Magazine: LotFP
Article: Chuck Schuldiner

Lametations of the Flame Princess

Written by: Jim Raggi
Published: December 2001



Chuck Schuldiner, of DEATH and CONTROL DENIED, passed away on December 13, 2001 at the age of 34, after a struggle with cancer that lasted about two and a half years. The announcement was made two days later online, and word spread fast throughout the metal community. set up a book of condolences where one can express their feelings. One week after his death, only five days after the announcement, over 10,000 notes had been received there.


The death came as a surprise to everyone. Over the past two months, the Empty Words site had issued a couple of updates. From October 19: "I want to thank everybody for your much appreciated words of support from all over the world, it has been immensely welcomed. I also want you to know that I'm finally making good progress on the road to recovery. I was able to begin the new treatment of chemo that has really made the difference, and for that I thank Chuck Billy and his wife for their great generosity in sharing the benefits from the concert and the fans and friends who were there to make it all possible. I am looking forward to seeing you in the not too distant future. And remember, support music, not rumors! Chuck" And then November 12: "Dear fans and friends, I want to tell you that Chuck has been very ill for three weeks in the hospital with pneumonia, but is now on the road to recovery and will hopefully be home soon. While it was unexpected, when a person is undergoing chemotherapy, a low immune system keeps that person vulnerable to other illnesses. That is why I have not answered Chuck's email for some time, I am there with him. I will keep Yvonne posted with how he is doing. Sincerely, Jane Schuldiner (Chuck's mom).

Details on the exact circumstances of his death are not swift in coming, and that’s no surprise. News over the past two years has not been widespread, with only a few people knowing what was really going on with the website updates really being the only source for people on the outside. Again, no surprise, as metalheads are not the most sensitive of people, and Chuck’s always had this issue with being talked about. Beginning with the liner notes of Human, "Also, thanks to the people who support my music and not the rumors. This is much more than a record to me. It is a statement, it is revenge." "Support music not rumors" in Individual Thought Patterns, giving it a rest in Symbolic’s liner notes, again with the "Support music not rumors" in the Sound of Perseverance notes. Lyrics to songs like To Forgive is to Suffer, The Philosopher, Jealousy, among many others, raised many eyebrows as to their inspiration and meaning. Chuck was also absolutely unable to keep a lineup together for more than an album at a time, nor kept a label from album to album once the Relativity deal was done. Having some of the most talented musicians that metal’s ever seen in his band, yet he’s written all of the music for the last five albums he’s done. The sloganeering, the spin put on interview answers before they were given. The denial that CONTROL DENIED songs were used for the last DEATH album. Chuck in the 11/98 Metal Maniacs: "I can assure people there’s no ‘borrowing’ going on. All material on [The Sound of Perseverance] was 100% written for DEATH." Matt Johnsen (who worked with CONTROL DENIED’s singer Tim Aymar on the PHAROAH songs) in Feast or Famine #3: "I know for an absolute fact that some of the songs on [The Sound of Perseverance] were originally intended for CONTROL DENIED." While any one of those things might just be a quirk, I’d think the combination of all of them do not paint a pretty picture. I don’t know enough (or anything, really) to make any assumptions of how or why, but there’s enough interesting things in the public domain to make one wonder. "Support music, not rumors" might have been a little easier if such things had been addressed plainly instead of hushed up cryptically (I myself heard none of these rumors until I’d already been a fan for half a decade) with insecurities shown in print all over the place. There’s more to Chuck Schuldiner, the human being, than we as music fans ever got to see. What the real story was is certainly not something I’m going to speculate on, but I do hope someday someone stops keeping it a secret. Until then though, I’ll be more than happy to just think of him as a private person who had a vision of music so strong that nothing was going to be allowed to stand in its way.

The cast of musicians that Chuck’s always surrounded himself with has been absolutely amazing. Who better to be on a debut album of sick, demented death metal than Chris Reifert of AUTOPSY (and later ABSCESS and RAVENOUS)? Follow that up by basically taking most of the lineup of MASSACRE (including Terry Butler who is having success as part of SIX FEET UNDER), then picking up James Murphy (TESTAMENT, DISINCARNATE, and many more... and going through his own cancer problems right now as well), and then the fucking ultimate: The Human lineup introducing CYNIC’s Paul Masvidal and Sean Reinert, and bassist Steve DiGiorgio (SADUS, TESTAMENT, ICED EARTH). Individual Thought Patterns brought KING DIAMOND’s Andy LaRocque and an absolute monster on drums, Gene Hoglan (DARK ANGEL, STRAPPING YOUNG LAD and other Devin Townsend projects). Symbolic had lesser known musicians Bobby Koelble (JUNKIE RUSH) and Kelly Conlon but damn if they Chuck wasn’t picking the absolute best of the local talent. The Sound of Perseverance had Shannon Hamm, Scott Clendenin, and another drummer of ultimate skill, Richard Christy (BURNING INSIDE, ICED EARTH, and also ACHERON... I want to fucking hear what he did with ACHERON, that must be interesting to say the least). You’re just not going to find a cast of characters with this level of skill and notoriety in anybody’s discography, but Chuck got them together at various times over the years, and pushed them into making albums that was always metal at the cutting edge.

And the music? Chuck Schuldiner is often credited with creating death metal, but here’s a direct quote in an interview I did in person with him in 1998 when asking about the origination of brutal vocals specifically: "I’m not the originator of shit! I’m just carrying the flag of metal as I know it forward. POSSESSED was before DEATH, album-wise. I love POSSESSED. SLAYER was before us. VENOM was before everything. I never like to take any sort of credit for that at all." Whether you count VENOM and SLAYER as ‘death metal’ is important in this bit of history, but MANTAS (pre-DEATH) formed sometime in 1983 as did POSSESSED. It gets tedious at that point trying to figure out who released what demo first and what style it specifically was, and all pretty pointless, because who started what isn’t important. It’s what Chuck did over next 15 years. When DEATH released its landmark album Human in 1991, POSSESSED was long gone, SLAYER was past its prime and VENOM far past its useful shelf life.

DEATH was one of the first metal bands I really got into. After my initial introduction into the world of NAPALM DEATH, CATHEDRAL, and CARCASS, my second wave of purchases included SEPULTURA, DEICIDE, and DEATH. Right there as I was discovering the underground. I’ve been listening to the band for over eight years now. I was lucky enough to see them twice. For the Symbolic tour, I remember being there early, and Chuck came out and greeted all of the fans who were there, asked us what we thought of the new album, asked us what else we were listening to. I’ve never even heard of anyone else doing that, and it still is one of the better experiences I’ve ever had meeting a musician. I saw them on the final date of The Sound of Perseverance tour as well, although I’m sad to say I missed half their set because I was interviewing HAMMERFALL in the dressing room. My first time backstage at the club I’d been seeing metal shows at for five years. Interviewed Chuck back there after his set was done, as well. (It’s on the LotFP website, not my greatest interview, but got some good questions in.)

It’s time to talk about the albums. The reason why we care about this man in the first place. Eight albums in 12 years, showing an incredible growth along the way. Let’s go:

Scream Bloody Gore 1987
I can’t sit here and tell you I’m in love with an album featuring song titles like Regurgitated Guts or Torn to Pieces, and I can’t pretend the lyrics to things like Zombie Ritual (‘Revengeful corpses out to kill/Smell the stench, your guts will spill/Vomit for a mind, maggots for a cock/With his axe the corpse will chop’) are anything but goofy. The point is, nobody was releasing anything like this before this time, and everybody was releasing it afterwards. It’s a step, a new injection into what metal was at the time, and developed into now. Whatever and whenever VENOM, SLAYER, and POSSESSED were, they weren’t like this. By today’s standards, it isn’t technical, at all, in any way. By today’s standards, it’s not the most brutal thing in the world. But how much of what is, by today’s standards, would be setting those standards without this setting the table that they’re eating at? The liner notes give the metal version of ‘Who is John Galt?’ as the mysterious John Hand is pictured and credited as rhythm guitar player. And as a fabulous bit of attention to detail, the hole on the disc tray is directly lined up with the empty eye socket of the zombie sitting on the throne on the cover. A bit of brilliance, that.

Leprosy 1988
The new lineup is definitely an improvement. Signs of actual musicianship surprisingly pop up at the end of the opening, title track, although the riffing style DEATH would later become known for isn’t yet a part of the band (although the leads are hinting that way...). The riffing style that many other bands would become known for is all over this thing though, and looking back (I got into the band with Individual Thought Patterns and for years had nothing earlier than Human so this is a history lesson for me), the influence over extreme metal that this band had is just ridiculous. As an absolute orgy of riffs, this album scores top marks, although knowing what was to come, I’m finding myself wanting to strangle Bill Andrews for not being Reinert, Hoglan, or Christy. The lyrics are a bit more serious, although talking about the deformed, the war wounded, and all that still isn’t anything that’s really important. It’s a fun album though, and I can imagine the shockwaves this sent in 1988.

Spiritual Healing 1990
What the hell is up with Chuck’s fascination with deformity, the mentally ill and such things around this time? Holy hell. Beginning with Living Monstrosity, about deformed cocaine babies. It also shows for the first time the full soloing machine that Death was to be. Altering the Future is pro-choice, pro-death penalty. And again with the solo, and the break out of the solo is pure DEATH, showing absolutely everything the band is destined to be. DEATH is here. Unfortunately still with Mr. Andrews though so it’s not all roses yet. Within the Mind is the first real lyric that shows contemplation and meaning without the cheese of no subtlety, so it’s all here. Right here. Still has some clunky ideas, like Killing Spree, but the guitar work here is incredible when it comes to leads and solos. Chuck’s vocals are also much more understandable, while still being quite brutal, which was to be another of the band’s trademarks to come. I wish I could have been around in the scene to see this released, judge the reaction, and then witness the fallout when they released their next album...

Human 1991
Oh. My. God. CYNIC was a demo band at this time, so nobody really knew what was up there. Chuck obviously knew, as he grabbed the drummer Sean Reinert and one of the guitar players, Paul Masvidal, and borrowed SADUS’ bass god Steve DiGiorgio for good measure. In addition to the technicality, Human introduces one thing into DEATH it’s never had. Speed. Real speed! It was like Chuck finally decided that he didn’t have to go by the rules of ordinary mortals when playing music anymore, got some other musical gods together, and that was that. It’s a complicated album, but so natural that it doesn’t come off as a wankoff session, not even close. Lack of Comprehension, with its mellow intro (and proof of further courage on Chuck’s part doing that at all) slamming into the full on guitars is one of heavy metal’s all time classic moments, and that is in no way an exaggeration. The song plays with moods and tempos easily and it’s everything. Everything I say! The instrumental Cosmic Seas just really drives it home that this band is now the equal of any that have ever walked the planet Earth. Not as death metal musicians. Not as metal musicians. But as pure musicians. The only thing negative I can say about this album at all is that the production isn’t as great as the music (fuck you very much Mr. Scott Burns for this and many more ‘joyous’ sonic adventures through many of my favorite albums), but it’s good enough to allow the album to stand as a monolith of metal for all times.

Individual Thought Patterns 1993
Marred by a production that I’ll be charitable and call adequate (Hoglan was robbed...), and unfortunately overall as an album it seemed to not be the absolute destroyer of ears and minds that Human was. A shame really, because as songs, many of the pieces here stand as some of DEATH’s all-time best. The final three songs Destiny, Out of Touch, and The Philosopher make the album worth the money.

Symbolic 1995
The best sounding DEATH album by far (no coincidence it’s the first with Tim Morris and Scott Burns is credited nowhere on this thing)., and a further pushing of the DEATH style at a time when metal was just dead. Even more melodic guitar work, hardly ‘classic metal’ because surely nothing like this existed outside of Chuck’s mind, ever. Still, when death metal was on the ropes, black metal still hadn’t reached these shores for all intents and purposes, and traditional metal would get your ass kicked by everyone, Chuck going in the press and saying the words ‘heavy metal’ as many times as possible outside of a MANOWAR album certainly didn’t go unnoticed over this way. The Hoglan era of DEATH certainly was no failure, but after listening to STRAPPING YOUNG LAD’s City album, I’m surely not alone in wondering what could have been here if Gene was allowed to just cut loose. As it was, we found a more technical side to Gene, a controlled violence that at least delivered on everything that Individual Thought Patterns failed to. Everything in metal was the absolute shits this year (at least in the States), yet one of the original underground extreme metal bands was showcasing its diversity, depth, and power, with Chuck promising a future with this performance when his contemporaries had failed to even remain together. Crystal Mountain is the clear favorite here, and Symbolic stood as more than just the name of an album.

The Sound of Perseverance 1998
Interesting title since DEATH broke up and reformed during this time, and I still have a nagging (and completely unsubstantiated, mind you) feeling that it was a requirement from Nuclear Blast to introduce the lineup before CONTROL DENIED could record an album. Who gives a hairy god damn though, because this is a comeback album beyond all reason. It takes all of the first ten seconds for the album to make a statement. Richard Christy must have five arms and three legs to do some of the things he does here, and he gets to flex all eight of those limbs as much as he wants. It’s sickening to think he was a total unknown at the time, as were the rest of Chuck’s cohorts for this album (building a name band from scratch to record their best and most challenging album, is that demented or what?). The heaviest since Human, the most varied and technical DEATH album ever, the complete package of what heavy metal really needs to be. Complete mastery of the instrument, refusing the listener easy access to understanding the album, yet with memorable and catchy parts to make them want to take the time. DEATH’s only cover song on record appears here, a frankly misguided attempt at JUDAS PRIEST’s Painkiller, which musically is great, but, mmm, most of the attempt at a clean(er) vocal style by Chuck just doesn’t work. I also don’t understand recording a cover of a song released in 1990, when DEATH themselves already had three albums out by that point. Covering music that’s contemporary to your own seems a teensy bit lame. Still, there’s 50+ minutes of this album that does not have Painkiller on them, and the beautiful Voice of the Soul, the out-of-body Story to Tell, and faceripping opener Scavenger of Human Sorrow are themselves all the proof anyone should ever need that Chuck’s passing is a great loss.

The Fragile Art of Existence 1999
The title of the album is fairly scary considering it was while finishing up this album that Chuck started having the problems which was diagnosed as cancer. It was obvious for years, as far back as Individual Thought Patterns, and obvious on Symbolic, that growled/screamed vocals just weren’t what the songs were written for, and here we hear Chuck’s music as he heard it in his head, for the first time. I’m glad he was able to get this out to the world as a final statement. I think The Sound of Perseverance was a heavier album with more fitting growls mainly because there was nothing more to hold back for. CONTROL DENIED was coming, there was nothing more to be frustrated about. This album continues on as the last one, but with the melodic vocals comes an opportunity to explore with space more, and the music is a bit less dense, but no less technical. The production is sadly not as sharp as the previous album, and when vocalist Tim Aymar goes up for those phlegmy high metal screams, it just isn’t pretty. Still, the songs here are good, every single one of them, and When the Link Becomes Missing is the highlight of them all.

LotFP Ranks the DEATH/CONTROL DENIED albums, from best to worst:
The Sound of Perseverance
The Fragile Art of Existence
Individual Thought Patterns
Spiritual Healing
Scream Bloody Gore

A look at the history of the DEATH logo then. With Scream Bloody Gore, the stylized logo included cobwebs in the D with a spider hanging out of the bottom. The scythe standing in the logo had a bloody blade, the T was an inverted cross and was flaming on top, and the H had a hooded skull in it. The entire logo dripped blood. The logo remained the same for Leprosy and Spiritual Healing (although the logo itself was portrayed more professionally with Leprosy). Human saw the spider and its web gone, no dripping blood (although there was still blood on the scythe’s blade, I guess it had dried), and the crossbar on the T raised a bit. Logo stays this way for Individual Thought Patterns. Those last two were the only albums to prominently display the logo as an important element in the cover art. The scythe is cleaned of its blood for Symbolic and the crossbar on the T is in the middle, so it’s no longer an inverted cross. Someone put out the fire as well on top. The Sound of Perseverance finally saw the skull disappear as well. Did you ever notice all that?

Edward J. Repka (who also worked for bands like MASSACRE, MEGADETH, and DARK ANGEL) did the cover paintings for the first three albums (with Leprosy being the best). Rene Miville handled Human, Individual Thought Patterns, and Symbolic’s cover art, with ITP being one of the all time classic covers, but all three are absolutely magnificent. "I strive to capture non-contrived realism and blend it with abstract expression via my photo-chemical imaging. My objective is to stimulate the viewer's conscious and subconscious as one," he’s said in the past, and his work is known well outside metal circles. Travis Smith, then not so famous (his cover artwork for Adagio, Dreaming Neon Black, and Something Wicked all hit the streets within the same few months time period in 1998), took over the artwork for the final DEATH album (and that artwork is absolutely unbelievable, especially booklet back cover image), as well as the CONTROL DENIED album.

There are some points that are being made about Chuck’s death being a political issue as well, as far as the availability of health care to those with no insurance and not a hell of a lot of money. I believe that health care reform is a completely separate thing and not applicable here. The fact is, the current system’s been in place since Chuck was born. As an adult, he chose to pursue music, with all the joys and griefs that go along with that, instead of being, say, a banker or something with a fat paycheck and fat benefits package. Not that there’s any guarantee that even the most advanced treatment started right away could have done anything. It’s just a simple fact that anyone involved in music to the point where they don’t have a steady job with medical benefits is making a choice in their life, and taking the chance that a disaster doesn’t happen. Although maybe the next time you hear about a musician leaving a band for a steady job, you’ll nod your head in understanding instead of shaking your head in disgust. Please, there are people making this out to be a political problem, and it’s not. Family and friends are without their loved one, and thousands of music fans have lost a musician who touched them. That’s the whole of the issue here.

The question seemingly nobody wants to ask (well, besides the hideous thought of hypothesizing a relationship between this news to the sentiments expressed in Suicide Machine and Pull the Plug that’s been going around...) is when the second CONTROL DENIED album will be released, or if it even will... and I’m not enough of an asshole (or genuine ‘reporter’) to call up Hammerheart and ask about it less than a week after Chuck’s death. They’ll tell us when they’re ready, and the album will be out whenever it’s out, so there’s hardly a ‘scoop’ there anyway. But about this time last year, Hammerheart USA had stated that the album (When Man and Machine Collide was the announced title at least at one point) was all written and mostly recorded, with the parts still needing to be done not including any of Chuck’s parts. I know I certainly want to hear it, and I don’t know his views the last year or so of his life, but it seems to me ridiculous to not release the final album recorded from a man who was a musician his entire adult (and even prior to that...) life. Any holdup would of course be over rights and money I’d think, so someone, just be human about it and donate all profits of the album to the family to offset the expenses incurred, or a cancer research charity and let’s get this going.

But never let any of us forget that Chuck Schuldiner is one the most important figures in the history of heavy metal, and the loss is a great one. For everything you’ve done in metal, from the beginning to the end, I thank you.


to memorial

EmptyWords-Published on October 20 2003