Today marks ten years since a brain tumour claimed the life of Death guitarist/vocalist, and all-round death metal pioneer Chuck Schuldiner, at the age of 34. It’s fair to say that his legacy and influence are stronger than ever, with countless up and coming bands arguably inspired by Schuldiner’s ever evolving take on the style he played a huge role in creating.
The recent reissues of landmark Death albums ‘Human’ and ‘Individual Thought Patterns’ are living proof that Death’s music has stood the test of time. I finally got round to listening to the reissue of ‘Human’ just a couple of weeks ago and not only does it sound as fresh as did when it was released (and indeed, when I first heard it for myself around eight years ago), but its so darn heavier than the majority of (death) metal (or what passes for it) these days. Everything about Death’s Human-era line-up was firing on all cylinders when that album was recorded. As Chuck steered death into a more technical, progressive future, he also changed his approach and insisted on recruiting session musicians, as opposed to being part of a full band as per the first three Death albums. And in guitarist Paul Masvidal and drummer Sean Reinert, both of cosmic progressive death metallers Cynic, he had two candidates who were absolutely ideal for the role, while bassist extraordinaire Steve DiGiorgio (of Sadus) completed the line-up. Such a line-up underlined Chuck’s perfectionism, but Death wouldn’t be Death without Chuck’s attention to detail.
‘Individual Thought Patterns’ continued Death’s progressive trend, again enlisting DiGiorgio, and replacing the Cynic guys with Gene Hoglan on drums and King Diamond’s legendary guitarist Andy LaRoque. Schuldiner further pushed the boundaries of what could be done with death metal, throwing into jazzy bass rhythms and supreme technicality than was more than ably performed by his backing band, especially so by DiGiorgio. It even turned Hoglan into the in demand name for numerous metal bands to call upon, such was the performance and the album’s impact.
I’ve only put primary focus on those albums given their recent reissuing. Death’s legacy reaches far beyond these albums, of course; their entire discography reads essential, and is full of classic metal anthems, namely ‘Zombie Ritual’ (from 1987’s ‘Scream Bloody Gore’); and Crystal Mountain (from 1995’s ‘Symbolic’) just to name a few. Add to that the numerous bands and musicians who can count Death and Chuck Schuldiner as an influence and the evidence speaks for itself. Chuck Schuldiner was a progressive visionary, a talented genius and unconstrained by the boundaries which seem to shackle so many of Death’s descendants today. 10 years on from his death, Chuck Schuldiner remains death’s metal’s most important figurehead. Keep on rocking Chuck, wherever you are.