Webzine: Altars of Metal / Greece
Article: Interview Chuck

Written by: Dimitris "SLATAN" Petrakis, Melissa & Manolis Zafirakis
Published: summer 1998



What can you say? What can you POSSIBLY say about such a great band like Death, who has written history in death metal? Whatever you say, it will be just a bunch of poor words. After I grabbed "The Sound Of Perseverance" from the other editors' hungry hands (who are still cursing me for that), trying to review it, I was informed that we would have a chance to talk only for 30 poor minutes on the phone, with the architect of death metal, Chuck Schuldiner. Panic followed and everyone wanted to make questions. Finaly, Melissa, Manos and I, wrote about 35 questions... But how many questions can someone ask in only 30 mintes? Well, we broke every world record and asked about 30 of them! But let's see what Chuck, the "Spirit Healer" himself answered to these questions...

Let's start with your new album, "The Sound Of Perseverance". There are many differences in comparison with your previous albums and, the most noticeable, I would say, are the vocals. Did you change them on purpose or, are we maybe witnessing the natural change of your vocal abilities with the flight of time?
Basically, very natural, my vocals seem to change from each record not necessarily even on purpose but that's just the way I get. My throat is changing and evolving. You know, Symbolic, when that album came out they were a little bit different and I think at first, people tend to notice that. Especially at first. And after a while I think people got used to that and on this album people, they think, they're like, "you know I see no vocal change" but, I think after a while you get used to it and it becomes normal, but, basically, it's very natural, you know, not really on purpose.

Another noticeable difference is in the guitar riffs, which have some progressive elements. Is it maybe an experimentation?
Ah, basically it's an extension of where Individual Thought Patterns was. Yeah, that album is a very progressive album as well, where I was using a lot of different harmonies and stuff. And I think this one has that progressive vibe, that Individual Thought Patterns had, especially if you compare Individual Thought Patterns to Symbolic, uh, Symbolic was definitely a little tamer as far as not as progressive, but I think The Sound of Perseverance has like that combination of Individual Thought Patterns, and Symbolic contents, those two elements...you know, from each album.


Would you tell us a few words about the lyrical concept of your new album, since the promo does not include any lyrics?
Yeah, unfortunately the lyrics aren't in the promos, but, uh, basically, over all, the lyrics on the record reflect reality, you know, life very similiar to Symbolic, lyrically, and Individual Thought Patterns, you know, reality, good, bad, challenging, to be strong and to overcome obstacles, like that. That's basically what the cover is and that amounts as to people climbing up, reaching for better things in life, and going for your dream. I'm a dreamer. You know, for me, music is a dream, and keep reaching for bigger things. That's what my goal is.

As it was expected, like with EVERY Death album, the lineup is different, again! Why doesn't it ever remain the same? Are you maybe doing this just to make every album different in it's technique from the other ones?
No, no... not at all. Well, basically, there's a three-year break for Death. I can't keep the same line-up when I'm doing something different and there's three years. People can't wait for me, you know. I wouldn't expect them to. So, I mean, people need to look at the logical reasons why this isn't the same line-up as Symbolic. Gene Hoglan is in three different bands, you know, working with different people. Everyone from that line up is doing something else. I don't know what other people are doing. There's always reasons. Just like Ozzy Osbourne has his reasons, whatever they are, or DIO or Richie Blackmore, you know, certain people in the music industry, they have line-up changes. I'm one of several. Unfortunately, I think people really focus on me and my changes, more than other musicians out there that also share different line-ups. But, in a way, things happen for a reason, and I have found the new line-up. I'm very, very, very happy with the new line-up as well as everyone in the band feels very excited about what's going on. I've been performing with these guys for over two years now, so, this is a band that has actually been together for quite some time. I think that people have realized that they think I'm just like "put it together real quick", but, these are people that I've hung out with, that I'm friends with, that I have a very great relationship with.

If I'm not wrong, they are the members that played with you in Control Denied, right?
Exactly. So it's really, you know, being together has really paid off. That's why, I wanted them to be part of Death as well, because their talent and being with these guys and being able to, you know, all of us feel comfortable, and as far as working together, as in the new record, it's a very tight album.

And, the new drummer, Richard Christy, he was in Control Denied too, wasn't he?
No. Actually, he wasn't, but he will be. Definitely, I wouldn't wanna definitely even attempt to replace Richard. He's incredible.

I believe that he's as good as Gene Hoglan. Do you believe so too?
They're both incredible. I got real lucky and found someone who's not only a great drummer, also Richard's also an extremely great person and that's very important as well. For me, it's very exciting to have, like I said, this whole entire line-up is just... I think that the talent that everyone has in this band has shocked people, because they didn't know what to expect, because basically, they thought, you know, "Oh, who's playing on this record, we never heard of these guys, how could they be up there...", but they are up there, you know, absolutely like you said, Richard is very much up there with the greatest, I believe.


In "The Sound Of Perseverance" you show your respect for Judas Priest by playing a cover of "Painkiller". It is an original idea for Death to play a cover, since it's your first one! Whose idea was it? Was it yours, or was it maybe Nuclear Blast who gave you the idea?
Actually it was mine. They had no idea we recorded that. Actually, I kept the cover very secret, because we kind of did it for fun, - you know- just to do it. I like Painkiller a lot, the album, I think Painkiller was an album that's one of the greatest albums of 1990's and I thought the song was very similar to our attitude, you know, progressive, melodic - really heavy. That's basically how I feel Death is. What Death is a part of musically - so I fell like its a very compatible song that we could have fun with . Like I said, we did it basically for fun. To do it without really thinking we were gonna release it. I kind of thought, well, we'll record it and if it turns out good, maybe we'll actually release it in Japan only, because in Japan, they like to have an extra track. So when we were done, it turned out really great, we're pretty happy with how it turned out. The label heard it, which like I said, they were unaware of at the time that we did it, and when we played it for them, they really, really like it a lot, and said: "Hey we've got to put this on that record".


So, I was like "if people like it, then we'll put it on there", because I didn't know, really, we're happy with it, but I wasn't sure how other people were gonna react, and I think it freaked a lot of people out, also me singing, doing a different vocal style from what people are used to, but, ironically, that's my favourite type of vocal style, you know, on "Painiller." It was cool. And so far everyone really enjoyed it. That made us happy.

And what about Control Denied? Will you continue with them or did you abandon them?
Yeah, absolutely. That album is written, its fully ready to go. It hasn't been recorded yet, but basically that album, uh, musically people can expect it to be very along the lines of like the new Death album. You know, musically, vocally, there will be more the Painkiller, not me singing, but that's a good example of the style, very heavy, intense, melodic, those are the vocals that will be part of Control Denied. I have a singer in America that is going to be singing on Control Denied and Control Denied is very much a band. It's not going to be like a level solo project, it's going to be very equally as important, even more so, than what Death has done, because it will have the ability to go further in what I feel needs to be done musically and that kind of can't be done with DEATH. The vocal style will take it further a lot.

Don't misunderstand what I will say, but, I always was saying with my friends that, to compose such music as yours, someone must be either a genius, or a psycho! Do you think that you are one of these two?
Oh, Well, I'd rather take the first one, but I don't think it takes a genius to, the thing what it takes is a person that believes in what they're doing, you know, it doesn't take a genius or someone that's disturbed. For me, you've got to believe in what you do, whatever it is in life. For me, I believe in doing what we do, and not paying attention to the trends, you know, what's going on around this band, I don't care about. My main thing is to stay true to what we're doing and to put a lot of emotion into this music, and I think that's a combination of being sincere and keeping things real, you know, I think thats a real important part of this music. Definitely.

You will play live in our country, September 26th! How do you feel about playing in Greece, for first time?
We're thrilled, we are so excited. The whole band is. We've never played there, we've heard such great things about the fans of Greece, so, we're ready. We're very much looking forward to it.

So, you believe that we are a very alive audience, don't you?
I believe it, and I can't wait to come out there and play. It's going to be very exciting.

So it's all set for the 26th of September, right?


How does the idea of making a live video sound to you? Is there any possibility for that?
Actually I started talking about it yesterday with someone. We'd definitely would like to make a live video, rather than make up a one song video for the record. I rather do a live video for a whole show that people could take home and have forever, cause a lot of people may not get a chance to see the band, so, I think a live show would be a good way for people to see a different set of songs at home. Yeah, we definitely are gonna hopefully plan on one for this record.

Can we also expect maybe some video clips of the new album?
Well, that's what we were talking about at first, it doesn't make sense to spend so much money on one video that might be shown once or twice, on like three o'clock in the morning or something, because videos, heavy metal videos don't have a big support from TV stations, so, I think I'd rather spend the money to record an entire concert and have that, so that people can take that home and enjoy it even more. So, thats probably what we're going to end up doing, instead of doing one video.


You seem like you want to change everything! Even the band's logo changed, a bit! Are you maybe trying to show the musical progress or maturity of the band?
Yeah, it's just a matter of just not wanting to be part of something that I... I started this whole band when I was sixteen years old, so, you'll gonna eventually progress, somewhere down the line. I'm 31 years old now, so, the music is growing rapidly from each record to each record now, and as well as I am, so, definitely, I want to kind of make sure things keep moving forward. That's part of the growing process.

Talking about the logo, in Spiritual Healing's logo, the letter "T" is an inverted cross on fire, but no more! Did this have any meaning? The inverted cross on fire?
No. Just really a logo. I'm not religious at all. I don't have any problems with religion, but at same time I'm not religious. That logo was created when we're all 16 years old, in 1983. So, after all, I realized I've got to change this because this is ridiculous, to even have it being something, representing a religion thing when I'm not religious, but at the same time, like I said, I have nothing against people having their right to believe things, I think people do have a right.

Why did you change so suddenly from Roadrunner to Nuclear Blast?
The contract was over, and I would never have wanted to go back to them. They had no idea how to handle a metal band at that point and basically Symbolic suffered from that. That album should have been a lot bigger, I thought. So, it was a time to move forward, and Nuclear Blast is in a position right now to where that they are getting to be a very big label with a lot of power to promote and the knowledge, not just the power, but the knowledge to promote. So that's one thing that I was very excited about, seeing this record promoted and moving things forward to a more positive direction.

"T.S.O.P."'s cover shows a mountain, which looks like death itself and, people are climbing on it to reach it's top...

Could that be a CRYSTAL MOUNTAIN WHERE EVIL TAKES IT'S FORM, or, could it have a deeper meaning?
This is kinda of a positive mountain. It may look a little scary, but it's just representing the quest, its more of a quest, I'll say, climbing up, reaching for something, maybe falling down a few times, but getting back up, like on this album cover, some people are at the bottom, some in the middle, some towards the top. So, therefore, it's kinda like a, the steps we all take in life, especially if you have a dream, you want to go for something. For me, my dream is music. People try to ruin that by talking bad about me and whatever, you know, whatever obstacle people put in my way, I will keep going, I will keep reaching for it, so, definitely the title and the cover are very important. They're kinda my outlook on life, on what I'm doing.


Do you believe that "T.S.O.P." is your best album til now, and why?
I think it's one of my favorites, absolutely. I think it has some of the best performances, its got some really, really different stuff on it, a lot of twist and turns. Like you said, trying to get back to that progressive Individual Thought Patterns vibe, that feeling that kind of moving around a lot. There's some guitar stuff, I feel very happy about on this record that I haven't done on any other albums, like instrumental, which has additional guitar, which is really cool, a lot of fun to do. I think just this album has a lot of different things going on... I think so far it really surprised a lot of people, especially compared to Symbolic, I think they didn't expect an album as musical or more musical than that one.

Back in the old time, you cooperated with NAPHOBIA, Nik Chevalier's band, by participating with a solo in a song of them, "As Ancients Evolve", from "Of Hell" album. What do you think of Nik and his band?
I'm not real familiar with them, to tell you the truth. I did that as a favour to a friend. He was playing bass for the band. So basically, I did it as a favour.

They also recorded the album's last song in your own studio, right?
Well, kind of. Gene Hoglan kinda helped out with that, did the drum track programming for it, so, I was just kinda like helping, like I said, the bass player of that band was a friend of mine. So, it was kind of an inside help.


Could you define the main similarities and differences between "Symbolic" and "T.S.O.P." and Compare "T.S.O.P." to Death's earlier LPs?
Compared to sound, well basically, as far as production, Jim Moriss did the new record, as well as Symbolic, so, the production feels really strong and, musically, its naturally similar in a lot of ways. Symbolic was a very melodic album, this one is melodic as well. But I think, its hopefully a good mixture that people are gonna enjoy...

Do you believe that Death's absence from the metal scene offered you a chance to study the new tensions and add new elements to Death's music? If so, what are these elements?
Well, I think just having more time to work on this album helped us immensely. We had more time to work with the material. We basically made two demo tapes of the whole album before we recorded the record, so we had a lot of chances to record and make different changes by the time we got to record it with Jim Morris. And Morris certainly had everything really prepared. This is definitely the best prepared I've ever been. So I think being prepared was a big part of it.

Can you compare your present way of thinking and acting, as well as Death's existence, to the ones back in the "Scream Bloody Gore" era?
Well, I'm fourteen years older. So, definitely, a lot different. You think a lot differently from when you're 16 to 31. We were 16 year old kids, you know, that's young. And I've learned a lot along the way and hopefully I've learned a lot of good things and been through a lot of bullshit, but at the same time, I feel good about what's happened musically, and for me, music is the main reason why I'm here. I'm here to play music and hopefully people will enjoy it. Thats all that really matters to me and so, I think, definitely there's been a lot of growing as a person and musically, which go hand-in-hand together.

Which one of Death's albums do you consider to be the most influential for the death metal scene?
I don't know. I could never even say. I couldn't comment on that. Honestly, I'm really not sure.


Ok...How would you characterize Death's sound nowadays? Do you believe that the term "death metal" still applies to the band?
I don't like categories like that personally. When I started the band, I started it wanting to start a heavy metal band, that's what I thought I was playing, because that's basically what I was playing. Somewhere down that line, it got put into a category and that label kind of stuck. But I was such a fan of different metal bands back in the early 80's when I was first playing guitar. And all of that inspired me in different ways, as a fan. Iron Maiden, Metallica, Slayer, Venom, Mercyful Fate, Raven... Just, I mean, so many different bands, showed for me that then, Metal was Metal. You're just in it for metal, and somewhere along the line, throughout the years, categories kind of got in the way of people being united. I think its kind of separated a lot of people from keeping it unified. I think categories are a little bit limiting, you know, so, I think that is a metal band and hopefully can appeal to a large audiences if they're open-minded. You know, that's an important thing, remaining open-minded.

You have been accused in the past for being very opinionated, almost a dictator. Do you consider Death to be a band or your project?
Does the word 'band' sound that evil? I hate not sounding like a band, there's a band you know...


Of course, I'm opinionated, everyone is. You're opinionated, you have a magazine, you'll review a record, that's an opinion. Everyone has the right to be opinionated. Just because I'm in a band, definitely, I still have the right to have opinions. People really have a really weird out-look on people in bands, because if I said I don't like a band than I'm a jerk. So it's really weird, because I'm a fan and I've been a fan for fourteen years of my life now as heavy metal music fifteen. So, for me having an opinion, I have every right to have one, just like anyone reading this interview has a right to not like that, or like another band or like us. Opinions are a given right. I've been misunderstood, because I'm in a band and a lot of people really honestly look at people in bands as being something different, but I'm a fan before anything. Before I'm in the band, I was a fan and I'm still a fan. So, therefore, when voicing my opinion if as a fan and not as, like, "Chuck, this guy that is in a band." And if people think I'm a dictator, then, you know what, I have a vision and naturally since I'm a main song writer, there's a certain way I see things and think that they should sound a certain way. Just like Richie Blackmore has a certain way he wants to hear things out, or Eddie Van Halen, or other people that are main song writers. There's nothing wrong with it. Unfortunately, people really spend a little too much time wondering if I'm a nice guy or some dictator. I considered myself being an extremely nice person, a caring person, who wants nothing but good things for people around me, and you know, that's how I live life - and unfortunately, people misunderstand certain comments or opinions, or the way the band is perceived as one person, but, how can you put on a new record or any record Symbolic or whatever it is and think that it is made by one person, but there's talent coming from everyone that you can't help but notice, if someone doesn't notice the drum work on this album or Symbolic, then I don't know what people are thinking cause that's the drummer. That's not me playing drums, the other lead work on the record or the bass work. I do write songs, but the thing is, its team work. Its people working together. And I think people need to really listen to the music. And I think they will really see it and hear it. At least I do, that's what I get from it.

When Death toured Europe with Kreator in 1992 (I got interrupted here, the rest of the "unspoken" question follows...), you left Death in the middle of the tour. This was an additional motive for your behaviour to be characterized as selfish. Could you explain the reasons why?
That's old news! I don't really care to talk about that, I don't know why you would want to talk about it. Honestly, I have no comment on that. Its old. I'm not offending you, but thats really so old, I don't see any reason to tell anyone, or talk about it.


Ok... Can you characterize today's death metal scene? What is your opinion about NWOSDM?
Well, I mean, I don't keep up on a specific type of music, you know, like I said before. Metal in general is getting really big, which makes me happy as a fan. I think it's great for metal to be getting popular in America now. I think it's a very good time for metal, but I think at the same time, the categories need to be broken down and people need to just appreciate metal for metal and not for a category. I like all types of metal, real heavy, real melodic, it can all be enjoyable.

Do you consider Death's lyrics to be as important as the music is?
I think so. For me, just because they're about reality in real life, for me the lyrics are as real, as important as the music. Both definitely are connected, as being important. Definitely.

How did the fans react to Death's return?
It's been really killer. People have been very, very warm, welcoming back this music and I'm very grateful to have really great people who have been there supporting the music and its been really great feeling for the whole band as well. Its very exciting.

What are your recollections from your participation in Dynamo?
Oh, It's incredible. We had a great time. I saw a lot of people I haven't seen in a long time for a few years, the show is great, the people, the audience was, jut really great, really incredible... I would love to do it again.


What you think is your own contribution to metal?
Well, I don't know what my contribution is to it. I mean, that's up to other people to decide. I hope my contribution is keeping the spirit of metal alive, you know, not worrying about trends, or being a part of a trend, cause, I think trends tend to hurt metal, real metal, and for me, especially in America. I am the victim of the power of trends. I don't want to be a part of a trend, that's not what I'm about... I've never been a part of that as a fan or as a guy that plays guitar. I want to keep moving forward and just keep things real. That's basically my responsibility.

Could you maybe tell me if you have heard any Greek bands? If so, which ones?
I haven't heard many. I would like to though. When we're in Greece, I plan on definitely looking to get some metal from Greece and looking forward to it. Definitely.

Have you maybe heard Rotting Christ?
No, I haven't. I don't think I've heard any.

Can you maybe express your opinion about some bands? ........ Like, Obituary?
They're a good band, They've been around for a long time, and they stuck to what they believed in, which I think is a very good thing, you know, absolutely.

Cannibal Corpse
Another good band. They've done what they believed in. Not following the trends, which is very important.

Same thing. They're another good band, and they're doing their thing, and they're very heavy, and they've remained heavy, and they're not backing-out, which is I think important.

Dimmu Borgir
Uh, I haven't heard much of them. Honestly, I listen to more melodic stuff, I don't listen to a lot of intense, current death metal (this said deaf mellow, haha -matt) or whatever, it's just too much out there to try to keep up with. I've heard a little bit of them, they sound pretty good from what've heard. Definitely.

Gotta go in a minute, they're telling me, like, I'm way behind schedule here.

Ok! Can you close this interview with a message to your greek fans?
Oh, that we've heard many great things and, you know about the metal fans of Greece, we're looking forward to coming there, and putting on a really having a great time with the metal people of Greece, and we appreciate the support.

Then, see you in Athens!
Definitely! Thanx a lot!


to talks

EmptyWords-Published on November 22 2003