SYMBOLICALLY SPEAKING WITH DEATH'S CHUCK SCHULDINER
By: Leslie R. Marini
DEATH'S CHUCK SCHULDINER IS IN A VERY GOOD MOOD.
Speaking on the phone from the New York offices of DEATH's new label, Roadrunner, the relief and sense of accomplishment prevalent in his voice lets you know right away that, yes, finally, DEATH are achieving their goals. "I'm feeling good, very positive," he states. "It was a good way to start the new year, we got the record done a few months ago, right before we entered the studio, we switched labels, finally from Relativity to Roadrunner, which unfortunately took some time doing, 'cause everything does in the music business," Chuck laughs sarcastically. "Especially, Relativity just really lagged and made it hard, it's worth it, we're finally on Roadrunner, they're kicking ass for us, which we're very happy about, after years of being neglected by Relativity, it's a breath of fresh air." And as spring begins, the urge to shrug off the old skin and grow with the new. DEATH will release unto the world their sixth consecutive album, and first for Roadrunner on March 21st, titled "Symbolic". In line with the stepping stone to Roadrunner, "Symbolic" also sports a new producer and studio for the band; Jim Morris, at his Morrisound Studios in Tampa, Florida. "It was cool, going into the studio knowing the new record wasn't going to be wasted, like a lot of our other records were," Chuck states. "We were also entering the studio with Jim Morris, and he is absolutely a godly producer, a really, really cool guy. He's so professional and worldly as far as music goes, he has so much experience with different types of music, and that really helped us out." Jim's reputation as well as that of Morrisound Studios is well deserved and well known throughout the industry. As the ideas for "Symbolic" became actual songs, it was clear to Chuck that he could create the sounds he needed at Morrisound. "With this new record, seeing that we had a lot going on, as far as we wanted to create some different atmospheres, without wimping out or doing anything too kooky, Jim was really the guy for the job," he says. "It worked out great, and we're very happy we hooked up with him," Chuck continues. "We were very concerned about this record, we wanted everything to sound real, and to sound like it was being played by PEOPLE. Not computers or overprocessed guitars. We just told Jim, we just want to come in and crank out, and just make it sound big. We wanted to keep all the real elements and that's exactly the type of producer Jim is, so he really kicked ass, and we're very happy about that."
For DEATH, it couldn't have come at a better time. As one of the original bands in a genre of metal that truly breeds survival of the fittest, DEATH first burst onto a fledgling metal scene in 1983, when Schuldiner, still in high school, formed Mantas, a three piece outfit that made a mark throughout the underground fanzine network of tape trading. Soon after releasing one of these tapes, Mantas became DEATH, and their three track demo, "Mutilation" helped DEATH land a deal with Combat Records, the thrash metal subdivision of Relativity Records. In 1987, Relativity released "Scream Bloody Gore," and Death began to explore and infest the world of metal with their bold experiments in sound. The following year, DEATH released "Leprosy," and DEATH's next records, "Spiritual Healing," "Human," and 1993's "Individual Thought Patterns" continued the legacy of skilled musicianship and musical integrity that have led to "Symbolic." Blended with the aggressive and flawless guitar, a sharp edge of melody cuts cleanly into the music. "That's really something that's come out on each record a little more," Chuck observes. "That's where my roots are, in really heavy stuff, like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and a lot of bands from the early '80's, as well as the heavy stuff, like older bands that inspired us were Venom, early Slayer, stuff like that, and I think our roots are coming out a lot more." While the record companies pushed piles of paper onto each other's desks, DEATH made good use of their time. "We had a lot more time to prepare," Chuck says, "The material wasn't as rushed, and Gene Hoglan our drummer, also had a lot of time on our own to rehearse together. We added Kelly Conlan (bass) and Bobby Koelble (guitar) a month before we hit the studio. We didn't have a lot of time to rehearse as a whole band, but Bob and Kelly are very professional and really we had no worries. They came in and kicked ass, and luckily Gene and I really had the foundation going." Lyrically, "Symbolic" while not lacking in perspective, seems to be taking a more sensitive yet cynical view of situations instead of pain for pain's sake. "This is real life," Chuck emphasizes, "Lyrically, the album is definitely less angry than the last album. But id didn't effect the aggression of the music. I don't want people to get scared and think, oh they're not angry anymore. We're still pissed! The lyrics definitely deal with very real, real situations in life that maybe I personally am going through or have gone through, or I've just been around me, and that I could relate to. Different topics, for one thing, the song "Symbolic" it's about looking back on life when you're a child, life is so simple. You're really not aware of the things that happen around you, and are signs of you evolving into an adult. You're taking that next little step up from being an innocent, innocence is such a precious, godly thing," Chuck continues. "Unfortunately, when you're an adult and you're thrown into the business world, you're stripped of it. In the song, "Symbolic," I sing, "in need of a fix called innocence." Like if that was a drug, it would be the ultimate fix. Innocence can't be manufactured." What usually brings this fall from grace for most of us Chuck has seen around him as he's learned and come to terms with the business of music. Like most young artists starting out, DEATH had its share of traumas and hard lessons learned. Rather than stay locked into a safe cynicism, Chuck has learned to let go of the negative. "I try to avoid that. If you get stuck in it, if you're in a band, and your band's gone, you can't let things get you down," he relates. "I've had some very very down moments in my career, I've felt the bottom of the barrel syndrome. Where I felt like, this is it. But you have to use those moments to get stronger if possible. When I have bad moments, I look back and really savor the innocence of being a kid. The innocence of just being happy go lucky, and it makes you appreciate things more. When you're a kid, you shouldn't be in such a hurry to grow up," Chuck laughs. "I know people who told me that when I was a kid, but at the time you don't want to think about it." While looking back on life, Chuck recalls the unshakable faith of children, and it's that innocent trust and belief that keeps them and DEATH going. Persistence has enabled DEATH to achieve recognition and reward for their efforts. "When you're a kid," Chuck relates, "you can wipe out your bike, eat dirt, bleed, lose blood, and get back on your bike for more. It's a parallel of the way I go about life now. When people knock me off that so called bike, I'm more than ready to stand up and do it even better the next time. That's really what I hop, with each record, it's another year of my life. With each year in a person's life, there's changes, and I hope that with each album, people can tell that it's definably a change and there's something evolving and growing. You have to grow as a person with life," Chuck finishes up. "Hopefully, that is reflecting with the new record, I hope people can really hear that, now there must be something different going on."
Death is: Gene Hogland (drums, propeller & M-14 shell), Kelly Conlon (bass), Chuck Schuldiner (vox/guitar), and Bobby Koelble (guitar). R.O.C. sends a special thanks out to DEATH for being the ONLY band that actually submitted testimony to the Pennsylvania Judiciary Committee against HB 2982 (377), last September. THANKS!