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The nadir - 8%

RageW, August 3rd, 2012

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.