As touched upon in our recent Connecting the Dots on Cynic, today we’re going to be looking at another giant of the metal community – Death. As one of the progenitors of the sub-genre which bears their name, Chuck Schuldiner’s outfit started out as an old school death metal band full of your (now) clichés involving horror and gore. However, these lyrics gave way to more humanist, emotive and philosophical lyrics on Spiritual Healing and this shift continued on Human, the record on which Paul Masvidal and Sean Reinert, who would go on to form the core of Cynic, performed. Human also represented a sonic shift for Death, as they moved to a more technical style of playing. Their subsequent albums would go on to achieve widespread acclaim as progressive death metal, with their influence plain to see on modern bands such as Obscura, Vektor and Ne Obliviscaris. Indeed, Cynic isn’t the only connection we’ve already covered in this feature, as former Death bassist Steve DiGiorgio also toured with Obscura, who we covered a couple of months ago here.
Chuck Schuldiner’s unfortunate death in 2001 made him one of metal’s first saints, and only strengthened and galvanised Death’s legacy. Just as we must remember his legacy and the mark he left on our community and, by extension, our lives, we should also remember the musicians that he worked with, and the multitude of associated acts which have also made significant contributions to the world of metal. We give you, Connecting the Dots: Death.
Death – Chuck Schuldiner (vocals/guitar), revolving door (everything else)
As one of death metal’s seminal bands, Death helped forge the sound we’ve all grown to know and love. Not only that, but they essentially pulled off that remarkable feat twice! Firstly, they set the bar for what raw, straight-forward, gore-inspired death metal should sound like with their first two records, Scream Bloody Gore and Leprosy. After a couple albums of transitioning they then emerged as one of the leading progressive death metal bands with classics such as Symbolic, The Sound of Perseverance and Individual Thought Patterns. The trademark shrieked vocals, inimitable riffage and willingness to evolve and experiment are hallmarks of one of metal’s godfathers, and characteristics which crop up time and again in other bands looking to push the envelope of what metal can do. Whilst sadly Chuck Schuldiner may no longer be with us, thankfully his music and influence appears to be thriving now more than ever.
Track to check out: We’ll stick with the Cynic crossover and say “Lack of Comprehension” from Human
Control Denied – Featuring: Chuck Schuldiner (Vocals/Guitars), Steve DiGiorgio (bass), Shannon Hamm (guitars) and Richard Christy (drums)
After disbanding Death, Schuldiner formed a new band called Control Denied with many of the same members. The main change was that he handed most of the vocal duties over to Tim Aymar, and this corresponded with the band producing a progressive metal sound. Notice that the ‘death’ was dropped from the genre tag as well as the name, as progressive metal instrumentation met with Halfordesque power metal vocals in a move which wasn’t necessarily popular with Schuldiner’s entire fan base. Nonetheless the songwriting and execution is still up to an excellent standard, with a much greater focus on melodies than what we had seen beforehand, and it’s a shame that The Fragile Art of Existence was the only album able to made under this moniker before Schuldiner’s passing.
Track to check out: “Consumed”
Iced Earth – Steve DiGiorgio (Bass), Ralph Santolla (Guitars), Richard Christy (Drums)
Iced Earth is a pretty amusing selection for this list; they’re more of a supergroup than a band at this point, since over twenty musicians have been part of the project at one point or the other. While the inescapable willpower of one Jon Schaffer undoubtedly represents the moving force behind the long running band, countless other voices and hands contributed to their success. First, Steve DiGiorgio lent his bass to Horror Show, one of the most iconic albums that Iced Earth have ever made. In a time when the memory of Death wasn’t too far away, DiGiorgio’s membership in the band certainly lent to some of their rising credibility. When you remember what sort of state the metal community was in on the cusp of the millennium, his presence is even more crucial to their stability and forward momentum.
Then, we have Ralph Santolla, whose membership in Death might have been slight and premature but whose presence on Iced Earth is mighty. He played guitar on the The Glorious Burden, the most ambitious and polished Iced Earth album at the time (and, some would say, since). His mighty riffs and leads played perfectly with Schaffer’s unique style, adding much needed variety to a lengthy and complex album. His virtuoso qualities are a big part of why that album is still approachable and digestible. On this album, and a few more before it, we also have Richard Christy on drums. This is the second leg on which The Glorious Burden stands, perhaps even more than the guitar skills of Santolla.
The massive drum rolls in the centerpiece epic of that album, “Gettysburg (1863)”, depict cannon, musket shot and the field of battle perfectly. The drum kit lends an urgency and furious pace to this, Iced Earth’s masterpiece, creating much of the historical atmosphere of the track. Thus, while Iced Earth don’t have a whole lot of the Death sound, they do utilize and capitalize on the talent which was forced in that great progenitor of so much of the 90’s metal scene.
Track to check out: “Gettysburg (1863)”
Testament – Gene Hoglan (Drums), Steve DiGiorgio (Bass), James Murphy (Guitar)
The mighty Testament, one of the thrash metal staples from the Northern California Bay Area alongside Metallica, Megadeth, Exodus, Death Angel, and a handful more that have withstood the test of time, are still going strong to this day, recently reincorporating bassist Steve DiGiorgio and drummer Gene Hoglan into their permanent live ranks and recorded material, as both DiGiorgio and Hoglan are set to appear on the upcoming The Brotherhood of the Snake. It’s no surprise that all three members have ties to Death, as they all have incredibly powerful ties to bands that helped shape and change the sound of death and thrash metal today. Murphy appears as the guitarist opposite Schuldiner on Spiritual Healing, while Hoglan appears on Symbolic, and both he and DiGiorgio’s powerful tones are on Individual Thought Patterns. Though they never appeared on an album together, their distinct sounds carried well into their other projects, one of the most prominent being Testament. Though Murphy, DiGiorgio, and Hoglan never played in Testament all at once, they do make up five albums of an eleven album discography, which is an admirable ratio. Check out this raging track, “Down For Life,” from 1999’s The Gathering, as it has one of the most perfect palm mutes of all time.
Track to check out: “Down For Life”
Strapping Young Lad – Gene Hoglan (Drums)
Following the recording of Symbolic, drummer Gene Hoglan went on to meet a young and then-relatively unknown Canadian musician named Devin Townsend. At the time, Townsend’s own work went about as far as a short debut under the Strapping Young Lad moniker that he himself was not especially fond of, but recruiting Hoglan alongside guitarist Jed Simon and bassist Byron Stroud culminated in the recording and release of sophomore album City. Where SYL’s debut was admittedly somewhat messy and disorganized, City sounded more like a calculated aural attack that frequently resembled a blast furnace when it came to heaviness levels. And so began a fairly illustrious career for the band, with Townsend’s intense guitar playing and borderline terrifying vocals consistently carried forward by the Atomic Clock’s rapid-fire drum work, combining elements of death, thrash, and industrial metal with their own personal twist and a dash of tongue-in-cheek humour to boot. Their musical relationship also ran past SYL’s furious discography, and Hoglan recorded on Townsend’s solo albums released during that time period as well. The pair’s ongoing collaboration came to an end when SYL dissolved in 2006, but the band’s work easily stands the test of time and remains some of the heaviest material ever put to tape.
Track to check out: “All Hail the New Flesh”
So Many Damn Bands – Steve DiGiorgio (Bass)
We couldn’t really end this list without making something very clear: DiGiorgio’s is one of the hardest working and prolific musicians within the metal scene. He alone could have been a topic of one of these posts. Beyond the projects which have been mentioned above, he was in countless other bands, some of them quite famous and successful. Does he simply have high standards or does his presence itself increase the chances of success? That shall forever remain a mystery to use but, for now, a list of some of his bands and their albums should suffice to nail the point home:
Sadus – Elements of Anger
Synesis Absorption – these guys have two singles with him but they’re brilliant.
Testament – The Gathering
Ephel Duath – On Death and Cosmos
Soen – Cognitive
Dragonlord – Rapture
Quo Vadis – Defiant Imagination
Vintersorg – The Focusing Blur
This is an extremely partial list but you get the picture; DiGiorgio’s name is on some monumental albums, some of them in the past but many of them still very relevant. It’s without a doubt when we say that his mark is squarely across the face of metal, shaping the role of bass in composition and performance. That he was with Death is just another part of his influence, a thread in the insane web that surrounds that seminal band.