Magazine: Ill Literature / USA
Article: DEATH

Written by: Thomas Garcia
Published: #10 1995


Chuck Schuldiner, for all intents and purposes, is a veritable metallic icon of sorts - a sole pioneer of gargle-throated vocals and rapid-fire musical brutality collectively hailed as death metal. Take your pick of any genre currently in fad, but certainly give Schuldiner and ex-Death members Rick Rozz and Kam Lee (nucleus of Massacre, another stalwart pioneering death metal band based in central Florida... but that is another long-winded story) their devilish due for single-handedly blueprinting death metal to its current acceptable status. In all modesty, Schuldiner politely brushes the "pioneering" accolades so commonly associated with Death aside.

"I just keep the tradition going, that's all," he politely shrugs. "Bands like Slayer, Hellhammer, Angelwitch, Venom, Mercyfull Fate, those were the true pioneers of this genre, not to mention all those other killer metal bands of the early '80's like Metallica and Diamond Head. It's really depressing to think that most of these bands no longer exist. Who's going to provide up and coming metal bands with musical influence?" he rhetorically asks. "Who's going to carry the torch?" Almost instantaneously another influential band of Schuldiner comes to mind.

"Manowar is God! I can't wait for the new lp to come out and kick some ass! I still faithfully listen to all that stuff, very frequently I might add. I'm looking at a huge stack of records right now, old Fate, Savatage, Nasty Savage. It's sad when bands decide to call it quits or, as the current trend, cave in to eventual corporate nonsense. It's as if they consciously disappoint their fans. Death wants to re-open the idea of unlimited musical potential within a seemingly limited musical genre. That's what the 70's and, to some degree, the early 80's were all about. There were so many categories derived from particular musical styles, labels and overall image but everything seemed to gel very nicely."

Contrary to popular belief, Death is a Florida-based metal band; more so than ever with the recent addition of resident musicians Bob Koelble (ex-Azrael) and Kelly Conlon on lead guitar and bass respectively. Granted, drummer Gene Hoglan still resides in sunny California, Chuck is nonetheless excited when referring to Death as a true Orlando-based band.

"Bobby lives just a few streets away," he says, pleasurably admonishing the musical sobriety Death's newly amassed lineup currently receives. "Making Death, at least three fourths of it anyway, a local band has something I wish it could've happened a long time ago. It's really cool to have musicians in your band living in your hometown. It's as if Death suddenly creates this strange vibe of togetherness, especially when Gene's in town because all of us hang out together and do "band" things, so to speak."

"I initally met Bobby years ago when I was in high school, he was friends with some people I knew, Bobby was a killer guitar player back then, and he's even better now! When we were recording Individual Thought Patterns (1993) I tried to contact Bobby several times but was unsuccessful. John and Brain from (the local band) Pain Principle eventually hooked us together. Those guys are more or less Death's connection to the local musicians," he laughs, adding that Schuldiner's newfound musicians referral service was also responsible for recruiting Conlon."Kelly totally rages. Bobby's a killer shredder! Gene and I are so psyched to have two wonderfully talented musicians in Death.We're all positive individuals with a common goal and, more important, for the first time the members of Death are on the same musical wavelength. We admire the same killer metal bands, yet we're musically influenced by different musical styles.Bobby is really into the jazz/fusion type of music. I love early 80's metal, but above all we're friends united in the common cause-metal music. It's hard to keep an allegiance to metal music these days because there's so many outside pressures prone to influencing you and your music."

The unsaturated humility and effervescent pride bristling from Chuck is quite refreshing indeed. Those familiar with Death's ongoing battles with various industry moguls, label executives, so-called "managers", booking agents, promoters, etc., can fully appreciate Schuldiner's adamant and repeated adherence to heavy metal music. He's to be admired and, quite frankly, commended for his steadfast consistency in what he believes in. The point is best illustrated by The Metal Crusade, perhaps a well-deserved and properly timed fan club created especially for the band's worldwide admirers, a personally symbolic pinnacle representing that dreaded "o" word, namely, "organization", a mute anomaly definitely lacking in Death's repertoire these past seven or eight years, though not any particular fault of Schuldiner.

"Dude, it's really cool to have some real organization, finally! The fan club is really kicking some serious ass for us. We're getting tons of killer letters from fans wondering what the heck happened to us. We do read our mail, contrary to popular belief," he mechanically illustrates. "And we write back when we can. The overall response from the fans is positive. It's really gratifying to hear first hand what people really think about Death. Most of the letters received are from Europe, Poland especially," he continues. "Apparently people in Poland and Eastern Europe are so starved for metal music, it's greatly appreciated over there. It really surprises people when I personally answer their letters. It's important for us to keep in touch with the fans, y'know, to find out what they're listening to and their overall attitudes toward current trends of music. It gives us encouragement when fully encompassing other people's concerns about Death."

What most surprised Schuldiner is the fans' general concern for his personal wellbeing and overall health, both mental and physical and the admiration for Death's in-built passion for staying decidedly brutal for each successive release since the monumental Scream Bloody Gore reared its ugly head over eight years ago.

"People have always respected the overall honesty conveyed in in our music and lyrics, which is totally cool because it just re-enforces our commitment to stay focused on what we need to do. There's been so many trends in music, especially in heavy metal," he says rather glumly. "Recently everybody's tentative about embracing a new style of music and, naturally, they're wondering exactly what Death will do next. Individual... had a major impact on us from an exposure point of view, it really took people by surprise."

Perhaps contributing to Death's seemingly endless rise in popularity among mainstream metal heads worldwide was the eclectic video for "The Philosopher," which constantly aired on MTV's Headbanger's Ball. The video captured the group's lyrical essence. Unfortunately the video also received some external negative feedback, courtesy of the very popular Beavis and Butt-head, who mercileslly ripped into Death in the animated duo's usual abrasive manner.

"Yeah, totally! It was a total drag at first," admits Schuldiner. "Believe it or not, that actually helped us! They ragged on us pretty bad but hey, they're only cartoon characters. At first it didn't really bother me at all. What really bothered me is that they didn't dig the video. I mean, for all the crazy stuff they do and dig, you'd think a group named Death would be favorable. Sure, they ended up raggin on us but so what. Who cares? The person who writes that show obviously doesn't listen to metal that regularly, though I found out later that they requested the video from Relativity (Death's previous label, but more on that later) so obviously I can't blame them. People come up to me and say, 'hey, I just saw you on Beavis and Butt-head... it was so cool!' so, in a way, it just exposed more metal fans to Death's music.

Speaking of exposure to a new audience, Schuldiner excitedly mentions that Death's new release, entitled Symbolic, will undoubtedly brutalize once again the uncensored pomposity currently filtered among hordes of anxiously awaiting death metal fanatics.

"I'm very pleased about the whole thing," says Schuldiner rather excitedly. "I've never been this excited about a Death record. We've put a tremendous amount of effort and labor into this one, believe me. Now that I'm able to finally sit back and 'objectively' assess the whole LP, it's definitely a positive product resulting from the numerous changes we went through this past year."

One of the many changes incurred by Death was the band's choice of producer. Scott Burns, who more or less single handedly produced the group's previous four efforts was unavailable, which prompted Death to recruit Morrisound owner Jim Morris as the harbinger of Death's unique brand of blasting brutality.

"Things didn't work out schedule-wise with Scott, so my first choice was Jim. He's worked with different artists over the years - not necessarily death metal bands, either... in order to create a recording difference we needed to match our initial ideas with a producer familiar with the concept of diversity. Jim really crushed on this lp, he really opened things up for Death. We went in with plenty of ideas and Jim more or less brought everything to life, but, most importantly, he brought our conception of what we wanted to a level of personal satisfaction. He's definitely a major-league producer, that's for sure. I'd love to work with him again on the next record. Plenty of heavy metal bands are initially tentative about recording at Morrisound for fear of catching that infamous 'death metal band syndrome'," Schuldiner continues. "If you know what you want and, basically, are aware of your band's overall identity, then it's easy to avoid the aforementioned cliche usually associated with contemporary death metal bands. There's a lot you can do at Morrisound, but as I said, we went in with our instruments sounding exactly the way we wanted, that's why this record, though different in some production aspects, still sounds like Death but in a way exhibits that bit of musical diversity I mentioned earlier."

"I'm sincerely trying to break down barriers commonly associated with this style of music. I'm tired of lables an tags... so called limits and other bothersome cliches used to describe Death's music," he adamantly insists. "I still want Death to be remembered as a metal band first and foremost, though it's still up to critics and journalists to further classify us as so. I think there's many classificantions and categories that go hand in hand with a specifically targeted genre of music. I'd like to avoid that if at all possible, but, as you know, it's extremely difficult."

Difficult, in a sense, that Symbolic methodically annihilates the aforementioned label "barriers" Schuldiner would very much like to crush. Death's destructive approach to senselessly brutalizing intensity brings back haunting memories of Leprosy (1988), yet the technical precision on display mirrors the group's more recent releases Human and, of course, Individual Thought Patterns. By filtering Death's incessant rapid evolution of salient musical adeptness it's only fair to mention that Symbolic exhibits an explosive repertoire of instrumentation on every track. For example, the eight minute "Perennial Quest" features Schuldiner picking acoustic guitar - a landmark achievement in Death's music.

"I always wanted to put some acoustic guitar in Death's music," admits Chuck. "Acoustic guitar almost signifies a different mood. Our main concern was to keep everything real - not to overgloss the natural sounds of our instruments with overused, and quite frankly, overdone electronic compression filters. The material and lyrics are straight from the heart, so, in essence, the production must mirror that exact feeling."

What's most impressive is Schuldiner's concious decision to slightly "alter" his already brutalizing vocal style. His trademark devilish growls still exist, but take a much different form in higher-pitched screech with a tad more audible sensitivity.

"Hopefully it's not too drastic a change, I just wanted to experiment by expanding musically, that's all. There's not too many things we can alter and still retain that essence which is expected of us", he says, citing contemporary death metallers Cannibal Corpse's recent vocal style alterations on 1994's The Bleeding.

"(Corpse vocalist) Chris (Barnes) is moving around quite a bit on that last record which, to me, was totally surprising but also very cool. It's important to evaluate Death's vocal style from time to time. The vocals are probably the most limiting aspect of our music, that's why moving around from pitch to pitch was a conscious decision to make things a little more dramatic. Plus, as always, I'm trying to get the lyrics across more clearly - that in itself, is a never-ending goal."

Another "change" in Death's overall stress-free environment is the long-awaited severed ties with Relativity - a blessing if not timely relief, which in spite of continuous financial aspects notwithstanding, pleases Schuldiner to no end."Dude, you have no idea how happy I am to no longer have Death enslaved to Relativity. Roadrunner is treating us right - that, in itself is a huge worry off my mind. I initially thought this record would belong to Relativity - a horrifying thought which made me depressed and, quite frankly, very angry. The thought of wasting this record on a lable that has no interest whatsoever - not to mention no metal promotions department - really worried me to no end. They couldn't even promote Death when they had a metal department! Our deal with Roadrunner is a basic cross-over/option deal. They more or less purchased our option record, which is this one from Relativity so, in a sense, we belong to Roadrunner. I couldn't be happier because both the band and lable have a good understanding. We're hoping that a solid, fulfilling relationship continues."

Perhaps the case of transition is further assisted by Roadrunner's familiarity with Death, the European-based label has helped promote the band in Europe these past few years. However, the obvious question arises concerning Death's tendency to lean towards another independent lable rather than a major.

"Of course it's a valid concern, but at the same time I continually hear horror stories from bands hopelessly exploited by the corporate powers of major labels. Sometimes it pays for an underground band to be signed to an independent label that's "masssive" in a sense. A label can have zillions of dollars and still be unwilling to filter that money toward your career for reasons completely unknown or absurd. Being on a major label infamiliar with marketing metal music is very dangerous. I feel confident in the move we made, besides we've worked with Roadrunner before when we toured Europe and they've totally kicked ass. What's really killer about the whole scenario is the complete resurgence of Death's positive outlook," he says confidently. "All our problems seem so distant, but that's not to say there's plenty of space available for future obstacles to surface. Believe me, it never, ever ends. Put it this way - there's never a dull moment with Death," he laughs.

Fan support, says Schuldiner, has been Death's saving grace these past eight years, and has kept the group's life blood flowing consistently throughout. Death's most recent local "exposure", was the highly successful Death for Life Benefit held last December. A rather "unofficial" record release party for the hometown fans, the benefit, sponsored by Death, as well as various merchants, raised over $3000 for local chariots B.E.T.A. and The National Multiple Sclerosis Society, and allowed area fans to hear the new record before anyone else.

"We've always wanted to do something like that, and believe me, before it's said and done, we're going to do a lot more," Schuldiner says. "It was the first ever record release party Death's sponsored for the hometown fans, it was interesting to unite various people for a common cause - a good cause, nonetheless. We spent considerable time and effort promoting the event and it turned out very well. It's our way of saying, "Yes, we do really care about what's going on in our community". My mom works for B.E.T.A. (Birth, Education, Training and Acceptance) and I know first hand that the organization really needs help - as do many local chapters of nationally sponsored charities. If we can make a difference financially or otherwise - even if it's just creating a mutual awareness, then all the hard work is well worth the effort. I guess it gives a sense of purpose to people like us - y'know, long-haired youths who play in heavy metal bands and like listening to music. We do have value in society. We'd love to sponsor more benefits for other charities as well, it's fun and it gets people talking."

Perhaps the most anticipated event, at least in the underground, is the possibility of a Death/Massacre tour.

"It's been suggested many times and quite frankly, it's certainly not out of the question," says Schuldiner rather evasively. "Who knows? Anything is possible these days. I really dig the new Massacre. I haven't heard the finished album yet, just the demos Rick (Rozz) played for me when we were at the Dio concert and it sounded killer. I remember when we first started back in 1983. It was just Rick, Kam and myself - we didn't even have a bass player back then. That's when we recorded Mantas' Death by Metal demo in my mother's garage on that old Panasonic radio (which by the way is still in the possesion of Rick Rozz who still uses it to record Massacre practices, but that's another story). Those were some good old days - actually I think about those times quite often. Though we've certainly come a long way since those early days, it seems like things were a lot simpler back then."

Thomas Garcia


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EmptyWords-Published on October 29 2001