Magazine: Metal Forces / UK
Article: High Spirits

Written by: Borivoj Krgin
Published: # 47 February 1990


As many readers may know, the last time I wrote anything relatively extensive about the band DEATH in the pages of this magazine, it was a piece that was largely personal and bordering on slander (although not quite) even if it was what I truly felt at the time. In the months following the publication of that particular article, a lot of things were said back and forth between Chuck Schuldiner and myself which were less than complimentary, with Chuck going even so far as to send out a special "fuck off and die" message to yours truly at the band's last NY performance last March. Of course, this was pretty childish behaviour on both our parts which is why it came as no surprise to me that, as time went by, we both eventually decided to put the whole matter in the back of our minds and start speaking to each other again.

Anyway, DEATH are about to release a new album -their third, titled "Spiritual Healing"- as you read this, so this was as good an opportunity as any for me to pick up the phone and oficially patch things up between us (for the time being, away) once and for all. I spoke with Chuck himself as well as drummer Bill Andrews and bassist Terry Butler, who had a few comments to make of their own (the line-up is completed by guitaris James Murphy who replace the recently departed Rick Rozz).

First of all, tell me about this whole Rick Rozz business. He's stated through the grapevine that he left the band on his own, but reports from your side suggest that was not quite the case. What exactly happened?

"Well anything that comes out of Rick's mouth should be considered to be total bullshit," states Chuck agreeing to take on the first batch of questions. "He's proven himself to be a liar by telling people since getting kicked out of this band that he was in M.O.D., that he was in DARK ANGEL, and telling a friend of mine even that he was in three (!) different bands at the same time. The guy obviously has a problem with telling the truth, and everyone should take everything he says with a grain of salt. Rick was basically kicked out of this band due to the fact that we were all into progressing as a group and getting better as musicians, and he simply was not. He was stopping me from writing the kind of material I wanted to write due to his inability to play the songs, and we all knew it was time for a change. So, we're very happy to see him gone."

Why did it take you two years (since Rick rejoined the group) to realize that Rick was musically incompatible with the rest of the band?

"It just took us a long while to see how much he was holding us back. After some time, it became clear to us that Rick was highly unprofessional in every way, starting with his playing to the way he was in a live situation, by not changing his strings before shows and not having his back-up guitar in tune so that if he popped a string, he could just pick it up and go on. We knew that we needed to part ways with him, but we couldn't really do anything about it until we'd finished all our touring commitments, or at least until we'd completed all the gigs that we did."

After Rick was kicked out of the band, you did a couple of shows in Mexico using Paul Masvidal from the Florida band CYNIC on guitar and you rehearsed for a while with a guy named Mark Carter, if I'm correct, before finding James Murphy, your current second guitarist. Why did Paul and Mark not work out?

"Well with Paul, it was just a situation where we knew that he was just filling in for the Mexican shows, nothing more..."

Did you want him to join the band on a permanent basis?

"Yeah, we would have liked him to, but he's got a really good thing going on for himself with CYNIC and he wanted to stick with that. As for Mark, he was just too much of a rocker; he was coming up with riffs that sounded like MEGADETH, and that's just not us. So, we went separate ways once we saw that it wasn't going to work out."

So how did you end up with James Murphy?

"We've known James for quite a while now, just for going to shows and everything, so when he heard we were looking for a guitarist, he got in contact with us about auditioning. He actually contacted us while Mark was still in the band, but at that time, I just told him that we kind of already had somebody. Anyway, to cut the story short, when we finally got rid of Mark, I called James up and told him to come down for an audition. We jammed a bit, things clicked, and he was in."

Is James finding it difficult to adjust to DEATH's style of songwriting and playing considering that he comes from a more mainstream background (he's an ex-member of AGENT STEEL and HALLOW'S EVE)?

"Well, James has told me that he's always liked brutal death metal and he's been wanting to play it for years, but he just never got an opportunity to do so with a proper band before us. Anyway, since he also liked AGENT STEEL/HALLOW'S EVE type music and those bands were on labels and everything, he pursued those opportunities when they were presented to him in the past, but he actually prefers playing our kind of music, over anything. So, there's been no problems whatsoever with that, he's playing everything perfectly."

Did he contribute at all to the songwriting on "Spiritual Healing"?

"Yes, he did, as a matter of fact. He knew exactly what we were about style-wise, and he presented ideas to us that were very much along the lines of what we were in tune with. Terry contributed to the songwriting as well."

But most of the songwriting was still done by you Chuck?

"Yeah, most of it was, but this album -not to say that the others weren't- was really more of a band effort that the other two; everybody had some input in the way the songs eventually turned out."

In the middle of last year, you went over to Europe to do a bunch of dates, but you quit after only a handful of gigs. Why did you leave the tour so early on?

"Well, it's due to the promoter for the tour, Johan de Maesmaker of Metalysee Concerts, who did not provide us with what he was contractually obliged to provide for us. Johan is one of those people who have to do everything half-assed just to save some money. He did not get us the equipment that we had asked for -in fact, he made the support act DESPAIR, loan us their stuff without even paying thme for it just to save some money -and everything else, like transportation, food and all the other things were nothing but a joke. We loved Europe -the little that we saw of it- but we refuse to be shit upon, and we felt that we were being taken advantage of by the promoter in that situation. Needless to say, we'll be using a different promoter next time."

And about your infamous US tour with DARK ANGEL, which you never completed... DARK ANGEL have had a few things to say about it a couple of issues back, this is your turn to tell your side of the story.

"Well, it's really funny how DARK ANGEL neglected to mention in that interview the fact that they had made several clubs on that tour force us to stop selling our merchandise due to the fact that we were selling them at a lower price than they were selling theirs at, and how they were constantly yelling that we were outselling them on merchandise. I mean, all we had was one style of t-shirt, they had something like five, and their gripe was that we weren't selling ours for $18, which we consider to be a rip off. And we are not into ripping off our fans. As far as we're concerned, our merchandise had nothing to do with theirs, and we did not need them coming to us telling us what we should charge for our shirts. They thought they were hot shit, so they thought they had the authority to dictate what we do with our own merchandise, but we didn't agree, so we stuck to our guns."

"Additionially, prior to the start of that tour, it was made clear to both bands, the label, the booking agents as well as everybody else, that this was a co-headlining tour, with DEATH and DARK ANGEL receiving equal billing everywhere, with us going on before them due to the fact that they had three albums out and we only had two. What this meant to us was that we would get the same amount of money as DARK ANGEL, that we would share the drum-riser, and that we would get the same amount of soundcheck time as them. None of these things were kept to by their people. They would soundcheck for two hours while we would only get ten minutes, if we were lucky, and we literally had to fight to get the drum-riser which should have provided to us without a moments hesitation, as was understood considering our co-headlining status."

"And then the biggest joke of all is that after we walked off the tour, DARK ANGEL went around talking all kinds of shit about us to make us look like the culprits in all this. Eric Meyer (DARK ANGEL guitarist) told people that we were "unprofessional" and that we "didn't care about the fans". That, to me, is the joke of the century. This comes from a guy who can't even get a proper guitar sound; he can't even realize that his guitar sounds like a transistor radio, that's how stupid he is. The guy is 27 years old and half his leads are out of key, that's how professional he is. All anyone has to do is listen to "Leave Scars" and realize that DARK ANGEL is not a professional band."

"Anyway, I'll let Bill talk to you about this as well..." (passing the phone to Bill).

Bill did DARK ANGEL acknowledge the fact that you were the co-headliners rather than the opening act throughout this whole ordeal?

Bill: "Oh, yeah, they knew. They even knew before the start of the tour, it was on all the posters, it was in every contract with the local promoters, and it was made very clear that it was an equal type of thing. DARK ANGEL, however, the rock stars that they are, went about doing things their own way, and treated us like dirt all the way through, it was ridiculous."

So even commisssion-wise, you got the worse end of the deal?

"Yup, even money-wise, we were seriously being shit upon, but DARK ANGEL didn't care..."

I heard something about an incident in which you were involved in St.Petersburg, Florida where you got punched by a member of their crew?

"It was their merchandiser, actually. What happened was that he was standing there calling us all kinds of names, which I can take and laugh at it, but I decided to call him one back, after which he snuck up behind me and popped me in the face. The guy is like 350lbs, 6 foot 4 inches tall -I mean, he could be in DARK ANGEL himself. But the DARK ANGEL guys didn't care about it, they probably liked it..."

So, I guess its' safe to say that you wouldn't quite call DARK ANGEL your friends?

"Oh, I think that they are nothing more than low, biker trash. Breaking the law is something that makes them happy, that's the kind of people they are."

Is there anything else you would like to say concerning the whole DARK ANGEL issue before we close the subject?

"Yes, I would just like to state that it's not DARK ANGEL's business to be talking about the things that go on within the band, because that's something that they know nothing about. For them to say that Rick left the band on his own rather than being kicked out is absurd; that's something they have no knowledge about. It's actually kind of funny that Rick has become such "good friends" with DARK ANGEL now that he's out of this band; but I can't say that we're surprised by it."

Moving on, I understand that you've also recently parted ways with your manager Eric Greif, who was in the middle of this whole feud with DARK ANGEL. What happened to make you go separate ways?

"It was a few reasons actually, some of them dealing with money. On at least two occasions, probably three, he had sent us bad cheques which were supposed to be covering our warehouse rental fees and were actually supposed to be coming out of our merchandise money. At least a couple of times we'd gone to our warehouse only to find it locked up because the cheques bounced. Plus, taking credit for producing the new album when in fact he did nothing except cause tension between us and argue a lot. Then he went to Mexico for a month which got in the way of his doing work for us. At the end, we just felt it was best to put an end to it."

Recently it has been hinted at by both Rick Rozz and DARK ANGEL -whether or not those are reliable sources is arguable- that within the band DEATH, there really is no democracy, that it's basically Chuck making all the decisions and choosing the path for other band members. How do you feel about that being part of the rest of the band?

"A lot of people think that, actually, that it's Chuck's band and that he treats us like mere players rather than equal partners. But the way I look at it, it is basically Chuck's band -he formed it, he created the sound- and he is to an extent, in charge of things, which is the way I like it, but we all have our output and say, and it was all of us, not just Chuck, that eventually made the decision to walk off the DARK ANGEL tour. So, people can think what they want, but we know the truth."

Changing the subject, were you satisfied with the sales of "Leprosy" (reported to be at a little under 35,000 in the States)?

"Yeah, it was OK, but it could have been a lot better had we gotten more ads and a bigger push., we're fairly happy with it though."

What did you think of the whole "Ultimate Revenge2" thing? Do you think you came across well in the video?

"Well, the fans really seem to like it, but us.... we basically don't ever want to see it again. That just...wasn't us. We don't even consider that to be a true DEATH show, that's how bad we were. Not to make excuses or anything, but just about all that's wrong with the tape was Rick's fault; he was constantly out of tune, his stage presence was ridiculous, and his playing was largely unimpressive. But it truly was not a DEATH performance as we saw it."

OK, let's talk about the new album. Having heard the record, I know that you've made moves to clean up your sound a little bit on the new LP by making everything more clear in the recording and easy on the ears, so to speak, and also adding more melody to your songwriting, particularly where the guitarwork is concerned. Are you afraid at all of getting negative feedback from some of your die-hard fans considering that you have made a name for yourselves playing some of the most brutal death metal around?

Terry: "No, we're not, because we're growing and maturing as a band, and we we're not betraying our roots in any way, shape or form. What we're trying to do is simply keep the brutality and aggressive feeling that we've always had in our music, but just add more quality and depth to it, which is what happens when you've played for a while. I think that the fans have to realize that we, as musicians, cannot subject ourselves to playing the same kidn of stuff forever, and we need change to keep our attention and hearts into it. Our new album is as brutal as the first two -if not more so- but it's better because it has more quality to it and is clearly more mature that the first two. But, we can't even begin to worry about what people think, because we have to please ourselves first and foremost -that's one thing we always strive for before everything else."

What do you think of this whole attitude within the underground that no band can progress and evolve musically, and that you have to play sludgy death metal for the rest of your life if you started out that way?

"I think it's stupid, I don't know why anyonewould want to sound on their fifth album like they did on their first -it makes no sense to me. But there will always be people like that, people that listen to noisy stuff just for the sake of it, and we can't be concerned with or bothered what they think."

Are you all into those speed/grindcore bands such as NAPALM DEATH, MORBID ANGEL and TERRORIZER that try to play at 5000mph (although MORBID ANGEL's credit, they do it far less and better than most) and think that they are being more brutal that way?

"To be quite honest, I only like maybe one minute of music off of each on of those records. To us, playing fast only makes sense as long as you're playing along with the rhythm -as soon as you get into hyper-speed, it becomes a bit ridiculous. Those bands think that they are more brutal by playing this way, but we feel that we have far more bottom-end and power in our sound, because we never push Bill to play a song faster than it needs to be."

Getting back to the new album, the production on it was handled by the band and Scott Burns, unlike the last record. Why did you not use Dan Johnson again like you did on "Leprosy"?

"Well, we had originally tried to use Dan again on thsi album, but he was just unavailable. So, the we realized that we could just do it ourselves, with Scott lending a hand, Scott was a good friend of ours -we'd worked with him before- plus he's done SEPULTURA's last record and a couple of others we really liked, so we figured we'd go in and give it a shot. It worked out great; we're really happy with it." (Passing the phone back to Chuck).

Chuck, what are your expectations for the new LP? Do you think this LP will take DEATH to the next step, whatever that is, and bring you closer to mass acceptance?

Chuck:"There's not doubt about it in my mind. I think that "Spiritual Healing" is very much representative of what death metal can sound like when it's done with strong emphasis on musicality and less so on hyper-speed and stupid Satanic lyrics. We believe that we can turn a few more people into death metal with this record and change a lot of people's minds about what death metal is supposed to sound like. Having said that, we don't expect to turn into pop stars overnight as a result of this LP -we're still way too extreme for a great majority of the record-buying public out there."

Do you think that death metal can ever grow beyond just a very small cult following, like it has right now?

"I believe that you never know what can happen. The perfect example is METALLICA; when they released "Kill 'em ALL", everybody was saying it was noise and shit, and that they'd never go anywhere. Well, look at what happened to them. I think that the same thing could happen to this kind of music as well. One day, maybe we will be considered to be commercially mainstream as well. I don't know, I wouldn't rule it out. In the meantime, we'll continue to play and write the kind of music that we want to write; if the rest of the world catches on, so be it, if not, so what."

You mentioned your lyrics before. What are you writing about nowadays?

"The lyrics on the new album I'm really happy with; I think they're the best I've ever written. The topics are all based around pure reality, which in my opinion is farmore brutal than making up some stuff about zombies which we stayed clear of after "Scream Bloody Gore"."

I heard that you might be doing a video soon as well for a song off the new record?

"Yeah, we're supposed to be doing a video for the song "Within The Mind", which is a slower yet still very aggressive and brutal track. I think that it will show off very well what this band is about. We don't have any specific ideas about what kind of video it will turn out to be, but I promise that it will do this band justice in every way, as we won't settle for anything less."

Finally, what are you touring plans for after "Spiritual Healing" is released?

"Well, the LP is due to be released in late January, after which -starting early February- we plan on being out on the road in the US headlining an extensive tour and hitting hopefully all the places that we missed last time around due to the bullshit with DARK ANGEL. After that, we will go to Europe and headline there as well. We will be using a far more professional agent for this tour than last year, so I'm sure it will turn out just fine. We're really looking forward to playing out for everybody and meeting all the cool people out there."


to talks

EmptyWords-Published on April 14 2002