Magazine: Metal Maniacs / USA
Article: Reincarnation

Written by: Jeff Wagner
Published: November 1998


"I'm a dreamer, and I've been following this dream for 15 years of my life, throughout all this garbage and soap opera that occurs in the industry. All I want to do is write music and do whatever I can to further the re-emergence of heavy metal in America."

For Chuck Schuldiner, there is no life after Death... life is Death. Even after the band's selfimposed hiatus in early 1996, the return of this most vital entity was imminent. After forming his power metal alter ego in Control Denied and working within that realm for the better part of the last two years, Chuck has returned with a new label [insert massive applause to Nuclear Blast here], a refreshed Death lineup, and the expected bitter musical/vocal vitriol.


The new, seventh Death full-length, The Sound Of Perseverance, is a wake-up call to the entire metal scene, with staggering instrumental chops as its backbone. The album fuses the best elements of '95's Symbolic (crisp production values, blatant melodicism) to '91's Human (dizzying technicality, rhythmic finesse), adds several new stretches outward and beyond, and spits out one of the most refreshing displays of metallic vision since... well, since the last Death album. Death has yet to disappoint. After taking in several cuts (that is, being blasted and blown away) from The Sound Of Perseverance in the control room of Morrisound, Chuck and I retreated to discuss the hiatus, the reincarnation, the new members, and the state of the Death metal art in 1998. First and foremost, Chuck's adamant about quashing any rumors or misconceptions you may have heard or read about Control Denied in the drama of the Death hiatus.
"There was a statement related to Control Denied, a rumor, that I quit the Control Denied thing because of lack of label interest. And that is so untrue. That is the farthest thing from the truth. I do things when I feel they're right. There was and is label interest in Control Denied, but I felt that the time was right to bring Death back. Believe me, when the Control Denied material does come out, it will not be dated."

And then there was all the talk about Chuck borrowing Control Denied material for Death and vice versa.
"That whole big rumor got started on the Internet. I fucking despise the Internet, I think it's a load of crap. It's ridiculous for me to have to sit around and explain to people that what they're reading on there is bullshit. I need to really clarify this in this interview, that whatever they read on the internet, if it's not from me or part of a Nuclear Blast website, it's not official and they should not even pay attention to it."


Especially if it's in toilet paper like Metal Maniacs, right?
He laughs, and continues. "The rumor that I'm having to borrow material from Death for Control Denied is bullshit. The way it's presented is that 'Chuck's running out of ideas' which is the biggest, most absurd statement. That's so far from the truth. I've got 40 minutes of riffs written for the next Death album, and at the same time I'm writing material for Control Denied. I'm always writing. I can assure people there's no "borrowing" going on. Al material on this album was 100% written for Death."

In the end, as much as rumors have always plagued and bothered Chuck, his musical spirit has remained noble, his intentions nothing but respectable. He doesn't pretend to fully understand the motives behind his critics and spirit crushers.
"Metal's such a delicate stage in America, why does anyone want to put someone down who's trying so hard to do something positive?"

The Sound Of Perseverance is all the shielding Chuck and co. need to deflect gossip and various other diarrhetic afflictions of the mouth. In its early stages the record was demoed with the basswork of Human/Individual Thought Patterns bassist Steve DiGiorgio. Due to Steve's commitments with Sadus, however, Chuck was left bass-less, as well as guitar-less and drummer-less. With Symbolic members Bobby Koelble and Kelly Conlon busy with their own projects, and Gene Hoglan fiercely committed to Strapping Young Lad, it was time for yet another new lineup. Enter world-renown new members Shannon Hamm (guitar), Scott Clendenin (bass), and Richard Christy (drums). Who? Exactly, I know what you're thinking: a Death record without some sort of "all-star" lineup? I introduce them as "world-renown" because after this record they damn well should be. The dexterity with which these guys wield their respective instruments will have you in rapture within mere minutes of "Scavenger Of Human Sorrow." By the album's midpoint epic, "Flesh And The Power It Holds," anyone, fan or cynic, should be thoroughly convinced that Death '98 is as wickedly talented as any previous incarnation. So where have these guys been hiding?


"I think a lot of people are going to be shocked because people expected me to go for big names. I think on Individual... it started peaking. I mean, I had connections and I could've used connections for this one, but the world is a big place and it's full of a lot of talented people. You don't have to have a 'name' to have the passion, conviction and talent, and that's why I went straight for Scott and Shannon. And for drums, I just thought 'okay, I'm gonna take my time here.' The first time I ever met Richard, was at a bookstore readin' a magazine, and he came up to me 'cause he was into Death and he said, 'are you Chuck from Death?' Then I met him again at a party that was thrown by a mutual friend, and that's the first time I really got to sit down and talk and have a beer with him, and he was tellin' me he's really into the Human-era band and he was very familiar with us, and I remember him saying, 'I really enjoy playing along with those records,' and I was thinking, 'wow, this guy must be pretty damn good!' I meet a lot of people, and some people talk and some people deliver, and Richard delivered the goods. When I announced locally that I was auditioning drummers for Death, Richard called our mutual friend and he gave Richard my number and he said, 'what songs do you want me to learn?' and I told him 'Flattening Of Emotions', 'Overactive Imagination', 'Suicide Machine'."

So basically, all the real easy ones.
"Yeah", Chuck chuckles, "I had to do that! It was the most logical thing to tell someone to come in and be prepared with the most challenging material I've written. He came in and just crushed and at the same time he's one of the most sincere, really cool people I've ever had the pleasure of playing with."

All three members are some of the most down-to-earth dudes you'll ever meet, too. Within hours of arriving at Morrisound, the serious musician sides gave way to the music-loving fans inside them. Scott, walking into the studio sporting a Yes t-shirt, becomes most animated when talking about King Crimson and Rush. Shannon, expressing disappointment in the last Fates Warning record, goes on the exlaim the glories of Symphony X and Savatage. Richard (despite having an almost unhealthy fixation on celebrity John Davidson) lives for Rage, Cynic, Kataklysm, and Watchtower, just to name a few. Having been Death fans before joining, this is a dream-come-true for all three, and that attitude just seeps out of The Sound Of Perseverance at every turn. The days I spent with these guys were extremely comfortable, there were absolutely no ego-trips coming from anyone, including Chuck.
"There's a lot of talk about what I'm supposed to be like and a lot of rumors have flown around, but I don't care what anyone says, I have a great working relationship with people. All I ask is that people be real. That's why I love these guys, and that's why I love working with Jim Morris, he's such a real person and we just click. I have so much respect for Jim. I had respect for him before I worked with him, just from all the stuff he's done with Savatage and Crimson Glory, so this is the ultimate situation. The past three weeks that we've been doing the record, every day has been an exciting day that I look forward to, and I think it's very mutual for me and Jim. Everything's just been so smooth, I'm extremely psyched, everyone came in and kicked ass."

Morris also produced Symbolic, a most appropriate example of the right producer at the right time. Death's continuing exploration of more textured and melodic areas simply outgrew the Scott Burns-style treatment. Morris' background with bands like Iced Earth, Savatage, and Crimson Glory's godly and timeless Transcendence is exactly what the band needed to further its metal crusade. The instantly likeable Morris took time from his mixing duties to share some thoughts on how his ear for the melodic meshes with with the fiercely intense delivery of a band like Death. "I come from a very musical background," says Morris. "At this point in Death's career, I think that matches up nicely. That's the thing I like about this record. It's the most musical and harmonically advanced record that the band has done. I'm lovin' it. I like the aggressiveness of it, the heaviness of it, and the melodies. It's right down my alley. There's no better extreme record to do than this record. This record now, in 1998, is very much on the cutting edge of where the heaviest of heavy metal is going. There's some things that, for the last eight years of so, have been extreme for extreme's sake. That's not something I'm interested in. I love heavy stuff, but I also like to hum the song. I mean, I doubt that you're going to catch 'Scavenger Of Human Sorrow' on Muzak in the elevator [laughs], but you can sing these songs, you can sing the guitar parts. People who are into Queensryche will be able to get stuff off this record, as will people into Morbid Angel."


And his favorite song on this album, the one he's most satified with? Morris had to think about this considerably, and then finally responded as if there was no contest. "'Flesh And The Power It Holds', because it's the biggest journey. I tend to like music that tells a story. That's the thing about metal in general that is the coolest thing, it's the most theatrical. So I generally tend to like the stuff that takes the longest trip."

And for Death, particularly Chuck, it has all been a long, strange, convoluted, but ultimately gratifying trip. Death, the band and the musical form, has come a long way since 1983, when Chuck released a demo dubbed Death By Metal. As much as death metal's been compartmentalized as an entity apart and away from heavy metal, it simply began as an extreme outgrowth of traditional metal. Chuck was there when Death, Bathory, and Possessed began getting labeled death metal.
"I have never wanted to be a catagory of a catagory. I started out in 1983 and I thought, 'well, this is it, I'm forming a heavy metal band.' Somewhere down the line this article came out on one of our demos, and it said, 'death metal band Death', and I was like 'death metal?' and all of a sudden that stuck, and at the time I thought 'Oh, that's kinda cool', but it was so innocent back then. This was late '83, right after the Death By Metal demo was out, and that's basically where it started."

That's a line being crossed quite often these days. More than ever, bands are bridging the gap between metal's various categories, hopefully blurring the lines between death, doom, black, thrash and traditional heavy metal, rather than creating a need for yet more categorization.
"Exactly," Chuck concurs. "Exactly. It's extreme metal."

The fight for non-categorization is surely made tougher by your band's name.
"Absolutely. I outgrew it a long time ago, as far as I'm concerned. I don't mean that in a bad way. The only reason I kept the name was because people identify with it. It's a name they know."


In 1983, "Death" was a really extreme thing to call your band.
"It was. Very extreme. We tend to, because of the name, get labelled immediately in a category taht I don't feel comfortable being in. But it just stuck."

As many progressive metal fans as you attract, you seem to draw just as many fans of ultra-brutal stuff. These will surely be the people down front yelling for "Mutilation" and "Zombie Ritual" until they're blue in the face. Is it tough to write up a set list at this point?
"I have to always keep in mind that those people are just like me in the audience, wanting to hear something from my favorite band's old records. In fact, on this next tour, we're going to bust out songs we haven't done in years."

And of course, there's the requisite "Pull The Plug". Chuck knows he can't play a show without it.
"That's our 'Living After Midnight' song," he laughs. "We're reaching deep into the past for this tour. I always need to remember that that person in the audience is just like me, and some people are going to be coming out wanting to hear old stuff."

Well, I doubt you'll get too crazy, like, "Alright people, this one's called 'Witch Of Hell'!"
More laughter. "Yeah, that'd be getting a little crazy! 'Witch Of Hell.' Damn."

While we're at it (showing our ages and everything): Where the hell is John Hand?
"I need to get a shirt that says that! He didn't even play on Scream Bloody Gore, he actually joined after we recorded it and his picture just happened to be on the record. Once very three of four years I get asked that and I always laugh. I have no idea."

It's hard to believe a time when there was no Death. In a long line of worthy masters, Death surely deserves a tribute album. Already, bands like Atrocity, Incantation and Nocturnal Breed have recorded Death covers.



"A tribute album? That'd be wild! I'd be very flattered if that happened. The thing with covers, I like when people put a little bit of whatever they're doing in with it. For 'Painkiller' we didn't do any leads that they do, I did my own. Our vibe on top of their vibe."

Indeed, Judas Priest got the Death treatment, having more success with this one than the attempt at Kiss' "God Of Thunder" several years back. Musically, it's a throttling, molten sonic attack, but it's vocally where "Painkiller" is going to blow people away. Yes, that's Chuck singing. Yes, that's Chuck screaming to the rafters. My first listen in the studio resulted in a dropped-open jaw and a few double-take glances at Chuck, asking repeatedly if it was really him singing. Morris confirmed that it is. The song was originally intended as a bonus track on the Japanese release of The Sound Of Perseverance. Fortunatelyu, everyone thought it was way to good to hold back, so the song is currently planned to see a worldwide releae. Chuck's unshakable will to do anything he can to aid in the re-emergence of metal in America is no doubt a goal worth fighting for. He's seeing all kinds of bands, like, say, Limp Bizkit, being called "metal" by mainstream press and the major labels currently running full-steam towards L.A. with a fistful of dollars and a contract. Bullshit, says he, and so do I, and so, apparently, do many of you. Chuck sums it up thusly:

"A 'trend' is something that's going to be dated. 'Trend' means 'temporary'. Something sincere is going to outlast something temporary. All those bands, like most of the ones on the Ozzfest? Gone. Real soon. Real metal is going to come back and kick everyone in the ass. All these bands who cut off all their hair are going to be taking hair pills to grow it back, and they're going to be buying jeans that fit normal. You're not going to see any of that in the band Death."

DEATH select discography

Scream Bloody Gore - 1987, Combat
Leprosy - 1988, Combat
Spiritual Healing - 1990, Combat
Human - 1991, Relativity
Individual Thought Patterns - 1993, Relativity
Symbolic - 1995, Roadrunner
The Sound Of Perseverance - 1998, Nuclear Blast


to talks

EmptyWords-Published on April 10 2003