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Chuck Schuldiner's untimely passing in 2001 from brain cancer is widely and correctly regarded as having robbed metal of one of its truly legendary bands, Death, but little mention is ever given to Control Denied, the act with whom he released one album in 1999 and thus was never able to develop into a widely recognised name of its own. Despite the unparalleled influence Death had in the creation of the band's namesake genre Schuldiner's love of more classically orientated metal was never far from the surface and the band's final album, 1998's "The Sound of Perseverance" hinted most strongly at this. Yet it was the snarling, rasping vocal style of Death that always remained a barrier prohibiting the great man from realising his ambition of creating a heavy metal band: so enter screamer Tim Aymar and 3 of the numerous past and present Death musicians to record "The Fragile Art of Existence". A virtual 'superband' in composition, Control Denied tore up the rulebook on progressive, aggressive power metal with the creation of this album and it is now deservedly reissued with a bonus disc of demo tracks charting the formative stage of this collection of sublime, artistically untouchable metal.
To someone knowing of only Death's back-catalogue, "The Fragile Art..." is not far off from being the successor to "The Sound..." as by that stage Chuck and crew were militarily skilled in their instruments, creating songs of unnatural complexity and astute melodic awareness over-flowing from the confines of the death metal genre the band had been so pivotal in forming in the late 80s. And so as "Consumed" welcomes you in its opening gambit feels akin to taking an entrance exam to Oxford University, a passage so beyond the abilities of all but the very few you may find yourself considering a U-turn to heading off to your local college instead (or settle for spinning the latest Hammerfall LP).
Following through onto "Expect The Unexpected", "What If...?" and "When the Link Becomes Missing" and every moment of this brilliant album each member shows why debatably the greatest guitarist at the time in all of metal had deemed them worthy of their participation in the band. Aymar, realising his role as 'Schuldiner's clean voice' screams himself hoarse in "Breaking the Broken" and "Believe", his destructively powerful vocal chords being the antithesis to the technically accomplished yet passionless vocalists that floods the heavy/power metal world to this day. In Steve DiGiorgio, Richard Christy and Shannon Hamm the collection is complete of musicians at the top of their game, perhaps best realised in "What If...?" as the strong rhythm guitars that are the hallmark of Iced Earth meld with Schuldiner's virtuoso soloing and the rhythm section to guide the song through numerouse tempo changes.
Closing the album proper is the title track, by far the most progressive on the album, one which fills a 10 minute void with a crisper guitar tone and much more prominent usage of amplified feedback to give the song an end of album feel. The following demo tracks are, like always in reissues, more relevant to fans of the band as they show the songs in states of near completion (mostly without vocals), but their rawer live recording vibe makes even more obvious the totality, serving as testament to the professionalism of Schuldiner and co.
Fortunately in anticipation of this review I've had years of listening to "The Fragile Art of Existence" to get my head around the untypical song structures and riffing; trust me you don't need that long to, but given time and a passion for expertly performed progressive/heavy/power metal noone could fail to love Control Denied's only album. Only for now perhaps, as rumour continues to persist of a sophomore locked in the vaults. I keep my fingers crossed to have the pleasure of hearing that one some day. RIP Chuck.
Originally written for www.Rockfreaks.net