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Chuck Schuldiner will be forever immortalized as many things in the metal world, be it songwriter, virtuoso, trailblazer, innovator, and co-founder of the death metal sub-genre and a force within the entire extreme metal spectrum. Yet he is also often times misunderstood, usually most so when one of these attributes is taken into account while the others are taken for granted. A good part of it lay in his early association with extreme metal and it's polarized relationship with less extreme versions under the same umbrella. It thus becomes difficult to accept his entire body of work under the Death moniker, let alone the notion of Chuck putting together a power metal band that evokes a different course in metal at the crossroads where the NWOBHM broke off into various sub-categories. But it is important to keep in mind that Schuldiner always had one foot in the time before death metal really gained its own identity, and that part of him became more pronounced the further along Death went.
It could be argued that Control Denied is the logical conclusion of the musical direction that began on "Human", let alone that of "Symbolic" where the melodic tendencies all but begged for a vocalist of a similar persuasion. Speaking from a stylistic standpoint, this band's lone offering is not a huge departure from the last two Death albums before it was put together. A similar smattering of eclectic influences of both a high octane thrashing persuasion and a slower, rhythmic progressive persuasion trade blows within each song. In many ways this album could be likened to a modern reinterpretation of Fates Warning's sound before the stylistic switch that took place on "Perfect Symmetry", complete with an archaic screamer in Tim Aymar, whose mixture of clean high notes and banshee wails are not that far removed from Ray Adler's work on "No Exit". The interplay between riffs gets a bit hectic and the jarring switches in feel that tend to be par for the course for most progressive outfits are much more pronounced here than they were even on "The Sound Of Perseverance", which included a few songs that were meant for this album and was a bit closer to a straight-line approach to songwriting.
Perhaps the most difficult aspect of this album is processing and remembering everything that happens. Even on shorter songs such as "What If...?" and "Cut Down" it gets a little difficult to discern the chorus from the rest of the material given all the extra instrumental activity that separates the sung sections. Bassist Steve DiGiorgio spends a heavy amount of time challenging the guitars for prominence, and the drum beats cycle through around a dozen different ideas in rabid succession. Then there are the battering epics "Consumed" and "The Fragile Art Of Existence" which exude a plethora of 70s Rock, Jazz, USPM and thrash influences from one section to the next, all the while Hamm and Schuldiner blaze through solos like the world is about to end, yet maintaining a tasteful demeanor that doesn't quite cross into showboating land. Every now and then a really catchy section will sneak in and then bow out, but largely this is an album defined by flux rather than hooks, rolling out the carpet for Chuck the composer rather than Chuck the songwriter.
Ironically, for all the naysayers who point to "The Sound Of Perseverance" as a mere version 0.5 to this album rather than an honest Death effort, the stylistic line between this album and Chuck's 1998 farewell to his former project is very clearly drawn. While familiar harmonic ideas occasionally chime in from latter era albums like "Symbolic", the overall melodic contour has taken on a much more symmetrical and singing nature, though the riff work remains busy and heavy as an anvil. Even if Chuck had decided to take on vocal duties himself and channeled the deeper character of his early 90s self, this would be completely out of character for Death, while "TSOP" could maybe be described as a power metal infused melodeath album that was tailored to fit the songwriting style that Death was better known for. It might prove to be a matter of semantics, but what is heard here definitely crosses into territory previously unexplored by Schuldiner, though it bases itself on an even older style.
The final verdict on this album is one of approval with maybe one little caveat. While Death was a band that moved from a fairly straight-line speed/thrash oriented form of death metal that found itself in more elaborate territory over time, Control Denied is a band where Chuck's real world intellectual lyricism has now been matched by a rabid form of musical eclecticism. While this could be likened to a number of USPM bands, it rivals the unbridled complexity of bands such as Communic and Anubis Gate. This isn't the sort of music that one taps his foot to, nor that lends itself to being sung in the shower, but is more of a contemplative experience with a good amount of attitude and aggression. It comes off as a little bit overblown, yet always sounds like a new set of songs each time it plays. It's a fitting conclusion to a career of constant evolution by a prominent figure in metal history who refused to simply discover a niche and then stick to it, and a final testament to a past conscious yet forward-looking musician that played a huge role in expanding the definition of metal.