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Christianity and AIDS - 5%

Kruel, July 24th, 2009

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.