A Devil’s Dozen – Death

In the history of death metal, few bands, if any, loom larger than Death. “Evil” Chuck Schuldiner and his ever-changing cast of collaborators played an integral role in both forming the genre’s conventions and expanding its boundaries. From the primitive mid-Eighties demos such as Reign of Terror and Death by Metal to the genre-defining classic Scream Bloody Gore, Deathset new standards for violence and extremity in metal, both lyrically and musically.With each subsequent release, Chuck’s abilities grew, both as a player and a composer, placing Death ever at the forefront of death metal’s development. With ground-breaking albums such as Human, Symbolic and The Sound of Perseverance, Death created music that was beautiful and violent, expansive and introspective, and, above all, passionate and powerful.

Eventually, Chuck grew weary of the genre he worked so hard to define, and put Death on the shelf in order to pursue a less extreme — but still progressive — style of metal with Control Denied. We will never know if Chuck’s muse would have lead him back to Death and death metal, as he died from a brain tumor in 2001 at the all-too-young age of 34.

Though he left too soon, in his seven albums with Death, Chuck left us with a musical legacy few can match in any style of metal. And so, for the inaugural edition of our Devil’s Dozen feature, we present to you thirteen of the greatest Death songs, as voted upon by the MetalReview staff. [Also, a special thank-you must be given to retired MetalReview writer Jon Eardley, a longtime Death fan who assisted us in the selection process.]

 

“EMPTY WORDS” – SYMBOLIC

Having not become fully acquainted with Death until my college years, Symbolic had long since come out the first time I really dove into the band. As such, “Empty Words” was among the first tracks I really digested, and the influence it had on my love of the band and understanding of great metal in general cannot be understated. The lyrics, soloing, and melodies are all in a league in which only Chuck could ever be considered a player, but it was the impeccable composition of this track that made me truly appreciate the man’s genius. From the short, soft intro to the brilliant chorus (that simple, drawn out hook is mind-bending), every second is constructed with an expertise that is alien to most of us. Most importantly, this was the song that made me a diehard Death fan, and for that it shall always hold a special place in my heart among all songs, Death or not, metal or not. [Zach Duvall]

 

“THE PHILOSOPHER” – INDIVIDUAL THOUGHT PATTERNS

Even Beavis & Butthead couldn’t stop Death with their merciless heckling. Death’s inclusion in the show came at a time when fans of grunge and bands like Pantera and Machine Head were looking for something heavier, more complex. With their shift towards more melodic and technical sounds, Death fit the bill. “The Philosopher” used a catchy main riff and simple yet impactful chorus to leave an indelible mark on the listener – all while staying true to the spirit of Death. Furthermore, the track – and Individual Thought Patterns as a whole – served as a prelude for what would become the band’s (re)defining era. [Dave Pirtle]

 

“MISANTHROPE” – SYMBOLIC

Sequenced second-to-last on Symbolic — an album considered by many to be the crowning achievement of Death‘s Progressive era — is “Misanthrope”, a refreshingly straightforward ripper. Chuck Schuldiner was a master of constructing riffs around alternating root-notes, and “Misanthrope” offers two distinctly effective takes on the style. The opening measure is vicious, particularly because the more aggressive riffing style allows Gene Hoglan to really unleash his fury. I don’t think he ever hit the kit harder as Death‘s drummer than he does on this track. The verse’s bouncy-slow thrash ends up feeling heavier than it really is because of the way Chuck hammers the root-notes. The crown-jewel of “Misanthrope,” though, can be found in that 9-note breakdown. After Human, Death was lauded for their eloquence and execution, but this track is just fuckin’ brutal. [Ramar Pittance]

“SCREAM BLOODY GORE” – SCREAM BLOODY GORE 

Scream Bloody Gore is a most apt album title, as those three words perfectly describe Death’s sound circa 1987. The album was a horrifying sonic slaughter, and the title track is prime evidence of such, but the song also hints at the more refined sound Death would later pursue. The opening is pure bludgeoning brutality at the hands of Chris Reifert, and Chuck’s delivery of the chorus magnificently repugnant. The interlude, however, is surprisingly intricate, and the solo is positively majestic. If one song could sum up the essence of pure death metal it is “Scream Bloody Gore”. [Jeremy Morse]

 

“CRYSTAL MOUNTAIN”  – SYMBOLIC

“Crystal Mountain” holds a special place in my heart.  It was the first song my band learned together when we formed; we still trot it out live sometimes. Other bands share the same story, I suspect. And why not? Death metal boasts a large and varied canon, but that canon includes precious few anthems. Death gave us an anthem in “Crystal Mountain.” From its intuitive structure and apostate lyrics to its legion of hooks and Chuck’s steely melodies, this is the Death tune most likely to blow up a stadium full of screaming metalheads. [Doug Moore]

 

“1,000 EYES” – SYMBOLIC

Opening with a nervously majestic thrash fake-out riff that sounds directly descended from Master Justice-era Metallica, “1,000 Eyes” is one of the most straight-forward ragers on Death’s most byzantine album. Despite the fact that each section is laid out in easily digestible thrash-drunk death metal pacing, the effortless transitions between sections and Gene Hoglan’s precise yet always-verging-on-frantic battery work in tandem to create an unsettled, backward-glancing atmosphere that perfectly matches the theme of the panoptic society, fully overrun by hi-tech surveillance. And even better yet, “Living in the pupil of 1,000 eyes (1,000 eyes!)” is one of the absolute finest lyrics in Death’s catalog. Who’s watching you? [Danhammer Obstkrieg]

 

“FLESH AND THE POWER IT HOLDS” – THE SOUND OF PERSEVERANCE

Death‘s lyrics have oftentimes delivered game-changing messages to its fans. Even in its earliest, traditional death metal days where gore and horror were things to be celebrated, tracks such as “Altering The Future,” spoke openly and directly against issues like abortion or capital punishment. “Flesh and the Power It Holds” was no different, even though the message might not be as outward or intense. Clocking in at around eight-and-one-half minutes, “Flesh…” is also the longest and most epic track of The Sound of Perseverance, with lust being the key topic. Although the message is the only thing that should matter, it’s inevitable that more people are going to soak it in if they admire the delivery. Touch, Taste, Breathe, Consumed — words of warning from one of metal’s grandfathers. [Konrad Kantor]

 

“ZERO TOLERANCE” – SYMBOLIC

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Drums. More than anything, this song is about fucking drums. Gene Hoglan is inarguably among the greatest and most travelled skinsmen in metal history, and his performance on Symbolic is possibly the peak of his storied career. However, the simple, echoing intro he gives “Zero Tolerance” brings extra attention to his work on this particular track. The crazy double bass fills, hi-hat play, and proggy shuffling (if such a thing exists) all play perfectly with each note of Chuck’s devilishly irresistible songwriting. In truth, every other facet of this song is beyond reproach as well, but it is the sneaky yet unbridled malevolence that really hammers the final nail in. And none of that would really be possible without the lackadaisical opening and subsequent catchiness that Gene provides. Schuldiner was legendary for flicking away band members like flies, but Hoglan was a guy he actually kept around for a second album, and “Zero Tolerance” is the only evidence one needs to know that this was a very, very wise choice. [Zach Duvall]

“SUICIDE MACHINE”  – HUMAN 

I’ve heard Human described as a transitional album for Death. To me, it’s more like a capstone for the first half of their career. Though Spiritual Healing is arguably more aggressive, Human is denser and more compressed than any Death album before it. “Suicide Machine” is a fitting centerpiece. The song revisits a familiar topic (euthanasia rights), but unlike its predecessor “Pull the Plug”, “Suicide Machine” seethes with angular agility. Lockstep tempo shifts, a scorching pre-chorus, and one of Chuck’s most slammin’ choruses power this song; sneaky melodies give the machine a face. [Doug Moore]

“SYMBOLIC” – SYMBOLIC 

It would be easy to just write the word “DUH!” here, but that isn’t how we roll. Symbolic, the album, was a major turning point for Death. It continued to chip away at their signature brutal elements while incorporating new melodic / progressive ones, and the title track set the tone for the metamorphosis. Two important facts: Even old school Death fans who hated the album had to admit that the track was badass, and even folks who had never listened to metal before converted to the cause after they heard that opening riff, now one of the most easily identified in the genre. [Dave Pirtle]

“FLATTENING OF EMOTIONS” – HUMAN 

As the opening song on what this particular asshole still feels is Death’s greatest album, “Flattening of Emotions” is hungry. With Reinert’s lunging double-kick entrance at 0:45, the song finally discovers its elusive prey after months of careful tracking through a barren wilderness. The massive guitars-only breakdown that introduces the pre-chorus is like that one perfect t-shirt in your dresser, well-worn and battle-tempered; the most glancing touch of the fabric is enough to make one drop anything and immediately shout “What went wrong to their picture-perfect life?” Masvidal’s solo sees Schuldiner’s solo’s bet, then raises; a song this inexorably brilliant, nobody folds. [Danhammer Obstkrieg]

“SPIRIT CRUSHER” – THE SOUND OF PERSEVERANCE 

For many of us who didn’t start listening to Death until around the time of Chuck’s passing, “Spirit Crusher” was most likely one of the first tracks ever to grace our ears. Simultaneously, we were also hearing the most famous song from what would be the last album of one of the most influential musicians to pick up a couple of guitars. Whether it’s the slow, crushing bridge of the song that immediately got you hooked, the groovy bass lines, or Richard Christy’s insanely well-timed drum fills, this is as much an absolute masterpiece as it is a perfect gateway into a genre-defining and untouchable discography. [Konrad Kantor]

“PULL THE PLUG” – LEPROSY  

I’d like to humbly submit “Pull the Plug” as my nominee for not only BEST DEATH SONG EVER but BEST DEATH METAL song ever. First, this song still sounds incredible. Like Scream Bloody Gore before it, Leprosy‘s tracks alternate between thick, barre chord dirges and alternate root-note thrash. Everything is pushed forward a step or two forward here, though. Chuck has moved beyond the Kerry King school of soloing and is now infusing songs with his ever-sophisticating sense of melody. Structures are fleshed out beyond verse-chorus-verse skeletons, and there are hints of the progressive tendencies that would become more prominent on Spiritual Healing before revolutionizing everything on Human. But, more than just a great-sounding and brilliantly composed death metal song, “Pull the Plug” might also be death metal’s philosophical masterwork. “Pull the Plug” is written from the perspective somebody on their deathbed who is all but officially dead, and while this may sound like a rehash of Metallica’s “One,” it’s focused less on how the bedridden got there, and more on where they’re going. What “Pull the Plug” posits, simply, is that life is only worth living until it’s not. There’s nothing to fear after death, so why delay the inevitable?  It’s a song that embraces death, insomuch that it provides a preferable alternative to a paralyzed existence. That, to me, is Death metal. [Ramar Pittance]

 

Posted by Last Rites

GENERALLY IMPRESSED WITH RIFFS

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