Magazine: Metal Maniacs / USA
Article: Talk About Perseverance

Written by: Jeff Wagner
Published: January 2000

Though Control Denied is a brand new band, it's five members are familiar players in the heavy metal drama. Spearheading the band is one Chuck Schuldiner, who amassed a legendary name for himself with the release of seven genre-defining--then genre-defying--Death records. On Control Denied's debut Nuclear Blast release, The Fragile Art of Existence, Chuck is joined by guitarist Shannon Hamm and drummer Richard Christy, both having played on last year's acclaimed The Sound Of Perseverance (possibly the last Death album?), as well as bass acrobat Steve DiGiorgio (Sadus / Death / Testament / Autopsy / Dark Hall) and vocalist Tim Aymar (Psycho Scream). The album's eight tracks are lengthy, chops-filled workouts which could only have come from the Schuldiner mind--hyper-erratic, scale-based tunes that shift gracefully from tempo to tempo, complexly laced around a rhythm section as dexterous as they come, and a man-of-a-thousand-voices conveying Chuck's lyrics of belief, determination, and revenge (you need go no further than opener "Consumed" to hear that this man is a fucking vocal monster!).


The album is the culmination of Chuck's long-held desire to write and record metal of a more melodic variety. While fans of traditional, straight-line heavy metal will easily enjoy the album's offerings, it sometimes borders on the multiplexed, disjunctive metalijazz we haven't heard since the final Believer album. It's definitely an enthralling listen, a logical next-step from where Death was heading. After having listened to the album thoroughly, it was obvious Chuck and I would be speaking about his new venture in due time, bringing his latest thoughts to all the readers of Metal Maniacs who voted Death's TSoP the #1 album of 1998. But the circumstances were very different than the typical interview chat. The main topic was not yet another lineup shift, it was not the songs, the album, the record label, the tour, the greater heavy metal movement or our mutual admiration for Gotham City and Sortilege. Though we touched on much of that, the bulk of our conversation was about Chuck's fight for his very existence.

In mid-May, just as the mixes for The Fragile Art of Existence were completed, doctors found Chuck had developed a cancerous tumor in his brain stem. Obviously, his life priorities shifted drastically away from music. For the first time in his musical career, it was not Death that was his main focus. Quite the opposite, in fact. It's ironic that the bulf of the man's lyrics this decade have dealt with total strength of mind and unwavering, unyielding perseverance. If "Destiny" and "Perennial Quest" uncannily foreshadowed what he would be going through years later, new Control Denied song titles like "What If," "Believe," and "The Fragile Art of Existence" seem utterly prophetic. I dare say the tumor picked the wrong guy to fuck with. Chuck's optimism and strength during this physical/emotional trial has been and inspiration to all those around him--family, friends, and fans. Obviously, all of us at Metal Maniacs hope for a speedy remission and recovery, and that Chuck stays among the living metal legions for years to come.

At the time of this writing in early August, Chuck was back in Florida, on a very strict diet and receiving health guidance from a leading herbalist in the field. He's recuperating from the chemotherapy he received in New York City (where he was during the time of this conversation), and will return to New York for follow-up in several weeks. At the time of the interview, though, he could not play guitar...

Metal Maniacs: Obviously things have shifted drastically in your life since you finished the Control Denied album, but I'm sure a lot of your fans want to know what's happening with the record in relation to your current situation.
Chuck Schuldiner: Obviously things aren't going to be happening on time this time around. The usual mode of putting out an album and doing all the press, it's not happening. I'm just doing selective interviews. Actually, you're the first interview. The first of a very few I'll probably be doing. I sent out a press release, because obviously it was needed. Everyone's going to be wondering "Why is Chuck not doing a ton of press?" I've already heard that I supposedly got in a car accident and that I broke my back, y'know, so the press release is just nipping' it in the bud, letting people know that this is something that's going to take time out of my life.

MM: Do you want to talk about that development now, or would you rather talk about the album a little bit?
CS: Whatever you have ready.

MM: Well, let's go chronologically. What made you decide that the time was right for Control Denied?
CS: After the tours for TSoP we had some downtime, and I gave Tim a call, I kinda had the urge to put together this album now, that we've been holding back on for quite a while, and he was ready to roll, so we started demoing stuff. I got him down to Florida and basically started rehearsing for Control Denied and put the whole Death thing on hold. I've never been one to waste time, especially when I've had a whole record written, sitting on the shelf for two-and-a-half years. We updated a few things, finished a couple of things to make it fresher, and we're all very psyched. Control Denied is something I've been waiting for a long time.


MM: I remember reading a quote from you about six years ago when you stated you'd like to branch out and do a power metal kind of band, you expressed wanting to get Ronnie James Dio to do some vocals--at the time, it was really radical for a death metal musician to come out and talk melody and talk traditional metal. It's only now that it's more accepted.
CS: Yeah, that was back in 1993, a Guitar World interview, I remember that. I remember I said, "Yeah, I miss the days when it was cool to listen to anything from Slayer to Judas Priest to Iron Maiden and Venom." That's basically the whole idea of what my musical background has been, just a wide variety of metal, period. So I've had that urge for a long tome to work with a "real" singer and expand. Even back then I was getting frustrated with the whole vocal style that was limiting what was going on at the time with ITP and stuff like that.

MM: Death's music, starting with Human, seemed to outgrow the band name more with every album.
CS: Yeah, exactly. I almost wished I would've taken the plunge back then, like, why wait? But I waited and went forward. I got stuck in the mode of, "Well, people expect these vocals so I'm gonna stick true to what they expect and make people happy," but Control Denied is something where I wanted to make myself happy and make a lot of people happy who wanted to hear the change. I think there's a lot of people who wanted to hear that.

Had you ever considered doing melodic vocals yourself? With "Painkiller" you showed maybe that was a possibility.
CS: No. When there's someone like Tim out there, why bother singing myself? Plus, I just wanted to play guitar and really be just a guitar player like I've wanted to be for so many years. Tim is my vocal here. He's absolutely awesome. So full of conviction and power and melody. This guy has got the clean stuff, the shrieking---I have yet to hear someone who can really scream their head off and sing at the same time. Very few people can pull it off. Like Gillan, there's only a few radical singers out there that have that really abusive vocal style but get away with singing at the same time. I'm really proud of what Tim did on this record, he gave it his all, he really did.

MM: The membership of Control Denied is essentially a Death lineup, plus Tim. So is this just Death with melodic vocals? What would you say separates Control Denied from Death.
CS: I would say the music, the spirit, the attitude of what I was doing with Death is there. It's similar in some musical aspect to Symbolic. But when I was writing the riffs, I wasn't thinking about having to limit them with certain vocal phrasings or styles. The vocal thing being unlimited this time made it a whole fresh thing. It maintains the trademark things that people are expecting--crazy riffs, melodic leads, double-bass from hell.

MM: Is Death behind you? Is this your new focus, and extension of where Death was heading?
CS: This is absolutely an extension, and where it'll lead is something I'm looking forward to seeing through. I get the feeling people are going to enjoy this record. Same attitude, no trends, no chugga-lugga riffs, no one wore baggy clothing in the studio. I'm just bringing in this new direction, which is a direction without limitations. That's exciting concept, and one that will take time. I feel very very good about the reaction I think people are going to have for this record.

MM: So Death is on ice?
CS: For now, yeah. Definitely.

MM: It seems like the other guys had a lot of input in the construction of the songs, there is a lot of personality in everybodys playing.
CS: Everyone shines through. You can't help but hear there is a lot of people kicking ass on this record. Tim's one of the only people that could have pulled off what I had in mind, and he came in and just ripped. He said that it was custom-fit for what he had to offer and I felt so too. It was a very magical, cool vibe.

MM: How did DiGiorgio come into the picture? Wasn't Scott Clendenin supposed to be a Control Denied member?
CS: He just didn't seem into it, I don't know if it was the material or what, but he didn't seem happy with what was going on, so we had to just let him go. It's a vibe that everyone was feeling and it was just something that was inevitable. I told him, "Look, you don't seem happy so I think we need to move on." Things weren't clicking like they were in the past. The Death tours went great, very successful, the album was received well, but it had to be done--and it was something that I hated to do. Scott's a great bass player, we definitely had some good times, but it was just inevitable at that point. So I called Steve up and told him what was going on, it was one of those spur-of-the-moment kind of things, which ironically was the situation for ITP. Steve's one of the only people you can call and say, "Hey, what are you up to?" He's a natural player, and he's one of the only people that can come into a situation and totally take advantage of it. It's hard to find someone that can play naturally and come out and rip and let their creativity flow.

And he's not coming into and AC/DC type project, he is coming into this really complex stuff, like ITP and TFAoE. It's like he was born to play this stuff.
CS: It is just really incredible. Steve is not only a good friend of mine, but he is my favorite bass player in the world, period. Not only hearing him, but seeing him in the situations he comes into, with such ease, he makes it sound easy. Like ITP, he only had four weeks to rehearse for that, and it's just mind-boggling how someone can just step in and do that. That is why I am so confident calling Steve and saying, "Hey let's get together and make another record and have fun." He came in and was everything I was hoping for.

MM: Did it surprise you that you placed #1, ahead of Slayer and Cradle of Filth, in our Reader's Poll for Album of the Year?
CS: I'm still overwhelmed by that. I told someone about a week ago that I still can't get over it. It is really beyond something that you naturally hope for and dream for. I just want to thank everyone for making that possible, it is really incredible. It was one of those nice surprises that happens after so many years working on this. The fans have always kept it going.

MM: I think you'll see an equally supportive response to your current health condition.
CS: Yep.

MM: Can you describe how you first discovered this for the people who may not have read your press release?
CS: At the very end of the album I started feeling neck pains, like if you pulled your neck, or pinched nerve or something. So I started seeing a chiropractor, and then I started seeing a massage therapist, and at that point the pain started shooting into my arm and into my left leg. The massage therapist was convinced it was a pinched nerve. I was seeing her about three times a week; it was only helping for a day or two, as far as giving a sense of relief. Then someone told me about acupuncture, which I had known about before, so I was like, yeah, I'll try it. I'm open to that. So I started seeing her, and for about two weeks I was receiving acupuncture and it just wasn't helping. Then she asked me, "Have you ever had an MRI done?" She said I should go in and get an MRI done on my neck, so I went in and scheduled some appointments to get an MRI, which is a very detailed x-ray. I had one done on my neck and brain, and at first the doctors thought I had a stroke. I thought, wow, something brutal, but if that's it then so be it. There is a history of heart conditions in my family, and I'm in a high-stress job--to stressful at anyway, my MRI came back and the doctors said, "Well, we found something, and it wasn't a stroke. We found a brain stem tumor." And [pauses] it was like, uh...

MM: Life changed right there.
CS: Right then and there, man. It was just like you're waiting to hear the alarm clock and you wake up in bed and you're like, "Oh wow, I had a wild dream," but it didn't go that way. So after the initial shock of all that, it was time to get things done. My sister is like a warrior, she took control. At that time I was just in a daze. Just thinking. And she started making phone calls and she found the best doctors up here in New York that are the top-notch, sought-after people. New York always seems to be the place to go for anything big, music-wise or health-wise. So I came up and they set up the radiation treatment and I'm entering my fourth week. The treatment is only 10 minutes long each day. I expected to go in and have a lengthy ordeal, but it is only 10 minutes. It is very high tech and very aggressive radiation treatment. They pinpoint where they are hitting, they're not just zapping my whole head--it's pinpoint accuracy. It's at a spot where they don't want to operate because it's not a good spot to go in. They tell me they've had very good success with this type of treatment. It's more commonly found in younger people, but if there is a word "luck" in this, it's way more successful and highly treatable when you are an adult because you can handle the more aggressive treatment. They are very very upbeat about the progress I've already made. My walking is normal. I had a cane for about a week. It got pretty bad. It's mindboggling, it really is. Just the whole concept. You can look at it as a gigantic wake up call. Form that day on, it's obviously been very different. I'm blessed with a great family who is beyond supportive. And it's amazing, the friends who come out. That just gives me such unbelievable support; not only getting better with the treatments, but having people behind you. It's been incredible. It really makes you do a double-take on your life. For 14 years music has been my main focus. With any career, especially music, you get consumed. You get so involved that you don't look around you, so to speak, even though you think you are at the time. Then something like this goes on and you're forced to take a step back. You're forced to really look at everything around you, and a lot of things become secondary. We all need to look at [pause] the good things that can come out of [long pause] going through a situation like this. A lot of people you haven't seen in a long time. Your family comes together. You look at things with a different perspective, which can all be good things. I've been up here for almost a month, and I've been going through all this since mid-May. I'm walking' around, I've been making great progress as far as the swelling going down, the doctors are very pleased so far. Luckily I can move around and be normal, so to speak, it's just a matter of eating good and keeping a positive frame of thought. You've got to. I'm a person that definitely loves living, and there's a lot of things I love about life--animals, nature, my family, a lot of things other than music. At this point it becomes secondary. We're doing and interview for the record, but ironically, the record, at this point, has become so secondary. It's something I'm proud of, it's done, it's something I can't wait for people to hear, but at the same time there's this other thing. I've been so obsessed with music, it's been such a passion, but now my passion has switched over to another thing, which is living.

It's incredible when you think about the lyrics you've written in the past. You've come a long way since "Leprosy" and "Choke On It" to write about the virtues of fortitude and inner strength and beating down negatives--it seems like if anybody can beat it, you're the person that can.
CS: Well, I appreciate it, man. I'm grateful people are kicking me in the ass and telling me those sorts of things. It's good when people make you look at yourself, turn you around and say, "Hey, look at your last album title. Look at that word 'perseverance.'" These are words and thing that I need to re-embrace--not for music, not for that outlet--I need to re-embrace key words for a new survival. There are words that I love using as lyrics. Perseverance is an important word for anyone in life. Living each day. Life is fragile.

MM: What did the title, TFAoE, mean to you when you came up with it, and how has it changed for you now?
CS: I remember telling a friend before the symbolic album came out that the name of the next Death album was probably going to be TFAoE. Obviously that changed. It's a powerful, big phrase that sums up everything. Then you look at it now and it's like, wow, if there's ever a record title for a time in life, this title's got something going' on about it.

I guess once you get around to writing more music you'll have a hell of a lot to write about.
CS: Yeah, when that time comes it might be a triple release![laughing]

MM: You thought you had some problems before, but wow--I mean, your feelings have always been channeled through your lyrics, you made no secret of anything, you were an open book, but now--
CS: You start to look at those issues, whatever you were writing about before, and it is like, that is piddly-squat. It's funny, so many things become secondary, so many issues that were a "thing" are no longer a "thing". It's time to let go of a lot of things and embrace a lot of new things. It's a gigantic learning experience, let's put it that way. This isn't the end. I haven't been given my walking papers yet, as far as being doomed. Anything's possible. Their prognosis has been great, which is something that you have to grab hold of and not let go.


to talks

EmptyWords-Published on April 10 2003