chuck schuldiner was the guitarist, vocalist, songwriter, and sole driving force behind the seminal death metal band, the aptly named ‘death.’
chuck and death broke a ton of ground in metal over 18 years before chuck died of brain cancer in 2001. i’ve always really liked their album ‘symbolic’ and a handful of other songs, but i wouldn’t call myself a super fan.
even when i first heard them back in ’95 or so and was just a gross, greasy teen, i immediately noticed chuck used the same songwriting techniques in 98% of his material. the song arrangements are always verse/chorus/slow midsection w/ guitar solos/verse/chorus. the riffs in each song have very little, if anything, to do with each other — you could take most any death songs and mix and match the verses, choruses, and midsections, and none of the songs would be much better or worse since the parts don’t build off each other. each riff or section is more of a standalone piece that has simply been butted up against another standalone piece. because of this, i have always found listening to death very jarring: the music will inexplicably move from a fast, frantic 4/4 section with vocals to a slow, doom-laden 4/4 with guitar leads, to a mid-paced 6/8 with vocals. and it’s not done in a fun, schizophrenic way. it’s just flat, monotonous riffs jammed together as opposed to songs that ebb and flow. i think it’s pretty artless. sometimes i can look past it, or sometimes there is enough cohesiveness that i like the end result, but i would never argue that chuck was a talented songwriter.
another complaint i have is that all of chuck’s leads sound exactly the same. same reverb, same delay, and often with a harmonizer set to 5ths, sometimes an octave higher. and like his songs, i feel like the solos never go anywhere. they start, he does some stuff, and then it’s done. they never build to a great moment or crescendo — flat, boring. to illustrate this, i looked up ‘chuck schuldiner solo’ on youtube and actually found quite a few video compilations of ‘best chuck schuldiner solos’ so here’s one.
now the fact that there are so many videos lauding chuck’s solos illustrates my next point: people have huge boners for chuck that i don’t believe are warranted. as i mentioned earlier, i readily admit that he broke ground like crazy in the metal genre, and i think some of his stuff is pretty rad. but as i just pointed out, there are a lot of things that i dislike about most of his material, and those criticisms prevent me from joining the chuck schuldiner super fan club. i have no idea what the members of said super fan club see in death, what it is about it that gives them such boners. i guess if any of them read this, they should comment and try to explain it to me.
part of me wonders how much chuck’s untimely death plays a part in his legacy. i mean, when someone notable dies young, people tend to wig out. obvious examples include john lennon, janis joplin, jim morrison. their legends were crystallized when they died, and i think the same thing happened to chuck. i get the impression that chuck’s demise has the effect of rose-tinting the view some people have of his collection of work. because when i was a teenager, i always knew who death were but they were always a little underground, never ‘cool.’ and their later albums were well received but still not quite ‘cool.’ i feel like they have become much bigger since he died — finally ‘cool’ — and i don’t really like that. what changed to make death cool now?
however, on a more pleasant note, i did recently go see the death tribute band called ‘death to all,’ which is comprised of various musicians who played in death over the years. it was actually really fucking cool. not so much for the songs (i still disliked a fair amount of the material) but because the musicians on hand were phenomenal, and they obviously loved playing those songs again. their energy was undeniable, and that in itself was really cool to witness. obituary also played that night and holy fuck, they were amazing. it was one of the best metal shows i’ve ever been to. so i have to give props to chuck for that.