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Class 6(66)

Death: Spiritual healing

26/03/08  ||  The Duff

Released: 1990

Introduction

So we should all know Death; a band I’ve only ever been aware of for their “Human” and “The Sound of Perseverance” albums, I’ve recently been checking up on all their efforts (with difficulty in tracking down “Symbolic”) only to discover they are in fact the greatest band in the entire history of music. I don’t quite understand the leveled praise for later albums, but maybe that’s because they require more time to mull around the mind. Death released three classic, considered “brutal” albums (don’t know what’s wrong with “Human”, but there we go); the debut I shall probably neglect until my final days, so I only have “Leprosy” (the band’s sophomore) to which to compare this in terms of the band’s progression, but “Spiritual Healing” is to me a true classic up to scratch with the absolutely untouchable “Human”, so here’s all the reasons as to why you should give it some time.

Songwriting

10. I don’t understand why Rick Roz was kicked out of the band, as the guy seemed more than capable on “Leprosy”, and I reckon he could have done very well with the material on “Spiritual Healing”. Nonetheless, depart he did, and I’m assuming this had a huge impact on where Death would take things on their following album, considering he was the only songwriter to the band’s music other than Chuck – for this album, Chuck would take almost sole responsibility for the album’s creation, working with other bandmembers but on a select number of tracks. Already his proficiency as a musician working solo and his abilities to take the reigns in a project that so clearly became his own personal vision from this point on in the band’s career became remarkably apparent, even this early on in the band’s tumultuous history of retaining a steady line-up.

Death have never been the most technical band out there, as Chuck was all about grand musicianship, intelligent song-crafting and the all-important riff; I don’t think there’s a band I want to emulate more in my own writing (‘cos I just can’t fucken come up with the stuff Suffocation does, haha!) – the ideas are awesome, written with clever arrangements and created with a knack for catchiness. When people say Suffocation are the most imitated death metal band, well, that may be, but early Death is basically everything Suffocation would become, and so the influence of these early classic records on the death metal sound cannot be neglected – well, you all know it started with Death anyways, but I have heard some claim Suffocation have done more for the scene, which is bullshit – Suffocation is Death.

Production

8. Scott Burns, we all know, has done some legendary work. Well, he’s also done some not quite so legendary work – “Spiritual Healing” is possibly his worst collaboration with Death, even if his touch to the album would have most nodding their heads in approval; it just holds a couple of ill-chosen moves. This album isn’t nearly as heavy as earlier Death outings, and so the lighter production does indeed complement the more technical, less riff-heavy music by accentuating the guitars in a “crystal clear” type of manner without taking away too much of the lower-end crunch. The bass, thank fuck, is in good hands too, as Scott always seems to have been one to cherish such an instrument when nursing it into the final mix – no problem with Terry Butler’s parts. The problem that seems to cause slight unrest in the minds of many Death fans is with the drumming; the kicks sound way too high, and at times it works, but then at others, they become far too intrusive; definitely not the end of the world, and I’m guessing that the inspiration behind taking such a route came with that all-crushing moment in “Defensive Personalities”, which does sound fucken badass, so a minor complaint that only slightly blemishes Scott’s outstanding history with death metal.

Guitars

10. I couldn’t give the guitars anything less than a perfect score because it’s two of metal’s finest combined. Chuck Schuldiner and James Murphy is so fucken ridiculous a pairing, anybody not spurting a hefty load upon hearing there is a disc out there with these two working in unison should be dragged across an ancient castle court by a Prince Albert and chain. It would appear that this would be one of Death’s most turbulent times in terms of line-ups, and I can understand why James may have been kicked out of the band – he does take away quite a chunk of the spotlight from the legendary frontman, the only guitarist I believe ever to have done so. I’m generally so in awe of Chuck’s playing, but James’ phrasing, technique and overall feel cannot be touched here, an album boasting some of his finest work; granted, Schuldiner came close to writing about 100% of the material… I’m digressing; suffice to say that the guitars on this beast of an album astound.

Vocals

10. Nobody sounds like Chuck – light, haunting rasps, some guttural shit too (not nearly as ferocious as Frank Mullen). Awesome performance, and ideal for the Death sound.

Bass

9. Yet another musician who brought great things to Death’s sound, and whose departure just didn’t seem necessary with the talent displayed on earlier albums. Sure, his replacements were swell, to say the least, but the original line-up just seemed to work, at least with the bass and drums. Terry Butler tackles the material admirably, and the tracks he contributed to the best on the record.

Drums

10. Bill Andrews is an incredible drummer – very inventive. As much as I may agree Death benefited from better drummers later on (Sean Reinert and Gene Hoglan… and Christy), it’s a shame this guy couldn’t remain in the band after this album – his unique style brought great things to Death’s sound, and it would have been great to see how he would have matured with the band’s progression.

Lyrics

10. Less on the gore, “bits of your body falling off”, more on pregnant women taking cocaine and scarring their as yet unborn children for life, “Terminator 2”-altering the future scenarios, the pitfalls of religious con-men. Metal? Undisputedly so. Thought provoking? Yuhuh.

Cover art

10. No explanation necessary.

Logo

10. An absolutely classic logo. The Death logo would become more and more refined later on in their career, but I don’t think a spider, a scythe and a ghoul along with the bandname can be beat.

Booklet

10. I have the re-issue, which has a foreword by Borivoj Krgin, who seems to know his stuff. Aside from that, nothing but lyrics and a band photo. It gets a ten for James Murphy’s ‘tache, though.

Overall and ending rant

10. Y’know, all Death albums are amazing, but to me, their greatest moments include “Spiritual Healing” and “Human”. The reasons for which I believe the former to supersede the latter, as pretty much flawless “Human” is, is in the drumming (I prefer Andrews’ style to Reinart’s), the far more interesting rhythms underneath each solo, the more complicated arrangements, and James Murphy. The songs themselves aren’t as timeless as those off “Human”, but the ideas/riffs sure as shit are, and as much as the mastery of song-craft isn’t quite as perfected as on the immediate follow-up release, this effort draws up very close to what has oft been recognized a faultless masterpiece in death metal music. Although sometimes neglected when discussing great Death moments (attention usually being spent on the real hard-hitters “Scream Bloody Gore”, “Leprosy”, “Human” and “Individual Thought Patterns”), you can’t afford to miss this if you consider yourself a serious death metal fan.