December the 13th has come yet again and it’s been 15 years “Evil” Chuck Schuldiner has withered away, eaten alive by that beast we call cancer. And yet again, I’m inspired to write a couple lines about the man.
As my friends know and as you can see from the above photo, it’s no mistery I’m a big Death fan. Actually Death stuff holds a dear place in my CD collection and overall memorabilia, and Schuldiner’s creature might be, all in all, my overall favorite metal band ever. Chuck himself, in addition, will never leave the Olympus of my personal favorite influential guitarists, speaking of the metal side of things at least. I’ve been indulging multiple times in the thought of getting a DiMarzio X2N-equipped guitar as well…oh, glorious teenage dreams! So much time has passed and the nostalgia is still there.
Last October I came to know that Control Denied’s posthumous opus “When Man And Machine Collide” has been officially confirmed to never ever going be released. The recovering project has been ultimately abandoned after never ending technical and legal struggles. The news came out via an interview with Steve DiGiorgio, and have been formalized by manager Eric Grief on socials.
On the spot, I’ve been caught by some kind of melancholy by thinking I’ll definitely never be able to hear some “new” music by my favorite metal genius ever again. Well, at least we got the unreleased demos in the Zero Tolerance compilations, but that’s not the same thing you know.
So I began revisiting my memories, and I was actually wondering what would have happened if Chuck was still alive. With Control Denied, he was progressively manifesting the will to abandon extreme soundscapes and move towards a more mellow, melodic and conceptual approach. Colleagues and family say he was constantly scouting for new music, as well as appreciating the late 90s-early 2000s upcoming new wave of metal bands (ex. Children Of Bodom). He’s always been a music fan in the first place, after all.
What would Chuck be playing nowadays, if he still was amongst us? He never cared about labels stating “categories are for vegetables”, instead he just worried about making good art. Maybe he would have come to a personal form of progressive metal, or even prog rock? Or maybe he’d have just freaked out and started learning jazz fusion, or writing some avant-garde-ish stuff with the help of the usual carefully selected top-of-their-time musicians? After all, you know he had quite a sense for scouting talents. Try to imagine giving him almost 20 years of extra maturity since the stuff he put out in 1999. I don’t know, maybe he’d be jamming crazy stuff with Tosin Abasi, Mike Patton and Gavin Harrison today.
Ok, that’s too much of a fantasy maybe.
Still, Chuck was always looking forwards to the next musical step, so you’d never know. I’m sure he’d never had fallen into inspirational stagnation or indulgence in stuff that was already been done. In fact, above all he would have hated all of the annoying, “revisiting” modern bands who argue “paying tribute” to sounds of the past for lack of ideas. Do you know about Gruesome, the recently formed early-Death-inspired band, proposing some kind of a SBG\Leprosy inspired old school death metal? Well, I got to know Chuck’s personality quite a bit through my past obsession as a fan, and I think he really wouldn’t be proud of that mindset. That stuff is done and gone, and it was new at the time. 30 years later is a bit too late and we need ideas that are actually fresh. I mean it’s probably still decent music, but I personally can’t see any point in that.
Pardon my daydreaming digression. That being said, I always love to revisit how much that humble yet ambitious, perseverant, lover of life and actually anything but “Evil” human being meant to my 15 years old self, and still to the present me as well.
He struggled and fought as a self-taught musician until he secured himself a career in the business out of nowhere, enough to make a feasible living with. That alone is utterly inspiring.
He then proceeded to carve his own niche, sitting amongst the innovating pioneers in the early years of the Tampa scene, progressing in giant steps album after album, with an ever-growing distinct personality and style. Successfully blending Slayer’s aggression with a touching, soulful melodic sensibility (I remember I used to define the band as “the perfect blend of aggression and melody” at my listening time), Chuck got to ultimately craft so much more than what I funnily came to call “some Iron Maiden on crack cocaine” in an approximate 15 years span. He wasn’t the most trained musician or the greatest technically proficient instrumentalist, he didn’t have the broadest musical vocabulary but he had ideas.
I always think that people who are able to develop their own style can make a difference compared to their competitors, no matter their degree of formal training. Of course studying can broaden your horizons, but you can’t really learn creativity. Chuck did just that, he had a very recognizable style, both in music and lyrics. Do you know why I still think they are my favorite metal band, even though I could name hundreds of musically or technically more advanced acts? Or “mature” acts, so to speak, well of course my tastes changed since those times.
‘Cause since I’ve had my last listen to “The Sound Of Perseverance” (or “The Fragile Art Of Existence”, if you wish), I’ve never, and I mean never been able to find another metal band exuding a comparable overall mood, emotional content, or even an approximate degree of passion. Death was plain magic. I speak of magic when I have in mind some kind of unique, “unrepeatable” perfect chemistry of an album (I could name another example being Steve Vai’s “Sex & Religion”. Find me another album conveying the same incredible mood, I double dare you). “Problem” is every single Death album was unique in its own way, a whole set of masterpieces there. And not just that, even coming out in escalading fashion!
Also, how to neglect the lyrical content? Death was one of the very few “clever” extreme bands, who understood there’s so much to talk about in reality, rather than indulging in pointless gory fairytales. Chuck’s introspective sensibility and discussions on social issues surely spoke to me, stating you don’t need to shock everyone to get your point across, and you can always debate about serious topics even in heavy music. His lyricism surely stood miles above the quite childish “zombie parties” and anatomy lectures of his contemporary colleagues.
Death’s uniqueness certainly was for Chuck. It certainly was for the contribution of every single employed musician at each time, as well. But amongst all, it was passion, sweat and dedication, and a very honest and personal approach to composition. Having a clear vision and just hammering at the marble until it exactly comes out. And I’m afraid you can’t “Pro Tools” that, if you know what I mean.
There you have it, those are my nostalgic thoughts on Chuck’s legacy and its impact on myself, for this time at least. Feel free to come by and discuss your own.
I’m leaving you with one of my favorite tunes (damn, how to choose one amongst all the masterpieces?), since we are and always will be all together on the same boat, this Perennial Quest that is life.
Blast some Death and Control Denied on December the 13th and remember: support music, not rumors. Cheers.