Magazine: Metal Hammer / Italy
Article: La Fragile Arte Dell'Esistenza

Written by: Fabio Rodighiero
Translated by: Vincenzo Chioccarelli
Published: January 2002



CHUCK SCHULDINER lost his two-year fight against cancer. As a memorial, we thought we would analyse what he left us, which is music. It has a great and interesting heritage worthy of being gone into: we are sure this is the best way to give respect to CHUCK.



"Definitely in a fourteen-year career there have been good moments and remembering them all is really a hard thing to do. About hard times, there have also been a lot, but I don't want to ignore them. I want to take them with me forever, because life is made of beautiful and terrible moments, and it's right to take it all with you, because the worst things in the end can help you. They can help you to better understand life and learn how to face it. I do believe in what I do, I do love music and know exactly what I want to do, so I keep on following my way doing what I like, overcoming hard moments and trying to find the positive in all the situations I'm going through."

The music. Precisely. Chuck has gone, but his music has remained. Pay your respects to one of the godfathers of extreme metal, originator of the birth of a whole scene and its sincere and coherent representative. Crystal clear ideas and a huge love for his work. A passion born in the early '80s, first during his teens, with Mantas, the prototype of what would become Death. A fascination for extreme music, born by listening to bands like Iron Maiden, Metallica, Slayer and Mercyful Fate: in short '80s metal. Death, an extreme name, perhaps banal too, which at first sight does not invoke positive and hopeful scenarios. To feed the idea there is a menacing logo and a debut-album, 'Scream Bloody Gore' that, even from the cover alone, seems like a frontal assault led by heavy artillery. Death metal, to be precise, with shocking and gore themes - it's enough to see titles like 'Zombie Ritual' (beyond one of the best tracks of the record), 'Mutilation' or 'Regurgitated Guts'. In time Death would have become synonymous with refinement, complexity and wealth of contents. 'Scream Bloody Gore' sounds more like a teen outlet, by a musician who just wants to play fast, heavy and extreme, without asking too many questions. Matter of time and maturity - let's remember Chuck at that time was just more than a kid.
It's 1987, thrash scene is spreading and the "kid" was founding a sound that will take the name from his own band: death metal.

You'll need to wait for just a year to taste band discography's second chapter, titled 'Leprosy'. Already a more refined work (if this term can be used in this case), which gives place to some melodic signs and which already let foresee improvements that with previous album no one would have dared to imagine. It's not a case that a track like 'Pull The Plug' was being played regularly also in last concerts performed by the group. The roots of sound started from there, a more extreme version of what was the classic '80s Heavy Metal. In fact, Death will return on those paths, developing beyond the unexceptionably classic starting points in a lot more violent, cerebral, and, why not, adult contexts. The themes continue the subject started with 'Scream Bloody Gore', but in this case too the step forward is meaningful, there's room also for topics different from the simple taste for horrid and gushing blood. A fundamental disc, also for the professional growth: the band comes in Europe too and begins to be known by all the fans.

So we have the first important line-up change (from now on it will be a sequel of diverse line-up for every album): fired the first guitarist Riki Rozz, is hired a young talent of six strings named James Murphy. 'Spiritual Healing' was born, issued in 1990, by many considered as the turning point album in the sound of the band (to others is 'Human' to mark the sheer detachment and band maturity, probably the truth is in the middle as usual). According to the title, things seem decidedly changed: Death's theme is seen in a more adult way, there is a questioning about chance of man to deny life ('Altering The Future'), about incidence of religion and personal convictions on human actions (the title track), about necessity to face reality with courage and self-conviction ('Low Life'). Still there's a dark mood in the tracks, also on musical side rage is unchanged and taken to more mature contexts ('Within The Mind', e.g., already shows future Death trademark), leaving room to some melodic signs too (a thing that will cause many critics by very first fans). In short, among so much darkness there is room for man, for hope, for life - and suddenly Death's name gains a new meaning. On the other hand is Chuck himself to explain: "The spirit of my music, even if someone could believe the opposite, is extremely positive. Topics are negative, yet at the basis there's always hope. See, I'm firmly convinced that adversities must be faced always with positive spirit and, also when everything around you seems to work wrong, you'll always have a chance to rise again. In this way I think music is very important for a person to give your life a turn and to spur on who is in trouble to raise the head and go on." In this case too it's hard not to read almost a prophecy in this statement.


But the road is just begun: 1991 is the year of the extraordinary 'Human', formed by a fabulous line-up (Steve DiGiorgio on bass, Paul Masvidal and Sean Reinert of Cynic on guitar and drums respectively). Experimental, technical, cerebral, complex: Chuck takes polemics and doubts away and does a full immersion in a work that breaks barriers and opens new and unimaginable ways for his band's life. Possibly it's due to the line-up (after all Masvidal and Reinert with Cynic were exploring adjacent paths, although less extreme), but in this case too you can't leave out of consideration the very inspired and moody songwriting of Schuldiner: 'Flattening Of Emotions', 'Suicide Machine' or the instrumental 'Cosmic Sea' are just examples of the very pure class of the gifted Floridian musician, with his oblique melodies, circular riffs and taste for refinement. Also the lyrical side is gradually opening and new themes will become constant: the topic of destiny, of vicissitudes of life, the search for a sense of reality, the need for being true to yourself, knowing well that nothing is certain, even an implicit opposition to those who made man's condition this way. One thing's for sure: here it's talking about eternity, transcendence, problems no one can completely ignore, but only can try to hide - another theme dear to Chuck's work, the hatred for he who avoids facing reality, escaping in false worlds created ad hoc ("A condemning fear strikes down / Things they cannot understand / An excuse to cover up weaknesses that lie within / Lies / Laying your guilt and pain / On people that had no part in the molding of a life / That creates its destruction" - 'Lack Of Comprehension').


1993 is the year of the release of a new main point in Death discography, the mind-blowing 'Individual Thought Patterns'. Another amazing line-up: Andy LaRocque on guitar, Gene Hoglan behind drums and DiGiorgio on bass, and another masterpiece. Nearly progressive in riff construction and structure, probably less experimental than its predecessor, but certainly unique in its genre: never-ending tempo-changes, an unbelievable power, and a ceaseless and superlative rhythmic research. A complex and cerebral album, hard to assimilate, but without any weak point at all. Schuldiner's lyrical research goes on also in this case: individuality at the center of it all ('Followers to the leaders of mass hypnotic corruption / That live their lives only to criticize / Where is the line we must draw / To create individual thought patterns' - 'Individual Thought Patterns'), the inevitability of destiny, but the need for accepting it ('Time is a thing we must accept / The unexpected I sometimes fear (…) I know there is no way to avoid the pain we must go through / To find the other half that is true / Destiny is what we all seek / Destiny was waiting for you and me' - 'Destiny'), once again the compelling and inevitable necessity to be honest first of all to yourself ('Out Of Touch'). There's great dignity and moral strength in Chuck's lyrics, he is no more a teen obsessed by death and extremity: there are thoughts, reflections, doubts belonging to every man dealing with his sole existence. "Intellectual" some would say; we prefer the term "human".

Two years later is the turn of 'Symbolic', not even to say another supreme album, less surprising than usual only because it's less far-away from its predecessors from a musical point of view; on the contrary it could be regarded as the sum of everything set up before, almost to pick up the offspring from the seeds planted over the years. There's the song-form (the extraordinary title track), more reflecting moments ('Sacred Serenity'), there are articulate and dilate tracks ('Perennial Quest') and others more concise and magnetic in their beauty ('Crystal Mountain'). On the thematic side the search goes on: 'Symbolic' shows more incisively than usual the need for a sanctuary, a safe refuge from the merciless flowing of time, for a return to innocence ('I close my eyes / And sink within myself / Relive the gift of precious memories / in need of a fix called innocence' - 'Symbolic') of a serenity that seemingly cannot be reached by ourselves ('Sacred is the gift that they have without knowing / Serenity is knowing it's safe from destruction of time' - 'Sacred Serenity'), the necessity to find the strength we need inside ourselves ('Empty Words') knowing well it will be an endless search ('Perennial Quest', not random it closes the album and is the longest and most intricate track. 'No time for mental crutches / The maker has moved on / I will take it raw and be on my way'). At this point we must wait for three years before again hearing of Death.

It's 1998, the line-up is changed one more time (we see the entry of the phenomenal Richard Christy on drums) and time has not passed in vain. 'The Sound Of Perseverance' is a strong step forward, to a sound rating, is what should be heavy metal in its most classical meaning at nowadays (only Nevermore later will reach this goal), an ideal stepping stone for what will later be Control Denied. A very technical and complex album, in which guitar melodies follow one another with unflinching riffs and in which the typical Chuck's ascending scales find their complete application. Only growl singing (became more and more screaming over the years) reflects the death metal origins: musically we're light years far away, it's a revisiting of what has been heavy metal in twenty years to propose again in a very personal and researched way. It goes from epic 'Spirit Crusher' to classicistic (meant exactly as classical music in this case) chorus of 'Story To Tell', from evoking acoustic instrumental 'Voice Of The Soul' until final cover of 'Painkiller', just to bear witness the love for heavy metal, as it was needed. Incredibly lyrics are more linked to every day reality, but don't you let be deceived: it's just in every day life, in relationships, in emotions that concepts analyzed in former works find their application - so 'Story To Tell' and 'To Forgive Is To Suffer' gain a new meaning, as well Nietzsche's aphorism showed on cover. As to say, 'remember that behind simple things hides a more complex reality', but confirming reality is that one we're dealing with everyday and must be faced for what it is…this too belongs to 'the sound of perseverance' after all. The only 'A Moment Of Clarity' seem come back to past, but let catch different glimpses of hope: 'Life is like a mystery / with many clues but with few answers / to tell us what it is that we can do to look / for massages that keep us from the truth'.


"Death is my life. I recorded an album with Control Denied, yet my existence will indissolubly kept linked to Death". Just, Control Denied, that is Death with Tim Aymar on vocals, clean vocals, halfway between Bruce Dickinson and Warrel Dane. Chuck many times expressed his intentions to take a "real" singer for Death too and this could have been a test. A goddamn heavy metal record, one more time able to go over the useless and stale cliché to create something personal and emotional. Melodies have never been so touching: 'Breaking The Broken' is as emotional as few others, 'Expect The Unexpected' is the track every '80s metal fan would wish to be able to listen to in 2000, 'When The Link Becomes Missing' is simply perfect with its breaks and acoustic intermezzo. And lyrics? Titles speak for themselves, such as disc-title: 'The Fragile Art Of Existence'. 'No time for self-pity / no time for dwelling on what should have been / but is yet to be / the fragile art of existence / is kept alive by sheer persistence'. Let the metal flow…


to memorial

Translated by VC/MM for EmptyWords-Published on August 3 2002