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JJ's Bizarre Blog #30 - The Fragile Art of Life and Death


Hello once again! I hope you enjoy your summer heat, because June is here and it’s getting quite toasty. So let’s fire it up with another blog entry! Before even realizing it, we’re already on number 30 and that’s just amazing. I’m repeating myself here, but I don’t care, I need to say it again. Thank you for the opportunity to do all of this! For this entry, I’m keeping up the tradition of every 10th blog being band focused and bring you something very special about a genius that revolutionized metal. This entry might be on the shorter side, as it focuses on the all too short life of a man who nonetheless left a mark on the history of music so bright that it shines brilliantly to this day. For this blog is not just the history of a band, it’s the story of this man and the dawn of a new era. Today, I present to you the life and Death of one Chuck Schuldiner and how he changed the world.


The main band we’re going to be talking about is of course the aptly titled Death. A simple name from a simpler time, short and to the point. The band that pioneered death metal as we know it and that would influence countless artists to come. They were also the kickstarters of the iconic Florida death metal movement that I’ve spoken about at length before. The band can trace their origins all the way back to the early 80s under the name Mantas, taken from the guitarist of British legends Venom, another band I’ve spoken about at great lengths and one that all extreme metal owes its existence to. The band that would soon be known as Death was created and spearheaded by one Charles Michael “Chuck” Schuldiner, the man this blog is centered around. A quiet and reserved kid from New York with a passion for guitar and horror movies, Chuck took huge inspiration from the soaring melodies and advanced dynamic song writing of Iron Maiden but was also enthralled by the heaviness and taboo topics of Venom and the bombastic live presence of Kiss. From all of this, he sought to create a new sound that pushed boundaries and was like nothing else until that point. The success of a certain LA band called Possessed also showed that a demand for heavier music existed. Releasing countless demos  during this time, Chuck and his company of friends refined their sound, until the time was right to unleash a new monster upon the world.


The year was 1987 and Death truly exploded onto the scene with a bombastic album with an equally bombastic name – Scream Bloody Gore. While Possessed had pioneered what death metal would be like and gave it its name, it would be this album that truly birthed the genre and defined its sound. Taking heavy inspiration from his love of horror movies, Chuck sought to use his prowess on the guitar to create something far heavier and faster than Venom, Slayer or Possessed. He went on to perform everything except the drums on the album to really take control of his morbid vision. Scream Bloody Gore is a blastbeat ridden shredding riff-fest that is relentlessly aggressive from beginning to end. The lyrics are bloody and violent and spare no gruesome details. Chuck’s vocals are like a screaming demon from the pits of Hell itself. All of this leads to a ruthlessly catchy massacre that seems off-putting but will inevitably get stuck in your head with enough time. Naturally, people all over the world were enthralled by such a unique sound and this masterpiece continues to inspire countless people to this day. Even though metal has progressed a lot since its release, this record still holds up today.


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Having already made such a bloody splash, the pressure was on to follow up and thankfully, Chuck’s mind was already overflowing with ideas to do so. This lead them to release the titanic Leprosy the very next year. Widely regarded as a cult classic, possibly an even bigger one than its predecessor, Leprosy is really a refinement of the same ideas from Scream Bloody Gore. The lyrics are extra spicy, the riffs are even heavier and more bone-crushingly catchy, the solos soar even higher, Chuck’s growl is lower and more visceral and the production is clearer and more potent, without sacrificing the pure raw sound of this era of metal. Leprosy is a must listen for any death metal fan. Hell, it’s probably the album that turned countless people into death metal fans to begin with. 


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But Death are not a one dimensional band and their story is far more complex. They wouldn’t have such a legendary status were that to be the case. And this is where that diversion and evolution begins. In 1990 Chuck and Co. would release their third album, titled Spiritual Healing. This is where the lyrics, while still quite gruesome, started to drift away from simple horror and gore and more into deeper topics like philosophy, society, religion and more. The music, while it remained very heavy even for the time, was more technical and refined with longer and more complex song structures emerging. A refreshing and engaging record all throughout that showed the first glimpse of things to come. Like Alien and Aliens, Scream Bloody Gore and Leprosy were a perfect one-two punch combo that kickstarted this new movement. As humble as Chuck was to deny his contributions, he had become “The Godfather of Death Metal”. Death had pioneered the genre, but that was not enough, it was time to evolve it further.


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Only a year later and this titan would emerge from its cocoon, its metamorphosis complete. The new era would begin with the album simply titled Human. This is a completely different beast from anything until now. The lyricism had evolved completely from slasher film to philosophical quandary. Chuck’s vocals were still harsh and heavy, but had grown softer and more clear, as understanding the message was now most vital to the music. Speaking of which, the instrumentation had undergone the most significant evolution. While the DNA of the iconic catchy Death riffage was still there, the guitar work was now refined, complex and sophisticated, weaving through multiple movements like a short format symphony. Legendary bassist and personal favourite of mine Steve DiGiorgio also played on this album and was one of very few bass masters able to compete with Chuck’s elevated guitar work and members of future legends Cynic would help craft this new progressive sound. All of this came together into a unique experience that revolutionized metal for the second time. While all death metal can trace their lineage back to Death’s early works, all technical death metal and progressive death metal could trace their lineage back to this album specifically.


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In the interim, I’d just like to give a special shoutout to the awesome cover of Kiss’ God of Thunder that is also featured on some versions of this album. It shows that throughout all the evolution and changes, Chuck still holds his initial inspirations from all those years ago close to heart. The song sounds so familiar yet so fresh in their hands and it fits them astonishingly well. A true Kiss of Death.




Continuing to fascinate, Death were not in a mood to stop anytime soon and would come back swinging once again with the mighty Individual Thought Patterns, released in 1993 (my personal favourite Death album for anyone curious). Chuck would keep the incredible Steve DiGiorgio and recruit the legendary guitarist Andy LaRocque and the iconic human drum machine himself Gene Hoglan. The end result is a finely tuned machination that serves as the perfect midpoint between the heavy early works of the band and their proggier later work. Sophisticated, engaging, catchy, innovative, impressive, there’s a lot that can be said about this album, but it really needs to be experienced. Chuck and his legion of master musicians were clearly not content with just bringing death metal into the world, they sought to raise it to newer hights too and already so early in the genre’s life, they sought to evolve it and kickstart new directions for it. These patterns ran deep, far and wide.


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This natural evolution didn’t stop and the next phase would commence with the mighty Symbolic record in 1995. One of the band’s most refined records, it continued the ideas from Individual Thought Patters but pushed them into an even more proggy and very melodic direction. The inclusion of even more soaring solos and additional instruments like acoustic guitars and mandolins sought to elevate the soundstage even further. Perhaps not satisfied with just technical and progressive metal, Death sought to make one of the first steps into melodic death metal too. For truly, this was their domain. They created it and they would rule over it. Symbolic is one of the most unanimously praised records and remains a fan favourite to this day.


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The growth would reach its zenith in 1998 with a titanic album called The Sound of Perseverance. An apt title, fitting for the unyielding drive to evolve and change that Chuck has shown all throughout. For while members came and went, his vision remained and would guide Death to all the far reaches it would explore. This new album is easily the most progressive they have ever made, so much so that classifying a lot of it as death metal doesn’t even seem appropriate anymore. Featuring acoustic ballads and long, advanced compositions, mixed in with some heavy bangers in classic Death fashion, this is a record for the ages. You can study it for years and keep finding new things to fawn over and appreciate about it. So to just keep it short, know that this is an album that deserves to be experienced and one that stands the test of time to sound just as fresh and revolutionary today as it did all those decades ago.


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To wrap up this segment, let’s just appreciate the absolutely mindblowing cover of Judas Priest’s Painkiller featured on this album. The aggressive drumming and heavy riffs fit them really well and Chuck’s ear-piercing screech is a shockingly good alternative to Rob Halford’s relentless falsetto. Take this Painkiller in and cherish it, we’ll need it for what’s to come.




At this point Chuck was clearly fully on a progressive wave and the constraint’s of Death’s core sound were too constricting for him. Thus, Death were put on hold and he started a new band titled Control Denied, where he strayed even farther from his death metal roots, relinquishing vocal duties in favour of focusing on guitar. This would culminate in the epic journey that is their 1999 album The Fragile Art of Existence. A genre-ambiguous band, Control Denied can best be described as progressive metal, somewhat similar to the output of their countrymen from Dream Theater from around the same time, albeit more riff-heavy. The guitar tone on the album is practically identical to what you can hear on Sound of Perseverance and right from the start, you can immediately recognize Chuck’s iconic guitar style. The song structures are the same complex yet compelling brilliance from later Death too and even though he doesn’t sing on this album, even the lyrical cadence has Chuck’s style all over it. Steve DiGiorgio is also back on the bass and elevates the awesome rhythms even higher. Overall, this album is awesomely proggy yet perfectly catchy, even without choruses. It’s a real masterpiece and the title track is mindblowing in my opinion. If you want to appreciate Chuck’s musicianship, but you get squeamish from dark brooding lyrics, this is your best opportunity.


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The winds seemed to be blowing in this direction, as Chuck seemed more interested to continue with Control Denied instead of resurrecting Death. Would’ve been awesome either way to be honest. However, we’d never know, because around the year 2000, Chuck would fall ill with brain cancer. He struggled greatly against it and countless artists from all kinds of genres came together to gather funds and help any way they can. But sadly, despite a valiant fight, Chuck would pass away in 2001, leaving the musical world devastated. In a bit of dark humour, like he would’ve liked, we the fans like to say that a normal human brain couldn’t handle his genius and thus it gave up.


However, we must be positive and the good thing to take away here is that Chuck’s music lives on to this day and continues to inspire generations! I am always overjoyed about how I still see young people wearing Death shirts at festivals, even though they weren’t even born when Chuck left us. Hell, that even applies to me as all Death albums except the last one were released before I came to be too. So, think about it this way – as the saying goes, when does one truly die? Well, once is when your body shuts down for good and a second time when your name is uttered for the last time. So when people keep thinking about you and cherishing your memory, that is one way you can achieve immortality. Thus, Chuck’s amazing creations are still appreciated to this day and several former Death members have even come together to form tribute bands such as Death to All and Left to Die, allowing newer generations to experience this music live in as authentic a way as possible. I hope that with this blog, I have also inspired you to discover it all and join the Death brigades. As Control Denied showed, existence is a fragile thing, so appreciate it while you can.


Life is good, but Death is better! Enjoy the journey, live to the fullest and I’ll see you again soon!