CONTROL DENIED's 'The Fragile Art Of Existence' is just out, and is already described, not only as an excellent Heavy Metal record, but also for the powerful mark it leaves with the listeners, being both a prophecy and a soundtrack of the dramatic hour of the band's leader - and major songwriter - Chuck Schuldiner. LUCA SIGNORELLI listens to the latest news from Shannon Hamm's voice.


Magazine: Metal Hammer / Italy
Article: Aspettati L'Inaspettato

Written by: Luca Signorelli
Translated by: Vincenzo Chioccarelli
Published: December 1999



Just a bit more than a year ago, Death's last record 'The Sound Of Perseverance,' was released. A masterpiece that represented the return of (American) death metal to melody and complex structures, which we missed in a time crushed by black and 'nu'-metal's noisy claims and glittering emptiness. A disk that in many ways is very courageous - exciting, diverse, personal, and surprising. All adjectives that nowadays would be a death sentence to the success of any other album. Sales were excellent, polls were triumphant everywhere, and with the expected appearance of the band as a special guest at the Gods Of Metal festival, it seemed that we could think of a quiet and worthy entry of Chuck Schuldiner, the band's enigmatic mind, in the line-up of the most loved metal bands. Of even more interest is the coming of Chuck's side project, Control Denied, a 'full' Heavy Metal band, to which the guitarist dedicated a large part of his free time during the past three years.
Unfortunately destiny - that same one that Chuck would invoke in his tracks - acted otherwise. At the end of April Chuck was diagnosed with an evil brainstem tumour. Obviously all Death commitments fell through, but Chuck stayed strong to supervise the most important production parts of 'The Fragile Art Of Existence', before throwing himself into a long and painful therapy tunnel. In Chuck's intentions Control Denied was meant to be a more melodic and structured side of his already complex musical form experimented with Death. With Chuck's illness coming first, the band's debut (who some years ago released a demo too), took the shape of a terrifying premonition…

"Premonition? I think the right word is presentiment, or prophecy! The fact that almost all lyrics were written in 1996 is something that keeps on leaving both me and the rest of the band speechless!"
So says Shannon Hamm, Control Denied's second guitar player. Beyond that, naturally, confirmed Death member. Shannon replaced Chuck (still rather weakened after long radiological treatment) to take this telephone interview.

"I'm not the kind of person believing in destiny, or at least, I'm not a maniac of presages and future foresights. But it's impossible for me not to listen to tracks again, hear lyrics, and think this could be really a kind of story inspired by what Chuck went through - written BEFORE he went through it…"

Let's start with the most obvious question…what really happened? How is Chuck?
"In the beginning of April, Chuck began to feel strong pain in his shoulder and neck, and suffered from headaches. For a month he went to a masseur, but he didn't get the predicted improvements. Then, while he was playing, he began to see that his hand wasn't working like before. He had a check up, and they noticed he had a big brain tumour. The tumour's place and state convinced doctors not to operate, and so Chuck soon started a radiological therapy to "grind" the tumour. During the treatment, obviously Chuck's conditions were getting harder - for a while he was not even able to walk."

"In the beginning doctors were rather uncertain. The problem was really serious - if therapy didn't work soon, they were going to give up. Fortunately it was evident after a while that therapy was working. Now the treatment is over, but the final prognosis has not been given yet. Of course Chuck will have to let himself check up for the rest of his life, but at least he's alive and able to play again."

What was your reaction to this catastrophe?
"In the beginning there was a lot of confusion, fear and rage. We told each other - no, this can't be happening to Chuck, now that his music was achieving so much. After this we realized that the best thing was keeping a combat attitude, the same one kept by Chuck. I gotta say I never saw him groan, or complain…it's incredible how much strength he's got, although he's a quiet guy after all. The person I think suffered the most from what happened is Tim (Aymar). When Chuck's trouble happened, Tim was getting out of a very tough period after his brother's death. Chuck and his family were very close to him, and now that Chuck was dealing with this terrible thing, Tim was really devastated."

You were talking about goals reached by Chuck's music…I think you're referring above all to Death and to 'The Sound Of Perseverance'…
"Clever! It's unbelievable the popularity level that record reached, above all for a band like Death, that after all do not play the easiest music in the world. Above all from you in Europe, in America the matter is different, because you have to fight the radios with great power, and it's harder to understand Chuck's vision, his way of putting things in music. Few people like the kind of things Death do, usually people who call themselves "strange" (laughs). Then the same ones come after gigs to ask how disks were recorded, how Chuck could write those crazy melodies. In short, a cult. With 'Sound' the situation was changing. I can't tell you if this happened because the scene is finally mature for this type of things, but surely 'Sound' represented a big change, for many reasons. One was also the circumstances in which the disc was written and produced, probably more relaxed than with former ones…"

There still exists the myth of Chuck Schuldiner the terrible, who fires whole line-up's if he's pissed off…
"It's a myth. Chuck is one of the quietest people in the world. Unfortunately, when you do this kind of job you meet a lot of idiots that can't manage themselves. You know the kind, those who go on stage freaked out, those who get themselves in trouble, etc. The main purpose of our life has always been to play, and it's not good when someone fucks all the effort and the sweat you did only 'cause he can't live up to it. In these cases I think there's only one thing to be done."

Speaking of the record…if I had to ask you "in which way is Control Denied different from Death", what would you answer?
"Mainly, Death is Chuck's group, his creation. Control Denied is a band in which Chuck is one of the main musicians - beyond that the major songwriter. It could seem a small difference, but if you think about it well is a fundamental change. We're a group of individuals with a certain personality and - sorry if I seem immodest - pretty talented…"

Isn't it difficult to put together all these "crowned" heads?
"No, if the relationship on the human side is sincere. I'll tell you a thing that you perhaps know. A lot of famous bands are made of great musicians, who hate each other. They meet only if it's necessary, talk bad about others when they're not there…well, it's a situation that works, I don't deny it, you have reached the top and sell a lot of records without making many efforts. When you are like us, to an acceptable level of exposure to the audience (yet of course you're not in the charts…) then you must be able to rely on a gear more. Another thing also is the harmony, the friendship."

About the cd, I think the thing that will hit the listener the most is Tim's singing…
"It gets stuck in your head, doesn't it? Tim is a clever singer, we were lucky to have him with us. He sounds like a type of halfway between Chuck's Death singing and classical Heavy Metal, but is very personal and original. Then Tim is really crazy, the Ronnie James Dio's crazy heir!"

There was a lot of talking - actually it was given for sure - that Rob Halford would be your singer. Why didn't you get him?
"Rob is a very great singer, a genius, but is very busy with his projects, he could never have been in Control Denied for 100%. It would have been the difference between a real band and a bunch of musicians finding each other to play. I believe after all it went very good this way!"

So, this was not a "one off"…
"Absolutely not! Assuming that Chuck's health will be fine, you'll hear new music soon!"

Does this mean Death will be in hibernation for a while?
"No, not necessarily. We want the two bands to remain separated as much as possible. Besides, Control Denied is a project that is not famous yet, while Death is nowadays."

Another excellent band member is Steve DiGiorgio, who seems to be doing quality overtime this year…first Testament, then Control Denied.
"Steve is a genius! However, I think on the Testament CD he did a great job, but on the Control Denied CD his skills are more evident. The problem of the last Testament line-up is that the CD is great, but the whole idea is a bit artificial…as you probably know Dave Lombardo doesn't play with them anymore, Steve neither…I don't know what it says to put together so many good musicians to do a great record, and then not to be able to keep the line-up for concerts."

Nowadays there's a debate going on in the scene about how less adventurous bands - or "falsely" adventurous - gain success with the audience, while (as usual) bands that try to explore new paths obtain nothing. If you remember well, a few years ago it was not like this. Is Metal becoming a bit stale musically?
"Mmmh…good question. I say headbangers have always been a bit traditional. See bands like AC/DC, which succeeded to be legendary with always playing the same thing! But it's true that one of the strong sides of this genre has always been the freedom to add new and adventurous elements. I've always been a fan of classical Metal, and nowadays there are not many metal bands that add something new. Like Death represented at a certain point, something really different from what you were used to hear. I think it's a matter of sincerity or, in other words, to really do things you can do. Look at the last Queensryche CD. It's good, but for me the band didn't put in their heart and soul since 'Promised Land'. Maybe they lost control of trying not to repeat themselves…I don't know, I prefer not to judge."

Let's come back to the disc and lyrics. For someone who doesn't believe in predestinations, what's their meaning to you?
"I think Chuck always wanted to tell about how people react under extreme pressures, in extraordinary circumstances. He never told about demons, dragons or supernatural creatures, but about situations that everyone has to deal with. I think this is the secret of the universality of his lyrics, and the reason why, for some reason, 'Fragile' fits so well with the troubles Chuck is going through now. Anyway, let me say I keep on thinking that it was not just a coincidence after all…"

to talks

Translated by VC/MM/YK for EmptyWords-Published on October 27 2002