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Spiritual Healing (Reissue)

Relapse (2012)
Rating: 10/10

I’ve been reading a few comments on the internet from people claiming that Relapse are simply cashing in on the Death back catalogue. What a load of rubbish. Death will always be the greatest death metal band of all time and the late Chuck Schuldiner’s legacy will forever remain. But with original vinyl copies of the band’s classic albums going for ridiculous amounts on eBay, it’s only right that a label such as Relapse should re-release such albums.

There are so many people recently introduced to metal in general and not realising just how important the history of each subgenre is. Sure, everyone has their own taste, but it could be argued that without Death the death metal genre would not have progressed as it did.

Chuck Schuldiner was not only a fantastic songwriter but he took death metal to new heights with his complex ideas and superior musicianship. Every line-up he assembled, produced classic album after classic album and Spiritual Healing, first released in 1990, was the band’s third classic opus.

With guitarist Rick Rozz out of the band, Chuck drafted in the inimitable James Murphy (ex-Obituary), giving the record an immediately more structured feel. Chuck in turn took on a cleaner vocal approach, while behind him rumbled the bass of Terry Butler (ex-Massacre) and skin-bashing of Bill Andrews (ex-Massacre).

Although the Florida band’s debut record Scream Bloody Gore (1987) remains the band’s ultimate classic, not one Death album sounds the same, as Chuck Schuldiner effortlessly progressed through the years, taking the Death sound to more complex voids with breath taking aplomb. The self-confidence of the man didn’t originally endear himself to the press. In fact, with several line-up changes over the years, Death always remained the baby of one man. But since his departure from this fragile planet, no-one has forgotten him.

Spiritual Healing is a welcome reissue – a double disc that features the remastered eight-track album plus another 14 tracks, including several rehearsals and a batch of fun jams. While the rehearsals and jams are for purist only, the original album is a must have for anyone who calls themselves a death metal fan.

Opener, ‘Living Monstrosity’, is probably one of Death’s finest moments; a pacey affair which showcases Murphy’s undeniable torment and that almost academic complexity of Schuldiner who injects various intricacies into the album. Hard to believe that just three years previous Chuck was vomiting tales of zombies and gore. Spiritual Healing is a band reaching high levels of maturity, musically and lyrically.

‘Altering The Future’ begins as a slow, pensive dirge, with Chuck’s vocals far clearer than before as the drums jerk behind the cavorting guitars. The track features one of death metal’s finest ever solos. ‘Defensive Personalities’ raises the bar even higher, with Death suddenly standing alone as death metal gods and yet inspiring so many other young bands to follow suit with that technical edge. ‘Defensive Personalities’ is possibly Chuck’s strongest vocal performance on the record, with Scott Burns of Morrisound Recording giving the record that crystal clear production.

The swirling intro of ‘Within The Mind’ hearkens back to the days of Scream Bloody Gore, while the track has a more classic death metal feel, except for those icy drums and more jarring dynamics. The title track and ‘Low Life’ provide an inspiring mid-section to the album, showcasing the mid-tempo musicianship as a master class tutorial for any wannabes and gonnabes.

Death was never about creating soundscapes of blurriness. Instead, track by track they progress like some slowly transforming monster, with the cutting ‘Genetic Reconstruction’ and ‘Killing Spree’ only a hint at what was to come on the fantastic Human opus the following year. Death were simply the epitome of technical brilliance, a one-man machine that enlisted the help of similar musicians only to shed them as if they were part of its multi-layered skin.

And that was the brilliance and ever-lasting power of Chuck Schuldiner’s Death. It was a beast that somehow existed outside of any genre, a leviathan so godly yet downright arrogant that whatever it produced at that moment was, within a second, history, and quickly ambled onto the next experiment. Chuck Schuldiner was mad professor and genius, who constructed wondrous dynamics and technical sound-waves and ideas that will last long into the future.

Death will never sound dated due to their awesome progression, and so a 2012 release of Spiritual Healing must be accepted with open arms. This record is just a small yet vital cog in the ever-evolving machine that refuses to become dormant. Long live Death and Chuck Schuldiner. Masters and re-masters of the genre, without question.

Neil Arnold

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