Monday, July 03, 2023

Remember the Fall: Chuck Schuldiner [EN]

Ελληνική έκδοση

1. Life:

In 1984 "Evil Chuck" Schuldiner's Mantas changes its name to Death, a name that in those days is ideal to make them the epicentre of the underground on the death metal front, a label still contested to this day as to who was reponsible for its establishment. At the time it did not exist as we know it today. You had Venom, Hellhammer / Celtic Frost, Bathory, you had the extreme thrashers; Slayer, Exodus, Kreator and of course Possessed. And Death. From that point on, when people spoke about death metal, the first to come up would be Death; name speaks for itself. They were undoubtedly more extreme musically than the rest and their vocals in particular are a big deal but they also have a huge presence in the underground, due to their numerous demos and the very active presence of Chuck in the tape-trading circuit.

At 16 years old he formed Mantas along with Kam Lee (a punk drummer with a talent in drawing) and Rick Rozz (Frederick DeLillo), with the name effortlessly chosen during a Venom listening session, to be turned a year later into the historical "Death". The goal was to create the most extreme band, musically, lyrically, aesthetically. The outcome was the release of foundational albums of the genre, with 1988's Leprosy being the sonic definition of the new scene. The history of the band has always been convoluted, mainly because a ton of people passed through its ranks and many departures were accompanied by a deluge of bitter words and backstories. Disappointed, very angry but also determined, Chuck says that from now on (post 1990) he will recruit session players, the best possible to realize his music vision. And indeed, the albums that followed in the 90s are monuments of technical playing, with extremely successful choices of collaborators. He no longer was the ambassador of death metal. By 1993, the only reminders of the starting point were the vocals and the name of the band. Those would eventually change too, giving the vocal position to a very capable clean throat, forming Control Denied, the progressive metal band that was to be Chuck's swansong.

2. Death:

On his 32nd birthday, on the 13th of May 1999, after an MRI scan to determine what caused him neck pains, Chuck Schuldiner was diagnosed with a brain tumor. From that point began an odyssey that included painful therapies but also financial drain. The treatment left him and his family with huge debts. Unfortunately, the tumor re-emerged in 2001, during the recordings of the second Control Denied album, the insurance company refused to pay since "the cancer was pre-existing" and a new wave of support around the world followed. To no avail. On the 13th of December 2001, Chuck commited his spirit, passing into immortality.

3. ...and other morbid tales:

So many things have been written about Chuck's character, especially during the period up to Human. An egomaniac and a crank, dictator, greedy and other such pleasantries. In the underground there was quite the trend to create rumors about Chuck's sexuality, about his hypocritical love for extreme music while in truth he was a softie, that he would release a glam metal album in 1991(!). Hence the "Support Music, Not Rumors" and "this is more than a record to me; this is a statement, this is revenge" in Human's liner notes. Chuck, realizing that he was the first name in Death Metal among the collective conscious, felt that it was his duty to protect it from the bad rep it got from other bands, bands that gave reason to the rest of the world to talk about a disturbed kind of music for disturbed people. Natually, this was met with derision; declaring yourslef as a lover of animals and life, openly snobbing satanism, to the point of "fixing" your logo as to not have an upside-down cross? And you wanted to be the head of Death Metal? Unacceptable for a lot of people and if we take into account the ages involved, the scene's vibe etc, it's no surprise that a lot of ugly stuff was being said, especially since a lot of his ex-collaborators had the worst to say, with Massacre (Leprosy lineup plus Kam Lee) at the forefront. Thus, most people had the impression that even if all of that wasn't true, where there is smoke, there is fire. The real fire of course was Chuck's uncompromising vision that did not conform to "true death metal" tropes. At the end, whoever had problems with him, made their peace and those who didn't felt bad about it, by their own admission. Those who met him at the time that these stories had faded from the collective memory (which is never strong...), spoke of a sweet person, intelligent and articulate, with an infinite love for music, especially Metal. An image that certainly matches his interviews.

Moment of Glory

Death, and therefore Chuck Schuldiner, have 7 awesome albums (plus one by Control Denied). Not decent, not even "very good", just awesome, each of which having influenced music (some considered as points zero in certain scenes) and marked generations of listeners. Impossible to declare a peak. If we say something from the progressive/technical era, we would be history ignorants or clueless assholes daring to pass by masterpieces, foundations of death metal. If we wanted to exalt the 80s lethality over the 90s, then we would be autistic ignoramuses or, at best, provocateurs. Only strictly subjective choices are justified and those are equally hard. Speaking strictly personally, the triad of “Human”, “Individual Thought Patterns” and “Symbolic” are Chuck Schuldiner's peak. But the point here is this: Such a flawless streak is truly rare in the whole of music, it is a titanic achievement. This is Chuck's magnum opus; a career that never dropeed below a 9, filled with 10s and changed the order of things, more than once. Show me another one like it.

Note: Originally written for Metal Hammer #344, August of 2013, which was dedicated to musicians who have passed to the other side. One of the most important was Chuck Schuldiner, for whom I had the honor of writing. I have kept the original format and headings of the article.

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