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Live In L.A. (Death & Raw)

Nuclear Blast (2001)
Rating: 9/10

I’ve never been a huge fan of live albums, finding that most metal bands who release such records tend to sound bloated and the albums are generally overlong. Mind you, over the years, especially in the late 80s, numerous thrash and, to a lesser extent, death metal bands released live EPs, which I often found a joy to listen to.

Sadly, Death never released anything live back in the 80s or early 90s, but in 2001 Nuclear Blast did put this live Los Angeles show onto wax. This gig was recorded in 1998 and released three years later to help raise money for Death mainman Chuck Schuldiner’s cancer treatment.

We pretty much get a “best of” Death live show, featuring the line-up of Chuck, Shannon Hamm (guitar), Scott Clendenin (bass) and Richard Christy (drums). A majority of the tracks on offer have been plucked from the bands more complex albums, Human (1991), Individual Thought Patterns (1993), Symbolic (1995) and The Sound Of Perseverance (1998), although we are also treated to ‘Zombie Ritual’ and ‘Pull The Plug’ from Scream Bloody Gore (1987) and Leprosy (1988) respectively.

As soon as that distinctive guitar whine echoes throughout the venue, you can feel the excitement in the air. The amazing thing however about Death here is how the songs transfer themselves effortlessly from studio recordings to the live show. Christy’s drums are strong in the mix, particularly on the sweaty fury of ‘Symbolic’, and Chuck’s guitar playing is extraordinary to say the least as he’s backed by the thudding bass of Clendenin.

‘Suicide Machine’ is equally potent as it rides in on a jolting riff, but what makes these tracks more interesting is Chuck’s vocals. Long gone are the gnarly growls, only to be replaced by a more scything vocal screech which would of course litter the bands final album The Sound Of Perseverance, and it’s the songs from this album which raise the roof. ‘Spirit Crusher’ and ‘Scavenger Of Human Sorrow’ stand out in particular.

I was never fortunate enough to see Death live, but now that can be fulfilled with the DVD version of this show, which was released at the same time. As a live album, Live In L.A. (Death & Raw) is essential for any metalhead, not only to appreciate the live sound of one of metal’s greatest bands, but also to experience the hot, sweaty, intimate and often dangerously chaotic atmospheres of those dingy venues in the 1980s.

Neil Arnold

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