There are those who copy, and there are those who create. Those who will copy often enjoy a brief period of recognition, but are ultimately exposed as mere thieves. However, those who create are not only better qualified to survive their genre's inevitable twists and turns, but are also ones who, in the end, are left standing. Today, the number of death metal casualties continues to increase with growing regularity. Outfits who seemed on the verge of long-term careers just two years ago are now gone. And as for most of the genre's great pioneers (i.e. Celtic Frost, Venom, Possessed), their influence is but a fading memory. That is, except for one band whose impact is as strong in 1995 (evidenced by their latest album, Symbolic) as it was more than a decade ago when death metal was still a fledgling art form: DEATH. DEATH's history dates back to 1983, when Orlando, Florida guitarist Chuck Schuldiner, along with two other high schoolers, formed Mantas, a high-powered death metal outfit with limited skill and a primitive sound.
"We were the outcast band from Orlando," says Schuldiner. "We were known as a hideous band, and at the time we were probably pretty hideous. But we were hideously sincere." Despite Mantas' obvious lack of musical sophistication, the underground circuit of tape-traders worldwide took an instant liking to the hardcore trio. Soon after, the group changed its name to DEATH, and over the next few years, established itself as one of the heirs to the death metal throne. Recording demo tapes became a way of life for the young group, but what they wanted most was to record an album. Finally, DEATH's colossal 3-track Mutilation demo sparked the interest of Combat Records (the thrash metal subdivision of Relativity Records), who quickly offered the band a recording deal.
In 1987, Scream Bloody Gore, the long-awaited debut album from DEATH, was finally released. The album's savage guitars, mayhemic drums and Schuldiner's gut-wrenching vocal style immediately solidified the band's growing reputation as the world's premiere death metal ensemble. The following year saw the release of Leprosy, DEATH's sophomore effort. Though no less ferocious than its predecessor, Leprosy, showed the band exploring bolder, more musical territories. DEATH's next two albums, Spiritual Healing (1990), and Human (1991, their first for Relativity proper after the dissolution of Combat), and Individual Thought Patterns (1993) continued to show the band's inherent knack for musical progression. All three offered stellar musicianship - the type rarely found in death metal - with music no less heavy than it was on the band's early demos.
Now with Symbolic - their sixth album and first for Roadrunner - DEATH unleash their crowning glory. Featuring the most solid DEATH line-up yet (Chuck Schuldiner - guitar, vocals; Gene Hoglan - drums; Kelly Conlon - bass and Bobby Koelble - guitar), Symbolic is the ultimate reflection of DEATH's perseverance and innovation. "With Gene, Bobby and Kelly in the band now, it's a real fresh feeling," says Schuldiner. "Everyone's really excited about what's going on right now with the band, and when everyone's excited, you really feed off of that. It's a killer feeling to be playing with people who have such positive attitudes - and are such awesome musicians." Lyrically, Symbolic offers the most insightful lyrics in DEATH's history. By tackling a host of challenging issues, most of which deal with everyday life, DEATH distance themselves even further from the lyrical traditions that have hung like a dark cloud over the underground scene for over a decade.
"The lyrics on Symbolic are definitely less angry than they were on the last album, which was a pretty rough time for the band," says Schuldiner. "Most of the lyrics on Symbolic just deal with life in general - the little things that we're sometimes not aware of that can really symbolize a change in your life, for better or worse. That's what the title track is about. "Other songs like 'Empty Words,' are about people usings words to tell you things and make promises - and words can often run thin. Words are spoken so freely, and sometimes I wonder how much truth there is to them. People get hurt that way." With '1000 Eyes,' DEATH offer a telling look into a bleak future. "'1000 Eyes' is about the crime rate increasing so quickly, and how eventually we're going to have video cameras on every street corner in order to protect the innocent people. It's the video age, and it might be the only way we're going to really see what's going on - there will be eyes all around us, and we'll have no more privacy. "I just want to write about things that people can understand and relate to. I don't think too many people can relate to demons coming out of the ground or burning churches," adds Schuldiner with a laugh.
Symbolic burns with gargantuan detuned riffs, Hoglan's frantic drumming and Schuldiner's trademark vocal agony. But Symbolic is also a musician's tour-de-force, brimming with top-notch musicianship, well-crafted arrangements and inventive hooks. "With Symbolic, I wanted to push the limits of what this band is capable of doing," says Schuldiner. "We wanted to make a record that people would have to notice - a record that had the same impact as stepping on a nail." Recorded at Morrisound Studios in Tampa, Florida and produced by Jim Morris, Symbolic is the shot in the arm - or rusty nail in the foot - that extreme music has so desperately needed for some time. But after 12 years as death metal's reigning champions, who would expect anything less?