Ten years ago, at the age of 34, Chuck Schuldiner passed out of human consciousness and the progressive, intelligent voice of Death was silenced for good. That Chuck’s passing was a tragic event is an understatement – the artist responsible for seven albums with his seminal outfit Death, as well as Control Denied and Voodoocult, he remains a hero of extreme music, a talented and respected musician and a creative force to be reckoned with. There will be no more Death albums, but the legacy of his work will live on for as long as metal fans live and breathe and Relapse’s decision to reissue the albums as special editions with bonus content and extensive liner notes offers the chance for a whole new generation to discover the wonders of Death and see for themselves why Chuck was considered by many to be the ‘father of death metal’.
Available as both a two and three-disc set, ‘Individual thought patterns’ was Death’s fifth album, released originally in 1993, and it saw elements of jazz creep into the band’s already technical and progressive style, largely thanks to Gene Hoglan’s remarkable drumming and Steve DiGiorgio’s outstanding fretless bass work which is amongst the most distinctive bass work ever recorded. Aptly titled, ‘individual thought paterns’ perfectly sums up the outré approach taken by Death on the album and the line up, completed by Andy LaRocque on guitars, consistently smashed through musical boundaries over the course of the ten tracks that make up the album.
Opening with the hyperactive riffing and complex time signatures of ‘overactive imagination’, the band instantly set down the blueprint of much of what is considered progressive metal to this day. Listen hard and you can hear where everyone from Meshuggah to Opeth found inspiration and if Beavis and Butthead were able to find fault with material from the album then they were the only ones. Stunningly powerful, not just in terms of song writing, but also production, ‘individual thought patterns’ stands aloof – utterly separate from what was happening in music in 1993. Whilst the world was looking to Seattle as Grunge continued to burn brightly, Chuck not only stuck to his guns but he went one step further in crafting an album of intelligent and technical material that would become a yard stick by which other band’s judged their output. It may not have been fashionable, but like all great albums it is a timeless sound that could just as easily have been recorded yesterday as eighteen years ago, something that has been helped by Alan Douches’ spot-on remixing and re-mastering job. Second track ‘in human form’ sees the band propelled at near-light speed by Gene’s propulsive drumming whilst Chuck’s commanding bark indisputably dominates proceedings. Better still is the cyclic attack of ‘Jealousy’ which stands out, not only for the hypnotic riffs, but more importantly for the endlessly fascinating bass runs. Not since Cliff Burton had the instrument been so authoritatively been stamped over a heavy metal recording, and the unique sound and feel of the bass runs still feel fresh and different today. Equally important are the wonderful lead runs that dominate the whole recording. Very much a musician’s album, it is hard not to feel a sense of awe at the seemingly casual way solos are introduced over the mind-bogglingly complex rhythm tracks. Meanwhile Chuck’s unconventional vocal styling remind the listener who’s on the stereo and ties the whole thing together perfectly. A breathless stampede to the finish leads us to the twin lead intro of ‘trapped in a corner’, a track that flits neatly between the progressive opening and the ludicrously heavy central riffs of the track without even breaking a sweat.
‘Nothing is everything’ sees a mind-boggling succession of riffs thrown at the listener and then compounds matters by throwing in a stunning melodic line for good measure – it takes only one listen to see where bands such as Arch Enemy and In flames found early inspiration and it seems difficult to comprehend now, at such remove, to conceive of how different Death sounded back in ’93. ‘Mentally blind’ is a stunning brutal blast of toxic death, the riffs taut and virulent while Chuck sounds full of nervous and excited energy, even as the music slows around him. His lyrics here are key – brutally honest and intelligently written, Chuck was a writer unafraid to look at the poisonous reality of life and on ‘individual thought patterns’ no one spared his withering glance if he felt they deserved it. With the benefit of hindsight this lyrical honesty feels particularly poignant, particularly on ‘Destiny’ as Chuck snarls “Time is a thing we must accept. The unexpected is what I fear… I know there is no way to avoid the pain that we must go through.” There is no doubt that Chuck’s lyrical realism and honesty struck a chord with music fans everywhere and it is that honesty that shines through today as you listen to the record. Unafraid to try something new, ‘Destiny’ has a truly beautiful twelve-string into (played on a keyboard!) that does nothing so much as provide the perfect counterbalance to the utterly ferocious riff that devours the main body of the song. ‘Out of touch’ – a vicious pop at the music industry and press – drips with atmosphere before the closing blast of ‘the philosopher’ ends this all-too-short and utterly brilliant album on a high.
For this re-issue, Relapse have really gone to town. A three disc edition throws in everything but the kitchen sink (demos, outtakes, live tracks…) whilst the two disc version (which we are reviewing here) offers up an awesome live show from 1993 as well as the much-referenced studio outtake – ‘the exorcist’. The live show serves truly as only the icing on a particularly remarkable cake, for this is one album that no metal fan can truly afford to be without, but nonetheless a chance to hear Death in full flow is no mean thing and tracks such as ‘leprosy’ (which opens the set) and ‘overactive imagination’ develop a whole new persona in the live environment, with Chuck’s vocals in particular sounding more menacing than ever. The CD is comparatively well recorded with the drums a little high in the mix, but all the solos intact and even the bass surviving as more than just a subsonic rumble in the background. The set itself draws from the breadth of Death’s recordings at that point with no one recording particular dominating and the band know to vary tempo and sound to deliver a crushing display of metallic might that by rights should have left the audience lying on the floor in a pool of their own fluids.
Overall this is a fine reissue of a seminal album and a fine reminder of a man who lived a relatively short life but who achieved more in those all-too-brief years than many accomplish in an uninterrupted life-time. If you’re absent a copy of this awesome album, this is your chance to remedy the situation.