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Individual Thought Patterns (Reissue)

Relapse (2011)
Rating: 9.5/10

Death albums get harder and harder to review, because words almost fail me every time I slap one of these records onto the turntable. Considering how Death evolved as a band, and what they stood for, they were criminally underrated. Thankfully, with Relapse Records reissuing the albums, Chuck Schuldiner’s legacy can remain available to anyone who calls themselves a true metalhead.

Originally released in 1993, Individual Thought Patterns was Death’s fifth record, and arguably features the best line-up (although some would say that 1991’s Human line-up was Death at its most intricate and potent). Chuck recruited the formidable drum talents of Gene Hoglan, axe wizard Andy LaRocque, and Steve DiGiorgio on fretless bass.

Individual Thought Patterns is a concise record, because it boasts 10 tracks, and runs just short of 40 minutes, but it does boast some of Death’s finest moments, including the dazzling ‘The Philosopher’, which is pure Chuck in its introductory solo. The track also boasts some of Chuck’s most guttural vocals since the early days, but lyrically we are bereft of gore as Chuck takes us on a more spiritual journey.

Album opener ‘Overactive Imagination’ features that distinctive Hoglan drum assault; this guy has to be my favourite drummer of all time, clattering the skins with a sound something akin to a horde of wildebeest striding across the plains. The track features some superb leads which sew together the churning riffs and sturdy bass, and it isn’t afraid to pick up the pace, and at just over two minutes provides us with an exquisite, although brief, solo.

‘In Human Form’ follows, showcasing DiGiorgio’s bass skills; his fingers working overtime to create that almost bubbling effect amidst those hurtling riffs and rampant drums. ‘Jealousy’ is equally stirring, and again treats us to a selection of twisted bass-lines and machine-gun drums.

‘Trapped In A Corner’ and ‘Nothing Is Everything’ supply the backbone to the record. The former is a jarring, mid-tempo soundscape, while the latter jerks with unease, never allowing your average metal fan to bang their head.

Chuck’s vocal approach takes on harsher form on the speedier ‘Mentally Blind’, but again it’s a track that refuses to settle on its initial groove. Lyrically this is Death at their most mature and masterful, Chuck finding no further need to speak of zombies and gore; instead he questions attitudes and delves deep into the human psyche, with DiGiorgio, Hoglan and LaRocque acting as his own personal soundtrack.

The title track searches for answers with its thrashing tempo until it is injected with a deranged bass that flummoxes the ears. ‘Destiny’ soars in on an acoustic cloud which is soon blackened by a killer riff, and Chuck’s distinctive roar of “Wishing that I could turn back time” is ever poignant until we are swept up by the crushing drum waves of ‘Out Of Touch’ with its symphonic edge and cutting riff. And then we’re back to the magical swirls of ‘The Philosopher’; Chuck’s voice booming out the speakers, “Do you feel what I feel”, before the crackle ensues and the needle lifts and we’re left with eerie silence.

Once again we’ve become mesmerized by Death, left gasping for more, rendered reeling by the almost inaccessible structures. And so we dive in again… eager for a second, third, fourth, eternal helping, still trying to master the DiGiorgio bass twangs, still attempting to avoid being audibly pummeled by Hoglan’s drums, and forever to loiter in the palm of Chuck Schuldiner, metal messiah and extreme metal commentator extraordinaire.

For the purists, this 2011 reissue features a bonus CD of tracks recorded live in Germany during 1993, with the deluxe edition offering a third disc of demos and riff tracks. Those who were never fortunate enough to hear Death live must lap this reissue up, and those lucky enough to have experienced Chuck and company onstage, should purchase this to relive those magical moments.

Neil Arnold