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The final chapter in Death's story was a fitting closure to the discography. All of the elements from each album had been stacking up, and every album had brought something completely new and fresh to the table. Scream Bloody Gore had the bludgeoning speed, Leprosy had the refined feel, Spiritual Healing brought the more polished production, Human had the aggression, Individual Thought Patterns brought the more insightful side of Death's lyrics, and Symbolic perfected the progressive nature. By the time of The Sound Of Perseverance, Death metal was a very different band. They had shed their days of brutal death metal, and replaced it with a Progressive styling of death metal, in which Chuck shrieks his lungs out instead of the growl he had on the early releases. And, by some divine miracle, Death still had an incredible amount of integrity to their music.
Their final release contained 8 original songs and a cover, each of which contains that signature sound that only Death could invoke. Starting with the cover, Painkiller was originally a Judas Priest classic, that Chuck decided to cover, and it is done flawlessly. Along with Crystal Mountain, this was my introduction to Death, and is a great song. The drums are very noticeable on this album, having the rattle feel to them that Saint Anger bastardized. However, on here, they are not only tolerable, but sound fantastic, and are coupled marvelously with the incredible drum patterns found throughout the album.
Opener Scavenger Of Human Sorrow somehow manages to be one of the most brutally heavy, lightning fast intense songs ever recorded, despite clocking in at just under 7 minutes. This song contains some face melting guitar work, drumming that could only have been produced by the devil himself, and bass work that is nearly flawless. Chuck sounds utterly demonic on this song, and this will continue through the rest of the album. He took the high pitched styling of his growls from the previous album, Symbolic, and makes his voice even more insane, and utterly unique. This, in my opinion, is Chuck Schuldiner's finest vocal performance by quite some way. His voice drips emotion and rage, despite the fact he is clearly straining his throat to hit some of the notes found throughout this album. The most jaw dropping thing about the vocals is the fact that they still retain that defining death metal feel despite being the complete opposite of traditional death metal vocals, which is a testament to just how good Chuck was.
My personal favourite Death song ever, Flesh And The Power It Holds, is found on this album, lasting nearly 8 and a half minutes and never failing to flatten the listener. This song, along with the album, is a rare case in which it manages to give the listener something completely fresh every time. There is always something amazing that evaded the listener before, and that truly is marvelous. The stop-start solo is utterly incredible, and the blisteringly fast riffs are written so well that very few songs could ever dream of coming close to them. The lyrics for this song are extremely well written, containing moments of pure genius such as "Passion is a poison laced with pleasure bitter sweet". Cryptic and yet perfectly written, the lyrics to this song are some of the best found in death metal.
Voice Of The Soul is the shortest song on the album, at 3:43, and serves as the perfect interlude between Flesh and The Power It Holds and To Forgive Is To Suffer, with some awesome acoustic work, emotional soloing and an atmosphere that no other death metal song would ever come within touching distance of. The mood of this song is one of utter despair, and ties in with the themes of the album absolutely perfectly. Sometimes in music, there are instrumentals that feel as though they need vocals and lyrics to tell their story. Not Voice Of The Soul, however, this song is a classic as it is, and the music speaks so much without the need of any vocal work.
The drum solo that opens To Forgive Is To Suffer is nothing short of breath taking, and the riffs that follow this have so much talent behind them that it is impossible to ignore. The vocals from Chuck found on this song are some of the best I can honestly recall hearing from any vocalist ever. Chuck manages to get so much hate behind his vocals that it does not matter what lyrics he spews out, as the point is always made. A Moment Of Clarity is the final original song off of the album, and the technical guitars at work on this song are a joy to behold. This is how metal music should be written, with a supreme amount of confidence echoing off of every note, so that the listener knows the band who have written it does not fuck around. The progression at work on this song is something completely out of this world, being utterly flawless.
The bass work is something to note throughout this album, being more than audible, and used as fills to progress the songs into their next section, such as in the opener and Flesh And The Power It Holds. Unlike some albums where the bass work is just there in the back ground, it is hard to imagine the Sound Of Perseverance without Scott Clendenin's incessant thumping throughout. The same can be said of the extremely insightful lyrics, being some of the finest out there. The lyrics on this album may well rival some of Iron Maiden's best moments, with songs such as Story To Tell, A Moment Of Clarity, Flesh And The Power It Holds and Bite The Pain painting such canvases of warped social commentary that only Chuck could create, whilst being extremely cryptic in places.
The only remote criticism that can be found of this album is the fact that the cover of Painkiller was not completely necessary. This is not to say that it is a poor cover, nor that it lets the album leave on a poor note by any means, as the actual cover is utterly stellar. It is the fact that Death did not need to record a cover, as the 8 songs they already had were jaw dropping enough as it was. However, the Painkiller cover was a homage to one of Chuck's primary influences, and was significantly different in sound from the original, and therefore this is no real down side to the album at all.
This album was the fitting swan song for Chuck, being near faultless on every single level. This is a very technical, well written piece of progressive death metal that needs no clean vocals and constant acoustic guitars to progress from segment to segment and convey simultaneous feelings of loss, hate, anger and despair all at once such as other bands in the genre. This really is one of the most amazing albums ever recorded, and really is in a class of albums that only a few others, including some of Death's own albums, can ever dream of being on the same level as.
While their are divisions among fans of Death as to which period of Death they like, I am one of those who loves all Death albums and is able to appreciate each one for their different sound. This album seems to focus less on the technical aspects of albums such as Human and Individual Thought Patterns and focuses more on the melody as was the direction on Symbolic. Now onto what makes this album so excellent.
Firstly there are no filler songs on this album to be found. Starting with Scavenger of Human Sorrow and ending with an excellent cover of Painkiller, this album is yet another masterpiece album in the Death discography and unfortunately the last. The cover of Painkiller also features what I would call the most amazing scream of all time, the vocals sound a little forced but overall epic. This album is melodic featuring many great riffs, amazing drumming and some great sounding bass lines.
The drums are a major standout point on this album. On drums is Richard Christy giving one of the best drum performances on an album in metal history. He plays with style and effectively makes every second of every song tasteful yet technical. I really love how he does the drums in Scavenger of Human Sorrow.
Now for the vocals, the vocals are very high pitched and almost sounds like Schuldiner is straining himself to make this last Death album as if he knew what would happen in a few years. While I personally prefer his vocals on Spiritual Healing to Individual Thought Patterns, these vocals fit right in with the rest of the music.
As for the bass, well its audible and manages to add a lot to the music, especially on Spirit Crusher. And me as a bass player, I like it when I can hear the bass very well. Another thing to love about the bass is that it doesn't just follow the guitar or have a very simple beat like the majority of what is put out the radio, it manages to have its own identity while following the guitar at times when it would flow best.
The only downside to this album is that the guitar solos seem to be lacking but overall, all the songs are beautiful. However, I just feel like the solos could have had some more effort put into them. I don't know what it is that makes me feel this, but I can remember all the riffs on this album but hardly any of the solos.
This album in a way has deep emotion put into it, especially in the lyrics as well as the instrumental Voice of the Soul. This instrumental makes use of two electric guitars and an acoustic which is kind of used like the drums on this song. It evokes a sense of beauty and makes you miss Chuck when you hear it.
While not my favorite Death album, I still consider this to be a masterpiece and a great last breath of life for Death (no pun intended).
Standout tracks: Scavenger of Human Sorrow, Spirit Crusher, Voice of the Soul, Moment of Clarity
Here you have it - Death's last (and worst) album. Evil Chuck finally got rid of the little mask thing on top of the H on the logo, and in time, he would have probably gotten rid of the scythe as well if it managed to give him some bits of the artistic credibility he oh so craved. The amount of songwriting not present here is staggering; it's actually amazing they managed to record, produce, mix, master and release an entire album without writing any songs at all. Random changes in pace that have nothing to do with what was happening before, a now complete, total and absolute lack of good riffs, Evil Chuck doing a Dani Filth impersonation all the way through, and some of the worst shredding you'll ever have the misfortune to hear in your life are merely elements of the terribleness present in this album. At this point Death don't have a single trace of death metal in them anymore, so this is pretty much a full-blown extreme progressive metal album. Sounds bad? You haven't even begun to listen to The Sound of Perseverance.
Performance-wise, it's the usual Death. Basically, (mostly) everyone gives off a nice performance on their own, which turns into a wreck once everything is added together. The drumming, for one, is such a poor show of groove and restraint that it sadly manages to subtract more from the songs than actually add to them. There's no Hoglan here anymore, so what we get instead is some guy accentuating every nanosecond with every single cymbal on his kit, which I guess is technically impressive, but doesn't do anything to improve the songs. I feels like a drummer trying to play the jazziest beats ever because he would get bored otherwise, but in the end, they feel completely disconnected from the rest of the instruments. In short, it's bad progressive metal drumming. Instead of giving a feel of connection between the rhythmic and melodic elements, the drummer opts to rather show off how many cymbals can be played in the shortest possible time-span. I'm not completely sure if it's Richard Christy's fault for his lack of taste, or if Schuldiner asked him to be as loose as possible in his delivery. The only thing I've heard featuring him is that Control Denied album, but then again it also featured Chuck's songwriting; I'll throw a wild guess and simply blame them both for the mess present here.
Steve DiGiorgio left/was fired before this album was recorded, so he's not present here either. Not that he's missed, since he was mostly relegated to follow the guitars around on the preceding albums. Seriously, you would have expected Chuck to use such a good bass player in a more respectful way. Here, the bass takes on a more active role. It also has a very nice, warm sound. You can hear it thumping under the guitars at times, and it really shines on the quieter parts. However, those parts usually suck more than anything. Those middle sections of "Flesh and the Power it Holds" and "Scavenger of Human Sorrow" are complete snooze fests, and not only do they both manage to appear and go away randomly and out of thin air, masquerading their go as progression, but they contain the most extensive use of bass in the entire album just to be drowned out by Chuck's shitty, shitty soloing. What was he playing those with, a coin?
And that brings us to the guitars themselves. I'm not even going to try to make a case for the riffs, as they are a non-entity. However, if you want to know how they sound like, just picture a bunch of bland thrash/melodeath riffs with lots of sugar thrown in them, and some chugging thrown in for good measure. Let's focus on the shredding instead. It is easily and by far the worst soloing on any Death album, and it isn't even because of a lack of melodic skill, but because of a lack of pure restraint. Case in point, "Voice of the Soul" is an actually amazing track. It's the best later-era Death song ever because it isn't Chuck and company betting to see who plays the fastest, most pompous solo (and in his case, he always lost because he was sloppy as if he were playing with a piece of cardboard). That song works because it carries a principle of "just write a damn song and don't get too cute with it". Also, it doesn't feature vocals, but more on that later. I don't know of Shannon Hamm's work beyond what he did on Control Denied, but that album is probably not the best way to judge any musician present in it. He plays some actually decent leads every so and so while Chuck botches his and succeeds in giving his sloppiest guitar performance ever, and with a career like his, that's saying a lot.
The biggest problem, performance-wise, with The Sound of Perseverance is the vocals. Chuck's silly growls have always been Death's weakest point, but here he just plain out stopped giving a damn. As said earlier, it sounds like he was trying to do a Dani Filth impersonation, with a very annoying high pitched growl that sounds as threatening as, well, Dani Filth. It's a huge step down, because whereas the vocals on other Death albums are uneventful at best and just flat out boring at worst, these are downright obnoxious to listen to. Chuck maintains his "do everything with exactly the same-sounding screech" approach that he has always used, but this time said screech just feels like ear rape. At some points, he'll actually do this weird clean-sounding rasp, but that ends up sounding more like bad melodeath vocals than anything. At least he learned his lesson and actually hired a singer for his Control Denied album -- which is the obvious thing anyone would've done when wanting to write a pure progressive metal album. Also, his "sss" hisses sound horrible. "Dreamssss ssssiiight eyeesss sss sssss sssnaakeesss" goddammit Chuck you were not a reptile, you were a human being, you didn't even have scales.
This is all, of course, completely irrelevant once you point out the actual flaw in the album, which is the songwriting. It's obviously bad, since we know who was in charge of it, but whereas other Death albums showed elements of good songwriting deeply hidden down a sea of shit/nonexistent songwriting, The Sound of Perseverance's approach to this delicate, vital and essential part of making music is to pretty much not do it at all. You know how death metal is supposed to have a sense of chaos? Of dark, morbid riffs that hit you in the head without mercy, but that at the same time manage to find an order within? This tries to do the opposite of that. Instead of ending up with a bunch of songs whose inherent chaos gives you no chance to escape, there are a bunch of verses, choruses, solos, silly fusion sections and a myriad of other things just thrown into a blender and arbitrarily arranged. You could cut them up, paste them into other songs, trade them around, delete them, and nobody would notice the difference. There are awkward silences between sections, proving that their transitions weren't thought of at all, so a section will end abruptly to mark the start of another section that has nothing to do with either the one before, or the one after it. It doesn't sound chaotic, it simply sounds random; like a kid just writing his first song and tabbing it out in guitar pro.
There is one instance of good songwriting here, and that would be "Painkiller" (har har). Obviously, Evil Chuck completely mangled and butchered it and turned it into what I still believe is the worst cover ever. Those videos on YouTube of high school bands full of kids covering "The Final Countdown" and "Sweet Child O'Mine" provide a better listening experience, and in general are more faithful to the spirit of the song. Chuck sounds like an impersonation of Dani Filth doing a Rob Halford imitation. This is made worse by the fact the vocals are laughably louder than the guitars, which do useless harmonizations of the original riffs which didn't need to be harmonized in the first place. Then Chuck comes in with the main solo to completely ruin the original, doing some very sloppy sweep picking exercises in the beginning, and then turning it into a melodeath section that makes no sense at all within the context of the song. "Thisss isss daah Painkillaahh" No, Chuck, you're causing me pain, not killing it. Please stop it, it's mean. You are not Rob Halford. You are not Glenn Tipton. You're not even Ian Hill. Why do you do this.
Summarizing, The Sound of Perseverance is a horrible album. It's shit, and you're better off listening to "Voice of the Soul" on YouTube or something. Death fell so hard into the concrete below they managed to crack it, keep falling, and then continue all the way into earth's mantle -- all while sustaining horrible internal injuries. It's prog for the sake of being prog, it has terrible vocals, terrible shredding, terrible riffs, and I still have no idea what the cover art is supposed to be, but it's really ugly. Gladly, as far as I know, not many bands have gone ahead and started playing in this style consistently, so at least it stands on its own haven of awfulness. It is to be avoided.
Contention is a way of life for us in the metal world, we live and die by how much of it we can cause either amongst ourselves, or in the visible mainstream that we have a tenuous relationship with. And in death metal circles, few albums are more contentious than the last offering of the band after which the genre was coined. Some go so far as to assert that this album is not death metal at all, but some sort of extreme progressive album or, odder yet, an outright power metal album with harsh vocals. In an exterior sense, this viewpoint can be sympathized with as much of the material that made it onto "The Sound Of Perseverance" was intended for Chuck's soon to be born Control Denied project, which was an outright power/progressive effort.
The only retort that can really be made, and I share in making it, is that by 1998 death metal's boundaries did not conform to the same ones that were in place 10 years prior. When looking not only at the beginning breaks with tradition made by many other accomplished acts in the early to mid 90s, particularly that of Cynic, but also the rise of the heavy/power metal influences that crept into the scene via that Gothenburg scene, the notion of the narrow paradigm seized upon by Immolation and Incantation, though a very powerful one in itself, was no longer the case. And arguably, Chuck Schuldiner's early influences via certain NWOBHM bands made him something of a melodic death metal proponent before such a thing even existed, even going back to his earliest demo work in 1984-85.
That's the perplexing thing about the mixed reaction that "The Sound Of Perseverance" tends to receive. This album is not a sudden 90 degree left turn in the midst of a 15 year career of stylistic straight away driving, but a culmination of a lengthy period of evolution over the entire 1990s. It is possible to argue that the frog can jump out of the pan when the water starts to get hot, but that argument pretty well fails to make sense by the time "Symbolic" came out, and album that this one is not all that far away from. Yes, the strong influence of Chuck's earlier metal and progressive influences are strongest on this album. Yes, this album was created as a compromise with Nuclear Blast so that they would accept the Control Denied project. Of course, the lead guitar work gets dangerously close to show boating territory and Schuldiner's shouts are much higher in pitch and strongly resembles what is heard in early Children Of Bodom and Skyfire, but the separation between this album and the previous 2 is not a massive musically as one might assume.
Right at the beginning of this album, it's clear that this is a version of Death that wants to showcase their chops, as the guitar lead-in to "Scavenger Of Human Sorrow" almost sounds akin to a Malmsteen paraphrase. As the song gets rolling, a familiar deluge of speeding thrash riff celebrations and rhythmic groove change ups enter the scene. This picture is a bit more mixed up and progressive on "Bite The Pain" and "Story To Tell", a couple of slower songs that play more into the mixed rhythm style that was very present on "Symbolic". "Spirit Crusher" and "To Forgive Is To Suffer" are where the comparisons to more power metal oriented melodeath bands come into play, as the song structure gets a bit more simplified and the catchy factor becomes incredibly overt, especially on the refrain of "Spirit Crusher", which would be excellent sing along material if most people could echo Schuldiner's agonized shrieks without ripping apart their vocal chords.
But all of what has been discussed here is pretty well par for the course in Schuldiner's evolutionary tendencies (minus his vocal shift). Amid the battering array of thunderous anthems are a couple of interesting twists that can be qualified as down right surprising. "Voice Of The Soul" is probably the most moving instrumental to ever come out of a death metal band, riding an intricate classical acoustic guitar line and highlighting both Schuldiner and newly recruited co-axe man Shannon Hamm (also on the Control Denied roster) ability to achieve a haunting melodic atmosphere and also show their shredding skills. The epic "Flesh And The Power It Holds" is also an impressive lead guitar display that could rival much of John Petrucci's work, and the large collection of musical ideas are not all that far from something that could have been heard on "Awake" if the keyboards took a hike and Schuldiner took over singing duties. And if that were not enough to put the dismissive "all death metal sounds the same" types in their place, things conclude with an amazingly faithful rendition of Judas Priest's "Painkiller", where Schuldiner's banshee screams remain morose yet somehow conform themselves to Halford's range, and we even get a taste of his clean melodic voice when the lead guitars aren't soaring in the upper stratosphere.
Opinions will always vary on the nature of this album's genre, but a more important story is told within its songs. This is the closing opus of a project that began under the name Mantas, lead by a kid who had dreams of recording old school heavy metal, got caught up in a more dangerous and trailblazing art form, and then finally came full circle. It's uncertain if Chuck left this world feeling that he fully accomplished what he set out to do, but whatever he intended, he leaves behind a highly influential discography that inspires bands to test their premises on what metal actually is. "The Sound Of Perseverance" could be seen as somewhat self-serving given that it showed Chuck beginning to break with his established audience, but considering what came before it, he clearly deserved some self-gratification, and ended up recording yet another intricate fit of controlled rage in the process.
Since I seem to have survived the rash of stabbing and car bombing attempts that surrounded my lukewarm reception to Death's well regarded 1991 effort Human, I must once again cast myself into the maw of reckless endangerment by discussing the band's final studio effort, The Sound of Perseverance. I admit to some exaggeration here, because this is perhaps the most divisive of Schuldiner's albums among the general populace, but like Human, I've known numerous individuals who consider it to be some unquestionable pinnacle of musical achievement (individuals, who, in my humble opinion, clearly need to listen to quite a broader range of output before speaking such lies). At its very best, The Sound of Perseverance is a weak admixture of the past three full-lengths. At its worst, its ridden with underwhelming thrash rhythms, competent but forgettable leads, and a mediocre cover song that shows where Chuck's thoughts were TRULY at when he decided to unleash this about the audience.
Those ruminations were already several cups deep in the planning of Control Denied, a side project in which Schuldiner was highly excited, for which he had written a humdrum hybrid of power and progressive metal. The Sound of Perseverance is really just a bridge spanning the possibilities between the poles of Symbolic and The Fragile Art of Existence, which he wanted to get out of the way before moving his attention to that newer outlet. As was the Death tradition, he wrangled up a new lineup for the experience, this time, entirely (even Hoglan took a break). He brought in his Control Denied co-conspirators Shannon Hamm (guitar), Scott Clendenin (bass) and Richard Christy (drums), all competent enough in their roles. In particular, Christy kicks up a storm here. I could seriously just turn off the vocals and guitars and listen to the man batter away. His dynamics are one of the few components of this album that prevent it from the status of a stupefying bore.
Otherwise, it's mostly business as usual. The same thin, punchy processing of guitar tone that was present upon Human, Individual Thought Patterns, and Symbolic. The same inherent level of variation throughout the song structures. The same taut expression of glimmering, spiral leads and muted melodic patterning. Only this time, there is a dearth of inspiration. Not a single song on this album is fit to shine the loafers of even the weakest fraction of Symbolic. Tracks like "Flesh and the Power it Holds", "Scavenger of Human Sorrow", "Story to Tell" are all bloated masses of familiarity, stringy progressive death cycling through a wealth of tempos and tribulations, but falling well short of riffs that I'd ever want to hear again. The jangling grooves that inaugurate "A Moment of Clarity" seem curious at first, but the song soon devolves into a mire of pernicious ruin, offering not even the slightest step beyond the studio precedents. And you can forget about there being even one single 'evil' riff drawn from the cauldron of the band's grisly past, a feat that even the other 90s efforts were capable of pulling off.
But there are two further aspects of The Sound of Perseverance that ensure its position at the bottom rung of this band's career ladder. The first is that Chuck's vocals had become incredibly feline and bitchy throughout this album, almost like a little girl. It's the same general direction as he'd been moving towards through the previous decade, but somewhere between 1995 and 1998 the guy's bluejeans must have been pulled all too tight. It occasionally borders on the black metal rasp prevalent throughout that scene, only more 'emotional', if that makes sense. He sounds like the teamster boss for a union of kittens, crying over sour milk. Takes a bit of getting used to, and as the music does little for me as it stands, I do not intend on getting used to them. And then we come to the unfortunate cover of Judas Priest's "Painkiller", which I suspect is Chuck testing the waters for Control Denied more than anyone might have thought at the time, even though it's a bonus track, supposedly just here for fun. Not a bad choice, mind you, but Death fails to evoke anything interesting in its execution, just a clinical walkthrough, only the leads have been dried out and fall flat on their asses next to the Downing/Tipton originals, which soared.
If I had to pick just one song on The Sound of Perseverance that I immediately feel no urge to skip past, it would have to be "Bite the Pain", and only because it sounds like a Symbolic outtake. The dodgy bass in the bridge, and the choppy mutes that accompany the lead around 2:00 are the only value I've ever gotten from the album in over a decade, aside from Christy's percussion. Even the lyrics are weak, if not thoughtless. This all feels like a massive step sideways and back, a peripheral voyage to Individual Thought Patterns or Symbolic that forgot to pack all the good music into its cargo hold. The Sound of Perseverance makes Human shine in comparison. Hell, even the Control Denied full-length has more to offer, and since this would turn out to be Death's swan song (Chuck sadly succumbing to brain cancer in 2001 after a long struggle), it seems even more a disappointment in retrospect. The album isn't complete shit, but to these ears it felt wholly anticlimactic after Schuldiner had managed to sharpen the 'second phase' of Death to a razor-fine edge with the previous two releases.
What little more can I possibly add to the legacy of Chuck Schuldiner and Death? Passing well before his time in 2001 at the age of 34 despite the release of 8 brilliant albums (including Control Denied's "The Fragile Art Of Existence") his presence is simply wholesome across the death metal landscape and for as long as metal lives the man's presence will forever be sorely missed.
The final studio release of the Death catalogue, originally out in 1998, is here re-released with a reworked cover, and bonus disc of demo recordings in a similar way to the Control Denied LP recently was. Right the way through from the immense "Scavenger Of Human Sorrow" to the Judas Priest "Painkiller" cover (by some distance the greatest metal cover I've ever heard) every instance bleeds with the sort of technical ingenuity, passion and song-writing panache that cannot be trained in a musician, such is the natural gift that was bestowed on Schuldiner and the group he assembled around him for this release.
Schuldiner's ability to weave riffs of intricate delicacy around each other to form coherent wholes in "Bite The Pain", "Flesh And The Power It Holds" and "Spirit Crusher" tells of a man constantly pushing at the edge of metal's boundaries, full of the spirit that defines the genre we all love. No less stellar is the performance of rhythm guitarist Shannon Hamm, the bass of Scott Clendenin (who upholds Steve DiGiorgio's work magnificently) and especially drummer Richard Christy, who displays the talent to perform complex beats and fills with ease to produce a drumming performance that rivals the best metal has ever offered.
If these sound like flattering words and you've not heard "The Sound Of Perseverance" then don't be put off after 1 or 2, unfulfilling, listens - my first hearing 8/9 years ago was one of nonplussed intrigue; now, this many years down the line, I'm still discovering little gems hidden amongst the deep layers of this work of art. Whether expressing blistering power and serious headbanging demeanour ("Scavenger…") or acute instrumental beauty ("Voice Of The Soul") the range of emotions that Death are able to extract from the instruments remains a credit to their craft and sums up why they remain such a key name in heavy metal history. That no current bands sounds akin to this (although Obscura are coming close) is a testament to the unique route Death took in the creation of numerous classic albums ("Scream Bloody Gore", "Human" and "Symbolic" can arguably be rated just as highly), and it seems somewhat tragically fitting "The Sound Of Perseverance" should be the act's final album. Perseverance personified over a career impossible to be equalled.
Originally written for www.Rockfreaks.net
The year is 1998, when front man Chuck Schuldiner decided to release his last album under the name of Death. He would continue on with the band Control Denied which sounded even more melodic than Death. The general consensus of all Death albums is that the first few were unadulterated death metal (although one could argue Spiritual Healing was the start of the proggy Death instead of Human) and later albums become much more progressive/ melodic and much less like traditional death metal. It got so melodic that he couldn’t release music under the name of Death as death metal which is why he started Control Denied. The Sound of Perseverance is the midpoint of Chuck Schuldiner’s career in terms of sound, at which if Death sounded any more melodic; it would be no longer considered death metal. The Sound of Perseverance remains a mixed bag amongst Death fans; some criticized the album for being far too "wanky" and some praised the album for being Death’s greatest release. I fall more into the latter category and may be subjected to bias since it was the very first Death album I listened to. I have since listened to Human and Symbolic, which I may review later on. Alright enough blabbing, let’s get into the album.
I’ll first talk about the production. The production is crystal clear and is Death’s best produced album. Everything sounds clear and distinct; you could just admire the production of this album alone rather than the actual music. Each cymbal hit rings out with clarity and just sounds damn good. A great example of where you can take note of the production is around the three minute mark of the opening track of "Scavenger of Human Sorrow". It is even more obvious if you compare something like Human which sounded kind of murky and somewhat hard to distinguish the individual instruments to The Sound of Perseverance.
Another thing you’d notice about this album is that Chuck Schuldiner’s vocal style has changed considerably. From low guttural growling to an almost black metal like screeching, this alone would cause uproars amongst Death’s fan base. This may be attributed to Chuck’s cancer but I’m not too sure. I for one don’t mind it too much and I think it still fits the style of music well. It also sounds clearer and you can make out the lyrics easier than with his previous style. I’m not saying it supersedes his previous style; it’s just a change that I accept and don’t make a huge deal out of it.
Now the guitar is excellent overall and displays some traditional metal riffs like in "Spirit Crusher" and some great melodic leads like in the chorus of "A Moment of Clarity". Even to songs that would be considered blasphemy to the death metal genre *ahem* "Voice of the Soul", which I’ll talk about more in depth later. The solos can be quite short like in "Spirit Crusher" where it lasts around 30 seconds to being around a minute and 30 seconds like in (again) "A Moment of Clarity." Now for the aforementioned "wanky" elements; there are definitely some that are no doubt "wank" as in "Bite the Pain" where he decides to throw in some random lick that didn’t really need to be in the song. I have to admit some of the solos just seem more sterile and don’t really add to much to the song and are there for simply the sake of it example: "Spirit Crusher". (I really got to start referencing more tracks). There are around half a dozen types of riffs per song which makes each song interesting and enjoyable to listen to.
On to the drums… and what can I say? Richard Christy is a fucking good drummer. Everyone talks about Hoglan or Reinert but I hardly hear anyone mention Christy. This guy does some extremely complex stuff and there are hardly any beats that sound typical or unoriginal. All his beats typically utilize most of his drum set and are a joy to listen to. I had to watch a few Death drum covers in order to truly understand how good Christy was. Practically every part of his kit is used and he uses every single cymbal and drum head on his kit a few times for each song. Just look at the intro to "Scavenger of Human Sorrow" where he hits at least five different cymbals yet it still sounds great and not out of place. Parts that are mind-blowing and I had to pause for a bit in order to fully take in what I just heard is around the two minute part of "Bite the Pain" where he pulls off some unbelievable stuff. An extremely underrated drummer, Christy raised the bar of how I look at drumming in metal in general.
The bass lines in each song are complex and are definitely not just there for the sake of having a bass. There are many times where the bassist shines and is given his moments of having these interludes placed in songs where you can only hear the bass and maybe with some drum accompaniment. The bass isn’t also buried under layers of other instruments and you can easily hear it for pretty much all of the tracks. One of my favorite bass lines in this album is for "Spirit Crusher" and damn… it sounds very menacing, like this evil being (the Spirit Crusher) is coming and the drums only add to it. Not too much to elaborate on the bass but it just sounds outstanding overall.
The lyrics, of course, are extremely well written and it is one of the many high standards of Chuck Schuldiner that consistently holds. However (get ready to flame the shit out of me), some of them border the line on almost mallcore like. Don’t get me wrong; Death (especially on Human and songs like "Crystal Mountain") have very philosophical and deep lyrics. This is me just being pretty nitpicky. I just noticed that quite a few songs like "Scavenger of Sorrow" (example: "If you doubt what I say/ I will make you believe") seem to have this sort of "I hate you" attitude that is typical of that genre. Some of them are pretty cringe worthy like the beginning of "Flesh and the Power It Holds" ("I told you once/ But I’ll say it again"). Perhaps there is a much deeper meaning to these lyrics? A very nitpicky thing I have about Death lyrics are that they don’t take too long to interpret, as in they’re not very cryptic or have many hidden meanings to them. This is a very small complaint as they still make you think about certain things in perspectives you never would’ve imagined. Again, this is purely my opinion and I’m sure that many, many other people would be glad to contradict me.
The song lengths are easily Death’s longest overall with only 2 under the 6 minute mark. However, I don’t really mind the song length because they are well structured and continue to hold your interest throughout each song. Although, some of the parts in each song are repeated quite a few times which may put some people off. Each part is complex and you probably won’t fully appreciate each part if they weren’t repeated that often. The track that would stick out the most to Death fans is easily "Voice of the Soul" where it is an instrumental that would be the last thing categorized as death metal because there is an acoustic guitar coupled with an electric guitar soloing over it sans drums, bass and of course vocals. It is a very solemn track where I often become contemplative and introspective when I listen to it. The album ends on a cover of Judas Priest’s "Painkiller" which I have a sort of "meh" feel about it. It’s not the best way to the end the album, but it doesn’t feel too out of place and (like many people have said before me) Schuldiner pushes his voice to the limits on the track and you can truly behold what he is capable of doing vocally. Another interesting thing I noticed about this album is that each song sort of leads into each other or sounds similar to other songs on the album, like around 3 minutes through "Scavenger of Human Sorrow" it resembles "Spirit Crusher". The same can be said for a few other tracks on the album.
In conclusion, I think it is not best to look at this as a death metal album but more of a melodic progressive album which many find it as a hard pill to swallow considering Death essentially created death metal and their name is "Death" after all. Just look at Symbolic; it is hard to consider it as pure death metal especially with a drum intro like "Zero Tolerance" yet it was extremely innovative. Everything about this album is admirable and Schuldiner poured quite a bit of work into it to make such an album. Maybe it wouldn’t receive so much criticism if Schuldiner released this under Control Denied’s name. Ironically, Death’s last and most complex and progressive album got me into Death which is probably why I give it this much praise. This is one of the albums that you have to listen to quite a few times in order to appreciate it (I know I did; I listened to the album four or five times and a few tracks around 25-30 times) so I don’t blame you if you didn’t like it at first.
Favorite tracks: "Bite the Pain", "Spirit Crusher", "A Moment of Clarity", and "Voice of the Soul".
I did not put this album on expecting to listen to death metal. From what I gathered off the band's front page on this website, their later works are categorized as a "Death/Progressive", meaning one, the other or both. After hearing the stark contrast between Scream Bloody Gore and Human, I thought, "Well, this certainly isn't going to sound anything like their earlier shit." Okay, first track's up. Good opening but a punch in the face is what everybody expects from the start of a metal album. It sure is fast. More into the song, I think to myself, "I need to start a fight with somebody." This is a good sign for me. And so it goes...Fast forward after about a dozen listens over several years and it hits me: The coherence...It's a lot of very technical, progressive metal yes but the lulls that enter quickly into the thrash sections are...inappropriate? That’s an odd word. How about “kind of dull?” To be perfectly forthright I have never been a huge “progressive rock” fanatic so there might be a bit of bias behind that statement.
As for the vocals? There's no gutter! That’s okay. This is progressive metal. They're melodic but far from clean and very, very far from rasps. They aren't barks either. Categorization's never been my strong point in all honesty. The real question is whether or not I think they're good. Truthfully? I'd give them a C+ for "motivation". I mean, that's the whole point of a vocalist, right? His voice soars above the chaotic wall of noise and the driving bass-line thudding along with the drumwork to the point where you physically feel it in your bones but, and this is coming from an individual who never had the pleasure of witnessing Death live, it just doesn't seem like these would be the kind of vocals that would get me good and pissed at a show. I certainly won’t believe that this album isn’t meant to make crowds move either. I really want to be entertained by this but I keep finding myself almost being kind of startled (and not in a really good way I'm afraid) but the frequent melody schisms that happen within the same song. Perhaps that was the intention? Either way, it's one of those things that kind of just dawns on me where the words are connected and formed into the sentence, "This part of the song sucks!"
Take Flesh and The Power It Holds for example to kind of clarify what I'm trying to say. It's all over the place. It keeps going from shred to "here's some floor tom chugging", then he does some virtuoso guitarwork layered over an emphasized bass to give it that, "Here's the interlude!" feel. Guess what comes after? Yes, of course: It's the part where they start riffing really fast again after some almost overdramatic single chord-strikes. No, wait. Moderately fast. Oh, there's that part. Great...This song is just unremarkable with every respect. Nothing sticks in my head. Yes, I know the word perseverance is in the album's title and that is obviously going to be a central thematic element behind the sound but, seriously, when I hear the next track, I think to myself: "This is great music. Oh, here's that lull. Guitar scream. Oh yes, I can see it now, a man surrounded by harrowing images that he has to conquer as he stumbles in the dark and then he smashes through a wall in a great blaze of sun-light over blinded eyes. It's just too bad this song seems so ironic in light of some of the other shit licks they've put on this CD." The last thirty seconds in To Forgive is to Suffer? What the hell is that? It just doesn’t sound good! I’m afraid to say that one of the only truly redeeming songs on this album, for me, is Scavenger. It’s not that the rest is “bad”, it isn’t that it’s bland either. It’s like somebody tried to make a flesh golem taking 75% of Brad Pitt’s body and then mixing it with Brian Pepper’s. Altogether, this is great shit but there are some very noticeably detrimental qualities about the general songs’ structure’s coherence and choice of melodies and tempo changes. Last example: 3:55ish to 4:10ish in Moment of Clarity? Utter crap. The majority of the rest of the song? Great! Like any other teamwork though, it’s only as good as the weakest member and that section of the song just kind of jars you and this is coming from somebody who tolerates a lot of music that I’m willing to bet most of the people here would piss themselves laughing at me over. I give this a C+. A 75 with some extra points for the excellent cover at the end.
Originally formed as Mantas in 1983, the late musical legend Chuck Schuldiner decided to change the band's name to Death back in 1984. Their older material was considered to be straight forward death metal. This would include "Scream Bloody Gore", "Leprosy", "Spiritual Healing" and "Human" (1987, 1988, 1990 and 1991 respectively). Their later releases shy away from this death metal only approach, and would be considered to fall under genres of death/progressive metal. That seemed to be the aim for this final Death album. Chuck's progression in his songwriting really steered in the direction of this more melodic sounding song types, and a lesser focus on death metal only, as was previously mentioned.
The music on this album showed another very skilled and creative form of metal song writings. This displayed how Chuck focused more on melodic/technical guitar parts, and was opposed to being simply tied down to one particular genre. The guitar riffs on here reflect the mastermind's ideas put forth into action. This release is problably Death's most technical one; I'd say more so than any of their previous albums. The tracks such as "Scavenger of Human Sorrow", "Bite the Pain", "Spirit Crusher" and "Flesh and the Power It Holds" are extravagantly written songs. The reason I say this is because they seemed to be more reflective on melodic riffs and high screeching vocals, instead of the past heavier riff writing styles alongside a hoarse or guttural throat. Everything on here featured Chuck at his best in terms of songwriting capabilities; each track has its key moments, especially on the instrumental entitled "Voice of the Soul."
The song tempos are moderately fast and explosive, with the exception of a few tracks. The metal just flows on this album, and each track demonstrates guitar parts that are totally original sounding and awe inspiring. There aren't any tracks on here that are boring or repetitive. The songs are so well thought out, and it's an amazing album to listen to. Analyzing each song, it's clear that every one of them are so original in their entirety. Some pieces seem to shine more so than others when it comes to their unique qualities, but overall the embellishments are remarkable. It's true that Chuck didn't like categories of metal; this was featured on a past interview via www.emptywords.org. But anyhow, his musical abilities really shined the most on this Death album; Chuck took metal to a new exploration here. For the most part, the songs are less brutal but still very catchy.
The sound quality was brilliantly mixed with each instrument well heard throughout the album. This was arguably one of the best produced Death releases ever thanks to Jim Morris. On a few different notes, I must say that the overall playing of each member was awesome. For example, Shannon Hamm, their last rhythm/lead guitarist was a little more technical than Chuck on his leads. He had a unique picking style, which was featured on Death's live DVD. Overall, this is one of the best lineups Chuck arranged to be featured here on this album. At the time, these musicians were hardly even known. Chuck was always notorious for selecting a different lineup on pretty much all of Death's releases. Each of the musicians on here are very talented, and Chuck did another good job of selecting the right people to perform on here.
Death's lyrical concepts focused more on topics such as spirituality and society, as opposed to mainly just gore. They are the most thought out than previous releases, and reflect these newer focal points. However, on most Death albums, Chuck's lyrics are very well done, especially on "Individual Thought Patterns" (1993). This final Death album is again arguably the best Death release, lyrically speaking. The focus was more spiritually driven, with less of an emphasis on other previous topics. A good example of this concept was on the track entitled "Spirit Crusher." In addition, this album features a cover for Judas Priest's "Painkiller" on the last track, which was because of Nuclear Blast's re-released version back in 2001. A really good cover to say the least.
In conclusion, "The Sound of Perseverance" is Death's most technical and one of the most brilliant releases out of their entire discography. There aren't any tracks on here that don't show Chuck's brilliance in songwriting in terms of musical and lyrical capabilities. Chuck was metal's Mozart for sure, and death metal was pretty much founded by the band, at least during their earliest days. Don't miss out on this release, because it demonstrates so much diversity and originality. Chuck will be missed, but his legacy lives on through his music, in which he was able to put forth while he was living.
Like most albums within Death's later works there is a tendency even by the band's more established fans to ignore this part of their career in favor of "Scream Bloody Gore." While there certainly isn't anything wrong with wanting to hear more and more of those early days of death metal, it does cause some audiences to erroneously push aside Death's more accomplished works. What it boils down to isn't so much as a pissing contest between Death's earlier and later careers, but more of the perspective of a band's evolution.
Death, to me, are one of those bands who managed to be technical and progressive, yet enjoyable. Such a combination is not an easy one to find in death metal, especially in modern times where the emphasis is placed on sheer complexity for no specific purpose other than just to do it. Yet Death had a purpose all along for their progression and evolution, and their final album in "The Sound of Perserverance" saw yet another mountain being scaled.
The song lengths on "The Sound of Perserverance" are the longest of any Death album, which is interesting since song durations had been increasing with each successive release. The durations here break the five minute mark on average, with only two exceptions in "Bite the Pain" and "Voice of the Soul," and with six songs that break the six minute mark. This is a remarkable shift from previous albums like "Individual Thought Patterns," where the song lengths were 3-4 minutes. The additional times allow for more progressive elements and section changes, which is actually one of the only flaws present on this album, which I will get to later.
The other major change is Chuck's voice, which has adopted a thrashier vocal style instead of lower, heavier tone he's had on previous works. This allows a new facet to the band we haven't before, one that works very well in most regards. Its interesting to hear these changes, particularly since Chuck was the only remaining band member from the line-up that was featured on "Symbolic." In some ways, its almost like "The Sound of Perserverance" was recorded by an entirely different band, yet, paradoxically, maintains that signature Death vibe.
You get a feel for what I mean in that last sentence by the opener, "Scavenger of Human Sorrow." This nearly seven minute track goes through numerous changes, but most of these move quite smoothly. Like most of Death's later output, the song length feels longer than it really is due to all the changes and shifts that filter in and out. I don't count this as a negative aspect to the album or the band in general, as they pull it off better than most progressive death metal bands out there.
"Bite the Pain" is shorter, and contains one of the more memorable riffs on the album. The song eventually picks up speed, which it maintains for most of the listen. Then comes "Spirit Crusher," which a personal favorite of mine alongside "A Moment of Clarity." Both of these songs are the most memorable of the bunch, whose progressive elements pull you into the song into instead allowing you to merely "hear" it. That seems to be the problem with "The Sound of Perserverance," in that a good number of these songs don't reach out and grab the listener like "Symbolic" did. "Symbolic" pulled the audience into the album, whereas this album can be a little much to withstand at times.
The main problem with this isn't that the songs are too long, but instead that some of these songs have too many ideas and come off as over-developed. They become difficult to listen to on one full listen, which is something I never encountered on "Symbolic" or "Human." I also get that feeling at times of the dreaded "technicality for the sake of technicality," one of the things that Death never indulged in without some purpose. This is the only real flaw I could find on this album, save perhaps the Judas Priest cover tacked on at the end. The "Painkiller" is a definite keeper, no doubt about it, but I'm not a big fan of sticking covers at the end of a proper album. Its a bit picky of me, but it seems like that would have been best saved for a compilation of some kind.
"The Sound of Perserverance" wasn't the strongest note for Death to exit on, but it was still impressive. Death climbed alot of mountains in their time, thanks largely to the genius of Chuck Schuldiner, but here it seems too much. The album is still an excellent one, especially for 1998 when it was released, a time when all forms of metal found themselves in awkward places and unsure where to go next. It still remains a favorite of mine in Death's catalog (along with pretty much every album they did) and while I can recommend it to the fan of Death's later works, I still acknowledge "Symbolic" as superior to this and their best effort.
It has been claimed by a certain part of the metal community that Chuck Schuldiner was a Christian who died of AIDS. The claim was probably half-serious at most, and likely trolling, but The Sound of Perseverance does sound like Christianity and AIDS. Like Christianity, this is incoherent; like AIDS, this was a disease that weakened metal's immune system to modern technical death metal (i.e. this probably had a big influence on it).
This is an album by none other than the legendary Death, but this is not death metal. There is not a single death metal riff to be found on this album. There is no darkness, morbidity, or a sense of death in any of the riffs. The melodies, played with a sterile and clean lead guitar tone, are so modern and sugary that they sound like melodeath at best and some shopping-mall mainstream music at worst. I am not as versed in that type of music to point out specific examples (like emo, pop punk, etc.), but this is not in the least meant as a hyperbole. The first riff of A Moment of Clarity is an example – while it has the disjunction characteristic of this album, the shitty melody can be clearly heard – and the vaguely Egyptian but fundamentally saccharine lead passage enclosing the guitar solo of the same song is another. Not even the vocals here are death metal vocals. They are, admittedly, somewhat unique – but also bad. They are somewhere in-between high-pitched clean singing and harsh vocals, and sound very forced and uncomfortable. The incorporation of clean vocal elements allows more control over the melody than is usual for the typical harsh vocals, but this aspect, instead of being used wisely, only results in melodeath-like vocals, and in some cases even pathetic attempts at catchy sing-along choruses (e.g. around 5:00 of 'Story to Tell').
It could be said that a sense of chaos is an important in death metal, and this is chaotic in a sense, but ultimately its death metalness, or the album's quality in general – for those of you who think technical sugar "metal" like this is not inherently inferior to death metal –, is inarguable. It is chaotic in the sense that it is random and disjointed, but it has no meaningful feeling of chaos. If real death metal is ordered chaos, this is chaotic order. In real (good) death metal, chaotic riffs are arranged in an unpredictable but ultimately sensible order, but here somewhat orderly-sounding (though not really ordered in any good way) riffs are arranged in an utterly chaotic fashion. A variety of riffs are employed, including thrashy riffs – though they are in a more melodeath fashion than real thrash due to the sugary melodies –, arpeggios, chugging, and some mid-paced melodic power chord progressions. Riffs are generally bad in themselves – often a melody is dissected into pieces by the chugging between every melodic note, or a riff simply consists of some chugging before a technical lead-like phrase comes in at the end, and there are lots of stop-starts and technical proggish riffs. It is certainly a difficult task to make coherent songs out of these building blocks, which are hardly coherent themselves and appear irrelevant to each other, but even this handicap (which was caused by the band itself anyway) cannot excuse the level of illogic and chaos displayed by songwriting on this album. Literally the majority of transitions from one riff to the next sound extremely arbitrary, and even the others are hardly smooth. If you took all the riffs from this album, mixed them, and made 8 songs ('Painkiller' doesn't count) by randomly choosing the riffs for each song, it wouldn't really be that different from the original album. Moreover, the interjections of short lead phrases are often completely unrelated to the riffs (see 1:40 of 'Bite the Pain,' for example), and the abrupt ending of guitars are always followed by bass lines unrelated to the guitar riffs surrounding the non-guitar section.
There is very little to say about the structural aspect of this album when structure is barely present at all. There is no unifying theme, nor any logical progression or development. That said, there is a certain pattern that each track follows (though the term "song structure" cannot be used here) – there is a cycle of riffs, some of them repeated within the cycle, which is followed by a guitar solo in the middle, then the cycle repeats itself before the song comes to an end. Astounding – they actually managed to sound both totally random and repetitive. The guitar solos consist of the same repulsive melodic content, and more: often the main theme of the solo would be interrupted with some technical phrase that is really nothing but finger exercise. Near the end of 'To Forgive is to suffer,' there seems to be a melodic build-up not entirely opposed to logic, but then it quickly collapses into irrelevance as a completely unrelated lead guitar shred comes in to end the track. Voice of the Soul, an instrumental with clean guitar accompaniment and overdriven solos, at least sounds a lot more consistent compared to the other songs on this album, but an Yngwie Malmsteen piece (which isn't exactly the pinnacle of metal, to put it mildly) is easily more coherent and much more metal than this.
'Painkiller,' not surprisingly, is by far the best track on the album, but even this is totally ruined compared to the original version. The over-the-top vocals, while not even close to Halford's "laser-bullet" voice in fitting in with the rest of the music, work better than they do on the rest of the album, but the guitar solos are absolutely reprehensive. They bear very little semblance to the original versions; the Death version of the Tipton solo starts out with meaningless shredding before it is transformed into a very bright-sounding and upbeat section that absolutely loses the sense of tension the original version had, and the Downing solo is turned into mere scale exercise.
The rhythm section on this album is rather inventive; the drumming is varied, with numerous fills, and the bass often acts independently of the guitars. However, they do nothing to save the non-existent structure of the songs, and even add to the overall sense of randomness due to their lack of integration with the guitars. This is really a horrible album with lots of technical exercises and no structure, and not even Painkiller will kill the pain induced by listening to this album.
If one were to toss all of Death’s major releases into a CD player and hit play, the following 5 or hours of music would be a steady progression from harsh and raw to crisp and refined, from simple song structure and minimal technicality to unbridled and magnificent virtuosity, and most of all from good to absolutely astounding. From their early days as a thrash/death outfit to this album they have changed a great deal, but Chuck Schuldiner remains the key factor and the defining element, managing to release no two identical albums and yet improve upon every release.
The final installment in the Death discography sees a totally different line-up than the previous album, Symbolic. Gene Hoglan moved on to Strapping Young Lad and was replaced by Richard Christy, a session drummer/ comedian, and Scott Clendenin on bass and Shannon Hamm on guitar round out the lineup. The addition of Christy may be on the most important elements of this album. His drumming is lightning fast and perfectly precise, yet he refrains from typical death metal style double bass obsession (which has it’s place, just not here). Songs like Scavenger of Human Sorrow and The Painkiller showcase his tremendous ability both to play well and to avoid overpowering the music.
Perhaps the only part of he album that overshadows the drums is the fantastic guitar work of Mr. Schuldiner. Every song has a number of great riffs and devastating hooks, especially Bite the Pain and Spirit Crusher. Chuck pulled out all the stops on this album created a true masterpiece of metal, chock full of awe-inspiring licks and solos. Don’t listen to those who bitch and moan about “wankery” – there is very little on this album that is superfluous, and if you can’t handle a tharshtastic little lick here and there I don’t know what you’re doing near a “technical” anything album. This is one of those albums that makes you understand why the guitar is as tremendous an instrument as it is, and the result is an album with no filler, no down time, just pure insanity.
And that’s not all Chuck did to make this album outstanding: the vocals and lyrics really are exquisite. His voice on this album is overflowing with emotion and creates great tension and intense anguish at times. On top of that the lyrics are very well written, very insightful and, wonderfully, intelligible. While lyrics are rarely important to me here they add a whole extra dimension to the album, and are just one more element perfectly executed. The cover of The Painkiller is perhaps the vocal highlight, as Schuldiner is able to outdo Halford and hit some jaw-dropping notes. This is a death metal release you’ll find yourself singing along to.
The more I listen to this album, the more I love it. The songs are memorable and catchy but totally original and always interesting, and successive listens to this album in no way diminish the songs. Most astounding of all is that this album makes you feel happy. It’s not uplifting or even inspiring in sound or message, but there’s something about how wonderful it is that really gets at you. At the same time, it’s extremely metal, extremely fast and at times very heavy. Everything about this album makes it the best Death release ever, and perhaps one of the best albums of all time.
This album has only two views from fans of Death. Either that they despise and call it wank or they love it. I hold the latter opinion in that little debacle, as you can obviously tell from my ridiculously high score.
Alright, well, I'll start off with the very few cons.
Firstly, the lack of outrageous bass patterns saddens me. Though Scott created a very good set of lines, and performed them skillfully and had stage presence, he could've played some more interesting bass solos/lines. For instance, even though I love the intro Spirit Crusher...it isn't much beyond the first guitar riff.
Secondly, and lastly, the Painkiller cover. Even though I think Chuck had a ridiculously good voice on this song I just didn't like it...the near monotous Halford vocals are gone and that slightly angers me. It just doesn't sound that right, to me.
Now, onto the good parts of the album. Quite a few at that.
The guitar sound? For Chuck and co. to be using solid state amps, this album has rather good guitar tone. A perfect crisp punch without leaving out the powerful bass presences. The leads are enhanced by chorus and reverb pedals, thus giving them intensly spacey and melodic vibes. The riffing is incredible, shifting from the now necessary Death pedal point riffing to the straightforward powerchord-chug-power chord formula reminiscent of any Death song.
The riffs...OH THE RIFFS. I'm normally not one to orgasm mentally over riffs, but these riffs are so good and so solid that I can't help but point them out. Many people claim this album lacks substantial riffing as it is "technical wankery" but this album is honestly chock-full of nasty riffs. Particulary in songs like A Moment of Clarity and Spirit Crusher. Then the solos...standard Chuck fare, tapping occaisional mini-sweeps and lots of melodic minor shredding. My favorites.
The guitarist for this album, and the Control Denied album, Shannon Hamm is a good guitarist. He manages to do well enough when called upon in studio but his live performance is horrid. The only thing that redeems him is his energy on stage.
Now, onto the bass. Fairly prominent, and very good. Look up at the cons for my disagreements on the basslines.
Anyways, the drums. Many people attest Gene Hoglan to be the best Death drummer, but after inspections of this album it is easily proven that Richard Christy flays any attempt by Gene. His ridiculously technical patterns into simple D beat stuff into the usual metal double bass pattern form is extremely effective on this album. He never goes off time and his fills and accuracy are completely professional.
Then, the lyrics. We stumble upon what most call the idiotic part of later Death. But, to be honest, these are Chuck's most truthful lyrics and show through a more "real" image of the main man. They vary from spirituality topics to those of the unknown, the dead, and stories of fictional creatures.
Related to the lyrics is the songwriting. Many people push off this albums writing as too pretentious and that is fairly justified as this album is rather progressive. Though, what is not justified is calling the album shit because of that. The songwriting is still comprehensive of death metal and adopts the conveniences of progressive metal and power metal.
Nearly finally, the vocals. Chuck shifted vocal styles rapidly throughout the years of Mantas and Death. Originally formatting a raspy growl to his liking, he changed in five years to a slightly higher shriek which eventually led to the vocals on this album. As the goddess said previously, they are like razors. The vocals pierce and screech their way through the album, never letting any tension go. On occaisions Chuck can be heard letting lose his full body through the mic (see: Spirit Crusher's ending choruses).
Now it's finally the production values. The album is produced with a perfect mix. Rarely does one find a perfect death metal album in terms of mixing. The few that there are include: Cannibal Corpse's The Wretched Spawn, Incantion's Onward to Golgatha, this album, and Deicide's Legion. When you get perfectly mixed albums like those you hear damn near musical perfection. Every instrument is perfectly high in the mix, even the bass. The vocals are rather loud, but do not intrude on the music.
Well, that's about it from me. I recommend this album if you are a fan of death metal with progressive tendencies and power metal shrieking.
Best songs? Honestly, all of them, though Story to Tell and Spirit Crusher hold rather high places. No bad songs, in my mind either.
I'd like to think that Death continually progressed throughout their career to a sound further and further away from their death metal roots while still retaining integrity and songwriting abilities. And for the most part, they did, the only blemish in the progression is the very end, The Sound of Perseverance. It's hard to describe this without either sounding like a pretentious dicknose or a raving fanboy, so forgive me if I seem to fluctuate in my opinions.
This is undoubtedly a logical continuation in the progression that began with Human back in 1991, but in the songwriting department, it's a step down from 1995's masterful Symbolic. The songwriting tends to take a back seat to technical showmanship more so than ever on this record. It's a rut that many bands with proficient musicians fall victim to, and Death is no exception. Songs like A Moment of Clarity or Story to Tell aren't very memorable like other tracks in the past and on this album. There is no denying that the musicianship is top notch, as evidenced by the copious mindlblowing solos and drum fills. Chuck's vocals once again got higher, a trend that began years beforehand. This time, they range from a high pitched shriek to the ear piercing wail on the cover of Judas Priest's timeless classic, Painkiller. Richard Christy, who would later gain fame on The Howard Stern Show, is a worthy replacement to Gene Hoglan and is just as competent on the kit as the 600 pound behemoth.
But as I said, the lack of memorable melodies, riffs, vocal lines, or things of that sort mar the mathematically wonderful record. Story to Tell has completely pointless and random stops throughout it that do nothing but annoy me. Scavenger of Human Sorrow, while being a technical showcase to behold, is completely forgettable, as is To Forgive is to Suffer and A Moment of Clarity. Flesh and the Power it Holds meanders in the middle for far too long and could be the best song on the record if it was a minute or two shorter.
Don't get me wrong, The Sound of Perseverance is far from being a bad album, in fact it is quite great. Bite the Pain and Spirit Crusher are probably the only two songs that are amazing from start to finish (barring the final cover). Both of them also hold two of my favorite riffs on the album (0:42 in the former and 2:32 in the latter), which is proof that Chuck still possesses some of the magic from the previous records. Flesh and the Power it Holds contains also what I may consider one of the most perfect riffs of all time, the verse riff, as I feel like moving every time I hear it, which is what a great riff is supposed to do. Voice of the Soul is a great instrumental as well, with some stunning dual guitar melodies that actually drip with emotion.
Sad to say though, the last track is probably the highlight of the album. Painkiller is, to me, hands down the best Judas Priest song ever penned. Now, when one of my favorite bands decides to cover it at a higher speed and with even more blood curdling shrieks, you get one of the best covers of all time. Chuck struggles with the sweep patterns at the beginning of the first solo, which is slightly shocking considering his chops. I can understand why some would abhor this, but I find it to be one of the coolest things I've ever heard. Whether this or the original is better is still open for judgment, but you cannot convince me that the vocal performance isn't one of Schuldiner's best.
So to wrap up, this is a technical powerhouse with solos and melodies forced up your ass every ten seconds, but by the end of the album, only a couple forced rams will still be resonating in your presumably throbbing anus. By no means bad, but a noticeable step down in the memorability and respinability department from the last few endeavors. A B to Death. Recommended to fans of Death's later work, and whatever genre you want to consider this ("extreme progressive metal"? or some wankery like that).
Surely much praise has been bestowed upon Chuck Shuldiner and his legacy. Many people proclaim Chuck to be a brilliant guitarist and a musical virtuoso. People also claim that all of his musical virtues are emodied by this very album. Then as always there are those people that dismiss "The Sound of Preserverance" as nothing more than a technical masterbation exercise. The opinion of the latter is more agreeable, most of this stuff is technical wanking.
There is not even the slightest doubt that Chuck Schuldiner possessed tremendous capabilites as a guitar player. Every single guitar solo is an eruption of notes sequenced in consonant melodic fashion. Certainly one must feel every stream of passionate emotions pouring out of every beautiful guitar solo. It's hard to stress just how jaw droppingly amazing these guitar solo's are. They are played at lightning fast speeds and with immense technicality, but yet they are just melodic enough to make them sugary sweet and memorable. If there's one reason to buy this album, it is those damned fine guitar solo's.
However, guitar solos, or even mountainious technical abilities are just not enough to make a great album. Sometimes techincal showcasing simply gets in the way and even tends to ruin a great song. Such is the case with this album. Musicianship doesn't necessarily destroy the album, it just leaves a bad impression. There are some sections of a song which were better left off. These sections are, quite frankly, annoying. They exist merely to disrupt the overall flow of the song. Perhaps the worst aspect of this album is the stale song construction. Every single song is written in repetative fashion. First they play a series of riffs, some of them random and misplaced, then the brilliant guitar solo flourishes, afterwards the song repeats itself. Just about every song follows this cyclical songwriting. The astounding instrumental ability does not save this album from the lack of variation.
This album does have a few positive aspects. There are plenty of memorable guitar licks and riffs. Perhaps due to the fact that this is perhaps Death at its most accessible. Most of the riffs contain sappy melodicism with a touch of percussive tendancies. Guitar riffs are played along side a basking rythm drum and bass backing. On top of all this is Chuck's rather distastefuly ugly vocals. His voice is a high pitched, scratchy snarl, and it is not very pleseant to listen to, even for extreme metal standards. Indeed, Chuck mainly relies on instrumentation.
It is easy to see why one would either enjoy and highly praise this album, yet it also difficult to not see why someone would blast this album. On the surface we have a great deal of astonishing musicianship and barely descent overall song fluidity. However, when one views past this, we are left with wank sections and a lack of atmosphere. And of course no clear artistic intent, just flowery instrumentalism. "The Sound of Preserverance" is to be be far from being crowned a masterpiece.
DEATH's latest album, The Sound of Perseverance, is certainly the finest Death album and the best metal album of 1998. Period. Words almost fail when trying to capture the brilliance of this album, but I'll give it a try. It's like the perfect Death album, a series of perfect balances - progressive yet catchy, simple yet brutal. It sums up everything Chuck has done on every previous album, takes it to the next level, and still manages to make it even better than you'd expect.
The song structures are much more involved than previous albums, making some of the songs almost like progressive-metal 'songscapes', but you never get lost in a swirl of indulgent technicality - the riffs themselves are to-the-point, visceral; you can sing riffs from songs like "Flesh and the Power It Holds" or "A Moment of Clarity" all day long. However, the blazing riffs or human-whirlwind drums on songs like "To Forgive is to Suffer" or "Scavenger of Human Sorrow" still wow the listener over and over, making one wonder where Chuck manages to find guitarists and drummers with three arms. . .
I could almost go song by song and write essays, but in the interests of space I'll just touch on the highlights: the opener, "Scavenger of Human Sorrow", is like the whole album in miniature - it goes everywhere without losing focus and still manages to say something profound. "Spirit Crusher" has some of the best 'hooks' on the album, and some of the best guitar arrangement. "Flesh and the Power it Holds" is simply a masterpiece of mood/feel swings - the opening minutes are pure sublime majesty, the middle solo section is incredible (Schuldiner at his best, easily), but they still manage to throw in a lot of fierce riffing through the verses and choruses. "Voice of the Soul" is a fantastic guitar-only composition, layered harmonies over acoustic/clean guitar strumming. "A Moment of Clarity" is my personal favorite song on the album - a progressive delight that covers more ground in nine minutes than most bands do in their entire careers (and has one of the coolest harmony solos ever recorded!). And finally, their cover of JUDAS PRIEST's "Painkiller" rules - quite a bit rawer than the original, and with more adventurous solos, but don't believe the crap he's been getting over the vocals - they totally rule. And so does this album. Get it NOW - your soul depends on it!
(Originally published in Eternal Frost Webzine #5 and LARM (c) 1999)