For many of us, Death was a band that served as an introduction into the vast amount of extreme metal genres. While being more extreme than Thrash, and what many consider to be the inception of Death Metal, their music was a way for Thrash Metal fans to dive into more extreme forms of metal without getting thrown into the deep end. Chuck Schuldiner (founding member & guitarist/vocalist) was the one and only mainstay member in all of Death’s ever-changing line-ups, but one thing is definitely obvious. Death had a very distinctive sound, but with each passing release, they trail blazed and pushed the boundaries of what a lot of us consider extreme metal today. Their discography shows the evolution of a very passionate musician who used the extremities of the genre to his advantage as an outlet for the everlasting soul-search that is life.
It is safe to say that Death has a flawless discography. Some are better than others, but ultimately any new fan can simply pick any of their albums at random and I can guarantee that they’re going to find something within that they like. Today I’m here to discuss which albums I consider to be the crème of the very satiable crop.
- Scream Bloody Gore (1987)
While many who read this might find me putting Scream Bloody Gore at the bottom of the list as sacrilege, there is one thing I must make clear. This is a classic album, and there’s truly not a bad song on it. From the moments ‘Infernal Death’ comes on and Chuck screams at you until oblivion, it’s quite clear that Death is here to make a statement. It’s just straight up raw primitive Death Metal that’s in your face and continues to pummel you throughout, with songs like ‘Zombie Ritual,’ ‘Evil Dead,’ ‘Sacrificial,’ ‘Mutilation,’ and many more. The fact that this album was technically recorded twice, with the final version being recorded as a two-piece with Chris Reifert of Autopsy fame on the skins, is quite commendable. To say this album isn’t influential is a sacrilegious comment in itself. However, when stacking up against other releases in Death’s discography, I find myself coming back to this one the least. This is simply because what this album does; I find is better executed on Death’s sophomore release Leprosy (1988).
Final Grade: B-
- Spiritual Healing (1990)
This is the point in Death’s career where Chuck was starting to delve into more personal lyrics, and talking more about social topics like race, religion, the human condition, science, etc. as opposed to horror and gore themes on previous efforts. This album is clearly a transitional period in the band’s discography. The riffs were more sophisticated, but also sludgy at times with more groove. The title track ‘Spiritual Healing’ and ‘Altering The Future’ are probably the best representations of all things mentioned. While other tracks like ‘Killing Spree’ and ‘Defensive Personalities’ still showcase the furious pace displayed on previous releases. The one thing that stands out to me is the overly basic rhythm section of Terry Butler and Bill Andrews that I find really brings down the album’s ambition and potential. Although the addition of James Murphy on additional leads really steps up the guitar soloing and the riffs are infectiously catchy throughout, which more than makes up for it.
Final Grade: B
- The Sound Of Perseverance (1998)
As Death’s swansong, it certainly ties a nice bow on what is considered to be one of the most immaculate discographies in all of metal. This album features Chuck’s most ambitious writing to date, and the musicianship is at its all-time high. With the addition of Scott Clendenin on bass, Richard Christy on drums (who later joined Iced Earth followed by forming Charred Walls Of The Damned), and Shannon Hamm on additional guitars, The Sound Of Perseverance was an album to me that was like the sonic equivalent of a samurai sword; Sleek, swift, deadly (no pun intended), but heavy all the while. Even though this album was really intended to be a Control Denied album and feature clean singing, Chuck’s vocals are still as harsh and brutal as ever, but his range was much more in the higher register for this album. While some of the arrangements are somewhat jagged and certain songs tend to drag on, the musicianship and the textures laid out by the guitars, with the spontaneity of the rhythm section really adds to a very enjoyable and entertaining listen from a musician’s standpoint. I was certainly taking lots of notes when I discovered this album as a young adolescent discovering what metal was all about.
Final Grade: A-
- Leprosy (1988)
Of the first three early Death albums, this is probably the best, and the most well-executed. The consistency is unmatched, and this album is full of Death Metal classics. Again, this reiterates that there is not a single bad song on the album. This is also the first album that features a full line-up, rounding it out with Terry Butler on Bass, Bill Andrews on Drums, and Rick Rozz as additional guitars (who all later went on to resurrect the band Massacre with Death’s very first vocalist Kam Lee). The quite shoddy production might be a turn off to some, but I find that it really adds to the atmosphere, and is clearly 1988. The big booming snare is what gives it away. It sounds like a cannon constantly blasting off, and I love it. I can’t really pick a personal favorite song, as they are all classics in their own right. ‘Pull The Plug’ is Death’s most notable song and from that point onward became a staple in their live set. Being a musician myself, I do find myself gravitating towards their later releases more than their earlier releases simply because there’s more for me to chew on, but this album is an incredibly fun listen, and if anyone considers themselves a Death Metal fan then this album is required to be in their collection.
Final Grade: A-
- Individual Thought Patterns (1993)
I find that this album is often the most overlooked in Death’s discography, but one should make no mistake. It’s another practically flawless album musically that every Death Metal fan should listen to. If I had one gripe about it, it’s the overall lackluster production. The mix tends to be a bit muddy in spots, and it doesn’t quite carry much of the same weight as Death’s other releases. However, the songs really shine through, and the shining star on this release is easily Steve Digiorgio on bass. He played a fretless bass for the entirety of this album and really added a truly interesting texture that was at the time unheard of in the genre. The addition of Gene Hoglan of Dark Angel fame (and also many others I won’t take the time to name) was also a very wise move. Chuck’s lyrics are as potent as ever and deal with personal struggles with relationships, and business dealings that he had dealt with in the past with songs like ‘In Human Form,’ ‘Jealousy,’ ‘The Philosopher’ and more. This was probably the most pissed off Chuck ever sounded on any of their albums. It’s also important to state the addition of Andy LaRocque as a session lead guitarist for the album. His solo in ‘Trapped In A Corner’ is one of my favorite Death solos.
Final Grade: A
- Symbolic (1995)
Considered to be probably Death’s most accessible album in their discography, and overall probably my personal favorite. As opposed to the previous two albums, the music showcased simpler riffs and more melody than before. However, Gene Hoglan really goes buck wild on the drums for this album. He even stated in an interview that because of the simpler writing style of the album, he decided that the only way to keep it in the same territory of technical ecstasy that Death was delving into with each passing release was to step up his drumming. He even admits to almost overplaying at times. As a drummer, this album is a must-have. Songs like the title track ‘Symbolic,’ ‘Sacred Serenity,’ ‘Without Judgement,’ ‘Misanthrope,’ ‘1000 Eyes,’ the live staple ‘Crystal Mountain,’ and the dreamy sounding ‘Perennial Quest’ (My favorite song on the album), all beg to be replayed. I’ve listened to this album countless times within the past 10 years, and it never gets old. The only thing truly missing from the album is Steve Digiorgio.
Final Grade: A
- Human (1991)
If someone asked me if I was stuck on a desert island, and I could only take one Death album with me, which album would I choose? It would easily be Human. No contest. This record was the true beginning of Death pushing its sound and overall made everyone rethink about how Death Metal was done. With the addition of Paul Masvidal on additional guitars and Sean Reinert on drums, both coming from the Progressive Metal/Rock band Cynic, they really brought up the musicianship of Death 100 fold, which would influence Death’s output thereafter. The bar was raised, shattered to pieces, and then raised again even higher than before. Every song is perfection, and this album truly changed the landscape of metal forever. If anyone who plays Death Metal music says they aren’t influenced by this album, they are simply lying to themselves. To this day, I am still enamored by the sheer intensity, precision, and execution of this record. This is Death’s Magnum Opus, and the first album I would recommend to anyone getting into Death for the first time.
Final Grade: A+