DEATH – Screams From The Grave
Metal Forces, Issue 24 (1987)
Death (l-r): Chuck Schuldiner, Bill Andrews, Rick Rozz and Terry Butler
Death is hardly a new name to most underground thrashers. Since their inception way back in late ’83 (then known as Mantas), this Florida based death metal band have garnered worldwide attention with their numerous demo and live tapes, so it was no surprise to see them landing a record contract with New York’s Combat Records last year.
Released a couple of months ago (in the UK on Under One Flag), Scream Bloody Gore lived up to all the expectations of a classic debut. This is death metal at its utmost extreme – brutal, raw and offensive – the kind that separates the true death metallers from countless trend-following wimps. Just one listen will have you either thrashing around your room like a mindless maniac, or heading for the nearest toilet in total disgust. If anything, it should certainly establish the band as one of the heaviest acts on the face of the Earth.
To this date however, Death’s main problem has been their inability to secure a really stable line-up. For much of the last four years the band have been plagued by endless personnel changes, with almost every one of them ending in a different part of the country with mainman / guitarist / vocalist Chuck Schuldiner as the sole survivor. The latest change, which took place just a few weeks ago, saw Chuck leaving his adopted residence of San Francisco and heading back to Orlando to join forces with bassist Terry Butler, drummer Bill Andrews, and one of the original Death members, Rick Rozz. It is this inconsistency with the band personnel that has prolonged Death’s rise to the top, as I found when I recently spoke to Chuck.
“Well, all I can say is that I’ve had terrible luck finding the right people to play with. When the original line-up broke up in early ’85, I tried looking for new members here in Florida, but it was impossible to find anybody who was into playing brutal death metal. So, I went to San Francisco and formed a band with ex-D.R.I. drummer Eric Brecht (now in Hirax), but that didn’t last for too long either. Then in January ’86, I got an offer to join the Canadian band Slaughter as a second guitarist, and being that nothing was going right for Death, I decided to do it. It didn’t take me very long to realise that I’d made a big, big mistake, so I left after only two weeks.”
Was this when you decided to reform Death? “Yes. I went back to San Francisco and met up with drummer Chris Reifert. About a month later, we went into the studio and recorded a three-song demo (Mutilation) which got us signed to Combat. Right after we did the album as a two-piece, we ran into this guitarist, John Hand, whom we really liked at the time, so we got him into the band. He played with us long enough to have his photo appear on the back of the album, but he just couldn’t play our new material, so he had to go.”
Now, what made you decide to leave San Francisco and move back to Florida for good? “Well, when I first moved to California back in late ’85, the scene was just starting to flourish. There were lots of places to play, and the fan support was just overwhelming. Unfortunately, as time went by, most of the clubs closed down and the scene just sort of died out. I knew there was no way I was gonna be able to get a band together there, so I decided to go back to Florida. I told Chris he could move back down with me, but he said he didn’t want to.”
But, weren’t you afraid that you were putting yourself in pretty much the same situation that you were in two years earlier when you were still living in Florida? “No, because when I first left here, death metal was nowhere near as popular as it is now. I knew that my chances of finding people to play with were much greater this time than they were two years ago, so I took a chance and came back.”
So, how did Rick Rozz come back into the picture? “Well, his band Massacre broke up right before I moved back here, so it was only logical for us to rejoin forces. Bill and Terry were also in Massacre with Rick, so they came with him.”
But wasn’t there heavy animosity between you and Rick ever since his departure from the band over two years ago? “Yeah, but we decided to bury the hatchet and try to work together again. So far it’s working out well.”
Let’s turn away from the subject of personnel changes, if we may, and talk about your album. Were you happy with the final product? “Oh, yeah, I was totally happy with the way the record came out. Randy (Burns) gave us a super-heavy production, and he was very easy to work with in the studio. The only thing I kind of regret now, is not hanging around for the final mixes. I think the rhythm guitar could have been a bit louder in the mix.”
I understand that you laid down a total of 12 tracks in the studio, but only ten found their way onto the record. What happened with the other two tracks you recorded? “Well, we wanted to use all 12 for the album, but I guess Combat thought it would have crammed the record, so they took two of them off. They might be used on a future EP or something, but I doubt it.” Which two tracks were taken off? “‘Beyond The Unholy Grave’ and ‘Land Of No Return’.”
Being that you’ve had so much material circulated via demo and live tapes over the last three years, was it hard for you to pick the songs for your first record? “No, not at all. Most of the older tunes were dropped a long time ago anyway. There were some older songs on the album, like ‘Evil Dead’, which is one of the first songs we ever wrote, and ‘Infernal Death’, which was written almost three years ago, but most of the other tracks on the album were written during the last year before the album was recorded.”
How do you account for your huge success as a demo band? “I think most of that was due to the fact that we’ve been around for so long, and we were one of the first really brutal death metal bands to come out with a tape. Looking back now, I think that most of the demos we put out over the years were pretty much crap, but at the time they were obviously what the kids wanted to hear.”
I’ve noticed that in the early stages of the band you had the three sixes in your logo. How do you feel about Satanic lyrics now? “I’m really not interested in it at all, to tell you the truth. We had some Satanic lyrics back in the old days, but most of those were written by our former drummer / vocalist Kam Lee. As soon as he left the band I kind of took control of that side of things, since I’m the vocalist now.
My lyrics are based more on the subject of death and real-life gore. I get a lot of ideas from seeing gore flicks. For example, ‘Torn To Pieces’ is about the movie Make Them Die Slowly, and ‘Scream Bloody Gore’ is about Re-Animator.”
How’s the response to the album been so far? “Everybody seems to be really into it. I’ve really only heard a couple of bad comments about it, but those were coming from people who weren’t into death metal to begin with, so they don’t count. Seriously though, the reaction from the fans has been just amazing, especially from Germany and the US. I really have to thank everybody for their great support, because if it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be here right now.”
A lot of people have compared your sound to that of Possessed – would you agree? “I’ve heard a few people say that, but I don’t think so. If you wanna say that I sound like Jeff Becerra then fine, but my songwriting is really a far cry from what Larry Lalonde and Mike Torrao are into nowadays. I think my riffs are just a lot heavier and more morbid sounding. I still love Possessed though.”
Does it anger you to see Death lumped in the same group as all the noise bands such as Acrid, Intense Mutilation, Evoked Doom etc. by some people? “Yes, it definitely bothers me, because we’re not a noise band. I’ll be the first to admit that some of our early tapes weren’t too good, but we were never a noise band, although the sound quality on some of those recordings may have suggested otherwise.”
How has your songwriting changed over the years? “Well, obviously I’ve gotten a lot better as a guitarist, so my current songwriting style involves a lot more technical riffing and more complex song arrangements than before, but I’d say that our sound has pretty much remained the same.
Our next album will still be brutal as hell, but it will be a bit more musical and professional than Scream Bloody Gore.” Any titles yet? “Yes. ‘Open Casket’, ‘Left To Die’, ‘Choke On It’ and ‘Pull The Plug’.”
Obviously, you haven’t had much experience playing in a live situation due to all the line-up changes. Was there any talk yet about a US tour – with labelmates Dark Angel or Possessed, possibly? “We really didn’t give that much thought yet. I think that, for now, we will just concentrate on writing new material and practicing as much as possible with the new line-up. We’re probably gonna do a few local shows in the near future, but I doubt that we’ll be doing a full tour until after the second album is released.”
With the likes of Slayer, Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax getting onto major labels and being successful at it, can you see foresee Death ever following in their footsteps and hooking up with a major label as well? “It’s hard to say what can happen several years from now. I think that we will certainly get more and more professional at what we do, but we will never compromise our sound in order to achieve greater materialistic success. If we get on a bigger label, fine, but it’ll be exactly as we are or no deal. I can’t see it happening for at least a few years though.”
Whatever problems Death have encountered in the past, they seem to have put it all behind them and are ready to come back with a vengeance. With Scream Bloody Gore practically flying out of record stores and the band’s unmistaken confidence in their new material, Death seem all set to join the likes of Slayer, Possessed and Dark Angel in bringing unrelentlessly brutal death metal to mass acceptance. May nothing stand in their way!
Interview taken from Metal Forces, Issue 24 (1987)
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