "it has nothing to do with metal at all. I sing
with my normal voice and when performing live I only play bass on
a few songs. It surely has a dark edge, but other than that it's
cold, electronic pop."
As guitarist and later vocalist of Pestilence, Patrick Mameli toured
Europe twice and America once with Death.
"A hate-love affair? Yes, you could definitely put it that
way. In the beginning Death certainly was of major influence to
us. I found their rawness and pureness really brilliant. I still
remember very well how we listened to those old demos. Songs like
'Baptized In Blood', where the drums were totally besides the guitars,
but which still sounded super cool. And also the roughness in his
voice on 'Scream Bloody Gore' was never equalled by anyone. In the
days of our second album, 'Leprosy' absolutely was a frame of reference
for us. Although I at that point already realized that there is
no point in gratuitously imitating other bands.
Our tours with Death were very disappointing to me. We got the typical
support act treatment, which I took very personally back then. In
those touring days there have been occasions where I was very angry
with Chuck. I've almost punched him in the face once. Even though
we split with a fall out in Belgium, at the end of our last joint
tour, the news about his death did really strike me. Despite all
I had always been very impressed with their professionality and
passion. Chuck was not a showman, yet Death always had a great live
sound and never made many mistakes. They made sure, like most American
bands, that at least their part of the concert was a 100% perfect.
On the later CDs one noticed that Chuck started to feel more and
more musically restricted. Obviously this eventually led to the
formation of Control Denied. Chuck never got carried away by trends
to play faster and louder. On the contrary, through the contacts
with those Cynic guys, he started to think more and more melodically.
He always tried to be distinct from other bands, which I admire
very much. Next to that I always have been very jealous of all the
musicians he managed to gather around him."
Eight years after Pestilence, Patrick new musical project 'Spheres'
is slowly starting to get some shape. For the lack of a suiting
drummer, the guitarist still works out his music at home on his
computer. Although Mameli's definition 'a one guitar situation with
heavy parts, but still in a groove' sounds very mysterious for the
time being, Patrick reveals that the music will have little to do
with Pestilence. Something that is being confirmed by Mameli's announcement
that he's still searching for a 'gangsta-grunge' rapper and top
drummer who has feeling with 'metal/fusion/gangsta'.
The Swedish guitarist Mike Amott did three different tours with
Death in his Carcass days.
"In 1990 we toured America for two months with Death. I got
to know the members pretty well back then. I still remember very
well that I even rode on their bus for a change for a couple of
days. Just to have fun, drink a beer, talk about music, chat and
smoke pot. Back then I thought it was very cool to tour with Death,
because they were a bit older, but mainly because it was such an
incredible band. Since the mid 90's I unfortunately lost touch with
Chuck. The message of his death made me very sad nonetheless. I
think that everybody who loves extreme metal felt the same. That
night, after years, I took the videos of that tour out of the closet.
Although the images brought back many good memories, they made me
above all very sentimental. I all of a sudden remembered the day
on which I heard that Carcass drummer Ken Owen had a stroke. Things
like that happen to a lot of people every day of course, but it
seems to have a lot more impact when you know somebody a little
better. You all of a sudden realize how vulnerable life is. That
you can end up in a wheelchair as a 28 year old just like that.
And that you have to cherish every day that you live. Don't let
negative forces guide you, be creative."
With thanks to Kees & Yvonne Kluitman