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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).