Magazine: Thrash 'n Burn / UK
Article: Keeping Death On The Road

Written by: Rob Clymo
Published: February 1992



Berlin, on the Friday before Christmas, is much the same as it always is in mid-winter; dull and drab. However, on this occasion there is one saving grace because that fab Floridian four-piece DEATH are in town along with four other like-minded acts for a bit of a festive death metal extravaganza.
Joining them on the bill is our very own NAPALM DEATH, labelmates PESTILENCE, those "Kings Of Cheese" CANNIBAL CORPSE, along with Swedish opener DISMEMBER.
Again, much like our recent stint with CANCER, the general idea is for lensman Nick "Game Boy" Matthews and myself to join DEATH and PESTILENCE on their tour bus to experience a couple of days on the road with 'em.
Thankfully, things get off to a relatively smooth start, when we arrive at Berlin's Tegel Airport and get a taxi to the venue, some ten minutes away near the centre of the city. When we get there the Neue Welt is already showing signs of enjoying a good turnout, as have the other shows on this tour so far. In fact, audiences have often been so high that venues have been up to 500 people over the actual permited capacity. Germany, unlike everywhere else in the Western world it seems, is not suffering from any kind of recession at all!

The Neue Welt is an imposing place, relatively modern looking and, after a climb up some stairs, the inside proves to be ideal for this sort of gig with no seats and plenty of room for the lunatics to throw themselves around in. A small bunch of people are standing near the entrance, next to the merchandising stall, including NAPALM DEATH's Barney Greenway and the German Roadrunner PR, Alexandra. We go about introducing ourselves but it's not long before DEATH manager Eric Greif turns up and takes over proceedings in his usual way. Before we do anything Eric wants a word with me, and tells me that they've had some problems back in the States with a couple of other Trash 'N Burn people, who have made it sound like DEATH are difficult folks to deal with.
But , as I explain to Eric, that hasn't got anything to do with me, so in theory it shouldn't affect our plans for the next couple of days, and so with that it's down to business. Eric gets about introducing me to DEATH mainman Chuck Schuldiner, a guy who has had just about everything possible said about him. Considering that, my first impression of him is one of surprise. He's nothing like the bitter and twisted weirdo everybody seems to say he is. Then again, I guess I could have caught him on a good day.
Now with the schedules being so tight, and the band having a lot of press lined-up the following day in Cologne, Alexandra, suggests we do an interview right away, as it may well be the only chance we get, so Chuck and I nip into the food room to find out just how well this tour has been going so far, and also to try and get some details on teh never ending controversy which surrounds this band.



I begin by asking the guitarist/vocalist just why they decided to come over and do this series of German festivals. After all, aren't they half way through the U.S. tour right now?


"Yeah, we're about half way through now, " he says in his usual Florida drawl. "But we go back and finish it after Christmas. Then we come back over in February for a whole European tour. I just felt that doing these festivals was so important in order to show people that I am able to do it, that I'm not difficult to deal with and that I'm very eager to perform. DEATH has always had a very strong following in Europe from day one, even on the demo level. We've always had very dedicated people writing to us, there's always been a demand there."


More so than back in the States I wonder?


"I think the people over here are a little more dedicated," considers the frontman. " And I also think that they may listen to the music a little more too. It's not that I'm being biased towards the U.S., it's just that the people over there seem to be more concerned with being violent, and just thrashing and not paying any attention to the band. Over here I find that a lot more poeple actually watch the band and really absorb the music, it's definitely a very different kind of vibe and I've been enjoying myself very much."


Obviously, after all of DEATH's upheavals over the years he feels that the band have a lot of ground to make up, both over here and back home in the U.S.?


"Yeah," the guitarist agrees. "But I think the new "Human" album proves a lot. And what the whole thing comes down to is the music, and I think that's what a lot of people have forgotten within this whole big mess, all of which was started by a bunch of very vicious lies. People get obsessed with things like 'Is Chuck a monster? What's the deal?' But it's like who gives a fuck. Do I make music? Yes. Do I put albums out? Yes. And it's that which I think people should be concerned with. Sure, people should be curious as to what the hell is going on, but it's the music that really matters. People shouldn't assume all these things, that's the wrong attitude to have in any part of life, just to go around naturally assuming things all the time. It's much better to leave your mind open to things, and use your judgement when you find out the way things really are. That's why I'm here, so that people can find out the truth for themselves."


The guitarist certainly seems very sincere as he talks, and I'm definitely already beginning to doubt a lot of what I've heard about him in the past. Put it this way, to me Chuck Schuldiner doesn't appear to be much of a monster; more like someone who just wants to get things done right. You can also tell that he believes passionately in his music. But, if he really is as genuine as he seems, then why has the whole DEATH story become overblown with all this controversy surrounding him?


"Because of lies," comes his blunt reply. "People have lied about me because they can't see anything else. They've lied about me to get ahead themselves. I'm not into that, I don't need to lie, I mean, I could sit here for an hour and tell you all sorts of juicy titbits of truth that would really embarass quite a lot of people, but I'm not going to because I don't want to stoop to that level. You know what I'm saying? See, I prove myself through writing music, not doing things like using songs that are five years old (nice little dig there Chuck!), I feel that I'm very sincere about what I do, and there doesn't seem to be a lot of that in this form of music these days. People should start ignoring all the garbage that's out there.
That's why I put on the album thanks to people who've supported me for my music and not the rumours. That's printed on "Human", and that's it, that is how I feel about it. When I pick up a QUEENSRYCHE album, or whatever, I'm not doing it because they're supposed to be cool, they're a killer band and they write good songs, which is what I've always been into. When I started out in this business I never had this reputation, although sure, I have done things that have made people wonder about me, but I'm just a person, and I may have made mistakes but I've learnt from them, and I've also found out who my real friends are. It's helped me to get a much better line up of musicians now too."


Something I would agree with wholeheartedly, having enjoyed DEATH's latest and best opus "Human" many times over. And as the man says, it's really the other musicians he's recruited that has given this new incarnation of DEATH its best ever qualities, for a start, CYNIC guitarist Paul Masvidal is a fretster of immense talent, whilst the rhythm section of Skott Carino and dynamite drummer Sean Reinert (who's also a member of CYNIC) add a whole new and highly dynamic edge to DEATH's fearsome sound. Having said that, however, there's no denying the useful effect of all the controversy that surrounds Schuldiners himself. Let's face it, it's probably helped him sell a few more records over the years hasn't it?


"That's true," claims this six-stringer with a typically 'evil' chuckle. "I was just talking about that with a friend of mine the other night. But, the new album is what it all comes down to; that was kind of like my revenge. People were saying things like 'Chuck's dead' or 'He's playing in a glam band' or 'He's in a mental institution'. But what lies, where did any of that come into reality? It didn't. People should sealize that everything that was said about me was pure lies. I've prove that and I'll be more than happy to prove it again."


Actually, when you think about it, the guitarist has proved quite resilient over the years to all these malicious stories and rumours. I wonder, did he ever feel like simply jacking the whole thing in?


"Well, I've been very disillusioned at times," he admits. "I mean, I've been doing this for eight years of my life now and have seen literally nothing, just because you've got an album out and you're touring doesn't mean you're rich. I'm far off being rich, and right now I'm living at home. I don't own a car, I'm a pretty simple person in all reality."


So, at what point did he think to himself, 'Right, that's it, I've got to get things sorted out'?


"After the last "Spiritual Healing" tour," recalls the frontman. "Because I was just so emotionally tired at that point. Everything seemed fucked!! Things were screwed, and after eight years I had just become so tired of taking all this shit. I've always taken responsibility for the things that other people should have been helping me with, and after all the years of that building up and mixing my business with my normal everyday life it just became too much man. I'm not a super human person."


What appears to have helped the frontman get things in order again, at least on the face of it, has been the reappointment of Eric Greif as DEATH's manager. Mind you, having heard some of the gruesome stories about that collaboration previously I must admit to being a little surprised the pair have decided to work together again?


"We just came to the conclusion that it was stupid just fighting all the time, taking each other to court and all that stupid shit. I needed the organization and he wasn't really wokring with anyone at the time, so it was a case of putting the past behind us which is what I hope other people can do too. That everything that happened is in the past."


So much so that I guess he must get pretty tired of people like myself asking all these tedious questions all the time?


"Yeah, but it's also good to be given the chance to tell people that all the things they heard were lies; plain and simple," he says adamantly. "People have been taken in by others whose only plan was nothing to do with the music, it was simply to ruin me, to ruin the name Chuck Schuldiner."


But, I put it to the guitarist, why would people be so concerned with doing that to him?


"Because they have nothing left after DEATH," he says with direct reference to previous members of the band. "That's the reality of it."


Admittedly there has been one positive result from all this back biting. It's made Chuck ever more determined to make DEATH work, and even though he was pretty quiet between albums he was always writing. So how did it all come together as regards the new album "Human", because musically this is the best DEATH disc we've ever heard I think?


"Oh, yeah, without a doubt," confirms the frontman. "I mean, Sean the drummer has really helped to bring DEATH to a more professional level, because there is creativity in the drum department now, it's not just like a machine, it's really helped compliment what I'm doing as a songwriter."




Which is all well and good of course, but is this line-up gonna have any longevity?

"Well, both Paul and Sean have CYNIC," says Chuck a tad hesitantly. "And I know that they really believe in their band which I totally understand, and I support them for that. They're also in a very different band to what this one does, so DEATH has been good for them in that respect. But at this point in time all I can say is that we'll have to wait and see, I'm just happy that the album is out and that we're touring. After that I'm gonna start putting my material together, and I've already written pretty much the whole of the next album, musically at least 75% of it. Lyrics will be the next process."



In which case people will probably look at the current DEATH line-up and see the other guys as mere hired hands. I mean, they don't appear to have an awful lot of input on the creativitiy side do they?


"Right, right," says Chuck, seeing my point. "But they're definitely playing an important part in things. I write the stuff, but I can't do it all alone and the perfect example is Sean, who's brought out quite a lot of spiciness in the music. So all musicians do matter in this band because they're putting in their talents and abilities. It's definitely not a one man band, it's just that I've had main control of DEATH. DEATH wouldn't be DEATH without that level of control."


Additionally, if the other guys do intent to go back to CYNIC, isn't that going to put Chuck back to square one. It'll certainly blow the chemistry currently giving the band a real exciting edge?


"Well, so far it's worked," states the guitarist. "And I'm not gonna stop even if this line-up doesn't continue to the next record. I think it is a really good line-up right now, but we're having to live every day as it comes. It's really just a day-to-day kind of thing, and whatever happens happens. The new album will still be true to what DEATH is all about, whoever is in the line-up."


Now anyone who's been into DEATH for any amount of time will also be aware of how much Chuck likes to use melody in his musici, although it's not always immediately apparant. So how doest the guitarist feel now that so many people, both fans and bands, seem to hate the very thought of it?


"I find that very annoying," he says. "But a lot of those people have only been into the scene for a couple of years. See, that's what kills me about people; they pretend they popped out of their mothers stomach listening to death metal. That's bullshit; these people grew up on MAIDEN, PRIEST, all the same shit I did. In fact, I grew up with even better stuff like ANGELWITCH, RAVEN, ANVIL and MERCYFUL FATE. All those bands' music had melody in it. People can't deny where they came from, and I'm not sitting here trying to be Mr. Death Metal, saying things like 'I've been listening to VENOM since I was five years old; that's bullshit man, and I'm not gonna lie. People who say that are in this very naive mode, the sort of mode I was in five years ago."


Now aged 24, Chuck has been into the scene for a while and clearly knows what he's on about and I have to agree with a lot of what he says. People do love to pretend that they've been into a scene since it started, something which in reality is rarely the case.


"I've been doing this since I was 16," the guitarist elaborates. "So eight years is pretty damn brutal. But you have to evolve and life changes as you get older. I mean, I can't sing about zombies when I'm 24-years-old and after doing this for eight years, I'd like to think that after all that time doing something, I've progressed. The thing is that when people talk shit and say that DEATH is wimpy and are going nowhere, especially if they're in a band with that attitude. They're not gonna break any ground or get into anything new. I'm trying to create new things, and a new outlook in DEATH and that it's not supposed to be satanic to be death metal, or super-fast to be death metal. Death metal can have all sorts of stuff within it, and melody is just something I've always had. If people want to get technical, "Scream Bloody Gore" had melody, my leads on that have got somewhat of a melody to them, like "Zombie Ritual", which is a song that's considered a favourite with people who like the old stuff. People who say that I'm wimping out now better go back and re-listen to my roots."


Chuck also makes a point of listening to a wide variety of other music, something he sees as totally healthy, as he goes on:


"I'm tired of all the barriers people put up. It's like you can only listen to some band called ROTTING ARM from Coongarmonga, or whatever, it's just stupid limiting yourself to listening to one type of music. People have that right, but in my opinion it just isn't for me, it's too limiting. I like hearing melody, a great singer and stuff, but then again, I like heavier stuff and love throwing on something real heavy, like "Seven Churches" by POSSESSED, or some killer SLAYER, or whatever. I get that craving for heaviness; I just don't do it all the time, I just can't limit myself like that, and I don't care what people say."


Chuck, and DEATH itself has certainly matured over the years, and "Human" sees the man taking a much more introspective, really based approach to his songwriting. Was it done intentionally, to get more of a positive vibe going in the band?


"Sure, yeah," he says. "I wanted to make this album come across as being very real, and wanted the title to reflect upon me as a human being so to speak. I think people tend to forget that people in bands are human, although I must say that a lot of people have been very understanding and they'll say 'Well you've had to do what you've had to do' and that's cool. That means a lot man, when one person says that to me. But the title definitely describes me, and the whole thing is meant to be very real, I didn't want it to be an album that seemed false, and I'm happy with the way things turned out. Scott Burns (producer) did a fantastic job he's a very professional person, and that definitely helped."


Obviously with the band about to wing their way into the UK with labelmates PESTILENCE and VIDGRESSION, who are also managed by Greif, I'm curious to know how the new material fits into the live environment. Does it, for example, fit in reasonably well with the older stuff?


"Yeah definitely," states the guitarist. "Because once Sean puts in his own touches to the older stuff he totally spices it up so to speak. I think it fits in really well, and the new stuff is very aggressive but also melodic in certain parts; it's definitely got all the elements that people have come to expect from DEATH."


And what would he say about the quality of their live show right now, because DEATH have long suffered criticisms about their stage performances. Has it improved at all with this latest line-up?


"Yeah," reckons the frontman. "Everything feels that much stronger this time round, and not having to worry so much about whether people are playing things wrong or right has helped out a lot. I feel much more confident about the people that are around me now, which is very important because it's so much less to worry about. I certainly know that it's the strongest line-up we've ever had."

On the down side, the band are none too happy with their American label Relativity at present, although speak highly of Roadrunner, the European licensee for the "Human" album, as Chuck adds:

"We're looking for a new label in the U.S.," he says wearily. "Because right now we're being continually fucked with. This is our fourth album now and every time we've been given the same old excuses, and it's never any different. Things like not taking out any ads, there's nothing like that, no money, nothing, and I'm sick of it man! Those people are fucking with my career and my future, and this band should definitely be bigger in the States. This is a legitimate form of music now, and it could be a career, if only the label would help make it that, that's all I ask for."


We carry on talking until my tape is full, and about all sorts of topics, particularly about Chuck's love of vinyl LP's which are now becoming so scarce. I even tell the guitarist that James Murphy (a one time member of DEATH as you'll recall) told me Chuck had even missed shows when they were on tour in the U.S. so he could go to specialist stores on vinyl buying missions! This brings a stormy response from the frontman who dismisses the story as a blatant lie, and says if he were to do that he'd simply be losing money every time they missed a gig. He's certainly got a point I suppose...

Anyway, by now it's 'round about five in the afternoon, it's getting dark and the fans are starting to crowd around the doors outside. Inside, meanwhile the venue is bustling with bands, crew and media people alike. And, like any tour, there's a lot to do prior to the gig, apart from eating food, drinking vast amounts of coffee and generally chatting away to anyone and everyone.

Chuck goes to take a shower, although photographer Nick has asked him to make an appearance with his guitar as there is a door to the venue that has a great mural on it which is ideal photo session material. A half hour later the DEATH frontman obliges, although we're forced to do the pictures quickly as there are now literally hundreds of fans outside pushing to get in, much to the obvious panic of the security! Actually, at one point I start to wonder whether there might be a riot, because these people are certainly charged up on a lethal mixture of German beer and sheer enthusiasm!

The rest of DEATH keep a relatively low profile prior to the show, whilst PESTILENCE show themselves for a natter and the other bands are similarly jovial. Those youthful Swedes DISMEMBER in particular have to be the happiest looking death metal band I've ever seen, and are clearly loving every minute of this chance of a lifetime series of gigs.




Seven o'clock sees the doors open, or rather, get broken down, as the baying crowd outside can no longer be contained. Standing at the top of the stairs when this happens, I decide to beat a hasty retreat, fearing almost instant death under the feet of the leather clad mob. Seeking refuge in the food room we watch the crowd virtually clean out the merchandise stall in a matter of minutes, shortly before storming into the cavernous main hall. Luckely they get what they came for too, as everyone delivers the goods.



DISMEMBER whip through a set that needs work but fare well, CANNIBAL CORPSE are as amusing as ever, despite photographer Nick remaining unconvinced, still saying that they're totally crap and moaning that it's an appalling way to spend his birthday! PESTILENCE, meanwhile, are rather like a youthful version of DEATH themselves, but it's really NAPALM DEATH who have the most success tonight. At about half-past eleven it's time for the headliners themselves to come on, and after the evenings thrashing, the crowd are starting to look a tad on the tired side. Indeed, some of them are already heading home, and the hall begins to lose some of its original electric atmosphere.

Considering that, the Floridians are excellent and prove a lot better than I'd expected. Having said that, however, band of the evening award has to got to NAPALM in terms of sheer head removal, but all in all everyone seems happy enough with the gig. The small dressing room afterwards is a pretty cheerful place, with everybody seemingly getting along. It's certainly a lot friendlier that I'd anticipated.

It's about half-past one in the morning when we finally get onboard the DEATH/PESTILENCE tour bus, after a brief sojourn by Nick and myself to buy a couple of well dodgy hot dogs. Once again, with so many people on board, the bus is full, so we get the small lounge downstairs at the back to sleep in and while the rest of the guys are messing about upstairs, Chuck plays Nick and I a bootleg tape of a 70's KISS gig, a recording that was given to him by Marky from the Swiss combo CORONER. Manager, Eric Greif, meanwhile, says there's a club they might go to later, and whilst the three of us decline to join them, most of the others take off in search of a few late night drinks. Now what should have been a brief nightcap turns into something of an all nighter, and I awake at about six in the morning to hear a collection of drunken revellers return from said club. We're supposed to be on our way to Cologne by now, and thanks to this we're more than a little behind schedule.



Ironically, as it turns out we could have done with some extra time too, because on route to Cologne, the NAPALM DEATH/CANNIBAL CORPSE bus suffers a transmission failure. This explains why we're stopped on the hard shoulder of the autobahn on a murky Saturday morning in the middle of nowhere. Next thing we know, the rear door of the bus opens, and a couple of the guys load in a guitar and bass cab from the other bus, which they inform us is totally knackered. In which case NAPALM DEATH, CANNIBAL CORPSE plus associated crew members join our bus, making a crowded place even worse. Still, with everyone aboard we head off again in search of Cologne. However, believe it or not, by mid-afternoon our bus is having troubles of its own. I'm sitting in the lounge downstairs, enjoying the ride and looking at the bleak German countryside when all of a sudden billows of thick black smoke start wafting past the glass!


"Thought I could smell something burning!" says Nick, and sure enough it turns out our turbo has just decided to blow up. Unbelievable, but true nonetheless! This reduces us to a slow crawl on larger hills and at one point I wonder whether or not it would be quicker to get out and walk. The smoke too, is getting worse by the minute, and is now filling up the inside of the bus. Nick and I decide to go upstairs and join the rest of the guys leaving NAPALM DEATH guitarist Jesse Pintado downstairs risking death by Carbon Monoxide fumes in a desperate bid to get some sleep!

Of course, at this speed, the journey takes ages. Manager Eric points out that Germany is much like his home state of Wisconsin to look at. Yes, I agree, although I bet he usually travels through it at rather more than five miles an hour like we are now! Thankfully, Nick finds a Nintendo 'Game Boy' computer game onboard the bus, and so we while away the rest of the afternoon running our own mini-marathon, which results in the photographer hammering me something rotten!

By the time we get to the venue, Cologne's Live Music Hall, it's dark and pouring with rain. It's around six o'clock by the time the bus negotiates its way around the back of the venue and we get to pile off and finally stretch our legs after the arduous journey. The venue is smaller than last night, although must still be capable of holding around fifteen hundred people.



The dressing rooms are at the back of the stage, up a flight of steps, which later become wet and perilously slippery. The main room upstairs is where the caterers have set up all the food, although by the time we get to it most of the decent stuff has long since gone. Half a frankfurter sausage in a piece of dried bread is not what constitutes a hearty meal, now is it? In which case Nick and I decide to leg it to our hotel in order to check-in and hopefully get some food at the same time. After all, it will be the first thing we'll have had since those clodgy hot dogs last night.

Band and crew meanwhile, are left to while away the time once again, although it isn't actually that long until the show because of our late arrival, in that respect sound checks are out of the question (a common occurrence on these sort of things apparently), so everybody just has to hope that they'll sound okay. NAPALM DEATH aren't worried though, having enlisted the services of Mitch Dickinson, who you may remember was doing the live sound of CANCER in our last on the road report.


When we arrive back at the venue after checking in (and still minus any food incidentally!), the fans are pouring in through the doors, and we very nearly don't get past the security, who look like they're members of a motorcycle club. Inside the atmosphere is already pretty good, although up onstage conditions are a lot more cramped than last night. DISMEMBER rage through a tidy opening set, faring rather better than the night before, CANNIBAL CORPSE decimate the very eager crowd, PESTILENCE provide the more cerebral metal of the evening (apart from DEATH that is!) whilst NAPALM DEATH hammer their point home in the usual bruising fashion. Upstairs in the dressing room a German video crew are interviewing as many people as they can get hold of, and generally the whole atmosphere is pretty good

It's late again by the time DEATH are due on, although the crowd seems more lively than it did at the same time last night. DEATH blast through another selection of scorching material, which is the same set, they've been using on their U.S. tour, and by the end, the fans look suitably tired, but happy.



Photographer Nick has been busy all night, taking shots of everything and anything, including bus driver Maurice, people eating food, people not eating food, front of stage, back of stage, the toilets etc etc! Yep, you name it, we've got pictures of it, although come the festival's close he decides to pull off his pièce de rèsistance and plans to get everybody involved in this Xmas Rock Hard bash in one huge picture. Easier said than done I reckon, because by now people are beginning to relax and wind down by drinking beer and generally larking around. Miraculously, however, with the help of band managers and assorted crew members, it all comes together. Standing in front of the stage, is assembled one of the largest gatherings of death metal musos you're likely to see this side of the Milwaukee Metalfest of a good year. For those that made it possible:Thanks Again!!


After Nick takes a few more individual shots of DEATH we eventually run out of time, as our lift back to the nearby hotel is about to leave. Most of the gear has been loaded out by now, so there's basically just time to say goodbye before we leave 'em all to it. Tomorrow the Festival has one more show, and then it's panic stations as everybody heads home to their various locations all over the world. DEATH hope to be home on the evening of Christmas Eve, enjoy a brief break and then head back for the rest of their U.S. stint. Then of course they'll be back over on this side of the pond for that U.K. tour. And, having witnessed this latest DEATH line-up in action, it can certainly vouch for its killer live intensity. So, and all I can really add is that you'd better get along and see 'em because who knows if you will get to witness such a strong band together again. We can only hope. Great stuff!


to talks

EmptyWords-Published on September 14 2001