BraveWords Ranks The Albums: DEATH

June 8, 2024, a month ago

By Nick Balazs

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BraveWords Ranks The Albums: DEATH

“The Godfather Of Death Metal”. A moniker befitting Chuck Schuldiner when Death was born in 1984. There are of course other bands/musicians responsible for bringing this genre to life, but Chuck’s vision and songwriting prowess elevated the band to legendary status and his music continues to resonate.

Chuck also had a knack for finding talent, playing with some of the most gifted musicians in the business. From the brutal, thrash-inspired assaults of earlier releases, to the ultra-technical, precise methods of the middle albums, and the progressive minded orchestrations of his final records, Death is a landmark name in metal with an enduring legacy.

Here are Death’s seven full-length albums ranked.

7) Individual Thought Patters – 1993 (Relativity)

Is there a “bad” Death album? No, but if there is any that can be considered lackluster, it would be this one. “Overactive Imagination” is the apt descriptor with punctual, methodical rhythms and technicality ruling the day. Lyrically, listeners can get the sense of Chuck’s disdain for fake, insecure, and manipulative cretins.

The lineup is impressive with Steve DiGiorgio on bass and The Atomic Clock Gene Hoglan on drums. King Diamond axman Andy LaRocque lends a hand on lead guitar. The musical quality is tremendous, but there is a pretentious attribute to it. “Jealously” nails the technical and brutal brilliance as well as the title track and closer “The Philosopher” is more traditionally composed. The mathematical precision is remarkable, but it lacks intensity and those meaty, tremendous riffs. ITP is still an incredibly influential release though and should not be discounted.

6) The Sound Of Perseverance – 1998 (Nuclear Blast)

Death’s swansong. By this time Chuck’s vocals were this high-pitched shriek that was borderline grating, and it’s in full force especially on the divisive “Painkiller” cover. The production is excellent with Chuck and Shannom Hamm owning it on guitars while Richard Christy is the Energizer Bunny behind the kit with non-stop, excitable patterns. The songs are a barrel full of ideas pinched together to create an album replete with abrupt transitions and exceptionally inspired musicianship.

The Sound Of Perseverance is the blueprint that all progressive death metal albums build upon. That sledgehammer riff in “Spirit Crusher”, the flawless audacity of “Flesh And The Power It Holds” and crazed opener “Scavenger Of Human Sorrow” deliver on all fronts. “Voice Of The Soul” is also one of the most beautiful pieces of music Chuck ever composed. TSOP is like running the gauntlet of musical challenges. Dazzling stuff although at times a bit scatterbrained.

5) Scream Bloody Gore – 1987 (Combat)

What a way to make an entrance. The title says it all. The violent rawness of Scream Bloody Gore help usher in a new genre called “death metal.” The bloodshed still runs fresh – “Zombie Ritual”, “Mutilation”, “Evil Dead”, “Baptized In Blood” – they crack with superior force and a hammering of riffs that is nearly unmatched. Chuck handles all instruments except for drums as Autopsy’s Chris Reifert sits behind the kit killing it with blastbeats and unstoppable energy.

Just listen to Chuck’s murderous, demented vocals on the title track. SBG is 37 minutes of gruesome ruthlessness as a new genre was being birthed.

4) Human – 1991 (Relativity)

The transitional album. Chuck set his sights higher for what he saw for Death and in comes a masterful lineup of Sean Reinert on drums, Paul Masvidal on guitars, and Steve DiGiorgio on bass. There’s a jazzy influence and a crispness that runs through Human as well as a focus on choruses.

There’s a measured mix of technicality and aggression along with Chuck focusing his lyrical topics from a more philosophical approach. The songwriting is well-structured with the all the instruments working in cohesion and riffs jumping progressions in a fluid manner – it doesn’t have this disjointed feel like Individual Thought Patterns or The Sound Of Perseverance. “Suicide Machine” is an all-time great track as is opener “Flattening Of Emotions”. “Secret Face” has an eerie presence and “Cosmic Sea” shows some instrumental, atmospheric prowess. A highly technical piece of music, but there is still a fierceness attached that makes Human stand out.

3) Leprosy – 1988 (Combat)

There are few records that get the adrenaline pumping like Leprosy. Expanding on the terrorizing Scream Bloody Gore, Chuck molds this extreme force of music to something more pulverizing. It’s a heavy sledgehammer to the face with Chuck’s gurgling vocals personifying the manic quality of the songs.

Opener and title track – there are no words to properly describe the frenzied intensity it delivers. Rick Rozz is the wild man on guitars, bringing the chaotic element to Chuck’s compositions. Have to also mention that sneering snare sound from the drums. The hot sun of Florida brought out the vicious heat in these guys. “Pull The Plug”, “Forgotten Past”, “Open Casket”, “Choke On It” – this is an all-star lineup of annihilating thrashing death. Leprosy is perfection in chaos.

2) Symbolic – 1995 (Roadrunner)

To a newbie metalhead showing interest in death metal, Symbolic is what I would show them. The stars aligned with Chuck meticulously figuring out how to meld all his influences and ideas into a coherent pattern. He found the formula to take his growing progressive tendencies and blend into a potent brew of melodicism, aggression, technicality, and catchiness.

The interesting aspect is Chuck did not want this marketed as a death metal album. It is still decidedly death metal and also one of the greatest albums of all-time. The lineup features Hoglan doing his work on the drums, Bobby Koelble delivering melodically brilliant solos meshing heaviness and jazz and Kelly Conlon provides nifty, sublime bass work.

The opening guitar part to “Symbolic” is nasty and sets the tone – there’s a reason why listeners look at “Crystal Mountain” in awe and closer “Perennial Quest” has a power metal flavor to it. Props also given to Chuck for seeing into the future, talking about a technological prison in “1,000 Eyes”.

Symbolic is gripping with dignified aggressiveness and exceptional musicianship without being too calculated and proper. From the artwork to production and compositions, Symbolic is nearly flawless and should be in everyone's collection.

1) Spiritual Healing – 1990 (Combat) 

If Symbolic is near the top of the (crystal) mountain, then Spiritual Healing is the absolute apex. What makes Spiritual Healing special is Chuck continuing to expand on the sounds from Leprosy by creating this monster that is purely death metal with hints of prog while also producing an atmosphere of doom. The lyrics tone down the horror, gory aspect while having more observations about society.

Spiritual Healing masters the art of “rocking you into the groove” with vivid guitar work and drumming – James Murphy is more thoughtful on the ax and Bill Andrews tackles the drums with more finesse, rather than going straight-ahead with unobstructed energy.

Spiritual Healing is the most unique in the Death canon because it doesn’t pull all the way in one direction – it’s Death maturing and sprinkling in other influences while maintaining intensity and the death metal spirit.

The production is cleaner, more professional, but listen to the biting, buzzing guitars as “Living Monstrosity” blasts through the speakers. The songs are longer and feature seamless tempo changes – smartly balancing musicianship and memorability. This is also the best Chuck has ever done constructing slower riffs – the beginning of “Altering The Future”, the title track, and the snarling, monstrous riff to “Low Life” have this mountainous magnificence to them that is unmatched by any other in the discography.

Chuck’s vocals are also menacing and foreboding, creating an ominous tone not present in any of the other releases. This threatening vibe combined with the strong, consistent writing  puts Spritual Healing at the top spot.

The overall body of work is a credit to Chuck and the incredible musicians he worked with to create influential and legendary music that have and will continue to stand the test of time.

Relapse Records currently holds the rights to all the Death albums except for Symbolic. Head to Bandcamp to listen/purchase their releases.

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