Magazine: Metal Forces / UK
Article: Being There

Written by: Malcolm Dome
Published: November 1991



Every genre of music has its controversial figures, larger-than-life artisans who bring a continuing touch of unreality to their craft. And in many ways Rock music thrives on these stars. For the most part, fans, journalists and the music industry in general wish to encourage the myths. They add lustre to dull lives, and give us all a vicarious kick. The truth? Why bother with that when the legends are far more ridiculous and worthy of print and repetition. Does it really matter whether OZZY OSBOURNE did bite the head off a bat? Does it really matter whether Glenn Benton has killed herds of bison? Well, does it? Does it?

Strangely enough I happen to believe that is does, for whilst I can appreciate a nonsensical rumour about a crazed lunatic leaping down the corridor of a plush hotel, dragging a dazed rhino by the horn whilst whistling BEETHOVEN's Ninth Symphony through his arse, nonetheless there are too many occasions when we are all guilty of failing to respect Rock musicians as human beings, as people with feelings, as fragile souls whose very psyche can be crushed or permanently damaged by grotesquely unfair stories spread about their behaviour and state of mind. We do not grasp just how much damage we might be doing to someone else, for no other reason than the chance to gossip at the bar.

DEATH mainman Chuck Schuldiner has long been a victim of such maliciousness, he has been accused over the years of excessive egotism, arrogance beyond the catcall of reason, of being mentally unhinged. All of this came to a head last year when, virtually on the eve of a European tour, Schuldiner backed out, leaving the remaining pair of drummer Bill Andrews, and bassist Terry Butler to pick up the pieces and carry on as best they could, recruiting vocalist Louie Carrisalez (previously drummer with DEVASTATION) and guitarist Walter Thrashler (ex-ROTTING CORPSE) to fill in the gap left by Schuldiner's seemingly inexplicable decision. And during the course of this trek with KREATOR, much verbiage was dispensed in the direction of the absent guitarist/vocalist, most of which suggested that he was a deranged, incompetent madman, incapable of handling his life or the band. It all served to turn Schuldiner's already suspect reputation into a confusion of controversy. Within a short space of time one of the Death Metal genres most important performers became perhaps its most contentious figure.

Now the only people who really know the truth about these allegations are the protagonists themselves. However, until now it has all been one-way traffic because Schuldiner has maintained a calm silence on the whole affair, never allowing the almost hysterical level of accusation against him to breach a dignified aloofness. But, there must come a time when even the most placid of people feels it necessary to defend himself. And with the fourth album from DEATH ("Human") due this month in America on Relativity, Schuldiner has at last grasp the opportunity to hit back at his detractors.

"I'm a normal person, just like everybody else. Sure I make mistakes, as everyone else does, but I am not the evil person others have made me out to be. Most of the rumours you have heard about me are lies. I am not perfect, but I have always accepted and admitted to my mistakes. And I learn from these. At the time of the last European tour, I did make some decisions which seemed crazy to outsiders, but I had to get away from everything, because I had reached breaking point. Everything seemed to be bearing down on my head. I had spent nine years in this business, wearing many different hats, taking the shit for others and handling all sorts of situations. I did all of that because I was prepared to stand up for what I believe in. But that doesn't make me egotistical or arrogant, or give others the right to crucify me."

"Yet, I have a normal life outside of DEATH. I wash, clean my teeth, feed the dog. Honestly, people would laugh if they saw the real me. I just wish they'd be more open-minded and not be taken in by what they read in the press. The trouble is that it seems most people want to believe the worst about others; that's why the tabloid newspapers do so well. I think it's sad that there are so many in the world today who are eager to accept that a guy could be pregnant with an elephant, or has a carrot growing out of his head, or that I am evil incarnate. But why are they so keen to see the negative aspects? As far as musicians are concerned I just wish people would support the music and not get drawn in to making decisions about whether they like any particular band based on what sort of people they'd heard the musicians are supposed to be!"

"Look, I am an YNGWIE MALMSTEEN fan, I like the way he plays guitar, I've read that he's an asshole. I neither know nor care about that, all I know is that he makes fine music. That's good enough for me. I am a fan of QUEENSRYCHE. Geoff Tate has a great voice. Even if I heard he was a prick it wouldn't alter my respect for his voice, and for the band as musicians. Why should it? But I've become a victim of exactly that sort of nonsense."

For Schuldiner, coming to terms with his reputation has been a painful experience, made even more unbearable by the fact that supposed friends of his in the last DEATH incarnation saw fit to turn on their leader and guiding light. And he takes no comfort from the fact that the DEATH European tour from which he absented himself was a disaster.

"Sure, it was ridiculous for the tour to go ahead without me, and I feel really bad that it happened. I've heard tapes from some shows and it wasn't pretty. I would like to apologise in person to everybody who went to see DEATH for what happened. I was just in a state of shock about a lot of things at the time - not drug problems, but everyday situations. I had one particular mountain to climb, but I succeeded and now there no obstacles for me. I know that some people are saying things about me such as that I locked myself in a room and refused to talk to anyone, but that simply isn't true. It was depressing to hear some of the things being said about me, but I've had to rise above it all. Look, I could spread counterrumours about the rest of the band walking around with spiked dildos stuck their arses. Now, is that true? Of course not! But it makes as much sense as some of the things being said about me. Those lies are so depressing. And I'm not paranoid or anything, but it seemed that a lot of people were getting off on this shit."

"I think that I'm a good person. I don't go around sawing cats in half as a sacrifice as some might expect. In fact, I recently saved a little cat and nursed it back to health. Personally, I'm into people who don't believe everything they read and hear, but have minds of their own. My family and friends - yes, I do have friends - were in shock at what was being said about me. I am not a spoilt little Rock star, but a struggling musician. I live with my parents I've had three albums out so far, so what? It doesn't make me important. I'm a musician and a person, that's all. And I know there is a lot for me to prove, but I feel so positive about the new album because it shows where I am coming from. It will prove a lot of people to be the liars that they are."

DEATH's fourth album is one about which Schuldiner can scarcely hide his pride. It's also a release that must have caused him considerable thought, at least when it came to selecting the musicians to join him at Morrisound Studios with producer Scott Burns.

"There was no way that I wanted to work with the guys from the previous line-up. That was never even considered. Fortunately, though, all my friends are musicians, so I had quite a wide choice." -Thus CYNIC guitarist Paul Masvidal and drummer Sean Reinert were recruited, alongside SADUS bassist Steve DiGiorgio. And it's a situations with which Schuldiner is delighted. "We've all known each for years, and it was a great excuse for all of us to get together and record. And you know, I think you can tell by the record that we were a happy, lively, aggressive band. And it's strange how things work out, but it's ended up being for the best that I am no longer involved with those who worked on the last DEATH album."

Reinert and Masvidal will join the DEATH touring crew, the line-up being completed by FESTER bassist Skott Carino. However, whilst the LP is about to hit the market in the US, a British release is still to be confirmed, thanks to indecisions about precisely which label will land this prestigious act. Schuldiner, though, seems to be leaning towards.....

"Roadrunner. They are interested in the Death Metal scene and know what they're doing. I like the way Roadrunner markes their bands. As for the style of the LP, well it deals lyrically with real life, although the vocals and music are still brutal. One song is called "Lack of Comprehension", for which we've shot a video. It was inspired by the whole JUDAS PRIEST scandal, when the band were accused of inciting a fan to commit suicide. It is ridiculous to suggest that music is responsible for parents' fuckups. The kid probably had a depressing upbringing, maybe he was abused by his parents, so why blame JUDAS PRIEST? Kids are like sponges, they grow up absorbing everything around them. To try and lay the blame for their misfortune on a song by OZZY OSBOURNE, DEATH or whoever is mad. I cannot believe that music can be seriously brought into question on this issue. Take DEATH, for instance. To me, the name is merely five letters of the alphabet, but it in no way represents my philosophy on life. I am a peaceful person, until someone pisses me off. I enjoy life, nature and so on. I'm not evil and into killing people."

"Now I would say that there are certain bands who have something of an influence over their fans, but not to a point that kids will shoot themselves because they are told to do so. Yet, I feel that more bands must display a sense of responsibility in the way they present themselves publicly. The likes of DEICIDE are playing right into the hands of those who knock Metal as being bad. They are proving the PMRC right in their assertion that Metal is evil, destructive and violent. More bands must start thinking about what they're doing. They should understand that there's more to write about in the world than zombies and Satan. I would like to think that someone would be interested enough to pick up a copy of "Human" and realise that I write about sensible subjects, that not all Heavy Metal deals with death and destruction. If I can change one persons mind about HM then I will be very happy. I will have done my job."

What impresses me about Schuldiner, apart the articulate manner in which he defends his case, is the fact that he is a fan of the music, especially bands dating back to the early '80s. He may ligitimately be able to lay claim to having pioneered the Death Metal genre as we know it today (something he modestly questions), but he has a honest perspective on the scene as it stands.

"I don't really listen to much Death Metal these days. There simply isn't the quality any more, and not enough good bands around. Too many labels are signing up Joe Schmo bands, just because they've recorded one demo. When I first started out, signing a deal was like a dream to me, something I would work towards. Now, it just seems that all you've got to do is move to Florida, form a band and you get signed. I listen to the older bands, like WATCHTOWER, KING DIAMOND, JUDAS PRIEST, QUEENSRYCHE, MERCYFUL FATE, VENOM -the band who really started the whole Death Metal trip off- ANGEL WITCH, TORCH (Sweden) and SORTILEGE (France). I don't know, to me there seemed to be more sincerity, honesty and integrity about the music they were making a decade ago."

"I recall buying a copy of MERCYFUL FATE's first mini album "A Corpse Without Soul" and being blown away. I only bought it because the sleeve was so cool, but you could do those sort of things back then. Sure, MF were Satanic, but not generic and they weren't preaching about Satan. I remember taking a copy of EXCITER's first album "Heavy Metal Maniacs" to High School to try and change peoples minds about Metal music, but everybody laughed at it, thinking it was just a noise. The same with METALLICA's "Kill 'Em All". It was a joke when it came out: now the band outsell even KISS!"

"I'm not saying that there are no good young groups any more, but intelligent Metal is rare. And Death Metal has now become exclusively about being evil, Satanic and playing full speed ahead. Bands are creating only one mood, trying to claim that they are superbad. It's not what I'm into at all. I've heard people claim that DEATH is wimpy. Why? Because I don't sing about Satan, and don't play at a million miles an hour? I grew up with the likes of VENOM, and I think I know what I'm talking about."

"But overall, I think the way people listen to music has changed for the worse. The arrival of CD's and the death of vinyl I personally regard as very sad. You don't get such a buzz from picking up such a small item as a CD, as you did with the packaging on an LP. And you can programme a CD player for selective listening. People are encouraged to be lazy; they no longer explore records and take them in. I'm very saddened that "Human" isn't coming out on vinyl at all in America."

In many ways, Chuck Schuldiner is a traditionalist. And that's something I applaud. In an era when trends and fashion seem more important than respect for quality. Schuldiner is a breath of fresh air. Does that make him insane, an egotistical lunatic? If so, book me into the nearest asylum!

to talks

EmptyWords-Published on February 6 2000