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Perennial Perfection - 100%

Hames_Jetfield, February 6th, 2021

The subject of perfection in the case of Death is like a boomerang - it returns in almost every my (but not only) reviews. It looks no different to "Symbolic". The music is refined in every respect, full of compositional genius and - in my opinion - even better than "Individual Thought Patterns" and "Human". So the conclusion from it's clear, for "Symbolic" there is no scale! This is another Death album, where it's perfectly audible that the earlier patents could be approached completely differently, something else could be changed and - on the other side - still with strictly death metal sounds to create a masterpiece. Besides, "Symbolic" - although released in 1995 - probably best illustrates Chuck's condition in the last years of his musical activity. It was as if he already knew the end was near. You can even say that with this album, the name Death gained a special meaning...

At the moment, however, it acquired a truly unique meaning! Schuldiner's music has become a bit slower, sublime, arranged, it has gained a very "depressing" atmosphere, it also has a definitely different feeling compared to its predecessors. All of this, fortunately, did not fall into an exaggerated softening or any polishing of the material - it gave Death's music a whole new dimension. Of course, "Symbolic" is dominated by what is traditionally death metal for this band, i.e. a large dose of classic death metal playing, a lot of imaginative riffs (though somewhat less tech-oriented compared to "Individual...") and Chuck's characteristic vocal (here as if yet another more "virulent"). All the novelties - of which there were quite a lot - did not disturb the earlier style, they even made "Symbolic" even more unique and perfectly emphasized the pessimistic character of the whole album. I mentioned the latter a few lines above, so I'll just mention the titles that best reflect the style of the album - "Empty Words", "Without Judgment", "Sacred Serenity", "Zero Tolerance" are just one of several. The coolest thing, however, is that "Symbolic" can be proud of its advanced technique, sad atmosphere and death metal sound to the same degree.

It's also surprising that such an awesome album was created in a (almost) random line-up. Because while Gene Hoglan is not an casual musician (he's better than on "Individual Thought Patterns"!), so Bobby Koelble and Kelly Conlon were clearly weaker compared to previous musicians. As you can see, this did not prevent them from getting better, because Koelble's solos are just as hit as Schuldiner, and Conlon's bass, although very modest compared to DiGiorgio, also fits perfectly into the music (it does the background, but in a positive way words meaning). After all, they created a complete and absolutely one-of-a-kind album! Rarely you can talk about an album that is brilliant and which was recorded by a temporary line-up.

Originally on:

Progressive Greatness - 97%

DanielG06, January 2nd, 2021

This album is my favourite by Death, it's so emotionally captivating, and despite its ambitious nature and evocative songwriting, it never gets tedious to listen to, it's actually surprisingly accessible considering it's a mixture of the two least accessible metal subgenres (arguably). However, this album isn't flawless, admittedly some songs could be a little bit shorter, some riffs come off as weakly executed awkwardly articulated, but for the most part, this is an astounding record that never gets old, every track has multiple qualities that really present Chuck in his prime, this album is the first indicator that Death's sound has completely evolved, whereas Human and Individual Thought Patterns were just testing the waters, Symbolic goes fully-fledged prog death, and pulls it off almost flawlessly.

Straight from the title track, it's evident that the riffs and sections on this album will be a force to be reckoned with. The main riff of Symbolic is possibly the most iconic Death riff, its creepy 5/4 rhythm and the overwhelming mix of emotions it brings (which goes for every song, actually) , the song is memorable, exhilarating, and has enough variety to keep you encapsulated in its bold 6 minute runtime. The transition into the chorus is mind-blowing, it has one of the best middle sections in a Death song, and the lyrics sound like Chuck became a deity, it could also be argued that his voice is at its strongest here, with his powerful grows filling every track and never letting up its aggressive and unforgiving tone, but the record of course has the inclusion of many melodic parts, all of which kick ass, in particular Without Judgement and Zero Tolerance, both songs have these beautiful solos and repeated melodies that are almost hypnotic, but what's more is when these melodies are just branching off from chuggy riffs and brutal galloping, but still manage to fit in convincingly.

Empty words probably has my favourite chorus, the track opens with a quiet intro that sounds almost Middle Eastern, it has a very evil undertone despite being passionate and solicitous, and that's another thing that this album achieves, it's very morbid and dark, almost evoking a feeling of hopelessness. 1000 eyes and misanthrope are extremely technical, groovy but emotional songs, both have riffs that just kick ass, and catchy hooks, relying heavily on structure, which is what makes the progressive side of this album so great; instead of just 90 seconds of thoughtless wankery in each song, each track has carefully processed melodies that actually fit in with the song, therefore they retain focus and refrain from being boring. Crystal Mountain and Perennial Quest are the "epics" from the record, they're both my favourite songs from it too, both songs gallop on with furious riffing and solos in between the verses and choruses, but the songs really shine as a whole, when you look at the entirety of the songs and how they're structured, they're both great tracks that involve some of the best Death riffs and lyrics ever written, and Perennial Quest wraps the album up with an amazing acoustic outro, which was the best possible way to end it.

Gene Hoglan performs on this album, so that pretty much automatically makes it the best Death album in terms of drumming, and Gene's performance had really improved on this album compared to Individual Thought Patterns, he expresses complex ideas flawlessly throughout the recording, for example: the chorus and outro of the title track, where he's playing crazily fast but precise fills with the hi-hat and double bass, and the intro to sacred serenity. Speaking of which, Kelly's bass work connects with Gene's drumming amazingly, he plays these complex basslines that just match with the drum beats, and his tone is thick, but doesn't dominate the bottom end. The guitars have a reverb effect that just sound so atmospheric and great, they did a good job on the production as a whole.

I think just about everyone and their mother has heard this album, but if you're crazy enough to have not heard it by now, what are you doing?

The Spirit of Adventure - 100%

Necro44, April 3rd, 2018

I remember when I first heard the phrase “adventure metal”; guitarist Chris Letchford used it to describe his band Scale the Summit. And it’s not like I can’t see where he’s coming from, either. Scale the Summit use atmosphere and shifts in mood to take you on a journey, an expedition of sorts. At the same time, though, it’s not like they were the first band to come up with such a concept; countless acts, from Opeth to Gojira, have gone great lengths to make their music feel more like an excursion than mere tracklists. But today, we’re going to talk about a band who had to evolve to get to this point: the almighty metal giants Death. To put it simply, it’s hard to believe that the same band that wrote such a primal display of death metal fury as Scream Bloody Gore could come up with an incredible mixture of aggression and sophistication. Despite this, Symbolic proved to be the pinnacle of Death’s steady evolution into the realm of progressive extreme metal. With a new lineup of guitarist Bobby Koelble, bassist Kelly Conlon, and returning drummer Gene Hoglan, Chuck was ready to redefine metal once again… this time achieving the strongest results.

From the opening notes of the title track, Symbolic sounds like a daunting undertaking, as if you’re actually scaling a mountain. Those monumental octave-jumping riffs, combined with the classically-inclined melodies arched above, show just how much Chuck Schuldiner has grown as a songwriter over the years. It’s not enough anymore to just have meaty, brutal riffs, but now they’re all embellished with little ornaments that flesh out the atmosphere and diversity of the recording. That melodic opening riff in “Without Judgment” sounds pretty cool; what more could they add? Well, some intricate and progressive drum fills courtesy of Gene Hoglan should do the trick. That chunky Drop-D intro to “Crystal Mountain” is aggressive and driving; how about that one? Get Schuldiner and Bobby Koelble to bring in some classical harmonies straight out of a Dream Theater album to round it out! Despite the progressive influences, however, the technicality and ambition never get overbearing to the point that they get in the way of a good riff or a good groove. On top of that, songs like “Misanthrope” and “1,000 Eyes” still pay respect to the band’s thrash-driven past with harsh and relentless arrangements that round out the variety on Symbolic.

Now, let’s get back to that first statement I made: the one regarding “adventure metal.” That may sound like a really stupid term (and, to be honest, I’d agree), but it’s still a great way to describe Symbolic. The way each song shifts and adjusts to each change in mood and tone is ridiculously natural, and gives off the true sense of embarking on a journey. “Perennial Quest” is probably the best example, especially in how it concludes the record with a soft acoustic portion that somehow doesn’t sound out-of-place on a Death album (then again, there’s also “Voice of the Soul”...). Many of the riffs and melodies here are adorned with an emotional punch that’s lacking in a lot of today’s technical metal; just listen to the quiet introduction to “Empty Words” and the subtle melancholy it wrings out of the clean guitar progression. On a similar note, check out the beautiful clean section of “Sacred Serenity,” which provides a nice contemplative break from the metal frenzy without breaking too far away from the band’s signature style. The lyrics are equally thought-provoking too, touching on themes of religion, hypocrisy, deceit, misanthropy, as well as many depictions of inner contemplation and soul-searching. The poetry on the record brings nice accompaniment to the more advanced musical arrangements, to say the least.

Death’s followup The Sound of Perseverance might be even more adventurous, and Individual Thought Patterns might have been more technical, but neither of them pulled these qualities together as meaningfully as Symbolic did. If you were to ask me why Symbolic works so well, I could answer that in just a few words: songwriting and storytelling. They sound like simple ingredients, but Death elevated them to such lofty heights that very few death metal or progressive metal bands could keep up with the sheer ambition and focus of this epic. Symbolic is beautiful, immersive, elaborate, brutal, and a stunning testament to just how emotionally and artistically accomplished heavy metal can be.

The Album Title Says It All - 100%

qJukeZach, May 5th, 2016
Written based on this version: 1995, CD, Roadrunner Records

You know those riffs you hear for the first time and for the rest of your life you always remember the first time you heard them? Such a phenomenon might bring up visions of the intro to "Raining Blood" by Slayer or the machine gun ending to "One" by Metallica. For me, I will always remember the first time I heard the riff that kicks in 45 seconds into the title track, "Symbolic". It is very unexpected and contrasts greatly with that of the slow guitar introduction to 50 mammoth minutes of progressive death metal perfection. Following this riff is a song interspersed with slow sections, fast sections, guitar solos, and the voice of the almighty Chuck Schuldiner. I find it impossible to come up with one complaint about the opener to the album. The way Chuck weaves together slow, Black Sabbath-inspired passages with chaotic guitar riffs, palm-muted interludes, and dual guitar solos shows that the band's maturity and musicianship has reached a new epoch in not only metal music but music as a whole. Then, when you're done gawking at the first song on the album, "Zero Tolerance" kicks in with some of the heaviest riffing I've heard by Death. This song really reminds me of a previous Death song, "Together as One", which is the third track off of Human.

The mid-section of the album is just as equally as impressive as the first two songs. "Sacred Serenity" starts off with Kelly Conlon playing an unforgettable bass intro similar to that of a much more progressive version of "Sadistic Magician" by Municipal Waste. Chuck soon follows suit playing the same riff in a much higher key on guitar. This really sets up the song as one of the more abrasive songs on the album with the bass striking from the background, assaulting your speakers at every corner. "Without Judgement" is by far one of the most unique songs on the album with the song building up to two palm-muted guitar interludes through the use of marching-like minor key buildups guaranteed to excite even the most dreary metalheads.

Starting the finale to the album is "Misanthrope", which wastes no time getting started. Through it's use of differing verses, tempo changes, and changing drum beats, "Misanthrope" perfectly sets up the start of the epic finale to the album, "Perennial Quest". This song is the perfect ending to this monumental album showcasing Chuck's ability to craft extremely interesting songs. With different twists at every corner, this song feels like a literal quest to finish the album. Doom progressions are swiftly met with purely evil riffs, which in turn are met with incredible solos by Chuck. To end the album, an acoustic ballad is performed as an ode to finishing the quest. This part reminds me of "Fade to Black" by Metallica and is foreshadowing of a certain acoustic song on Death's last album.

It should be noted that the transition from Death's earlier, purely death metal material to a mix of progressive and death metal is fully completed with this album. The amount Chuck matured musically in just 8 years is purely inspiring. Every track on this album sounds different and is to this day one of the most diverse records I've ever heard. If you put Biomech by Ocean Machine, Crack the Skye by Mastodon, and Ride the Lightning by Metallica into a blender, the finished product would be Symbolic. Not only musically, but lyrically the evolution of the band is clearly evident. Gone are the gory lyrics of yesteryear instead exchanged for macabre views of several aspects of society. My personal favorite are the lyrics of "Symbolic" in which Chuck compares recalling nostalgic memories to the high of a drug:

"I close my eyes
And sink within myself
Relive the gift of precious memories
In need of a fix called innocence"

TL;DR: If death metal were a mountain, this album would be the summit. Symbolic is an album measured by the strength of its incredibly diverse track list, unforgettable verses, brilliant progressions, and the mark of Chuck Schuldiner's pure genius. This album stands out not only as one of the greatest death metal records of all time, but as one of the best records ever created.

Originally written for

A classic, no less. - 100%

Sigmund freud alternate, September 30th, 2015

I've listened to this album numerous times, and have, every single time, derived a delightful amount of pleasure from it. I do not tire of it, which, for an album that invests so heavily in composition, is a quality that is not easily achieved. Everything fits perfectly: the drumming, Chuck's vocals, and those delightful guitar passages. Here's a death metal album one can whistle to. It also gets better the more one listens to it, instead of becoming predictable and tiring. It took a while to fully appreciate this album; the first listening was promising and interesting, but not infatuation-inducing. After a while, though, it seemed the mass of cells under my scalp finally got the gist of it, and have been bleeding endorphins out of their tiny ears every time I listen to it. The guitar compositions are, personally, this album's most endearing quality. Moderately technical, melodic, and creative, they show a combination of musicianship and elegance that can hardly be surpassed by any other death metal album.

I suppose the album could be said to contain progressive elements, especially considering the year of its production. Some songs contain well-placed quiet or mellow passages that precede a thoroughly satisfying riff. "Empty Words" is a excellent example thereof. A few acoustic guitar passages are scattered about too-exactly like icing on cake. The lyrics deal with subjects ranging from intellectual musings, to dystopian prophesies of surveillance states (1000 Eyes), and enigmatic and (highly speculative here) seemingly personal struggles (Crystal Mountain). It is a fresh change from the themes of blood, gore, atrocities, madness, horrors and terrors so fashionable in death metal. Chuck's vocal execution has drawn criticism from some, something I am yet to understand. The vocals are clear, audible, and do not awkwardly force themselves onto the lyrics, like death metal growls have been known to do. Far from it: they are natural, very emotionally charged, and fit perfectly with the rest of the instruments (so to speak).

It would be difficult to pick out favorites in this album, simply because every single track is a gem. However, if I had a gun to my head, I would pick "Empty Words", "Crystal Mountain", and "1000 Eyes". I can't find faults in this album, or anything I would want modified. It's perfect, a thing of genius.

Technicality and songwriting meet perfecty - 95%

padsboltssaints15, July 3rd, 2015
Written based on this version: 1995, CD, Roadrunner Records

The first time I listened to Death's sixth album--like, really sat down and listened to it--I knew almost immediately that I would love it. It wasn't one of those quick love affairs, where you get super excited about the album right away but it wears out quickly. No, in the case of Symbolic, I liked it at first, but I could tell that it would only get better with subsequent listens; there was just so much going on, and I knew that there was a lot more waiting to be unearthed the next few times I dove in. But that the album was able to tell me that AND got me to fall in love with it on first listen is in itself an incredible feat. Sometimes it might be one or the other, but almost never BOTH at the same time!

On Symbolic, Chuck Schuldiner's progressive songwriting reached a perfect intersection with his technical ability. It's a hard-to-reach point, but when that balance was found, it's almost like he couldn't stop cranking out awesome music if he tried. And for nine songs, drummer Gene Hoglan, guitarist Bobby Koelble, and bassist Kelly Conlon all kept in perfect stride with Chuck's genius. Before this album, the band was almost at that point, but it felt like Schuldiner was still trying to figure out how to make his songs flow better; meanwhile, on The Sound of Perseverance, which came after Symbolic, the progressive and technical elements (in my opinion) were stretched out a bit too much to the point where they superseded songwriting. But on Symbolic, technicality and songwriting simultaneously meet together at a glorious summit, meshing together like yin and yang.

Two other elements on this album that mesh fantastically are Death's own unique sound and the sound of their influences. The band roars out at the listener in a new style all their own, but at the same time they don't forget their roots. Conlon's basslines in songs like "Sacred Serenity" harken back to Steve Harris' in Iron Maiden, while guitar solos leap and dance as wildly and gracefully as Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing did in Judas Priest. At the same time, the band doesn't leave out its more extreme influences, throwing in thrashy tremolo-picked riffs reminiscent of Slayer and Kreator into every track. But Symbolic is neither a thrash nor NWOBHM worship album; it's Death being freaking DEATH. They mix their influences, either blending them or segregating them whenever it is most benefiting to do so. And Chuck/Death injects every song with the signature grit and rawness that he innovated so brilliantly, resulting in an album that is 100% influences and 100% Death.

What's so impressive about Death's blending of sounds on this album is how they can change tempo, tone, and mood on a dime, seamlessly, without ever interrupting the song's flow. "Crystal Mountain," one of Death’s best and most popular songs, bursts out of the gates immediately at the song's beginning with a pounding riff and matching drumbeat; but this only lasts for a few measures before the band switches to a softer passage, with haunting clean guitar and dreamy atmosphere. Completely different, and yet equally fun to listen to and still fitting to the song. Death continues to dance back and forth between these styles effortlessly in just that one song--not to mention the rest of the album. The heavy parts are groovy, wild, dynamic, you name it; and the softer parts, on top of creating atmosphere, provide stark contrast that accentuates the heaviness to come.

Lead guitar on Symbolic is especially unique. The role of the lead guitar is taken beyond that of solos and expanded into breaks, counterpoints, and melodies. In “Zero Tolerance,” Chuck’s vocals trade off with leads that accentuate the song’s atmosphere. Soon afterward, the song plunges into a long instrumental section featuring Schuldiner and Koelble dueling fiercely. Throughout the entire album, little moments pop up here and there where the lead guitar pokes in, as if through a metaphorical door in the back of the metaphorical room, and drops a beautiful passage that, while sometimes complex, never devolves into mindless technical noodling. And of course the actual solos are incredible too. Sometimes the song leads up to the solo and explodes in climax; sometimes the solo suddenly leaps out of nowhere. Either way, the solo always takes the listener on a wild adventure, each one standing out in its own uniqueness.

Have I worshiped this album enough yet? No? Excellent. One last thing--Chuck’s voice. Wow. It’s commonly discussed how much his band’s sound changed over the course of seven albums, but not as much discussed is how his vocals changed with them. Symbolic-era Chuck molded his Cookie Monster death growl from earlier days into something that was more human--halfway between a scream and a shout. There’s really no way to put it into words, you just have to listen to it. But it sounds more human, more real. It kind of fits the music and themes, too. Earlier Death was obsessed with typical death-metal horror-movie imagery; later on they moved to more contemplative topics--the general theme of Symbolic is achieving inner peace. It’s a bit more grounded in reality, and Chuck’s vocals sound a bit more real and human here. Of course, on The Sound of Perseverance, he’d take his vocals to the opposite banshee-like extreme; but here, just like everything else, the vocals work perfectly with every other facet of the music.

Well, I think I’ve just about gushed on this album as much as I possibly can at this point. There’s not a whole lot left to say besides that Symbolic retains a firm spot in my top five albums of all time. Probably somewhere around third or fourth place; I don’t think this unseats Master of Puppets or Rust In Peace, and it contends heavily with Reign In Blood, but it is still more than worthy of being in that kind of company. Every riff, lead break, solo, drum fill, and vocal performance is absolutely killer. No other album has as unique a blend of brutality, technicality, precision, emotion, and beauty as Symbolic by Death. While Chuck won’t ever grace us with another work like this, it’s still a worthy testament to his greatness and should stand tall as a classic for a long, long time.

Death-Symbolic - 100%

KAS11n, October 8th, 2014
Written based on this version: 1995, CD, Roadrunner Records

The copious hype surrounding Death's album "Symbolic" is well earned, and this piece of music is worth every word of praise heaped upon it. It is perfect, and that isn't a stretch at all. Chuck Schuldiner, the creative genius behind death metals best (absolute best, most consistent and innovative) group is a bit of a perfectionist, and its clear on this album. The album conveys the feeling that a lot of time and effort were put not only in writing the music, but in practicing and executing it to absolute perfection. Chuck had the unique talent to make extreme metal (or whatever genre you feel like calling it that day, this music doesn't deserve to be lumped into just one genre- it transcends classification) a very beautiful thing, and he achieved that here.

By this point, Death had gone through a few different lineups, but lets face it, you could give instruments to aborigines and put them in a studio, and as long as Chuck is a part of it, it would come out very very good. This album features Chuck on lead guitar and vocals (he also wrote and composed the whole thing), one of my favorite drummers in any genre in Gene Hoglan, the unknown Bobby Koelble whom Chuck met at the gas station while on his way to the studio (just kidding) on guitar and Kelly Conlon on bass. They all do a very good job, but I think that outside of Chuck, Gene shines the most. He absolutely kicks ass. These songs do an amazing job of conveying raw emotion, it almost seems like your sitting there with Chuck and he is pouring his soul out to you and telling you about what he's gone through in life, both good and bad experiences. It is a very personal experience, and Chuck's vocals here sound less frightening and evil than earlier albums, opting for a very emotional and tormented sound, which, surprise surprise, he executes perfectly.

The guitar work is excellent; brutal and full of tempo and rhythm changes, catchy, incredibly meaty and full tones with riffs that are extreme but also very melodic and memorable. I would have liked for the bass to be a bit more noticeable, but it is still audible at the right times, and the drumming is not just typical extreme drumming, it is very creative too. The album has a very progressive sound, it isn't just typical death metal. Chuck was going for something more, something deeper (not that there isn't phenomenal death metal out there, but Chuck was very experimental and innovative here). The musicianship is top-notch on "Symbolic", and super death metal producer Scott Burns gave it a rather clean sound without sounding sterile, I think he achieved the exact sound the band wanted.

What makes this album so great is that it is so engaging and emotional. Any fan of Death knows that Chuck is a very deep and emotional guy, and he carries his emotion on his sleeve (pardon the cliche). After the opening riff om the first and title track Symbolic, the listener is sucked in and stuck there. One would almost feel rude turning the record off without finishing it, it's like Chuck is confiding in you to share something he wouldn't tell anyone else, and that is what takes this album from very good to great. Even if Chuck didn't write such personal and intense lyrics and sang about typical death metal topics, it would still be a very good record, probably worth at least an 80% on here. If you want an intensely emotional, riveting, gorgeously written and flawlessly performed chunk of metal, go listen to this!

Another great album from Death - 100%

Superreallycool, October 8th, 2014
Written based on this version: 2007, 12" vinyl, Cargo Records Germany (Reissue, Remastered)

Death is one of those bands, that album after album they put out quality material. Symbolic is often considered one of Death's best, and it's not hard to see why, as it has some of the best compositions in all of death metal. Chuck and crew knew how to write great material, and this album is no exception to that norm. Fans of other later-day Death albums will love this album, as it is basically just more of the same, just done better here than on most of those other releases.

This is one of Death's better line ups, only the line up on The Sound of Perseverance beats it in my eyes. The band takes Chucks complex compositions and blows through them as if they were no issue at all. This makes sure the band doesn't sound pushed, and that's one of this albums biggest strengths. Because of the bands skill, Chuck could write the songs he wanted and didn't have to worry about if the band was able to play them or not. All the band members are firing on all cylinders here, as Kelly Conlon, Gene Hoglan, and Bobby Koelble give some of the best performances of their careers. It's something that has to be experienced to understand, but the sonic assault the band provides on this release is nearly unrivaled among all of death metal, a genre known for its musical walls.

The songs here are of course, progressive and heavy, this is to be expected from Death. However there is a fair amount of non-death metal influence here, the guitar solo from "Zero Tolerance" sticks out to me, as it goes for feel over brutality. This is the key difference in their sound from the last record. They sound much more organic, more human, when compared to their previous forays into progressive metal. This feeling of humanity is arguably the greatest strength of this album. It gives death metal a soul, something no other band I've found is able to do so well. The songs here are as progressive as they ever were, but they are delivered with more speed and ferocity here than on other releases. This doesn't mean it is heavier, although it is plenty heavy, it just means that the album is much more energetic than lets say "Human" or "The Sound of Perseverance".

The lyrics here are typical of later day Death, talking about death and issues of society. This adds a very intellectual feel to the album, which along with its complex music makes this an album that even the most pretentious of musical aficionados can truly enjoy. This is an album you can feel safe listening to free from judgement, well at least free from judgement that is actually true.

Chuck provides a great vocal performance here, and shows why he is a death metal god. His voice is truly evil, yet still understandable. This is one of the best things about this album and of all of Death, Chuck's ability to write great lyrics that can actually be understood by the listener without that person looking at a lyric sheet. This allows even those who need to know the lyrics to focus on the music.

If you are wanting to get into death metal, Death is one of the best places to start. They manage to be very heavy and complex, but are more accessible than bands like Cancer or Autopsy. This means you can get used to the music, and not have to deal with the disgusting, and often dumb, lyrics that death metal often has. This though, is one of those rare works that serves as both an entry point and as an album you will no doubt be pulling out of your collection even after years of listening to death metal. It's a true beast of an album, and a must have for any death metal fan, or fan of extreme metal in general.

An Epoch for Death Metal Song-Writing - 100%

shrk, May 8th, 2013

For most metal albums, it is possible to decipher typical riff structures, typical transitions and other "standard" song-writing techniques used in them, even if they sound "unique". I've heard extremely few albums that have made me wonder "How the hell did he come up with that riff/transition?" as Symbolic, Death's sixth release. And that's what it is in my opinion - a songwriting marvel. Most riffs are great - some are pure amazing without being overly technical - but the sheer creative genius of front-man Chuck Schuldiner lies in the way everything is blended together, amalgamated into well-structured songs.

For example, the title track is comprised of a host of great riffs with varying tempos, and one seamless transition after another only serves to greatly enhance the overall song. Every song on the album is like that, rather than just being a collection of cool riffs or solos. All the tracks have ample lead guitar work, apart from the solos, which adds a nice touch to the underlying rhythm work. A stand-out in this regard is Crystal Mountain, which is so replete with outstanding lead parts (especially the god-like tapping harmony just before the solo) that it has become the clear favorite for a majority of people.
Even if one disregards the rhythm work, the solos by guitarists Chuck Schuldiner and Bobby Koelble are both technical and tasteful. They have distinct styles and it's always a pleasure to listen to them trade-off in the middle of songs (highlights in this regard being Perennial Quest and Zero Tolerance). One last thing I'd like to mention for guitars are the acoustic parts at the end of Crystal Mountain and Perennial Quest; in my opinion these 2 songs give a very good example of how death metal can be "soulful", and how acoustic guitars can be incorporated into death metal songs.

I cannot comment much on bass (limited knowledge regarding that), but the drums certainly need a mention. Gene Hoglan managed to come up with ridiculously catchy drum beats that aren't merely complementary to the guitars. His drumming has a distinct identity without being over-the-top in any department, be it in terms of cymbal work, fills, etc. By itself, Hoglan's work adds a lot more to the songs than standard death metal drumming would. Again, the title track is a good example - the drum parts accompanying all the riffs give it a great sense of speed variation. Like the guitars, the drumming is tasteful throughout, with appropriately-placed fills, double-bass parts and -especially- the ride cymbal usage.

I apologize for not writing about the downsides, but with whatever subjective preferences I have, I really haven't found any faults with this album. Others may, depending on their tastes. From my side I would strongly suggest at least giving it a listen, because once it grows on you (if it needs to grow on you), it's hard to put down.

An album that is rife with beauty in music form - 94%

psychosisholocausto, April 5th, 2013

Almost anyone who has ever heard the band will admit that few bands can boast a career as rich with ripe material as Death. From their inception the band consistently pumped out albums that were solid to fantastic; until their career was cut short with the tragic demise of Chuck Schuldiner. The band were formed in 1983 under the name of Mantas and released seven albums after changing their name to Death, with each one developing and expanding their sound until their final release incorporated so many different elements that it was a wonder it did not collapse in on itself. The band rose to fame by taking thrash metal to new extremes and creating the death metal genre almost single-handedly with "Scream Bloody Gore", before they would later shift toward a more progressively-oriented sound on their final four albums. Alongside "Human", "Symbolic" is frequently ranked the best Death album by many people.

The band's penultimate release was the album where the band's progressive nature really came to the forefront of their sound instead of the raw aggression that had fueled the previous two releases. Whereas "Individual Thought Patterns" and "Human" crammed many riffs into a short space of time; "Symbolic" was all about the constantly evolving song structures that carried it forward. The guitar work that drives Death's sound was arguably at its peak on "Symbolic" with many riffs that maintain a high standard throughout from the opening riff to the title track to the closing moments of the eight minute epic "Perennial Quest". The tempo is considerably slower than that of previous albums by the band for the most part aside from a few tremolo picked guitar lines here and there, as the album is primarily about all the twists and turns in the music instead of the speed it moves along at. This album is also quite a bit longer than the bands past material but it makes great use of this time with one of the best flowing exhibitions of extreme metal ever heard.

On the rhythm side of things, it would be fare to say that the drumming on this album, courtesy of Gene Hoglan of former Dark Angel fame, is varied and technically proficient whilst the bass work thunders forward and takes no prisoners. The vocals are rather unique on here and Chuck really does provide the perfect voice for the thought-provoking lyrics he writes. He screams in a high pitched manner instead of the low growl that dominated the past five releases from the band, and right from the opening lines of the album "I don't mean to dwell, but I can't help myself" you know you are in for something special. This is an album that takes its listener on an adventure through the twisted song structures that are constantly providing something fresh, be it an unsuspected acceleration in pace or an acoustic solo as found in "Crystal Mountain". "Zero Tolerance" is one note-worthy song on "Symbolic", opening with a slight breather for the listener after the incredible opener with the title track, but then suddenly you are thrown head first into a mountain of monstrous riffs and chaotic guitar soloing.

"This is not a test of power.
This is not a game,
To be lost or won,
Let justice be done.
There will be Zero Tolerance"

Lyrics such as the ones above display a level of depth that only Chuck Schuldiner can provide with his philosophical approach to writing. All throughout this album one will find deep and interesting lyrics that always have a meaning that relate to some element of society. "Crystal Mountain" arguably has the best lyrics on the album, referring to a mountain of greed and deception whilst using that as a means to get Chuck's real point across in that people are full of the aforementioned traits.

The songs on "Symbolic" are utterly majestic. The title track constantly changes tempo with some great drumming and one of the best palm muted riffs I have ever heard during the chorus. "Perennial Quest" is a work of wonder that takes you on such a journey of fluctuating tempos and contrasting styles throughout its entire eight and a half minute duration that it is a miracle the band pulled it off with the finesse they managed. "Misanthrope" and "Without Judgment" never cease to amaze with some great riffing and "Empty Words" is arguably the crowning achievement of the album with its absolutely ludicrous guitar performance. Each song on "Symbolic" is nothing short of a masterpiece and they are all complimented by the perfect production job. The guitars are heavy, the drums do not feel flat, the bass work is audible and Chuck's vocals are well mixed. There are absolutely no flaws to be found throughout the entire nine track and sub-fifty minute duration.

"Symbolic" is an air tight display of intense music that consistently evolves and adapts as the guitars create a chaotic and yet beautiful backdrop for Chuck to shriek his intelligent tales over the top of. If you have not heard "Symbolic", I honestly recommend that you do so immediately as this really is an album that is for absolutely anybody.

Dafuq. What the hell happened here? - 35%

RageW, July 20th, 2012

... A step up!? In every single aspect from the last one! Symbolic is surprising like that. I still wouldn't call it a good album, but most of the particularly obnoxious elements that plagued Death's 1993 release aren't present here. In short, while Evil Chuck kept his former levels of Buttcephaly intact, he managed to at least focus them on better songwriting methods, which in turn ended up creating a less technical, more accessible album. Taking Death's later career into account, this is actually a good thing - an improvement. Not to say the album is without flaws, but at the very least, it's less pretentious and self-centered than its two predecessors. In fact, aside from Gene Hoglan's drumming, the album isn't very progressive or technical in the least bit, especially when comparing it to its contemporaries. Instead of prog death, I would call it pop death instead, as comparisons to works such as Heartwork wouldn't look too out of place when referring to it. It's completely inoffensive in every possible way. In any case, there are a couple of strong individual moments during some songs, and one or two actually really entirely enjoyable compositions. The production job is Death's best, as it is clear but doesn't have an overall sterile sound. However, in the end there are still a number of issues with it, which come into conflict with the album becoming a pleasant experience all the way through.

Let us start with the guitar work! The guitar tone is the best of Death's later era, as it is crunchy yet not too thin, and thankfully not the scooped mess that was Human's. But how does the tone match up to the riffs? Not very well, really. This is later era Death, and therefore Chuck was still too busy talking about his personal cosmological views instead of writing crushing riffs, so there are way more power chords and melodies than actual riffage all through the album. They're not bad per se, but what they give you in the end is closer to pedestrian melodic death metal than anything else. I know what I hate, and I don't hate this - but I don't like it either. The guitar work resembles a death metal/rock weird type of hybrid at times, which is one of the reasons it's so accessible in the first place. Once again, it's not something that could be called bad, but it's neither the technical masterpiece that some fans claim it is, nor a particularly exciting rockin' performance.

The average track length in Symbolic is around five and a half minutes. This is both a good and a bad thing. It's good because it allows individual ideas to develop and build-up the momentum of the compositions instead of just starting and stopping abruptly like they did on Individual Thought Patterns. At the same time, it means bad ideas get to stick around for a longer time, and it also means Schuldiner's hit-to-miss ratio became lower. It also means that, up to this point in time, it's the longest Death album, so you have to listen to Death for a longer time - and that is just mean! It also contains that horrible "Perennial Quest" song at the end, which is just an agglomeration of overlong ideas that just meander on and on and never really go anywhere. Anyhow, the overall songwriting prowess is indeed superior to the '91 and '93 albums, because it's simpler and more restrained. The opening seconds of the title track are some of Death's most entertaining material, in my opinion. But then the song devolves into a myriad of bad riffs and ideas that don't really work together, just to come back for a genuinely enjoyable solo in the middle. That's kind of the deal with Symbolic; it teases you, like a woman making advances on you for the sake of feeling desired, yet she would never leave her significant other for you. Its songs are full of good moments that make you believe everything will turn out okay in the end, but it doesn't - what a hussy.

The strongest points on the album, performance wise, are the guitar solos and the drumming. Gene Hoglan sounds amazing here, both in his playing and in his general sound. The drums sound big and powerful, and gone is that plastic snare that he used on Individual Thought Patterns, so he's actually the best thing in here! The leads are good, albeit a complete cheese-fest. I have no idea who Billy Koelble is, but he's a fantastic shredder, going for a very over the top style instead of the more restrained jazzy soloing of earlier Chuck guitarists. Evil Chuck himself actually plays a couple of cool leads here and there, when he goes for slow melodies instead of shred, which he's pretty decent at. In spite of that, most of the riffs under the solos are extremely weak, usually opting for single power chord sections to give them a spacey feeling, but that just ends up sounding lazy and under-cooked, if you will. It's a funny thing with this album, I like to jam to it, to play riffs and solos off it, but I don't take pleasure in listening to most of them. All of these later-era Death solos make me think they would've been much better off had they just stuck with Rick Rozz all the way through and let him dive bomb and do weedly diddly doos all over the place; those are pretty fun to listen to, though not as fun to jam to.

Nevertheless, even with all of these shortcomings, there are still some tracks that I like almost all the way through! "1000 Eyes" has that nice guitar melody under the chorus, even if the 'riffing' under it is just a held out chord, that little part alone is pretty memorable by itself at least, and there are a bunch of small tapping sections all over the place that are also nice. That one's followed by "Without Judgement" that has that awesome riff at 1:12 which is followed by an echoey lead on top, and then the riffset after that is simply straight out good; even the stupid space rock silliness that follows the solo can be forgiven on those two minutes alone. The trifecta is completed by "Crystal Mountain" which is a catchy pop rock song with a bunch of memorable leads that are closer to power metal than anything else. Hell, even Chuck's voice works over here. Yes, he's still doing the "I'm not changing my vocal style during the duration of the album even though I can clearly do so between albums!" shtick he likes to do so much when singing, but it's easily his best vocal performance on the later-era albums. It's just a small high pitched growl, but it works for most of the album, even if there's absolutely no variation to it. He's tolerable, and that's about it.

Symbolic is not a great album. It's not a good album either. It's a decent album that is, quite simply, not enjoyable in the end. That's probably the best way I can describe it; decent, yet not satisfying. It's completely inoffensive, and not bad enough to require a very aggressive emotional response. At best, it's a harmless melodic death metal album. At worst, it's merely forgettable, instead of all-out annoying. To continue with my 'falling down' Death metaphors, if Individual Thought Patterns was a cascade-like vertical fall towards infinity, Symbolic fell over a small futuristic elevator going up before it could reach top speed, which kept it alive, if with internal injuries, and slowly moved it upwards. However, Death were too hurt by this point, and in their squirming, they moved towards the edge of said elevator. Dangerously close to the edge. After that, it would not be a happy ending for anyone involved.

Nothing But Perfect - 100%

DreamOfDarkness, May 3rd, 2012

Symbolic is an album I consider perfect. After the first listenings you may disagree, but then take another listen and feel how it simply gets better and better.

I still don't remember when I got the cd. When looking back, all I see is the strange, but somehow catchy cover artwork staring into my mind. Complex, beautiful, and strange, but what does it mean? This is pretty much how I felt about the music at first. I liked the catchier songs like Crystal Mountain and Empty words with their melodic riffs and memorable choruses, the great guitar work, and especially the insane drumming by Gene "the atomic clock" Hoglan, but the other songs were rather difficult to remember. They just seemed to sound too similar and without a pattern. I knew there was a lot happening musically: riffs over riffs, intense vocals, and a wall of drumming, but for some time the songs just managed to escape my comprehension. Due to its euphoric reviews, I started listening again and again, and one by one the songs revealed their true nature - beauty hidden by complex riffing and song structures; like climbing a mountain I had to try again and again, but once arriving at the top, Symbolic offered me a overwhelming view on a musical landscape that's a beautiful, detailed patterns and boring not a single moment.

Song after song started to make 'sense' to me. Every instrument and every riff wasn't playing somewhere somehow, but rather to create a certain atmosphere of sadness, sorrow, hope, or disgust. And don't let the harsh scream/shout of Evil Chuck distract you from the music. He isn't singing about disemboweling corpses, but about very personal and social issues like the growing observation and therefore loss of privacy (1000 Eyes) or the abuse of power by the church (Crystal Mountain).

Clearly necessary for such a complex album is outstanding musicality, and these guys definitely have it. As already mentioned, Chuck and Gene are doing most of the show here, but Bobby also has some serious skills (listen to the second guitar lead in Symbolic). Kelly Conlon at the bass guitar stays rather in the background, even though he sometimes breaks out of just following the guitar riffs (Sacred Serentiy, Without Judgement, and most notably, Crystal Mountain). What really helps getting into Symbolic is the excellent mix. It is clear and balanced, but not as sterile as many modern productions. You can hear every single instrument, although the bass could have been a bit louder.

Describing the genre of Symbolic, to give you a rough idea of what this album sounds like, is another really difficult thing. Is it death metal? Not really. Although Chucks vocals are rooted there, the melodic riffs and the progressive solo work disqualifies this from being death metal. And what about thrash metal? Technical death metal? Progressive metal? The last one seems to be fitting best, but after thinking about this issue for some time I came to the conclusion that every existing genre can only describe parts of Symbolic, thus it is best if you take a listen (Youtube, amazon...).

So do yourself a favour and by Symbolic instantly. Listen carefully to single instruments and passages, but then again to the album as a whole. Lose yourself in the sheer beauty (!) of those guitar leads and try to figure out what kind of miracle Gene is doing behind his kit. I listened to this album probably more than 200 times just in the last two years and every single listen was another stunning experience through Chuck's way of composing music. Still I haven't found a single flaw.

Death - Symbolic - 70%

Orbitball, January 5th, 2012

To me, "Human" still is the best Death album, but "Symbolic" has some good songs. Chuck put together a strong quartet featuring him on vocals/guitars, Bobby Koelble on guitars, Kelly Conlon on bass and Gene Hoglan on drums. Not their best lineup, but still high quality musicians. When I first heard this album, I didn't like it. I still think that some songs I cannot get into. I think that "Symbolic" is highly overrated. Yes, it has a strong production, mixing is good, though some tracks are just average to me.

Musically speaking, songs like "Empty Words", "1000 Eyes", "Crystal Mountain" and the title track, are the most melodic and memorable. The riffs are amazing on those songs. Those happen to be my favorite tracks. The other ones are just average. Death has always been a growing band and "Symbolic" shows that and features a more progressive metal album. The rhythms are highly innovative and original, but the album as a whole is a disappointment to me. I can't see why people deem this to be their best album. The songwriting isn't at its greatest.

If Chuck would've designed the songs (all of them) to be more up to par, I would've given this one a higher rating. Sure there are those songs that I mentioned which are designed amazingly with riff structures that are very imaginative. I'd say out of 9 songs, 4 of them are good. The rest I don't really care for. That's just my personal opinion. I don't care for most of them because I just don't think that the music on those tracks are very good. There is variety though featuring some clean and acoustic guitars. It enhances the melodic distorted rhythms.

A less than aggressive and angry Death album, "Symbolic" is their second most progressive metal output. "The Sound of Perseverance" is probably their most progressive and last Death release. The music on "Symbolic" is just not my favorite. The guitar solos, the riffs, the tempos, and the vocals didn't strike me the same way that "Human" did. The mixing was good though like I previously mentioned. Everything can be heard well. The guitars, vocals, drums and bass are mixed in there good. The lead guitar is a little bit hard to hear however.

After repeated listens to, "Symbolic" is still not my favorite Death album. Yes it is creative and progressive, but still is highly overrated. Again out of 9 tracks, 4 to me are good. The rest of the release just didn't interest me. Musically Death has always been a growing band like I said, but Chuck could've made the whole album worthy of praise. The music, guitar solos and vocals aren't at their best. I think that if you want a quality Death release, pick up "Human" and you'll find that album to be musically their best. "Symbolic" to me was a big disappointment.

Symbolizing a changing landscape. - 89%

hells_unicorn, December 27th, 2011
Written based on this version: 1995, CD, Roadrunner Records

There might be something to the notion that artists aren't fully appreciated until after they've died, particularly where Death and its central figure Chuck Schuldiner are concerned. On the other hand, one might argue that the recent aftermath of the craftsman's end, timely or not, lead to a period of inflated interest. Whatever the case may be, the passing of Chuck in the early 2000s ushered in a whole generation of itching ears who did not have the privilege of either seeing Death live or on MTV back when the channel was still worth a damn. And with that has come a favoritism toward the latter day works, specifically following Spiritual Healing that are not immediately shared by mainline death metal fans, particularly of the 80s and early 90s persuasion.

"Symbolic" is a difficult album to fully categorize, which makes the massive amount of interest in it all the more intriguing. It definitely has a progressive nature to it, incorporating not only the classical, jazz and rock influences that were already pretty well present on Individual Thought Patterns, but also further elements of early 90s groove/thrash and even, to a degree, the older melodic metal bands that Schuldiner first took a liking to before switching over to the death/thrash sound of Possessed that inspired his seminal albums. The resulting melodic passages and general progression of the songs gives a nod towards the emerging Swedish melodeath scene, to almost the same degree as Carcass' Heartwork, though from an even more virtuoso-based and progressive angle that also takes into account the waves Cynic had made with Focus.

From the inception of the catchy and dark title song, there is a sense of duality between simplicity and complexity that creates an ingenious sense of tension upon which the philosophical lyrical pondering is given a fitting tableau. The first riff is cut from a haunting, Mid-Eastern character that reminds slightly of Slayer's various offerings via Seasons In The Abyss, and is actually among the more groove-driven ideas Chuck has ever come up with, almost to the point of channeling Exhorder. In the often abrupt fashion, things are quickly turned to a mixture of rhythmic twists and thrashing passages that are about as jostling as they are brilliant. The song goes a bit long, as does much of the album, but the odd assortment of shift in feel and melodic hooks keep things interesting.

For the most part, this album straddles a number of stylistic fences, almost to the point of becoming schizophrenic, and yet nothing seems at all out of place. The heavier numbers "Zero Tolerance", "1,000 Eyes" and "Misanthrope" play up the older thrash metal influences a good bit, while "Empty Words", "Sacred Serenity" and the spellbinding mixture of melodic and progressive elements that is "Crystal Mountain" seem to channel elements of Fates Warning within an obviously more aggressive template. The result is a collection of songs that, even when as short as 4 and a half minutes in length, make themselves as busy as possible while somehow managing to stay catchy. There are literally a couple of instances on some of these songs, particularly the closer "Perennial Quest" where elements of At The Gates have managed to find their way into Chuck's riff set, alongside a lot of other stuff like a serene minute long clean fade out with volume swell guitar leads that sound like a lone mourner in a cemetery in the failing light.

The greatest strength of this album is its complexity, and ultimately its greatest weakness is, well, its complexity. While this is definitely a worthy successor to Individual Thought Patterns (still my favorite Death album to date), it actually reaches just a tiny bit too far into the progressive realm and occasionally gets convoluted. Granted, it's one of the better convoluted albums I've ever heard, and it is understandable why this album is praised to no end. In many ways the early offerings of Dark Tranquillity, Arch Enemy and In Flames resemble this album's sort of wandering stylistic aspersions, though not to the point of occasionally channeling Rush or Dream Theater as this does. It's a high water mark for melodic death metal, and while the progressive label fits equally as well, that's pretty much the label I tend to place it under. Just one more towering accomplishment by a man who was taken from us way too soon.

I close my eyes and sink within myself - 100%

extremesymphony, September 21st, 2011

Legendary Chuck Shuldiner gathers a group of relatively unknown musicians save for star percussionist Gene Hoglan to deliver the tightest, most complex, and most profound album released ever. The tagline ‘progressive death metal’ often used to describe this album is a mere overlook of the fine features which overrule it. This album has the ferocity of death metal, lyrical profoundness and complexity of progressive metal, the technical show off of thrash metal, catchiness of power metal, atmosphere of symphonic music, and subtlety of classical music. And all of this is done with such superior and matured musical sense that will put any musician in history to shame.

Let us get this thing straight gentlemen, Gene Hoglan is the drummer, and his drumming is practically out of this world. The complex song writing gives him so much room to breathe and such flexibility with his kit that you sense he probably was suffocating during Time Does Not Heal sessions. His complex timed fills are no less thundering than a raging cyclone and will make Mike Portnoy look like Lars Ulrich. He soars above everyone like a harpy and the listeners are left dazed as he launches complex, odd timed fills after fills in a crescendo that punches through any loop holes in Neil Peart’s drum work. The guitar work of Chuck Shuldiner and Bobby Koelble is no less triumphant than that. From the first second of the album they launch an array of razor sharp, complex riffs that will scythe down hardest of the roman amours. Above all that, is extremely well composed, perfectly executed lead work which varies from being all out shredding to beautiful, melodic, atmospheric pieces which can put any Mozart or Beethoven to shame. The bass adds a nice delicate touch of atmosphere, ambiance and subtlety which is unmatched by any Leif Edling or Ralf Hubert. All of this comes together in a mix which blends all the elements perfectly and gives the album its unique identity.

From the very first riff of the album you are transported to an ocean of strong emotions which you like waves. The title track varies from being, mid paced to all out thrash in a matter of moments and the listener is left thunderstruck at the sudden pace changes which are executed razor sharply to perfection. Never does any transition seem forced or too drawn out, all of them flow into each other as serenely as a calm, peaceful stream. Above all, the track is insanely catchy and extremely memorable. The upcoming Zero Tolerance is much more mid paced track which contains an excellent hazy atmosphere till the first chorus and rightly so for the very first riff after the chorus summons destruction right before you. In all this madness you cannot help but feel a false sense of insecurity and yet you will feel peaceful especially due to the magical atmosphere during the chorus. Through the hazy clouds of uncertainty of Zero Tolerance comes the doomy acoustic riff of Empty Words which elevates the tension to the levels of uneasiness. And from the uneasiness springs out anger, which is spilled in the thundering riff which breaks the uncertain silence. Anger and rage reign as the track breaks off at good pace, which refuses to come down. Sacred Serenity is much more epic with dark atmosphere about it, especially during the little break in the middle. The rage of the previous track lowers down and the listener experiences moments of peace and some sense of security, but the musicians have yet other ideas which are clearly showcased in the abrupt ending which again builds up some tension, and forces the listeners to think and wait for what is to come.

Chaos and destruction is brought upon in all its forms in the form of 1000 Eyes with its bludgeoning riffs and sharply executed pace changes. The song takes away what little peace the listeners felt and replaces it with pure horror especially during the chorus. Fear and tension exist throughout the track as through the pupils of 1000 eyes, we have the more epic yet hammering, complex and more of a ‘track-that-forces-you-to-think type’. The listeners themselves cannot fully express the way they feel. The greatest religious epic in the form of the upcoming track, Crystal Mountain, brings back anger, some fear and to a little extent sadness. The lyrics reflect over the listener’s mind, manage to hypnotize him and force him to think over the problems expressed in the song as Schuldiner succeeds in putting a Shakespeare to shame. The thundering percussion reflects upon the mind-set of the listener and also that of the person described in the lyrics. Misanthrope is much more complex with odd time pace changes and brings back the tension of Empty Words and adds rage and anger to it. Perennial Quest brings our journey to an end with complex emotions and feelings flying around you in a whirlwind decorated by odd time pace changes, supreme atmosphere and above the excellence lyrics. The album ends with an excellent acoustic-electric solo which gives a short glimpse of all the emotions that were felt, seen, experienced throughout the album.

This album is a piece of outstanding musical achievement not only in the realms of heavy metal, but in all the world of music. You name any album or composition in history, and this album would at least give a tough fight. The subtly composed music, backed up by lethal and tight execution, and decorated with lyrics that force you to think about a hundred times after you listen to this album, is something which does not just spring up every day. In all the complex technical madness, you cannot help but feel all the things they right about. In the beastly inhuman screams of Schuldiner you will feel love, hate, fear, sadness, tension, anger no matter how much cold-hearted you may be, and that is the beauty of this album. Should you buy this album? The answer to this question may be the question, are you a human being? And if you are one, this album is a must listen for you.

This is Perfection - 98%

redless, May 2nd, 2011

Well, a fact that many metal heads forget sometimes is that heavy metal and all of its countless subgenres are music. If I think of "Symbolic" as merely a heavy metal album, I would have to rate it with a 315%. So, I'm going to review this as a work of music.

First of all, it's not like this is a standard death metal all-out attack. This band had nothing to prove. They stood, they still stand and they will forever stand among the top of the top heavy metal bands that have existed. "Symbolic" is a monster of an album. The songs flow flawlessly one after the other and the whole album sounds like a symphony. Some certain parts might resemble each other, but, what did you want? Some parts of Beethoven's 5th Symphony also resemble each other, does it make the Symphony itself a bad work of art? The answer is no. So be it with "Symbolic".

Don't expect a track-by-track presentation on this one. It would take me a month to describe each song and I honestly don't think that words are enough. If you want a highlight, I can say that my personal choice would be "Crystal Mountain". But tommorow it could be "Symbolic" or "Without Judgement", so if you want me to propose something, I suggest that you buy this album so that you can form an opinion on your own.

I don't know if one could consider this to be technical death metal, but the technical part is there the way I want it to be. Don't expect the ultra-speed face-melting uber blast beats, the drumming is more jazz influenced and so is the whole album's structure. And, I could say that even the fast spots are in a strange way emotional. Indeed, what else would it be with Gene Hoglan (ex-Dark Angel, ex-Testament)? Kelly Conlon (ex Monstrosity) gives a feeling of fullness to the songs, with basslines which exist in total harmony with the general flow of the melodies songs in their entirety. The guitar work is really close to perfect. This band knows where it's at and they don't make use of 3 minute long guitar showdowns, instead build up on intelligent melodies. Chuck's solos are emotional as always and reflect a wide variety of musical influences. Also, his vocals are somewhat higher than, say, in Leprosy. They are definitely perfect though, most of the times you can understand what Chuck is saying. Let me add that this album in a way reminds me of At the Gates' "Slaughter of the Soul", which is also a masterpiece. However, "Symbolic" is way more advanced than "Slaughter..." in terms of composition complexity.

Overall, you must not expect anything specific from Symbolic, because you will probably get disappointed. Maybe words are really poor to describe this music. This is not death metal. This is Death metal. Chuck Schuldiner was not just a key-figure in heavy metal, he was a key-figure in musical history.

If you don't own this, buy it right now. It deserves it. You deserve it.

Yet at the same time, we're invisible - 80%

autothrall, April 29th, 2011

Having showed a marked improvement in the band's progressive, sophomore decade, Individual Thought Patterns was substantial enough that I took the stick out of my ass and came to terms with where Death was headed for the future: the car wash. Symbolic is the third and most potent work of this phase in Schuldiner's career, and yet its remarkable less complicated than its predecessor. In fact, I often have a difficult time describing this as a 'death metal' album whatsoever. It's more like a clinical, hard hitting thrash album with dynamic drums, savvy leads, and the development of Chuck's voice into a slightly pinched, higher range that was not exactly unexpected after hearing Human or Individual Thought Patterns.

This is honestly the least interesting of Death's efforts from a conceptual standpoint. The lyrics continue along the social and psychological strata the band had been exploring for the past half decade, further removed from the morbid ministrations of their formative gore stores. Much of the composition here is incredibly simple, but damn if it doesn't sound great on headphones or erupting out of just about any stereo I play it through. Jim Morris did a remarkable job here, as well as the mastering team. The guitars feel rich and fulfilling despite only a mild margin from those of Human, and the writing gives the Gene Hoglan plenty of room to breathe. I found myself paying attention to his kicks and fills more than almost anything else I've heard him play on. Rounding out the band this time, Schuldiner decide to go with a pair of lower profile musicians: Bobby Koelbe on the guitar and Kelly Conlon on the bass. Regardless, the duo are rather well suited into this game of musical chairs, complementary to the actions of the star percussionist and composer.

It doesn't hurt that most of the songs are quite good, with a few in particular numbering among the best of their 90s stint and arguably their career. "Without Judgement" is incredibly well plotted, with some thrashing grooves in the verse not unlike "In Human Form", surviving a wealth of variation, including the resonant, penetrating leads in the bridge. "Crystal Mountain" has a strong charging aesthetic that cedes into subdued, catchy bass lines and glittering strings of cleaner tone, with a jamming mystique to its closing moments. Closer to their work on Leprosy and Spiritual Healing, we have "1,000 Eyes"; and "Misanthrope" builds memorable momentum, with subtle and fetching chord progressions throughout the verse.

I'm not sure that the epic 8+ minute finale "Perennial Quest" is the strongest example here, as I tend to zone out through a number of the transitions; and "Symbolic" itself is not an incredibly entertaining opener for the effort, but the remainder of the songs ("Zero Tolerance", "Sacred Serenity" and "Empty Words") are all a study in polished contrasts of surgical aggression and accessible prog rock leads. To tell the truth, there are probably only a half dozen rhythms or individual guitar riffs on the entirety of Symbolic that are revelatory in quality, much less than any of the first three albums when Death were performing their more grisly fare. Hell, there are less standout riffs probably than Individual Thought Patterns. Yet the arrangements are almost unanimously excellent, balanced and all too easy to get lost in, not to mention accessible.

I will gladly bear the banner of dissent when it comes to the majority stance on Death's catalog, vastly favoring the years of Scream Bloody Gore and Leprosy to anything that has come since, because those albums created a creepy, unforgettable presence with amazingly cool riffs that simply have never been replaced in the genre that they helped birth. But there can be no doubt that the philosophical prose, progressive influence and friendlier, bring home to mom gloss of Death 2.0 was slowly ascending the ladder of quality, to peak upon Symbolic and then fall off dramatically with the anticlimactic drivel that was The Sound of Perseverance. Schuldiner was bent on expanding his work into a cross-stream that could taken be taken seriously by fans of rock, thrash, and subscribers to guitar magazines. Here was a way to do it without sacrificing quality nor intelligence. The last Death worth a damn.


The Best Death Album - 97%

__Ziltoid__, September 12th, 2010

I feel like such a sellout for devoting a post, on what is meant to be a death metal column for lesser-known gems, to fucking Death. Oh well, fuck it. I’ve been binging on this album quite a bit as of late, so here’s a write-up for you. I tend to have mixed views on Death. On one hand, Death/Chuck (obviously the nouns are interchangeable) was one of the pioneers of what was to become the wonderful genre of death metal. Mantas (Chuck’s pre-Death band) was rehearsing and releasing demos like crazy back in the mid 80s. But, with the exception of The Sound of Perseverance, Chuck is also one of the most boring and predictable songwriters in death metal. Even way back then, bands like Possessed, Morbid Angel, and Necrovore (an awesome death metal band that only recorded one famous demo) were just a bit more dynamic in their songwriting. If you ask me, pretty much every death album until Human is good, but not spectacular in any way. Luckily, later-era Death happens to sound pretty damn good, even if Chuck still never changed his song structures with the exception of having longer solo sections. Although The Sound of Perseverance is Death’s most musically ambitious effort, I think their crowning achievement is Symbolic.

Simply put, Symbolic has Death at its peak in every conceivable way. It has the technicality and intensity that early-Death desperately lacked, and mixed it with somewhat longer songs that later-Death is known for, without being as overtly wanky like The Sound of Perseverance. The lineup here is my favorite Death lineup, if not for Gene Hoglan alone. His fills and hits on this album are just plain fun to listen to. Hell, just listen to the chorus of the title track. Those cymbal hits are just fucking addictive to listen to over and over again! Gene throws in awesome cymbal fills all over this track, especially when the main riff is played. How does this man manage to make any music he’s involved in sound more interesting? Even the new Fear Factory album/"that thing that might as well be his solo album" has some decent grooves in it despite the obvious limitations of every other member of the band.

While on the topic of the title track, it’s an excellent way to start this album. The tempo changes really do wonders for Death’s music, and the solo section shows an incredibly improvement over early-Death. While maintaining the “fast” edge that many death metal solos require, the solos seem to have an extra bit of epic feeling to them. Maybe this is just the awesome Florida sound shining through, but whatever it is, this is the best it ever sounded for Death.

This epic feeling is not just relegated to solos though. The lead guitar melodies in general sound epic throughout the entire album. Just check out the slow break towards the middle of ‘Zero Tolerance’ for a good example of this. Whatever the fuck is going on in the album cover, that feeling just seems to be conveyed through the lead guitar playing on this album. The riffs here lend themselves really well to this. They are by no means complicated or heavy relative to what was going on in Finland or Sweden, but they are incredibly fitting to the atmosphere created by the lead guitar playing. The thrashy influence is still there, but none of the riffs here feel chaotic like a lot of thrash-inspired death metal. Instead, these all feel meticulously planned out. The groovier riffs here work exceptionally well and do a wonderful job of complimenting the lead guitar and the drums.

Vocally, this is easily Chuck’s best performance. It may not be as perplexing as his vocals on Death’s cover of ‘Painkiller’ (he sounds like he’s a chipmunk being castrated on that track), but he has that perfect mix of higher pitcher rasp mixed with enough deepness to still sound like a death metal vocalist. On tracks such as ‘Empty Words,’ his vocals just shine! For the most part, they do an excellent job of accentuating particular moments in songs while also being pretty articulate.

‘Perennial Quest’ shows hints of what Death’s future would hold, as it’s one of the very few tracks that deviate from the standard verse-chorus formula that Chuck used for a sizable chunk of his career. The outro to this song, and this album, is really quite emotive, which is an odd way to end a death metal album.

With the slowly progressing musical direction that Chuck was taking, which ended up with Death basically turning into a progressive metal band and him playing in the vastly underrated power/prog band Control Denied, we don’t know what direction death metal might have taken if he was still alive. By the time this album was released, death metal was headed towards its low point (the late 90s weren’t kind to death metal, although there are some exceptions). Was death metal as a whole supposed to go in a more progressive direction? It might have been interesting to find out, but although we can’t do that, the least we can do is sit back and crank this album up to the maximum volume.

Written for

One of the essentials from the best metal band - 100%

TheSunOfNothing, February 21st, 2010

The band Death were truly unique and amazing. No other metal band, I don't care who you think it was, was as brutal, evil, or metal as Death were back in their death metal days. However, after "Spiritual Healing" (only Death album I haven't heard), they matured on, introducing progressive influence into their sound. Their lyrics changed from extremly gore-y stories about zombies and the occult to being more spiritual and philosophical, giving the band the distinction of being the first band to use more intelligent themes in death metal. Over time, the band matured so much that almost no elements of their former selves remained, and Death was almost completly unrecognizeable.

But guess what? While most of the time, change means selling out, a few times, bands do it for their own musical needs, and this maturing is usually just as good if not better than the previous output. "Symbolic" is an example of this if there ever was one. It's not a pretentious "hey look at me" type of album, and the shredding, while still amazing, is far more humble than would be expected by this normally bland genre. Instead of "shriffs" (a portmanteau of shredding and riffs) typically used in this genre, the riffs show more emotion and purpose. A perfect example is the riff at 0:44 of the title track. Hands down, hearing this single riff on the 30 second iTunes sample made me obsess over this ablum until I finally purchased it. There is also the bridge of "Without Judgement", and the classical acoustic solo that closes the masterpiece that is "Crystal Mountain" which are good points of reference for the true materwork that is on here.

The vocals are performed, as always, by the legendary Chuck Schuldiner. On this album, his original guttural death growls have been replaced by a more growl/scream vocal style. It's like "Human"'s death grunted vocals fused with the thrash shreik he later used on "The Sound of Perseverance". Admittingly, he has never been a great growler, and I would take David Vincent over him anyday. However, what David Vincent doesn't have that Chuck does is raw emotion. There is so much emotion behind his vocals that you truly believe that "inside crystal mountain, evil takes his form" or that "wherever we go, whatever we do, your shadow is not far behind our steps, and our breath". Especially with lines like "without judgement what would we do? we would be forced to look at ourselves emerged in lost time, assuming what may be..." you can really feel Chuck's sorrow and at the same time his anger. It is for this reason that I respect Chuck as a vocalist just as much as a guitarist.

Drummer Gene Hoglan, a thrasher, brings in a few new things to the table as well. While the drums on "Individual Thought Patterns" gave the music a more death metal feel, on this album he has stopped using so many blast beats, replacing them with more thrash-like beats. However, this is still worlds away from thrash metal. I've never been too big on Gene, but I'll admit that he does a very good job on here. On a separate note, his drum mix is very good, although I'd like it a little better if he was quieter, so we could here Kelly's bass better. That's on of the few unfortunate things about this album. Whereas all of the bands albums previously have had loud ass bass, this one is instead more of a guitar album. The bass is still very audible, just not to the extent of the previous albums.

The production is an interesting factor. It was the only album they ever released that ever had even remotly "good" production, and is in turn the easiest to listen to. It always annoyed me how they always suffered from shit production on every album up until this one. However, the mix is interesting as well, as the guitar, drums, and vocals are all at equal odds in the mix. The bass is not quiet, but rather tends to get overpowered by the other instruments. You can still easily hear the bass however, and it's not any less technical than on previous albums!

So, I suppose Death's "Symbolic" is one of my personal favourite metal band's best albums. Not the very best, mind you, but it's a classic if there ever was one. If you don't own this album, you aren't metal. Enough said.


Death's Finest Hour - 100%

JamesIII, February 21st, 2010

Death is one of those bands who needs no introduction, but discussing their career as a whole demands mentioning their various accolades. Their 1987 debut "Scream Bloody Gore" was highly influential on the now famous Florida death metal scene, whose golden era lay in the late 80's, early to mid-90's. "Scream Bloody Gore" seems to remain the album most fans of Death align with, and for some inconcievable reason, their technically superior later career is pushed aside for the horror and gore lyrics of that release. This leaves behind albums like "Human," "Individual Thought Patterns," "The Sound of Perservance," and my personal favorite, "Symbolic." Considering I've always viewed these albums as superior, and some of the best any American death metal band would release, it boggles the mind as to why Death's early career surpasses it in the minds of their fans.

For those who appreciate death metal that moves beyond the realm of horrific (and with the now mindlessly repetitive "gore" scene, downright senseless) topics of gore and murder, Death's 90's career is ideal. The subject focus moves away from their early career and instead focuses on the intellectual and at times, the spiritual (though don't confuse that with religious or anti-religious, Chuck Shuldiner was adamnant his music was not religious in any way.) In fact, you can take these songs seriously and perhaps even ponder the meaning behind the lyrics, something you rarely get with Cannibal Corpse and the generations of gore bands after them.

As with most Death albums, "Symbolic" sees a change in the line-up. Of course the band leader in Chuck Schuldiner is still here, whose vocal approach takes on a thrashier sound that focuses more on an decipherable scream. It reminds me a little bit of the vocalist off Malevolent Creation's "The Ten Commandments," as its still harsh but the lyrics can be made out at times. If I had to mention anyone else in the line-up, it would have to be Gene Hoglan. Gene "The Machine" doesn't give his best performance on this album, but its still damn commendable but perhaps not to extent of Dark Angel's widely celebrated "Darkness Descends." Kelly Conlon replaces Steve DiGiorgio on bass, which is a shame, as Conlon doesn't really deliver the way his predecessor did. He isn't atrocious in any way, and keeps the band moving in a structured way, he's just hard to hear at times.

The guitar work continues to flatten the listener, thanks to Schuldiner's great riff writing and technical yet enjoyable solos. The one thing I've always loved about this band was their ability to be both technical and enjoyable, something that is often hard to find in death metal's more recent generations. A perfect example of this combination would be "Zero Tolerance," which rolls out those impressive yet memorable riffs that make Death the band they are. On the whole, I'd say this album isn't quite as impressive as the thematic "Individual Thought Patterns," but with purely enjoyable songs like "Crystal Mountain," "Zero Tolerance," "1,000 Eyes," and the title track, it comes out superior to that album in terms of a pure satisfactory listening experience. I'd even risk being called a heretic in the eyes of this band's core fanbase by saying it also comes out slightly better than their widely celebrated "Human" album.

For me, this is Death's finest hour. Its far removed from the blood splattered horror days of "Scream Bloody Gore," and more enjoyable than "Individual Thought Patterns" before it, yet still intelligent and technically impressive. "Symbolic" remains my favorite Death recording, like all of their albums is an essential listen for all fans of this band and the genre they helped to popularize, not to mention bore the name of.

Words can barely define this glory - 100%

I_Cast_No_Shadow, February 20th, 2010

While Death excelled metal music by laying fundamental hands in popularizing death metal genre, they also helped crucially in fortifying the progressive/technical face of this music, and this record was indeed a potent brick in the erection of the subgenre. Death has always been the constant drive in my playlist and this 1995 album appears to be, according to me and many more, the best one from them. Their earlier releases may exceed to some, especially the death metal purists or those who think being technical is a contamination in death metal – yes Human, Scream Blood Gore, Leprosy etc. are truly milestones and I guess not a single album from the band has even shown a tiny fragment of weakness, but all things considering, Symbolic means a complete perfection to me.

Furnishing the emergence of death metal, with progressive aspects prevalent from the very beginning, after a while this Chuck Schuldiner band leaned more towards turning their music into something increasingly technical than before and this emphatically has a sizeable blow in a horde of today’s spawning progressive/technical death metal outfits. Still, technical here does not denote the dullness being done by most of these acts, who suffer a zero sense of feeling. Moreover, this album has concealed a huge expressiveness beneath it, which has been offered song after song, and one can finely admit that this is not progressive and technical just for the role of sounding complex. The songs here do sound a bit complex in structure, but isn’t as complex as Atheist, which may be a good facet here, as it has further supported the aforesaid ‘feel’ in a precise magnitude.

The mastermind Chuck Schuldiner has yet again struck this time with his more-than-amazing songwriting skills plus the raging shrieks. And the instruments are very much harmonizing with each others with a perfect match, thus forming a splendid sound. We can perceive this equally brutal and progressive as in earlier albums, with enlarged technicality and extra melody and thus forming a breathtaking experience.

The first track which is the title track is indeed an utterly good opener. The intro riff provides a typical Death gesture which assimilates into delightful slow and fast paces, and it may be no surprise to find the same passion streaming right till the end.

The guitar work by Schuldiner as well as Koelble is praiseworthy to a behemoth degree. Koelbe, as the second guitarist isn’t overshadowed at all by Schuldiner, and he has showed his own things at times, which are much interesting to get, in fact. The lead solos and fills are genuinely Schuldineresque (which synonyms to above-excellent). Likewise the bass guitar by Kelly Conlon is impressive, which is very much audible and he has given his own portion through the instrument here and there.

The drums by Gene Hoglan are substantial – his duty is presented with complex beatings, advancing progressions and fair technical constituents. Quite impressive job there by the drummer – really beautiful and powerful slamming, providing the equivalent extent of power to other instruments, and thanks to the production that the drums are heard as plainly and noticeably as they could possibly be.

Every track is made distinctly tremendous; there are so many moments to remember within the fifty minutes mark where each track has to offer one great thing or the other, or to be exact, to offer everything great. Take the expressively beautiful intro of “Empty Words”, the intro lead solo of “Sacred Serenity” or the relatively slower chorus part of “Zero Tolerance”, they all present genuine sentiments. However the principal highlight was the seventh track “Crystal Mountain”. This one may not be the most complex or technical one in the album, but surely is the track presenting few of the most wonderful moments in the album. Great song!

Now the vocals are familiar Schuldineresque again this time, but a little raspier and a little more high-pitched than before. Honestly, I am not a huge fan of his vocals but I am also not against them. His deliverances are truly strong and I guess his higher screams suit the lyrical themes perfectly. Well, could something liberated from a Chris Barnes throat mix well with songs like “Empty Words” and “Perennial Quest” in terms of their lyrical meanings?

The music revolves around old school death metal surfaces too, and the whole album is an incorporation of brutal melodies, as I would say. Death are obviously more melodic than most bands tagged as melodic ___ metal. Listen to the whole “Crystal Mountain” for this regard, this is what melody is meant to be but with equal heaviness and consequently in a brutal format. This is what makes Death different from other bands, which at times gets distracted with melody-crushing riffs, which still form a healthy synchronization between the segments.

This album most likely has the heaviest guitar-bass sound evident among the previous releases by the band, or for that matter. The reason – because the tones of everything are undeniably fine and this is much aided by the enormously improved production quality, which is no way near the preceding primitive degree. Everything is crystal clear and you can easily identify every note being hit.

As a whole, it is because of albums like these that Chuck Schuldiner is immortal. This is one flawless product.

My favorite album by my favorite band - 100%

Deathrash1, January 3rd, 2010

This album along with "A Celebration of Guilt" by Arsis are my absolute death metal shrines and if you don't own this album you cant truly appreciate the original death metal powerhouse known as death. Most fans of Death would tell you that 1991's "Human" is the best Death album because it balances out the elements of both there death metal days and more progressive sound material of there later works. Although I do believe that "Human" is indeed a masterpiece I tend to lean more towards Deaths progressive material so this was a natural choice for me. This is also the album responsible for my introduction to death metal along with Morbid Angel's "Altars of Madness" so this album will always be an album that I treasure for that reason.

This album kicks off with the title track and is arguably the highlight of this album as it is responsible for one of Death's most memorable riffs and without a doubt one of Chuck's greatest solo's and if you know his material thats saying a lot. This album goes on with such classic Death songs as "Zero Tolerance" which is also one of Deaths most recognized songs due to the drum intro and once again epic solo by Chuck schuldiner and later a trade off solo with Chuck and Bobby Koelble. Other great tracks on the album include "Sacred Serenity", "Without Judgment", and my personal favorite the most popular track off this album which is "Crystal Mountain". Crystal Mountain is a classic song from start to finish and all its moments are great from the main riff to the tapping solo and the acoustic solo that ends the song Crystal Mountain is to me Deaths finest hour. Another one of my favorites on this album is the last track "Perennial Quest" which I think is a very underrated Death song.

If you know Death you know Chucks extremely high standards for for musical ability in all the members he brings in and "Symbolic" is no exception. For this album guitar god Andy LaRoque from King Diamond who played on "Individual Thought Patterns" was replaced with Bobby Koeble who did a more than ample job on this album. Also bass duties were taken over by Kelly Conlan who replaced Steve Digiorgio. However still on drum duties was Gene Hoglan who will forever be my favorite drummer for playing on my two favorite Death albums (though his work with Testament and Dark Angel wasn't to shabby either). Currently Gene is working with Dethklok and Fear Factory who will be putting out a new album soon with Gene on drums so be sure to check that out.

Of all the albums on this site that got perfect album reviews this one without a doubt deserved this review because it is a goddamn classic death metal album that changed the way I write my own music. Today Chuck Schuldiner is still my all time idol both in music and in life since he had such great philosophies on living life and just enjoying every moment of it. If you don't own this album already you need to go pick it up now because it's key to any metal collection.

RIP CHUCK 1967-2001

Standout tracks
"Zero Tolerance"
"Without Judgement"
"Crystal Mountain"
"Perennial Quest"

Definitive progressive death metal - 99%

draconiondevil, July 26th, 2009

Death as you probably know is the band widely credited with creating death metal or at least popularizing it. After being formed in 1984 they went on to release their debut album “Scream Blood Gore” in 1987. That was the start of their career and 8 years later, after many changes in line-up and sound they released Symbolic. Now, almost 15 years later, this album stands as one of the top contenders for the definitive progressive death metal album. This album will make you forget instantly about Opeth’s “Blackwater Park”.

Now the first thing I mentioned about this album was how many changes Death has gone through. The line-up for this album is Chuck Schuldiner (Vocals/ Guitar), Kelly Conlon (Bass), Bobby Koelble (Guitar) and Gene “Atomic Clock” Hoglan (Drums, obviously). This line-up contains two of the same members as the last album did but the sound on this album is vastly different. There is a more mature sense about the lyrics, this time relating to real-life issues, and the music itself is just so much more interesting.

The guitar has some epic riffs and solos (more so than previous efforts). The song “Empty Words” has the most emotional riff I’ve ever heard in any Death song. During the chorus when Chuck is belting out “Promises! Have potential! To hurt, is anything real?” Also the riff in the chorus of “Sacred Serenity” is worth mentioning as well. Now to the solos! My favourite solos on this album are the ones in the title track and Crystal Mountain. Crystal Mountain is one of my favourite songs and the solo is one of the most eargasmic things I’ve ever heard.

The bass is also better than most Death albums. It is used a lot in the intros of songs. Especially in the intro to “Zero Tolerance”. The intro to “Sacred Serenity” also features some really cool sounding bass riffing. Now if this album had Steve DiGiorgio like the last album did then that would be amazing.

The drums are perfect. But that was to be expected seeing as it’s the Atomic Clock himself behind the kit. The drums are interesting and complex. They are extremely technical and fit every song perfectly. I am absolutely stunned that he was able to pull it off, especially the tempo changes in songs like Symbolic. It starts off slow with slow drumming and in a second at about the 30 second mark it blasts away at thrash like speeds.

Vocals are an important thing on a metal album. This is usually what makes most bands listenable or not and it is because the vocals are usually in the “foreground” of the music. Now the vocals on this album do not disappoint. They have become less guttural yet again and are leaning towards the shrieky style that Chuck would develop for the next album. But they still have all of the aggression they had before and are more comprehensible. And by comprehensible I mean that I can understand every word on this CD but the vocals are still harsh and aggressive.

Overall this album does not fail to please and is a must have for any fan of Death. If you are a fan of Death and don’t have this album I can only say that you are missing out.

- The tempo changes and solo of the title track
- The epic and emotional chorus of Empty Words
- The Intro and chorus of Sacred Serenity
- Crystal Mountain

Welcome to Overrated - 59%

Transphilvanian, July 22nd, 2009

I am not one that cares about labels that much. I do enjoy little quibbles with my friends about whether early Sepultura is death or thrash metal or if Tormentor were first or second wave, however, if it is good, well structured music with atmosphere and a purpose then I will like it. On the other end of the spectrum though there is this "Progressive Death Metal" album which is neither progressive, nor really death metal and also average for the most part.

When using the phrase "Progressive", people seem to either be saying one of two things. It could either be influenced by the ingenious work written by progressive rock bands in the 1970's, or the general meaning of the phrase which would be more on the side of avant-garde, such as writing something original or ahead of the times.

Sadly when "Progressive" is used as a prefix to another label of metal, the result normally seems to be a watering down of a genre that is innovative in itself, therefore almost making it more of a regression that a progression. An example of this is Enslaved's recent albums of "Progressive Black Metal" being a sound of stale and uninspired hard rock losing the mystical magic of their debut, which was a progressive masterpiece (in the sense of unique combined with influences from the 70's). It may be somewhat intelligently written with some reasonable Floyd worship but adds nothing to the genre except for maybe attracting more mainstream fans.

Rant aside this album has all the signs of trying to be progressive but in fact becomes regressive. Death were obviously a very popular and important early death metal band with a string of demo's and a couple of classic death metal albums. The first two Death albums were original, heavy, catchy and still coherently written pieces of sickening art. Then Chuck thought it would be a good idea to change the sound a bit. This is not necessarily a bad idea, but if you look back on death metal in the mid to late ninetees, it seems to normally end up being somewhere from a bad idea, to an embarassing idea. Albums like "Heartwork", "Domination", "Slaughter of the Soul", and there are many more, have been dimissed by the metal underground and applauded by the metal mainstream for years and somehow the similar move by Death appears to me to have been largely ignored. What Death appear to have done here is take their earlier material and replaced the intensity with what is probably pre-conceived "intelligence" but is actually a lack of imagination and rather sterile material for the most part.

I do state all these things with the forethought that this is supposed to be some kind of metal classic so my score may be strict, but with other real classics under their belt and such a saturation of the market with the introduction of the internet I feel albums need a stricter analysis. There are some interesting parts to the album, the title track for example sounds more like power/thrash metal featuring Chuck's new high pitched vocal style, admittedly with the solo being admirable and drumming being impeccable. Crystal Mountain is also worth a listen due to the interesting moulding of ecoustic guitar around a fairly rocky song-base and may be one of the only sougs that I think could be linked to the 70's progressive rock scene, although still only very lightly and not coming anywhere near the brilliance of the 70's prog bands..

Unfortunately this album just does not do much for me. Their attempt at being progressive hardly ever finds its feet, with most of the album featuring heavy or thrash metal riffs with a boring clean production with Chuck Schuldiner's new vocals being less enthused than before. I find during the album a lot of the riffs seem to just meander and fizzle out to nothing in the context of the song. Take "Zero Tolerance" for example, a lot of groove (actually sounding like Pantera riffs sometimes, I'm afraid) and a couple of solo's that could have come from any of the Bay Area thrash bands and you have a song that is by no means offensive, it's just not something I am going to go back and listen to much as it comes off as somewhat unoriginal "Death-Metal-Light".

A notable use for this album is that it seems to be pretty effective at getting people who are not into the more extreme forms of music to realise there is another world out there. It has the catchiness of sing along choruses, the pseudo-groove riffs that progressive metal bands seem to love, and much more liberal lyrics than the classics of death metal. That does not help the album in any real sense, but it has converted some of my friends to realise that if you dig deep enough you can find more profound pieces of work than just checking out how fast Jordan Rudess can shred those keys!

The technicality of albums is not something I am really interested in, purely for the fact that practice makes perfect. If you have the time to sweep pick 6 hours a day, you will eventually become good at it. This by itself does not make you a genius, however, if you put these techniques to good use, then you have something. Death's technical material seems the worst out of the era to be honest, with the true originators of the sound not losing any intensity and some actually gaining it.

Take Atheist for example, very technical but still aggressive with the songwriting to match. Cynic, who's members also were quintessential to the first technical Death album, managed to create an incredible marriage of jazzy, 70's prog induced death/thrash metal. Lastly Cryptopsy created a technical and brutal release in "None So Vile", taking extremity to new levels but still having the song writing skills to keep the tracks chaotic but tamed in a compact structure. Death on the other hand seemed to focus alot on the rock and heavy metal aspects after "Human" and never really matched the true innovators of the technical/progressive releases by the aforementioned bands, or their earlier groundbreaking material.

Overall this is not an album I would really advise for anybody unless you are just starting to try and get into death metal. Otherwise there are so many classics from an exiting, boundary pushing period of time rather than the rock induced format of the genre that bands seem to utilise in the mid-to-late ninetees, that this record is just not really necessary. Overall you will be more than satisfied with Atheist, Pestilence or Gorguts if technical death metal is your thing, or "Scream Bloody Gore" or "Leprosy" if you want a release from this once great band.

Inside Crystal Mountain, "Death" Is Now Reborn - 100%

Cryptwatcher, June 26th, 2008

I have always been a fan of Death, owning everything by the band, I have had a good listen to all of their music. This particular album, "Symbolic," however, is by far my favorite work by them. Death made a complete turn in their sound with this album, primarily vocal-wise, changing from normal death metal grunts all the way to thrash metal/black metal like screaming from Kreator or Sodom. This change, however, did not upset me, nor did it upset the fans, in fact, it has impressed them.

Chuck is brilliant in this album, combining anger/brutality with beautiful atmosphere, Chuck has proven himself to be an exceptional vocalist. His volume and tone are beyond perfect, becoming more intense, and beautiful than ever before.

The guitar work in this album sounds nearly orchestral. Death metal music is well known because of the dark symphonic classical music influence. Nowhere is this more noticeable than in Symbolic, primarily in the track "Crystal Mountain," the guitar solos sounding like a metalized Wagner symphony.

The drum work in this album seems to consist of mainly blast beats, which after a while can get boring by just merely paying attention to the drums, but when looking at the album as a whole together, it blends in beautifully and supporting the atmosphere displayed in this album ever more vibrant and intense.

This album, all in all, is beautifully made with perfect guitar work and vocals, and great drumming. This is a must listen for any death metal connoisseur , and is guaranteed to not disappoint.

"Death - Symbolic (1995)" - 100%

Dolf9271986, May 7th, 2008

Death's 6th full-length studio album, "Symbolic". Now near the end of the Death discography, with one more to go, I am reviewing this album and just wondering "how the fuck does this band keep going?" Like, honestly this band has made more changes in sound than any other band I have ever heard. The thing is though... Every time they change their sound, it ends up being so good, if not better than the previous. It's amazing. Death is a band that people should worship. They should look at Death and see Metal. They are the masters. The Gods.

The first track of the album is the title track, "Symbolic", a brilliant intro song, starts of slower, and ends up clocking in at about six and a half minutes. This is Death's Progressive stage and it really shows up on this song. Odd time signatures, lengthy track, technicality, multiple sound changes, you know, that old chestnut. Death has truly done a great job turning into a Progressive Death Metal band. They successfully got into it without destroying themselves completely, which would understandably be very hard to do.

The guitar is too good to explain. But I'll try to the best of my ability. Fast as fuck, very well placed, well paced, spectacular solos, very technical, incredible. There is a lot of variety in the album. The song "Empty Words" is an example of some changes you can see as Death progressed into the Progressive genre. The intro starts with slow guitar, leading into a heavy drum/guitar altercation and you're hit with an odd time signature. Now check out "Misanthrope", which takes you back to classic Death. One of the fastest fucking things I have ever heard, the guitar just kicks your ass. Yet it is like older Death, you are still hit with the fact that it is more technical and cleaner. Technicality and cleanliness are next to Godliness. The guitar on the album is just... Perfect.

I don't even need to comment on Chuck's vocals. They need no introduction. The best vocalist I have ever heard. No question. This man has held onto the same vocal for so long... I cannot believe how he did it. There must be some explanation. Everything he does is just perfect. His vocals are superb.

The bass on this album is spectacular. The intro to "Sacred Serenity" blew me away. It has changed yet again though. Now I feel like it has a more technical feel, and it is not as loud on this album. It does a perfect job of being in perfect volume. Loud enough to hear, but not loud enough as to drown out everything else.

The drums for Death I think has been it's biggest change. I don't know how the man does it. Some of the most technical drums I have ever heard. Very good, amazing sound. Perfect volume. Odd time signatures blossom, and are done flawlessly. Truly incredible.

Now, this is a fucking masterpiece. I cannot think of anything wrong with it. Tons of variety, you're treated with tons of different styles. That's what make this album so great. The fact that these guys keep making insane albums without ever getting dull is awesome. I don't know how to explain the band Death. Gods. Just... Gods. I truly recommend that you pick up this album. If you're disappointed... Pfff, yeah right.

In my eyes, this is where they peaked - 96%

BastardHead, December 12th, 2007

While it may not have the dream lineup that Individual Thought Patterns had, this is still one of the most solid ensembles of musicians ever put together. The extremely capable duet of newcomers, Kelly Conlon (bass) and Bobby Koeble (guitar) put on quite a show on Symbolic, each with their share of stand out technical parts. The real heroes of this record though, are hands down the two gods of their instruments, The Atomic Clock... Gene Hoglan (drums) and the almighty mastermind behind Death.... Chuck Schuldiner (guitar, vocals).

Let's get one thing out of the way early, Death has gone through many progressions as a band, and for some reason it is frowned upon (while bands like Running Wild get lambasted for never changing (and stranger yet, bands like Iron Maiden and The Lord Weird Slough Feg are praised for "sticking to their guns" (I love all three bands by the way))), maybe it is because they are one of the pioneers of Death metal, and to some, the first death metal band. So I guess as pioneers they aren't allowed to expand and instead need to stick with what they started lest they form a new band. Whatever, it's all a load of bullshit. My point is, this is during the later period of their career, so comparing it to Scream Bloody Gore or Leprosy is just absurd. Instead of the straight up thrashy death metal found on the first few releases, this is far more extreme progressive metal.

The production here is magnificent, every instrument is heard crystal clear, even the bass (a rarity for a metal record). Gene's drums just absolutely obliterate everything on high speed shredders like 1000 Eyes and the title track. Chuck's vocals are once again a bit higher than on the previous release, a trend that started with Human and continued throughout their discography.

The opening track begins with a slower, kind of grinding riff. You can just feel like something is going to explode on your face like Peter North's yogurt cannon does to the likes of Jenna Jameson, and oh boy does it deliver. When it kicks into full gear, I find myself headbanging and air guitaring every single time..... even when driving. This is a dangerous song for my iPod to randomly choose in the car. This particular track also features one of the most insane solos on the album. Easily one of the highlights... and it's only the beginning.

Next up is Zero Tolerance, a noticeable step down from the shredding moshfest of the title track. I think my main reason for thinking this a weak point in the album is because it's too slow. Hey, I love Candlemass, so slow music isn't a problem, it's just that this piece is too pedestrian, and seems to just chug along without ever releasing it's potential like the last one did. Again, the solo is the highlight of this song, and really saves it a point or two.

Empty Words is a strange one, it's one of my favorites, but there is just something about it that I find bizarre. Maybe it's because you hear one of the melodies used in the opening track being used here.... it's clear there is no shortage of ideas, but there is no overt concept to the album, so it's strange that they reuse ideas. That doesn't stop this song from being just as awesome, if not MORE awesome than the Symbolic. Death really is a band that gets it right when they turn it up to eleven and play fast paced, at least Hoglan seems the most comfortable at those extreme speeds... and that's where he shines the most. Further examples to come....

Sacred Serenity keeps the weirdness up by using a very blatant melody found in the previous track! It uses it as the chorus this time, so it's almost impossible not to notice, but once again it doesn't detract from the song at all. This one showcases some of my favorite riffs on the whole album.

But then, the unholy trinity of the album arrives. The next string of songs rivals the first half of Litany or By Inheritance for the most amazing string of songs in a row. 1000 Eyes is really Gene's showcase for his insanely precise drumwork. Coupled with a catchy chorus, this song is just tailor made for destruction. For best results, crank at full volume around old people. Without Judgement brings up the second part of our blasphemous trilogy of metal. It starts off with one of the most perfect riffs in the sense that I just feel like moving every time I hear it. Be it air guitar, moshing, punching my nearest companion in swinging distance, I find it impossible to sit still. The buildup around 1:50 is nothing short of orgasmic, especially when the drums kick in.

Bringing up the rear of the trilogy, is one of the most masterful songs of the genre, and considered by some to be the standard by which this style is judged by. This song is Crystal Mountain. As I've said in other reviews, the best things in life need the least explaining. The acousticism and melodic distortion intertwine so well in the chorus, it's nuts... just trust me.

Misanthrope is the first time the songwriting drops down a notch since the second track, and that isn't saying much, considering it is a great song. Finishing off the record is the 8 minute epic, Perennial Quest. This one is a fan favorite, but I actually find it to be a bit overlong. It has great riffs, some of the best on the record, but I don't think the song should've been as long as it was made. But that's just a personal gripe of mine.

My calculations make this album round up to a 96%, making it the highest rating I have given so far. Truly a testament to how great this record is. I suggest any music fan with a passing interest in metal that can at the very least tolerate screamed vocals give this album a shot. It was my gateway to Death, and it is a great album to start off with. If you like a more straightforward and raw sound, try their debut, Scream Bloody Gore. If you like really proggy death metal, try The Sound of Perseverance. If you are a big Atheist fan, try Individual Though Patterns. If a good mixture of all the elements of metal, listen to Symbolic. Really, Death can do no wrong.

The Perfection of Metal - 100%

Crazy_Voodoo_Magic, October 30th, 2007

This is it. The highlight of Death's discography, their magnum opus, and one of the most incredible and beautiful albums ever released within the entire metal genre. With Symbolic, Chuck reached new heights, both as a songwriter, and as a musician. And if one dares call himself a fan of death metal, there is absolutely no excuse not have given every song featured here at least a few listens, and truth be told, this is a must own. There is nothing out there quite like Symbolic, and there never will be. Death and Chuck may be buried and gone, but with music like this, their legacy will continue to live on.

The history of Death has been well covered, so I won't go into terribly great detail. Basically, the short story is, that with Death's debut, Scream Bloody Gore, death metal was established(whether or not Death are the true creators of death metal is debatable, but what isn't up for debate is that SBG was instrumental in helping to create the genre altogether). From there, Death would release a few more classic albums that were straight up death metal, and then Chuck grew bored with the gore theme. Seeking to explore more philosophical ideas in the lyrics, as well as a more progressive sound(which was still death metal in itself, mind you) Chuck got a new lineup together and released 1991's Human. After that, a slight step down came two years later in Individual Thought Patters. So Andy LaRocque(guitar) and Steve DiGiorgio(bass) were ousted in favor of Bobby Koelble and Kelly Conion, respectively. And those two, along with founder evil Chuck and Gene Hoglan teamed up and created this, Symbolic. Initially intended to be Death's final album, they could not have gone out any better. This is perfection.

I suppose with all this raving I should actually take a look into the actual music, eh? Well, the album starts with the title track, "Symbolic".This is a classic by any means, which begins with a crushing riff that speeds up for awhile, and then slows back down to the tune of Chuck shouting "Symbolic past! So vivid! Yet at the same time, were invisible!". Then at about three minutes in Chuck turns things into supersonic speed, leading to a very technical and awesome solo. The song then slows down again, and repeats into the pattern that it began with. This is easily one of Death's best, most well-written songs, but to call it the highlight of the album and stop there would be foolish. "Without Judgement" is another instant classic, with numerous time changes, including a straight up groovy breakdown about halfway through that soon explodes on your face as the song nears its conclusion. Other notable cuts featured(well, ALL the songs are notable) are Crystal Mountain and Perennial Quest, both vastly different but similar in the incorporation of an accoustic guitar near the completion of the track, which adds so much to the overral atmosphere, especially in Perennial Quest's case. Crystal Mountain, so much has been said about it individually that I'll just say the lyrics leave you thinking, and the song sticks in your head well after it's over.

As I listened to the acoustic guitar strumming way at the end of Perennial Quest after my first listen, it struck me. Here was a perfect album. I could pull out any track here to argue that metal could indeed be beautiful, not just mindless screaming with noise as the common opinion dictates. And I'm sure others have been struck that way, and when an album gets that kind of response out of you, there is nothing to do then to give it a 100%

Death Metal At Its Most Beautiful - 95%

Wishmistress, July 27th, 2007

The crowning jewel in the discography of one of death metal's greatest and most influential bands, Symbolic is a necessary part of any metal collection. Its near-perfect combination of technicality, intelligence, and brutal energy affords the listener an experience unsurpased by any Death album, past or future. Chuck Schuldiner shows his musical genius on this album, both lyrically and in composition. What makes Death so amazing, though, is that the band leader and only founding member to remain, is not the sole talent to be found. Though the replacement of Steve DiGiorgio was unfortunate, Kelly Conlon is more than a sufficient bass player, and Bobby Koelble matches Chuck in skill on guitar. Meanwhile, Gene Hoglan once again produces fantastic drumming, completing a superb line-up for Symbolic.

The album begins with the 6-minute title-track, which immediately illustrates what is to come. Numerous solos captivate interest, and Chuck's voice rings out in his high combination shriek-growl. His unique style of singing flows perfectly with the music, and captures the spirit of his intelligent, spiritually-based lyrics which are so varied from the typical gore lyrics found in death metal. The second track, "Zero Tolerance" progresses to a new level, with a slower tempo, pounding bass, and several mind-blowing solos which combine fantastic lead and rhythm guitar in harmony. This is undoubtedly one of the best tracks on the album, and has become a fan-favorite. Each song follows in this path, with different individual strengths. "Empty Words", for example, is rather instrumentally simplistic, but has some of the album's best lyrics. "Sacred Serenity" and "Without Judgement" could be called Symbolic's filler songs, though they are both worth-while listens. In between these two lies the powerful "1,000 Eyes", and afterward is what is undoubtedly one of Death's masterpieces, "Crystal Mountain". The progressive elements are illustrated here, with numerous tempo changes, technical guitar riffs, and a catchy head-banging chorus. "Misanthrope" falls short after such a masterwork, but still holds its own as a unique, yet rather forgetable, follow-up to "Crystal Mountain". The final track, "Perennial Quest", concludes the album perfectly. An 8-minute epic, this song demands attention throughout, and leaves the listener with a sense of fufillment and peace. How often does one get that feeling from death metal?

In this album, Chuck Schuldiner combines every element necessary to make strong, memorable metal. It is a unique album that stands alone, and is worthy of anyone interested in death, progressive, or simply great metal.

The perfect album - 100%

koonze, July 18th, 2007

Perfection, complete perfection. These were the first thoughts that ran through my head upon the first listen of this album. "Symbolic" is Death's sixth studio album. The band had begun in progressing their sound a few albums back on "Human" but nothing at all to this extent. If you will excuse the pun, Chuck chucked out most of the death metal sound on this album and chucked in a whole bunch of progressive influence which really makes this Death's most unique album (behind The Sound of Perseverance).

Chuck's vocals are different on this one, I would have a hard time classifying them as standard death metal vocals but they sure are harsh and raw. I really wish these kinds of vocals are used more often in metal as they are full of power and emotion. The guitar playing is absolute genius, the opening riff of "Symbolic" has to be one of my favourite riffs ever. The slow, brooding riff turns into some fast paced action and then into one of the craziest solo's that Death have ever written. That kind of guitar work makes the album great.

Another thing that Death have incorporated into "Symbolic" are softer section in songs. Such songs as "Crystal Mountain" and "Perennial Quest" have acoustic guitars, but by no means are these songs lacking any balls. In fact, I think it was quite gutsy for Chuck to add in these section as they really are different to anything Death had done up to that point.

Lyrically, "Symbolic" is Death's finest hour. Such songs as "Perennial Quest" and "Without Judgment" are highly philosophical. I'm really glad that Chuck ditched the old horror and gore thing many albums ago in favour of these lyrics.

The rest of the band, Kelly Conlon (bass), Bobby Koelble (guitar) and Gene Hoglan (drums) are often forgotten. Although Chuck shine on this album Conlon and Hoglan are the backbone. Hoglans' drums in every song are so powerfull and full of raw emotion, he truly is one of the greatest drummers in metal. As far as Death bassists go, Kelly Conlon is not the best (that hight distinction must go to Steve DiGiorgio) but that doesn't mean he is bad. He shines the most on "Sacred Serenity" but apart from that the bass can be forgettable Bobby Koelble does a really decent job as Death's second guiatarist. Although Chuck does indeed to the better guitar riffs and solos on the album, Koelble does have some interesting parts.

This is easily the most Accessible although it is far from commercial. Anyone who is a fan of the great Chuck Schuldiner should get this album. There is something for everyone in this album, harsh vocals, incredible guitar melodies and pounding drums so the listener should easily fall in love with this album just the way I did.

Not my favorite Death album, but still good - 83%

panteramdeth, February 29th, 2004

This was my first Death album that I bought and I thought it was pretty good. But upon "The Sound Of Perseverance" being constantly in my CD player, this is no longer my favorite Death album. But that is a very small complaint, as most of the music on here is very good.

The music is very melodic and the production is very good, without the music straying toward the Gothenburg sound. I happen to prefer the Gothenburg sound a little better, though. There are also some head-spinning time changes, especially in songs like "Zero Tolerance" and the opening title track. Chuck Schuldiner still has a good voice at this point in his career, but he's given way to more of a scream. In other words, if you are expecting the growl that he displayed on Scream Bloody Gore and Leprosy, you're going to be disappointed. But his scream is just as effective as his growl.

Not to be outdone by his voice, this album and has some of the best guitar shredding by any death metal axeman. Check out the solos in "Sacred Serenity" and "Without Judgement" for some examples. But my favorite song from this album is "Misanthrope", which in my opinion has one of the best death metal choruses ever. Gene Hoglan handles the double-bass drumming with ease on this track and most others as well. "Crystal Mountain" is a strong track as well, with more awesome shredding.

This is still Death and the genre they helped invent, even with the more melodic elements. But fans of more brutal death metal like Cannibal Corpse and Morbid Angel may be disappointed by this release. Ahh well, it's their loss. I say, though, it's a rather fitting testament to the legacy that is Chuck Schuldiner (R.I.P.)