In its unenviable position sandwiched between the dueling masterpieces of one of the single most important bands in metal history, Individual Thought Patterns tends to get the short end of the proverbial stick. Thought Patterns follows 1991’s Human – Death‘s break-through album that bridges the headier leanings of later days and the screaming bloody gore that came before – and it precedes 1995’s Symbolic, the platter of perfect prog-death that rightfully graced MetalReview’s own 100 Most Essential Albums Of The 1990s. (For the record, this reviewer places Human above Symbolic. But seriously, they’re both amazing.) And while it isn’t as masterful as those records, Individual Thought Patterns is still only a hair’s-breadth short of brilliant. I must concede guilt in long overlooking this record in favor of Human or Symbolic or Leprosy, but I’ve listened to Thought Patterns countless times in the last month or so, and let the record show that, right about now, I’m thinking myself more than a bit foolish for downplaying it all these years.
So I should thank Relapse for reminding me that I should’ve paid more attention to Individual Thought Patterns – that label continues its re-introduction of Death’s catalog with this 3-disc set. (Expanded sets of both Human and 1998’s The Sound Of Perseverance have already seen re-release.) Reviewing a reissue is a two-fold endeavor – there’s the question of “Does the reader need to buy this album?” and then there’s the question of “Does the reader who already bought this album in some earlier incarnation need to buy this album again?” Though re-issues are appearing in droves these days, and though each is done with differing degrees of success, these Death sets are grand examples of reissues done right. Each set adds copious amounts of bonus material to albums already first-rate. So the answer to both of the questions posed above is a simple, no-brainer “yes.” And here’s why:
Death’s place in the history of metal is well documented; the importance of Chuck Schuldiner and his rotating cast of cohorts is undeniable and nearly unparalleled. Therein lies more than enough reason why anyone who hasn’t already purchased Individual Thought Patterns should do so post-haste. But there is more (and less) to Thought Patterns than just Schuldiner’s metal-god legacy: Simplifying it from its own history, this is a great record from a band of great musicians with great ideas. It’s the second and final appearance of Steve DiGiorgio and his fretless bass on a Death record, and it’s the first of two appearances of former Dark Angel drum behemoth Gene Hoglan. As such, it boasts the quintessential Death rhythm section, though it’s the only Death record that does so. (No offense to Sean Reinert or Richard Christy, of course, but DiGiorgio and Hoglan are metal session-musician legends for a reason.) And Thought Patterns has one factor that no other Death record has, and that is Andy LaRocque. True, Human sported fellow prog-metal god Paul Masvidal of Cynic on second guitar, and true, the longtime King Diamond sideman is an odd choice for Schuldiner’s prog-death machine, but LaRocque has long been an underrated force in metal. Here as elsewhere, his soloing is melodic and memorable and executed with fluid and deft expertise. In revisiting Thought Patterns now, a significant part of what elevated the record from “yeah, it’s not as good as Human / Symbolic” to “Jesus, why don’t I listen to this more often?” was the sporadic touches of killer melodic lead guitar work, especially as contrasted against the tech-death riffing, the jazzy flourishes and the rhythmic complexities of the Schuldiner / DiGiorgio / Hoglan team.
Production-wise, the original Individual Thought Patterns suffered from the dated Morrisound sound, and this re-issue updates those muffled, flat tones – the drums are punchier; the slipping and sliding bass-lines more audible; the guitars thicker, stouter; all in all, the whole thing shinier, crisper and bigger. Longtime listeners may find the new punch a bit off-putting, but overall, it’s an improvement. On the bonus-track front, both Human and Perseverance added two discs of unearthed material – a staggering amount of demos, rehearsals, alternate versions, and so on – and Thought Patterns follows a similar path, but yet does it better. In terms of both quality and collectability, the bonus material for this reissue trumps the others soundly. The final bonus disc herein accumulates those same vault-plundering suspects – Gene and Chuck working on ideas, Chuck’s riff tapes and so on – but the middle disc is the prize: a studio outtake titled “The Exorcist” and a live set from Germany, recorded in April 1993. That show encompasses mostly material from Human and earlier – only three songs from Thought Patterns made the cut (“Overactive Imagination”, “Trapped In A Corner” and “In Human Form”). Still, we’re treated to great live versions of classics like “Living Monstrosity” and “Zombie Ritual,” plus Human-era brilliance like “Flattening Of Emotions” and “Suicide Machine.” As expected, the band is absolutely killer (with Ralph Santolla in place of LaRocque, who couldn’t tour due to commitments to King Diamond), and the recording is first-class. In the tragically eternal absence of any new Schuldiner material, live recordings like these become nearly priceless, and this one doesn’t disappoint.
Although Death’s career arc was one characterized by massive leaps forward, the band’s trajectory was nevertheless linear. As it sits in its place in line, Individual Thought Patterns expands upon Human’s progressive and melodic tendencies – the same tendencies later honed to prog-perfection on Symbolic – and it moves further into the cerebral and away from the brutal. Bookended by brilliance, it’s a transition album from a band whose later days were defined by constant transition. It’s not Death’s finest hour, but it’s better than most bands’ best records, and it’s still a pillar of technical death metal, even nearly two decades later. You need this record, and with the bonus of a top-notch live set from Chuck and friends, this newest version makes it all the more essential.