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Death. Chuck Schuldeiner. A metal legend that has become infamous as it is famous. Chuck founded the death metal movement, and went from a lame shrieking young man who could hardly play a pentatonic scale to one of metal's most virtuosic and visionary frontmen ever to exist. Sadly, Chuck was a victim to cancer and met his own death in 2001. But Chuck's memory lives on, and it lives on in not only countless Death album reissues, but also in Control Denied.
Control Denied is Chuck probably at his most creative peak. This is what Chuck had in his mind but could never put out with Death due to the band's rooting in extreme metal (most fans of death metal would have viewed Death doing this as selling out or would have criticized it for not being death metal enough). So what do you do if you are in a situation like that and you have these ambitions? Well, you go and form another band as a side project! Control Denied music is definitely from Death's mastermind, but it has other flairs in the music that make it far from anything Death ever crafted. This music is probably some of the best progressive metal ever to exist, and it call came from the mind of Chuck. So I as a I reflect as I write this review on the vision of Chuck, I want you (the reader) to read this and buy this album later to experience Chuck's legacy.
First off, let me just state that this is not all Chuck. I know, I have been glorifying Chuck in the past few paragraphs, but this hardly all Chuck. The band that Chuck got together has some of the best musicians ever to play any metal band. They are all musical virtuosos at their respected roles with the band, and they all mold together with Chuck while standing out on their own to craft amazingly powerful, complex, and great music that has never been parralelled since (or before when it comes to that matter). Not even Wachtower, the band many a metalhead has said is the greatest progressive metal band ever to exist could have done this. It is not possible that this can be topped. It just will not be.
The album's only really not incredbile department is the vocals. Here they are not handled by Chuck (I would have liked to see him try), they are handled instead by a power metal vocalist Tim Aymar. This is the only thing this album has in common with power metal. Aymar has a very wide range of highly audible vocals, as he can shriek just as well as Chuck could but has a better mid range and harmonizes incredibly well. Chuck did provide some backing vocals, and those sound really really great as well, especially when he harmonizes with Tim. The only downside is that it seems like somewhat, at a few points, Tim's voice seems to sort of crack. But this does not happen in a really huge crack, just in a tiny little sort of cracking. However, I could not have picked a better singer for this band. No power metal or progressive metal vocalist could havve pulled off what Tim had to do on The Fragile Art Of Existence. Not Matt Barlow, not Hansi Kursch, not James Labrie, not Russell Allen, not anyone but Tim Aymar
Alright, the guitar work. Does it really need to be discussed? We all know Chuck Schuldeiner and Shannon Hamm are absolute guitar virtuosos. Their leads are loaded with high speed shred in styles that contrast each other but come together like a negative and positive magnet. Chuck's style is very choppy and allows you to hear every note, even in the most flowing of legato runs. Shannon's style is more flowing then Chuck's and is less choppy (due to the heavy use of sweep picking) and also utilizes a whammy bar in his solos to add accents and crescendos to an incredible effect. Shannon's solos seem to be also a tad more melodic and use less shred (but still there is a lot of shred in them). Chuck just jumps right into the shred and makes it highly melodic and flowing. Just truly virtuosic in the solo department. Rhythmically though, these two are also highly accomplished. The riffs these guys craft and positively catchy and great, and they complement each other rhythmically with incredible tightness and precision. All the songs have some incredibly catchy guitar riff part(s) that will make you want to keep listening. Probably the best example of Chuck and Shannon's rhythmic prowess is on the song When The Link Becomes Missing, because this is really them probably at their best together. But the whole album they are always outdoing their contemporaries and positively destroying all the competition.
Another member that doesn't really need a ton of introduction is Steve DiGorgio. The mastermind behind the Antioch California based technical death/thrash outfit Sadus does not need much introduction. His lines are incredibly technical and complex, and they sound unique and full due to the fretless bass playing. The album is mixed so well that Steve can be heard all the time, and there are plenty of parts where his bass really stands out. His intro to What If... showcases his talent best, and his lines never, and I mean never, follow along with the guitar at all. All his lines use pizzicato, all of them are complex, all are fast, all of them are played on a fretless bass, and show Steve's mastery of the bass guitar.
Finally, there is Richard Christy. Our fat little drummer who would end up on the Howard Stern show. Christy's skill is shown to an amazing degree on The Fragile Art Of Existence, as he has numerous snare and tom drum rolls, awesome fills, and loads of highly rapid and omniprescent double bass drumming. He complements Chuck, Shannon, and Steve amazingly, and is always at the top of his game on every single song. Sure he may not be the fastest drummer in the world, but he is certainly one of the most technical drummers that will ever drum for any metal band.
Songwriting here is absolutely amazing. All of the songs are highly complex and loaded with all the good stuff that you would expect from progressive metal. Surprisingly, the vocal element of the music is surprisingly prevalent, as there is loads of singing on most of the songs and not all just about the crazy technicallity of the musicians. Still, the trap of all the crazy technicallity and virtuosity of the musicians does get in the way, and there are too many slow spots in some of the songs. There are also several songs which do not have a lot of singing (What If... has the least amount of singing of all the songs). But the music is so good that you often ignore the lack of vocal parts and the slow spots never really last very long and something awesome always happens after them.
Lyrically this album is like amazing. Obviously there is some kind of greater message here about society and humanity, for the lyrics are simply too good to just not have something to do with that. Surprisingly, you can relate to them so well without having to think very hard. Kids who are bullied in school can relate to Cut Down and Consumed. People who are betrayed can relate to Breaking The Broken, and those who have been in a relationship can relate to Expect The Unexpected. The only ones I cannot seem to relate to well are When The Link Becomes Missing, What If..., and the title track. Just a greater showing of Chuck's genious.
The mixing and production job is stellar, as all the sound is incredibly organic and powerful. It is all full and rich with tone, and it just sounds great. Nothing it out of balance, but the only downside that it is hard to tell during rhythms when it is Chuck or Shannon playing. But hey, this is fine. No big issue at all. Their leads make the two become easy to tell apart anyway.
All in all, if you like progressive metal and you want absolute virtuosity, and everything that is metal with a brain, take a crack at The Fragile Art Of Existence. No patience is required to listen to it, it is amazingly technical, and it is just a great album. This is truly Chuck's greatest creative ambition.