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The Sound Of Perseverance (Reissue)

Relapse (2011)
Rating: 10/10

When Death frontman Chuck Schuldiner passed away in 2001, all those Death albums I’d accumulated over the years took on a different light. The classic debut album, Scream Bloody Gore (1987), alongside follow-up opus, Leprosy (1988), no longer seemed to be a raw slab celebrating zombification and gore; instead it was now a vital cog in an everlasting wheel.

The machine this wheel belonged to was now something more than just a material experience, it was a spiritual one. When I first purchased Scream Bloody Gore as a spotty teenager back in the hazy 80s, little did I realise just how influential this band would be.

Beyond the horrifying artwork and those frightful lyrics, there was a band whose legacy would last forever, and reflecting back on the life of Death, and Chuck in general, I am at obviously saddened at the loss, but also pleased that his work can now embed itself into heavy metal folklore.

There will never be another band like Florida’s Death. They emerged at the right time and effortlessly carved a mighty niche through the heart of the heavy metal genre. With each album release came a new line-up and a new experience, and the more the band progressed the more it seemed as if the listeners were being drawn into Chuck’s psyche.

Heavy metal has long been attached to devilish imagery, but somehow Chuck was able to create his own nightmarish images, and yet without causing offence. Chuck commentated on mental, physical and ethereal states, and created them within his web of complex musicianship. Sure, he had his critics, don’t we all, but Death’s music has easily stood the test of time, refusing to date, and thanks to more recent reissues courtesy of Relapse Records, we can once again walk hand in hand with Chuck on his journey of enlightenment.

Death moved way ahead of the times. Not once did they, as a unit, ever succumb to fads, and like a snake, they seemed to shed their skin, reinventing themselves during every new recording process. Many commentated that Chuck was wrong to enlist so many different musicians on each record, but one only has to lend an ear to a batch of those records to realise that the Death mainman was right every time.

Originally released in 1998, The Sound Of Perseverance was to be the last Death record, and it exists as a fitting tribute to a genius of a songwriter. Forget the so-called “Big Four” of thrash, or all these new bands attempting to recreate the past, Death were never part of any scene, because their music progressed so rapidly, but they always remained a cult act rather than getting the full recognition they deserved.

Sure, Chuck always had that scowl about him, but The Sound Of Perseverance showcases his vocal talent even more. This time around, Chuck opted for a more raspy approach, reminding me of Sadus vocalist Darren Travis.

The original album offers us nine incredibly complex and riveting tracks which sit way outside of the usual death metal soundscapes. Chuck enlisted the talents of guitarist Shannon Hamm, bassist Scott Clendenin and drummer Richard Christy, and the visceral vortex they created is one so unique, that it stands alone.

Album opener is the jarring ‘Scavenger Of Human Sorrow’, which clocks in at almost seven minutes. Christy’s drums spatter the ears before the intricate guitars take over; one moment existing as a melodic chug, the next bruising the soul with its seemingly perplexing structures. Barely a minute in and we’re treated to a jazzed up bass tumble and discordant drum suggesting the complex pastures of Cynic. ‘Scavenger…’ never allows the listener to get a foot-hold, but those expecting the usual Chuck growls will find his new screeched approach refreshing – goodness knows what he’d have sounded like a few more albums down the line. Again, ‘Scavenger…’ only hints at what intricacies are to come; one moment it breathes as a thrashy workout, until it rolls and pivots like some demented ballerina on those stabbing chords and cascading drums.

‘Bite The Pain’ introduces itself as a progressive, simmering animal until the riff chugs in, caressed by some bewildering bass and again those guitars which refuse to sit still. How Chuck and Death continue to excel themselves is beyond me.

‘Spirit Crusher’ is another cut that clocks in at almost seven minutes. This time Clendenin’s bass plods in and is accompanied by a power metal style of guitar snarl. Chuck’s vocals cut through the air, the band now transforming into a more progressive and scything Judas Priest. For the most part this is classic metal, delivered at a relatively slow pace but always remaining elusive with those juddering drums, but the fantastic guitar attack at approximately two-and-a-half minutes is devastating.

Apparently, a few of these tracks were written a few years before, and yet more than a decade later they sound as fresh as a daisy, existing outside of any category, but inhabiting some cosmic cavern alongside the likes of Atheist.

The enigmatic ‘Story To Tell’ is equally stirring as a melodic, mid-tempo rocker, drifting on those catchy riffs but forever surprising the ears with those epileptic dynamics, the band, two minutes in, treating us to an almost funk-laced rhythm and yet seconds later it’s almost a more crushing Iron Maiden with those striking chords.

Track five is the eight-and-a-half minute ‘Flesh And The Power It Holds’, with only the introductory guitar whine nodding at anything Chuck has done in the past. But the stabbing drum and bass put pay to any nostalgia as the band shift gears, once again creating a classic metal feel, but at the same time betraying the mainstream with the complexity.

Death caress the soul further with the sweeping instrumental ‘Voice Of The Soul’, which breezes in on an acoustic guitar and electric swoon, with the song existing once again as another of those soulside journeys. This is more The Who in its shuffle than any death metal self-indulgence; truly gripping stuff in its subtlety.

Christy comes into his own on the full-throttle ‘To Forgive Is To Suffer’, which once again has a classic metal feel to it, except for those conflicting grooves. While the seven minute ‘A Moment Of Clarity’ just confirms what we knew all along, that Death as a unit are a bewildering force.

If anything, The Sound Of Perseverance is the band’s most “metal” record, but only in the sense that it offers us more mid-tempo numbers and structures than usual, climaxing in the brilliant cover of Judas Priest’s classic ‘Painkiller’. Chuck’s vocals take on a whole new form as he reaches some earth-shattering high notes that Mr. (Rob) Halford would’ve been proud of.

Those of you fortunate enough to own this 2011 Relapse Records reissue will be treated to a bonus disc featuring rawer demos of most of the album tracks. A special deluxe edition is also available with a third disc containing more previously unreleased material in the form of 13 demo tracks from 1996.

And there you have it, the final Death album. The sound of perseverance? More like the sound of everlasting metal.

Neil Arnold

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