05/10/12 || Sokaris
The storied and complicated history of Death could fill pages. All you really need to know is that Chuck Schuldiner’s determination was absolutely unrivaled. Relocating multiple times, playing with a huge list of musicians and unleashing dozens of cassette tape demos in the process, Chuck eventually landed Death on Combat Records, even if he had to record everything other than drums (provided by legendary Autopsy founder Chris Reifert) for the debut album on his own. The result was Scream bloody gore, a culmination of songs from the early days of Death (and the band’s initial run under the name Mantas) given professional studio production and wide release. The next album would be the true test though. Could Schuldiner produce a quality full length of new material and develop his form of embryonic death metal further?
This questions likely holds no tension because I imagine anyone reading this knows that the sophomore Death album is “Leprosy” and anyone doubting that lightning could strike twice is probably still busy choking down crow dinners.
8. I’ll get the criticism out of the way first. Chuck’s writing style tended to fall into a sort of pattern where he’d usually play through each of the song’s parts to serve as the conclusion to each piece. There weren’t outro riffs and left hand turns thrown into the middle of a song generally. However, an expected pattern isn’t immediately a negative thing. The important shit was handled. Every riff counted and every change was exciting so generally you wouldn’t mind hearing the same progression twice in a song.
6. Oh those drums, that fucking snare especially. I’ve praised Scott Burns in my Class6(66) on Deicide’s self-titled debut but this isn’t necessarily the best sounding record he’s turned dials for. The guitars genuinely sound good though, even if they sit kind of weird in the mix. Maybe when Relapse gets to this one we can see a better overall sound and get the definitive version of “Leprosy” with a recording of every single time Chuck Schuldiner plugged his guitar in on the 37 disc version of it.
9. A lot can be done with a few simple elements. That statement can apply to any art but its especially true in death metal and this album is a testament to that sentiment. Basic tremolo picking, some thrashy palm-muting and drawn out power chords comprise the majority of the riffs. Some more advanced techniques are reserved for the soloing (well, Chuck’s solos, Rick generally sounds like he’s unsuccessfully trying to tear the whammy bar off his guitar… in a good way, of course) but the core of “Leprosy” is very meat and potatoes. And oh hell does it work.
Where Mr. Schuldiner really let’s loose is in the aforementioned soloing. There was definitely a hint or two at the development his songwriting would take and it complimented the more savage rhythm guitar wonderfully. The brief lead in “Born to die” a bit over two minutes in does so much in so little time, revealing a melodic but metal-as-hell bit of shred. Classic moments abound and this is but one instance.
8. On one hand Chuck gets a little more control and clarity over his voice, on the other the really unhinged screams (of bloody gore) get left behind. However, it’s more or less of an even trade off and Chuck’s vocal changes over time always went hand in hand with the music’s maturation. Even if they’re a little different from record to record they always compliment the compositions well.
7. Audible but simple with a few scattered highlights. The low end sounds pretty damn cool in the title track’s high-hat heavy riff and throughout the album it provides a rounder edge to the shrill treble-heavy sharpness of the guitars.
4. I mentioned before that the drums don’t sound too great, especially the snare. This is really unfortunate because Bill Andrews rarely ventures to his toms, especially on the faster sections. He generally just keeps beat during these parts, not attempting fills or even trying to do something with the kick beyond just alternating with the snare. So much snare. Ugghhh. I will give him credit for the extended fill in “Left to die” but I’m not saying anything else good about the drums. It’s hard not to compare him with later Death drummers like Gene Hoglan, Sean Reinert or Richard Christy and see just how short he comes up.
6. Very basic lyrics just about death in general (what a shock). Not necessarily graphic or brutal but there’s an appeal the primitiveness of it all. This is before death metal was a huge thing so it’s appropriate that the formative material focus on the basics.
10. Technically speaking Ed Repka is the best painter in the realm of heavy metal art. He never shied away from painting human figures or using varied colors and manage to breathe a ton of life into his art. That being said, some of his compositions have been kind of goofy (see: the Death album that followed this one, Spiritual healing), though that might be the fault of whomever was providing him with direction. Anyway, this is up there with Peace Sells as far as iconic art from Mr. Repka goes. A simple foreground focus and a really interesting color palette define this cover art.
3. This might piss off a few people but on a purely aesthetic level I hate the Death logo. I think it was better when it was streamlined more for later albums but even then it wasn’t exactly super badass. At the end of the day it’s 20 pounds of shit in a 10 pound bag. Web with hanging spider, bloody scythe, burning inverted cross and a grim reaper head all slapped on five letters. Not saying it’s impossible to make that work, it just looks too much like the drawing on a kind of morbid kid’s math folder. Also the ‘H’ is drawn in such a different style than the “DEA” part that I find it distracting.
5. Pretty standard, simple layout, plain lyric sections, individual and group band photos… I can’t decide whether Rick Rozz’s ridiculous moustache gives them a 10 or a 0 so we’ll give them something in the middle.
“It’s a’me! Rick Rozz!” divebomb
Overall and ending rant
Chuck proved he could pretty much do whatever the hell he wanted with whomever was a part of the band at that particular moment and an amazing death metal album would be the result. More than just a demo band or some cult phenomenon, Death would help lead the movement that was more or less originally defined by them. The first step to proving Death as a career band was “Leprosy” and it rose to the occasion, limbs rotting and boils festering.
- Released: 1988
- Label: Combat Records
- Website: www.emptywords.org
- Chuck Schuldiner: vocals, guitars
- Rick Rozz: guitars
- Terry Butler: bass
- Bill Andrews: drums
- 01. Leprosy
- 02. Born dead
- 03. Forgotten past
- 04. Left to die
- 05. Pull the plug
- 06. Open casket
- 07. Primitive ways
- 08. Choke on it