Being a huge fan of Chuck Schuldiner’s genre-defining musical endeavor Death, I was unbelievably excited to realize that the New York leg of the Death To All tour (which happened to be the closest one to where I live) was on my birthday. I immediately obtained VIP tickets and started preparing. When the day finally came and I stepped in the venue as part of the VIP soundcheck session, I heard “Scavenger of Human Sorrow” playing. At first I thought it was just the album track being played, but then I realized it was being played live, and I was immediately sold on the tour. Matt Harvey of Exhumed was on vocals, and he sounded just like Chuck. It was surreal. Soon after, we were lead to the main hall of the venue so we could watch the soundcheck, and our adventure began.
I was expecting the soundcheck to just whet our appetite with a few not-so-exciting songs, but they went in straight with classics like “Crystal Mountain” and “Zombie Ritual“. The sound was perfect, and everybody seemed to be having a great time. Members were constantly switched in and out, and I couldn’t help but notice how ecstatic Paul Masvidal seemed to be playing heavier songs. I wouldn’t be surprised if Cynic took a turn for the heavier in their future efforts. As he mentioned in his pre-tour interviews, vocalist Charles Elliot of Abysmal Dawn didn’t really sound like Chuck at all, he just sounded the same way he did in his own band. To be honest, it took away from the feel of the songs. In the end, I ended up preferring the positive, energetic attitude and voice of Matt Harvey, but Charles still performed amicably.
After the soundcheck, there was a short meet-and-greet session followed by a group photo. Right after that Gorguts started soundchecking (and they were amazing) and we were lead to have dinner. The food was, well, I guess the kind of food bands eat on the road, but nothing beats watching Gorguts play avant-garde tech death while eating fried chicken. After our dinner, we were told to go back to the show area, and soon after that, Gorguts took stage.
I’ve never seen Gorguts live before, but being a huge fan, I was very excited. They sounded massive, with crisp tone that made every note audible while being loud enough to deafen. John Longstreth of Origin was like a machine on drums, Colin Marston of Behold… The Arctopus and Indricothere was killing it on bass, Kevin Hufnagel of Dysrhythmia and mastermind Luc Lemay were shredding the hell out of their guitars. Most importantly, Luc Lemay had perhaps the most beastly voice I’ve ever heard live. Normally singers sound less impressive in live settings or their voice gets hoarse, but Luc Lemay was killing it. They did everything right. The setlist was tight and perfect, they interacted with the audience, they were funny yet grim, it was just amazing. There was a constant pit going on, and the lightshow added to that and make the environment unreal. After a perfect setlist, they left the stage, and the anticipation began. There were two problems: The room was getting unreasonably hot (Luc Lemay joked: It’s pretty hot and slippery from sweat, so here’s our song “Stiff and Cold”), and the strobe lights (which you can see in the video) were starting to get quite painful.
Soon after, the main band took stage with the lineup of Charles Elliot, Paul Masvidal, Steve DiGiorgio and Sean Reinert. They opened with the anthemic “Zombie Ritual”, and the crowd immediately exploded. This was it. I was getting to see Death. Well, without Chuck, but other than that the members were there, the song was there. The Abysmal Dawn-style vocals were really getting to me, but I didn’t care at that point, because the atmosphere was amazing. At the end of the song, before moving on to more classics, Charles Elliot made a very important statement: “There is no Death without Chuck. What you see here is a tribute to one of the best musicians who ever lived”.
Indeed, there was no Death without Chuck. But seeing all these legends play Death on stage was a moving experience. Steve DiGiorgio and Paul Masvidal joking to each other, Paul jumping around like a kid who just got a Nintendo 64, Sean Reinert laughing while playing unforgettable drum licks. Slowly, the lineup started to change, members replacing each other. But the show was starting to get unbearable. The room was too hot, and everyone was leaving, most people uttering remarks about feeling sick. And the strobe lights, not one but two, pointed directly towards the audience and flashing at every kick drum hit (there are a lot of kick drum hits, found out the hard way) were giving everyone headaches (the strobe lights also made it impossible to take decent pictures of the show). People were slipping all over the place because the floor was completely flooded by sweat. Even I gave in during “The Philosopher” and went downstairs to gather my bearings. Thankfully, downstairs there was a TV with sound directly from upstairs, so we could enjoy the show just as well. Well, the venue staff didn’t let people sit near the TVs, which was very weird, but standing was good too. After a while all but the most die-hard fans were in the merch room watching the show on TV. It’s a shame that poor organization on part of the venue lead to this, but at least I got to meet Luc Lemay. He was incredibly nice, he had a handshake that could murder a bear, and he told me Gorguts have their new album already recorded and are negotiating with labels to release it. He said negotiations were painful, but they expected to have it out by the end of the year. Hurray!
The show went on, but no one went back upstairs, because the main hall was terrible. We ended up enjoying the entire show from a TV screen, which was very lame. The band went through many classic Death songs from all eras. The show was very solid, but it was also hollow and heartbreaking in a sense. There was indeed no Death without Chuck, and while seeing all these awesome guys on stage was, well, awesome; there wasn’t the element that brings them all together: Chuck. This is just a minor nitpick though; the show was amazing. In the end, due to the heat and strobe light issues and due to having a better sense of band, I ended up enjoying Gorguts a bit more, but that’s probably because I actually got to saw them as opposed to seeing Death To All through a TV. I haven’t heard such reports from other legs of the tour (but I have heard similar reports from this leg), so in the end this tour is a must-go for anyone who enjoys Death, or death metal in general. It was an awesome once-in-a-lifetime experience and being able to hear these definitive songs by (most of) the original lineup was amazing.
In the end, this tour was a testament to the greatness of Chuck. How great his songs are and how they can unify people and also how instrumental he is to those songs. Without Chuck there is no Death, but Death To All is pretty damn close, and if you can still see them, you definitely should.