Vision of the Anointed
CoC interviews Death
by: Aaron McKay
Through the course of a thirty minute dialogue with a true metal icon, Chuck Schuldiner of Death, I had reaffirmed for myself what I already knew to be accurate. You see, I have been a massive fan of Death for many years. Growing up in Florida, Mr. Schuldiner and various members of the band would surface at concerts at which I was in attendance. Never, not once, did he or any of Death's rank-and-file ever not have a moment to sign an autograph or take a moment to bullshit with a fan. I always have found this type of fan loyalty to be extremely admirable. This sterling personality trait of Mr. Schuldiner's came flooding back to me during our discussion. My phone interview with Death's founding member revealed, once again, a grateful and articulate gentleman. A true and honest pleasure to converse with. If I came away from the interview with anything at all, it was Chuck Schuldiner's message to the listening public stems from the recognition that no lasting solution to the problem of mediocrity in music can be brought about with a brief reality check. Through Death's new masterpiece, _The Sound of Perseverance_, Schuldiner and Death collectively manifest a new standard by which all metal will now be judged. Let me share with you some of the passion and enlightenment of one of metal's greats!

CoC: I've noticed that a lot of bands seem to be relocating to the "Sunshine State", like Cannibal Corpse and, recently, Pro-Pain. What draw do you feel Florida has, outside of hurricane season, of course?

Chuck Schuldiner: <Laughs> Good question. I think, for one thing, I know personally, survival-wise, it is very economical. You can get a house down here for what people up North are paying for an efficiency apartment. That, I think, is a really big part of it. Honestly, in Florida, the only bands coming out of here now are Matchbox 20 and that type of stuff. For metal, Florida has had a little boom in Tampa for a while, with a lot of the bands getting picked up. Florida has never really been a big place for a lot of the big bands to come out of. [Death being the OBVIOUS exception! -- Aaron] Bigger bands in Florida are like Tom Petty from Gainesville...

CoC: Buffett plays there quite a little bit!

CS: Yeah! And Pat Travors! Florida is just a very weird place. I think, more than anything, if I was going to move down here, it'd be, for one thing, awesome beaches and the economical side of it. As a musician, money does not come in all the time and it's hard. This is the only way to be able to have a decent house and survive.

CoC: How is the scene there in Florida? I know that you mentioned a few bands that couldn't even be construed as metal, but, other than that, how is the scene for bands like Death?

CS: We never play around here. It is pretty lame. Orlando and the club scene is pretty pathetic. Basically, it has always been bad. Ever since 1983, when I formed the band, it has always been bad. It has always been behind the times. We have the House of Blues now which has been doing, like, Megadeth gigs; the more mainstream metal type of stuff, which is cool. It's funny, to tell you the truth, I don't even look at [Florida] as a place for a scene. I look at Florida as a place where I've lived most of my life and there has been a little scene bubble up here and there, but it dies back down real quick. It is an odd place for the music scene, compared to places like New York that have such an established reputation.

CoC: When I was growing up there, I remember seeing bands like Nasty Savage and Rich Elliott's Blackout performing at Masquerade and J. J. Casino and Lounge. How do you think that kind of atmosphere affected Death and its development?

CS: Nasty Savage was a big inspiration to me in the beginning, because they were a real band. I remember still being in high school and I saw them play and I remember them being so professional, heavy, and those are some -real- special times. I still look back on those with a -lot- of cool memories. It was definitely a major influence to see Nasty Savage. They had this killer demo out, _The Way to Mayhem_ [I think I heard the name of this demo correctly... -- Aaron]. I just remember looking up to them as being so professional and inspirational, as well. I remember thinking that they were going to be massive. I remember, honestly, telling my friend that they are going to be as big as Priest, one day. I thought they would be...

[At this point Mr. Schuldiner cleared up for me a forlorn notion of mine that, once, at a club in Ybor City, Florida, a buddy of mine and I thought we saw him take the lead guitar duties for Obituary when Obituary opened for Morbid Angel. I then asked him about the relationship between Morbid Angel and Death. -- Aaron]

CoC: Is there any animosity between the bands?

CS: Not that I know of. They have had some really odd statements about our band. I don't know why.

CoC: Struck me as funny...

CS: I have no idea. Real good question, actually.

CoC: Speaking of that, I have always viewed Death as a group that has a real good positive vibe -- pointing out ills in society and things that you could make right. "Overactive Imagination" comes to mind here. Is this a conscious effort on the part of Death?

CS: It definitely is [about] things that trouble me. I'm a pretty simple person. Basically, the way I live life is with good people around me. I love animals. I love normal things. Love going to the beach. Everything normal. It troubles me that there are so many people out in the world that want to see people fall flat on their face and not do well in life. It is weird to me because I, personally, don't -ever- have the time to sit around and dwell on other people's lives. It is amazing how many people out there do nothing -but- that. [They] start rumors, say bad things about people; I'm just not into this whole negative thing.

CoC: Along those lines, I wanted to ask you, in the liner notes of _Human_, you stated that this album was more than an album to you; it was revenge.

CS: Exactly. A lot of people tried to ruin my career, ruin my name, ruin my integrity. I'm just a musician. I'm here to make music. I guess that troubles some people.

CoC: Gene Hoglan, in the liner notes on _Individual Thought Patterns_, called you the best cook in death metal. What did he mean by that?

CS: I enjoy cooking. Definitely. When Gene was down, whenever he would come down to rehearse, we'd always barbecue and do some cooking.

CoC: I think I remember reading that he really benefited, weight-wise, from your cooking...

CS: I try to help. I thought it was really cool how he was trying to keep that strong will-power to do good and loose weight. I was just cooking a lot on the grill. Just a lot of light stuff.

CoC: I remember going to a "Death for Life" benefit for B.E.T.A. and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. A kind of record release party for _Symbolic_.

CS: RIGHT!

CoC: Is there any unofficial release party scheduled for _The Sound of Perseverance_?

CS: Not really, no. Probably just have a party at my house or something. You know, just a few friends. Nothing major. I'd like to do some benefits in the future for, like, the Humane Society. I love dogs and cats. I think that they are basically a lot better than people, most times.

CoC: I want to give a great deal of credit here to Nuclear Blast. They really seem to have come behind Death 110%, giving you guys some much deserved attention. I know Death had to have been pursued by any number of labels, so why Nuclear Blast?

CS: There were several labels that were interested [in Death], but I've seen Nuclear Blast, for one thing, grow so rapidly over the past couple of years, as a label, that it's insane. It is because of good decisions that they have made by signing good bands. They have a lot of good bands on their label right now. They are a label that, unlike most other labels out there, stuck their necks out and signed all this metal. It has paid off because now they are -the- label! I saw that, believe me. As a fan, I recognize that, and, as a musician in a band that is suffering from -lack- of proper decision making from other labels; I saw them making a lot of good decisions. We started talking to each other and had several really good conversations about things. They know where I was coming from and I talked in great length about where the band has been, where it could go, and where it could have gone with the proper support from [Death's previous] labels. Nuclear Blast shared my viewpoints and we struck a deal. That was that. It just made perfect sense. I feel it is the making of a really good relationship.

CoC: When listening to _The Sound of Perseverance_, it sounds so multi-layered, dramatically heavy, and complex. Even more so than _Individual Thought Patterns_. How do you do it?

CS: Funny you should mention _Individual Thought Patterns_. This record kinda reminds me of the spirit of that, in a way, while I was moving into a fresh territory, as well. It kinda has that attitude of when I started writing for this record, I, for one thing, had my home studio set up and was able to do a lot of recording and experimenting with different leads, ideas, harmonies, playing the two guitars off of one another, and have two different guitar parts going on, as opposed to have them always doing the exact same thing. This opens up the possibilities for so many more melodies. It was a matter of just really experimenting with the material. We re-did the whole record two times before we even entered the studio with Jim Morris, so by the time we were at Morrisound, it was the most prepared I have ever been in my life.

CoC: Fantastic!

CS: Yeah! It paid off. We went in wanting to keep this [album] fresh. We know what we are doing, we know what we want do to. We worked with Jim Morris on _Symbolic_, so I knew exactly what to expect, which was nothing but good things. We recorded and mixed the album in three weeks, which is kinda really unheard of in the industry.

CoC: WOW!

CS: It was cool. It felt great. I wanted to capture that "real vibe".

CoC: It definitely came across that way. When I listen to _The Sound of Perseverance_, it kinda feels like a musical excursion, like an adventure, clocking in at 56 minutes and change -- by far Death's longest release. Was there sometime you were trying to communicate with its length and get across to the listener?

CS: I had a lot of stuff to get out musically! <Laughs> When I started writing this material, the songs, in general, were a lot longer. Like "Flesh and the Power it Holds", [which] is over eight minutes long.

CoC: That song is brilliant!

CS: That is my favorite song on the record, personally. You used that word "adventure". I like to use that [word] for music. I think that music -should- be an adventure. For me, these songs turned in to these adventures more than any other record, I think. It is a very natural thing for me; when I start writing, I write and whatever comes out -- comes out. I think [_TSoP_] is a good album to come out at this time. The state of metal now is so twisted in America. People take the easy way out musically and everyone is copying each other and I think this is a good album to kinda throw in the middle of everyone and say, "Here, take this!" <Laughs>

CoC: Exactly. I think that Scott [Clendenin], Shannon [Hamm], and Richard [Christy] had some enormous footsteps to follow in, because the stream of talented musicians that has come through Death has been cataclysmic. They all have really risen to the occasion. What an excellent line-up you have now.

CS: I feel very good about it. We all do. I have basically been performing with Scott and Shannon for over two years now, so we've had a really good relationship established, and Richard came in and just sounded killer.

CoC: It just clicked.

CS: Yeah.

CoC: I know that you personally tip your hat to Mercyful Fate, Venom, Hellhammer, and the like...

CS: Oh, yeah.

CoC: I feel that the argument can be made, even by me, on occasion, that Death is kinda the pioneer of the entire field. What kind of obligation does that place on Death?

CS: I don't know. Several people have mentioned that and, it might sound weird, but I never really think about it like that. It is kinda like, I just go my own way and do my own thing and hope whatever comes out makes people happy. I feel, as a fan, not even as a musician, but as a metal fan, that I -do- have a responsibility to keep metal going and alive and do whatever I can do. That is the fan side of me more than the musician. It is an intertwined thing because I am -such- a fan still, and I think that people might forget that. A lot of people in bands stop becoming fans. You can tell, listening to certain records by the bigger bands, that they have stopped being a fan of metal. They are no longer intrigued by it or care especially; when you see bands like Metallica saying that they are no longer a metal band and don't want to be called a metal band, yet they got huge off of being metal. <Laughs>

CoC: I think that is very well put.

CS: It is sad. It makes me sad, as a fan, to see bands turn people onto great music then whatever... It is kinda like [Metallica] are old; they are not that much older than me, really. I'm 31 and they have to be in their mid-thirties; upper-thirties, at the most.

CoC: You mentioned that you were a fan and every time that I've seen Death you have always been very supportive other groups. The band that comes immediately to mind is Sadus.

CS: Oh, yeah.

CoC: You have often gone out of your way to support other acts that have followed in your wake. I think that you deserve a tremendous amount of credit for that.

CS: It is like I've said before, I'm just trying to keep things going and whatever I can do anytime, I will do it. I am lucky to have some friends in some really cool bands like Sadus, who are such great people and they are such a great band. I saw them at the Milwaukee Metal Fest.

CoC: Thank you, by the way, for performing at that show, too.

CS: I had a really great time. It was really hectic, though, man, 'cause those shows are not put on well. Getting on stage and the equipment being total crap. Richard is one of the greatest drummers in metal and he had a horrible drum set to play on. His snare kept falling; he only had two toms and he usually plays five. It was just a mess, but after the third song, everything just clicked and the audience was so killer. It was very uplifting to be a part of that show and look out there and see all these people there for metal when supposedly metal is dead in America.

CoC: No way. Not after -that- show.

CS: That show really sent some shockwaves through corporate America. I thought Mercyful Fate was incredible and Sadus was awesome. I was honored to sit there in front of Steve [DiGiorgio] and watch him play. They were just really great.

CoC: I wanted to ask you about the vocal style on _The Sound of Perseverance_. I've noticed in recent interviews that you said it was the most limiting style to the genre that Death is in.

CS: It is. That is why I had a lot of fun doing "Painkiller". That was my chance to do something different that I enjoy doing. [The vocal style] is basically why I have Control Denied ready to go after the Death tours are done. Control Denied is the extension of Death.

CoC: I am excited about it!

CS: I am, too. It has so much potential, because I have been very blessed by people embracing the music of Death, and when they hear Control Denied it will be exactly what they are embracing Death for, only more. It is that next, fifth element, which is the vocals, that are, honestly, holding this thing back inside of me. I've grown so much, as the music has; I'm outgrowing it. It is like a shoe that is getting really tight and you have to switch to another pair and let things grow and breathe. The music for Control Denied is all about that. It is about not giving in, it is not about anything but what the name of the band says. I don't like to be controlled or limited, and, with music, the worst thing to do is stay in the same spot when you know there could be more and better things.

CoC: I personally believe that your fans are growing with you.

CS: I do, too. I think the greatest thing is that everyone is really embracing the progress.

CoC: How do you feel about your upcoming tour with your label-mates HammerFall?

CS: It is going to be great. I'm looking forward to it very much. They are a killer metal band and I think America is going to enjoy that tour!

CoC: Back to the Milwaukee Metal Fest for a moment, I noticed that Brian Griffin of Broken Hope was twisting the knobs on the soundboard for Death's performance. Was that something that was planned?

CS: Actually, our sound man didn't show up. The bus broke down. The sound man for Cannibal Corpse is also our sound man, sometimes. He was going to run our sound at that show, but the bus broke down, so I was freakin' out. We had to go on in an hour and we had no sound man; our guitar tech didn't show up, our drum tech didn't show up. It was a nightmare. I mean, honestly, really, it was one of the most nightmare-ish like shows leading up to the performance that I have ever had.

CoC: How was the Dynamo Open Air Festival with Pantera?

CS: Great! Really great response. 35000 people. Insane. Kinda like a dream looking out and seeing all those people. Really cool, man! Overwhelming in a really great way. The most organized concert event that I have ever been a part of. It was so professionally done and it was just killer. I thought it was a breakthrough for us to be a part of something like that.

CoC: I noticed there is a lot of groups touring right now. Do you think that will, in any way, discourage some bands from touring now that a juggernaut like Death is going to be on the road?

CS: Some people have mentioned that there are a lot of bands on tour and they are kinda worried that people aren't going to have enough money to come out to our show. Basically, I think that it is up to the fans to balance their money wisely. <Laughs>

CoC: I've noticed in the music industry things seem to be extremely hectic and chaotic. Death, however, never seemed to get swept up into that. Did the name of the new record come from the struggle a band like Death must endure to keep on keepin' on?

CS: That is exactly where the whole name was spawned from. For this record, I felt like it definitely is the most impressionable and important record that this band has ever done. That is why the title really had to say something and that it had to make people realize that it -was- saying something.

CoC: Thank you, Mr. Schuldiner, for all of your time and for the very impressive _The Sound of Perseverance_ release. Please, end the interview anyway you would like.

CS: God! I appreciate everyone's support and patience. REAL METAL DOES LIVE!

(article submitted 1/10/1998)


ALBUMS
10/19/2001 C Flaaten 10 Death - Live in LA - Death and Raw
9/1/1998 P Schwarz 9 Death - The Sound of Perseverance
GIGS
1/16/1999 A Cantwell Death / HammerFall Dying Under the Hammer
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