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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".