“I would like to do whatever I can to make sure people know that fake bullshit nu metal that people are calling metal is fucking garbage. It’s not metal. It’s okay if people want to like it, that’s everyone’s choice; but Coal Chamber, Korn and all these other bands are not metal, period. Metal is not about wearing a jogging suit on stage. It’s about maintaining what metal is. Metal was never a fad. It has been injured in America by corporate America so we’re here with our new album to further metal. We’re fans of what we do and I think we have a responsibility to the metal community.”-Chuck Schuldiner in 1998
This week I’m trying to break the lethargy that has settled over my entire post-second year pre-third year summer faffing about period, and as such have been listening to a lot of upbeat music in the mornings, as I have a lot of time to kill, as my girlfriend does not have such illusions of normalcy. Apparently upbeat music (i.e. music with a beat quicker than your resting heartbeat) is good for getting you up in the morning. The person who wrote that in the health column of a newspaper I skimmed over probably didn’t have this album in mind when they wrote it. Death, the Sound of Perseverance. As one of the death metal pioneers, charting those grim and unforgiving waters first, Death are in many ways one of the best death metal acts around and Sound of Perseverance was their swansong. A 2011 reissue of the album (with a subtly but vastly improved cover) contained over 2 hours of extra versions of the tracks, some with Paul Payne on vocals, which is historically interesting. My interest peaked when listening to select tracks that were presented sans-vocals. The possibility of creating a fully instrumental record was something I looked into, but that would take far too long so I have assembled this Frankenstein’s monster of a record out of elements picked off of the reissue special edition, and of course it is all original work by Death, Painkiller was not the vestigial limb stitched on to try to wring some more pennies out of the property. Last night, after sacrificing a virgin to the night and waiting for the moon to move into the optimum position, we flipped the switch and watched as the electricity flowed through the empty corpse, knitting all of the elements together to create something greater than the sum of its parts. We listened to it three times in a row. Watching as our monster is greater and more amazing than we could have hoped. Thinking about it, I’m glad that there are some of Chuck Schuldiner’s peerless death metal vocals which combine death metal screams while also being clear.
My perceptions of Listener may be coloured by being such an avid lover of the original, but the replacement with instrumentals lends it a new colour. Like a live rendition, Chuck giving up vocals to focus on thrashing out the excellent technical melodies. It feels logical, like this is where the album has always been leading to, with Voice of the Soul already being an instrumental on the original album. All of the tracks that have cemented themselves as classics and essential death metal listening still remain fresh over a decade on, with a riotous sense of fun prevailing over it all. From the outset of Scavenger of Human Sorrow, the entire album is instantly enjoyable. Riffs thunder unabated from the rattling strings and the high quality production lets every little nuance of the evil slip effortlessly through the speakers. The main feature of Death on this record is their clarity. Chuck Schuldiner’s vocals are easily decipherable and the superb production is almost unparalleled in death metal.
The record doesn’t take as vivid a journey as some, but the more thoughtful jaunts through pain and misery are spectacular to behear. During the writing and performance of these songs, Death has agreed to split up and is simply fulfilling a contract for a final album, and Chuck is aware of his impending cancerous demise. Many of the songs are written with this idea in mind, considering his imminent demise, the thing inside him that was slowly and inevitably taking his life. These are themes or ideas captured by many death metal bands, but the words hold so much more weight knowing they were genuine. The sound of Death on this album moves much more away from straightforward death metal in into the theatre of progressive music in the truest sense. Tellingly it features the band’s longest song. The most important thing though about the album is its curious place in heavy metal history. Much has been said about the time frame around this album, but around the time of release, nu metal was trending which was opening the genre to a wider and different audience than metal had previously held. In this new atmosphere, the most uncool thing a band could do would be to release an ambitious and technical death metal album. At the time it seemed perplexing, but in hindsight Death had always been a band that was going to verbally and deliberately clash with the ideals of nu metal. Death and Chuck in particular were always interested in meaning and power inside their music rather than gladiatorial displays of power and ability with all of the depth of a spoon. In genre terms, Death were always progressive. While progressive metal has rather bloodied its nose with en entire subgenre dedicated to ripping off King Crimson and Genesis, real progressive music, as the title implies, progresses the genre. Exasperates expectations, pricks preconceptions and goes down as a classic. So it is with Sound of Perseverance. Listen to the original, let me know how my Sound of Perseverance Listener compares to the albums true (original) form.
Written under duress by Steven