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A waste of talent - 50%

Gas_Snake, August 3rd, 2020

If I had to use one word to describe this album (and most other albums released by this band), that word would be "frustrating". Frustrating in the amount of different things it has that are both completely awesome and completely terrible; frustrating because their more progressive works can be summed up as "occasional moments of genius drowning in a complete mess"; frustrating due to one man utterly dominating the songwriting process (which is rarely a good idea). Death has an extremely weird evolution of sound where they always kept somehow progressing and regressing at the same time, in the sense that their music kept becoming increasingly more technical, but also increasingly more structurally unsound. This album (and, by extension, Schuldiner's Control Denied project) represents the peak of all of those frustrations, as well as their most divisive output. There are many elements that contribute to this album's status, so an explanation is in order.

The highlight of this album are the riffs. They are stylistically reminiscent of melodic death/thrash metal, and exhibit a great combination of catchiness and technical prowess. Chuck Schuldiner's main strength in songwriting is his amazing sense of melody. No matter if his style is brutal or sugary, technical or straightforward, the man still lays down catchy hook after catchy hook, his riffs and melodies full of conviction. A great example is the first half of "Flesh And The Power That It Holds": a brief technical display goes into a melodic power metal intro, then suddenly makes way for a monstrous thrash riff and continues to slay everything in sight with more riffs than you can count... at least, until the solo comes in.

That is where the compliments end. The solos on this album are utterly terrible, and most of it is the fault of that lead guitar tone. When the guitarists are playing slow-paced "feel" solos or harmonies, it sounds alright, but as soon as they start shredding, or even do a pick scrape or whammy dive, it grates on the ears far more than it has any right to. And every single solo on this album contains several sections like this, so you never get to enjoy any of them to their fullest. As for the rest of the instrumental performances, Richard Christy's drumming doesn't fit into the songs at all. He never makes an effort to keep a steady beat, and instead plays the most technical beats he's capable of, leaving all of the timekeeping to the rhythm guitars. Even when he plays some semblance of a conventional beat, he always feels the need to break it by hitting his cymbals a ridiculous amount of times and turning it into a total mess. The MVP award here has to go to the bass playing of Scott Clenderin - very audible, technical, yet always tasteful and well incorporated into the songs.

But those shortcomings are nothing compared to the big issue, the Achilles heel of every Death release past 1987: the song structures, or rather, lack thereof. This is an issue which started to show itself during Leprosy and has endured all the way throughout the rest of Chuck Schuldiner's career. Every non-instrumental track he's written since then uses the exact same structural arrangement: a selection of riffs is repeated two times in the same order with minimal variation (the most you can hope for is a slightly changed lead break), while the bridge and solo are sandwiched between those repetitions. The glaring problem with this arrangement is that Chuck makes no effort to variate any of it. It's like a leash holding him back, and he can only momentarily break free from it by not including any vocals in a song. And this album suffers far more from it than any of his earlier creations, as the songs are much longer, much more technical, practically begging for some kind of variation. But when it does arrive in the middle sections, it's all wasted on a combination of clueless bass breaks, sudden stop-and-go rhythms (presumably pale imitations of Watchtower) and the hideous soloing mentioned above. Special mention goes to "Bite The Pain", which fills this space with a goddamned metalcore break, complete with all of the cringe that they normally induce.

But the structural problems don't end there. The song structures are also plagued with many disjointed vocal lines that further harm the meaning of the preachy, cringeworthy lyrics (listen to "Story To Tell" for a good example). And the icing on the cake is that the riffs don't even work well with each other. These riffs sound like a collection of different riffs from different songs, hastily stitched together with no attempt to make anything work. This further compounds the biggest issue of his songwriting: the ideas don't develop. They don't have the capacity to gradually transform and progress the song: rather, they just keep being replaced with more ideas and retreating to show themselves once more during the eventual second rep. "Spirit Crusher" has it especially bad. There are good riffs there, even great riffs, but none of them are properly organized. It's just a bunch of promising ideas that come and go, come again and go again, wasting precious space and doing nothing to move the song forward.

The golden nugget here is, of course, "Voice Of The Soul". It's a dual guitar jam where the guys momentarily push all of those things aside and just yank on the feels, their aim being to let out their pent-up emotions and show you that they are still more than capable of kicking ass. And it's beautiful. Whenever I want to drive myself to tears, this piece does so every single time, without fail. For about four glorious minutes, none of those burdens exist, the structure is not bound by any restraints, the screaming sound of the guitars is used to accentuate the feeling, and Chuck is awesome again. And yet, it is still a mere respite from the bigger picture, and it only compounds the frustration from listening to this album.

Now, this would still be a decent album, and it's something that I can still enjoy from time to time... but then it ends on the most blatant "fuck you" of the band's entire career. "Painkiller" is one of the worst cover songs I've ever had the displeasure of hearing - completely unrecognizable from the original. Yes, Chuck does many insanely high shrieks on it, but they all sound like utter dogshit, like he's straining to hit all of the notes. The lower tuning strips the riffs of their energy, Christy's drumming is a complete mess, and the awesometastic solos of the original are all replaced with the same sloppy shredding as the rest of the album. It's also difficult to see this as Chuck testing the waters for his Control Denied project, because that sounds damn near identical to the original material on TSOP. But more on that some other time...

It's quite sad, really. Here is the output of an incredibly talented musician, with many strengths to his songwriting and the ability to gather other great performers around him; and yet as time went on, his music became bogged down with more and more glaring flaws, and all of them culminated on this album. Long before the man himself would contract cancer, his works started to suffer from a sort of musical disease that he succumbed to without much resistance. That is why The Sound Of Perseverance (along with most of Death's other albums) is so frustrating to listen to. There is immense potential contained within it, and yet nothing is done to fully realize it; and seeing as its mastermind lives no more, nothing will be done. This is what it is, this is what it will be.