originally written by Chris McDonald
The indelible legacy that Chuck Schuldiner left on the metal world with his work in Death should be, at the very least, acknowledged by anyone reading this review, but Control Denied is a portion of this legacy that seems to go curiously underappreciated even by many hardcore Death fans. I suppose it’s mainly because Control Denied marked the first time where Schuldiner seemed to be aspiring more to a sound that was already in place rather than the relentless innovation and progression he championed in Death. But while it could be said that The Fragile Art of Existence is less pioneering and groundbreaking than Death’s work, mistaking this as a slight on its quality as an album would be a grave mistake indeed. Control Denied’s lone release is still a great showcase of Schuldiner’s incredible talents and a fantastic progressive/power metal album in its own right.
The Fragile Art of Existence is, by and large, an exercise in intense and dynamic progressive metal, and in many ways, it’s the logical progression from Death’s swansong The Sound of Perseverance. (For those who don’t know, some of the material on that album was actually originally intended for Control Denied.) The drumming, once again handled by the amazing Richard Christy, retains much of its extreme-metal influenced speed and technicality, and the riffing style reeks of the last couple of Death albums, especially in Schuldiner’s distinctive blend of traditional metal force and flavor with more melodically engaging progressive elements. The big difference here is obviously the clean operatic vocals, which are handled by none other than Tim Aymar of Pharaoh fame. This was obviously the style Schuldiner was heading towards with Death, and hearing Schuldiner’s brilliant lyrics sung in this way is a wonderful treat, particularly because they feel so well suited to the music at hand. Anyone who’s heard Pharaoh is well aware of Aymar’s stellar range and tone, and he keeps up with the more extreme and demanding frameworks of Control Denied’s music with nary a hiccup to be found.
Of course, this is probably another reason that The Fragile Art of Existence tends to be slighted by Chuck fans: no screeching Schuldiner vocals. But Schuldiner’s true voice—the guitar—is given every opportunity to shine on this recording. Songs like “What If…” feature classic Death-like slowdowns and grooves interspersed with more atmospheric shredding elements, while the classic “Expect The Unexpected” and “When The Link Becomes Missing” reflect Schuldiner’s abilities at contrasting progressive instrumentation with chorus structures influenced from metal’s classic playbook. There’s some awkward transitions and a few overblown moments peppered throughout the tracks (the sudden slowdown in the beginning of opener “Consumed” is particularly jolting), but by and large, these are all fantastic songs, and much like all of the latter-day Death albums, the individual performances are instrumentally stunning. The tandem of Richard Christy on drums and Steve DiGiorgio on bass provides the songs with an expertly performed and constantly undulating rhythmic base that really allows the complexity of Schuldiner’s hooks to shine through, and the production does the compositions similar justice.
So there’s no doubt that, whether you’re a Death fan or not, any fans of power and progressive metal owe it to themselves to own this seminal release. But, for the already-converted, is Relapse‘s re-issue worth the re-purchase? Sort of. Sound-wise, the differences between the original and the re-master are pretty negligible, but the bonus disc contains some interesting relics that may make it worth forking up the cash again. Perhaps most enjoyable and worthwhile for long-time Death/Control Denied fans is the inclusion of the group’s untitled 1997 demo, which features Chuck handling the power-oriented vocals on his own and doing a pretty damn impressive job at it. While Aymar obviously pulls off this vocal style with a little more confidence and flair on the full-length, its pretty cool to hear Schuldiner tackle the soaring vox on these songs himself. (Of course, we’ve already heard him tear it up on Judas Priest’s “Painkiller.”) Also included are some instrumental demos recorded shortly before the album and a bizarre little comedy track recorded by Schuldiner that should be good for a chuckle or two.
Regardless of whether or not this is your first exposure to Control Denied, this re-issue should at least serve to garner some much-deserved attention to this surprisingly unheralded release, and that’s a good thing. The Fragile Art of Existence is an excellent listen for both Death fans and prog/power fanatics, so if you’ve been waiting for an excuse to finally check this album out, now’s the ideal time to take the plunge.