DEATH TO ALL 2012
The Regency Ballroom, San Francisco, CA
The debate will endure for many eons over who created death metal. Was it Venom? Celtic Frost? Maybe even Possessed? It is a subject of much conjecture that truthfully is more of a headache than it is worth.
That being said, ask anybody in the scene who put death metal on the path that we all recognize as it's current form and many offshoots, and it is extremely unlikely that the person will name anybody but Chuck Schuldiner from the band Death. Simply put, Death were a trendsetting and genre-defining band. Chuck may have worn his influences on his sleeve, especially in those early unsure years when he was moving between coasts and countries looking for his place in the metal scene, but unbeknownst even to him he was a visionary even back then with the elements he infused into his writing. Sometimes more sheer bombast and and raw power than anything else, “Scream Bloody Gore” set a movement in motion, while it's follow-up “Leprosy” refined and defined it. "Pull the Plug" Finale!
By the time “Spiritual Healing” came out Chuck was way ahead of his time in terms of drive and musical ambition. In this world that we live in today where bands like Behemoth, Hate Eternal, and the like are all comprised of some of the greatest musicians in the metal world, they are that skilled not for the sake of shred but rather for the sake of having those skills on standby just in case they write something us mere mortals cannot perform. That mindset might not even have existed had Chuck not made it to album number three. He was developing his skills just to have them, and when the time came to write genre-REdefining album number four, “Human,” he easily came out with yet another blast of metal the world hadn't yet seen.
The albums that followed saw Chuck further pulling apart and re-piecing together a sound he had developed over his career, never having a misstep and always moving forward. At one point he even put his style and skills to work in a progressive metal project with vocalist Tim Aymar called Control Denied, and once again he awed the metal world. Truly, at this point he could not release a bad record if he tried. Chuck was untouchable.
It came as a shock to all then when it was announced that Chuck was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor. When he succumbed to this tumor in December 2001, it came as even more of a shock. We had all heard of his tenacity and persistence in writing, recording, and desire to put out another Control Denied album posthaste. He had undergone surgery and was doing chemotherapy sessions to further relieve himself of the growth that had ground his career to a halt. Everyone KNEW he was going to beat it with the spirit that he had. In a sense, he still overcame his ailment. Sure he could have packed up and commiserated over his dire situation, but he kept pressing on, refusing to let the tumor rob him of his quality of life.
We gathered here tonight, to help celebrate the quality of the man who lived that life. An influence and inspiration to many musicians the world over, and a hero to still more fans of the extreme music that he helped bring to prominence. Seven of his former bandmates and a handful of special guests came together along with the help of Sick Drummer magazine, Sweet Relief, the Schuldiner estate, and even his former manager Eric Grief, and thus a monumental night was to be had.
When they were announcing the openers for the tour, I have to admit I was extremely giddy to see Gorguts added to the bill. Old school, hell yes. Underrated, way more so. Totally deserving to be here, you bet your ass. And they killed it! Luc Lemay is keeping the fire burning with an all-new lineup brought about in 2009. The lineup is now consisting of two members of Phillie-bred instrumental metallers Dysrhythmia, as well as John Longstreth from modern tech-death masterminds Origin (although Longstreth was not in attendance at this performance and Patrice Hamelin from Martyr was filling in on drums...and doing an amazing job). Since the long-awaited/long-promised new album is not yet here, this set consisted of old classics that tech-death fanatics know and love. Title tracks from the “Obscura,” “From Wisdom to Hate,” and “The Erosion of Sanity” albums all were there, as were other amazing cuts such as “Stiff and Cold” from the highly underrated debut. I hope this set did exactly what it should have, which is expose some truly truly under appreciated masters of this genre to a bunch of kids that have unfortunately been raised on new school tech-death like Necrophagist and deathcore like Job For A Cowboy. To my ears and eyes, Gorguts absolutely killed it tonight. The band was tight, although Luc's guitar definitely needed to be more audible in the mix, especially since during soundcheck his tone was to-fucking-die-for. And Luc himself has never been better as a vocalist, sounding more low-end gutteral than anything he's ever done in the past, although he has the damn thickest Canadian accent ever between songs (“Oh yah, hey 'der...it'sa graht to be heah.”). It truly was an awesome set and I'm happy to have seen it.
To be clear, Death without Chuck Schuldiner is not Death, but that's not at all to say the performance tonight was a shadow of what it could have been. Make no mistake...all the musicians who were onstage during Death's set all deserved to be here, they all took time out of their lives to do this, and they all knew that they needed to nail it during this set in order to truly show their appreciation for this man who had touched all of us with his songwriting, his ear, his tone, his unorthodox technique, and the finished product of all those elements, his music.
Taking the stage at the onset were Chuck's “Human” bandmates Steve DiGiorgio, Paul Masvidal, and the recently leg-booted Sean Reinart, making good on his vow to still participate in the tour despite tearing his ACL just a few weeks before tonight. On vocals and playing Chuck's guitar parts was Mr. Charles Elliot from Abysmal Dawn, who did a damn fine job tearing through cuts like “Zombie Ritual,” “Torn to Pieces,” and “Within the Mind.” Charles even performed Chuck's solos near-perfect, much to the crowd's delight. At this point Scott Clendenin, who played bass on the “Sound of Perseverance” album and who looks nothing like how he used to on the “Live in L.A.” DVD (imagine El Duce from The Boondock Saints), came out and nailed bass duties for “Left to Die,” before Steve came back out.
At this point, it needs to be pointed out that Sean Reinart was really hurting and as you've noticed from the titles that he's playing on at this show, his double-bass isn't up to playing the kind of stuff he recorded on “Human,” so he mostly focused on tunes from the older albums that required less intense kick drum work. Even I noticed from my vantage point that Sean was playing all single-bass material with his left foot in an effort to use his right as little as possible. The man just really wanted to do this tour and support his friend. But as any Death fan will tell you, once you get into “Human” and later, that's where double-bass drumming kinda steals the show in many tunes and that's why Mr. Gene Hoglan is now coming to the stage to slay and destroy for much of the remainder of the set. He tears through classics such as “Flattening of Emotions,” “Suicide Machine,” and “Lack of Comprehension,” before a special appearance on drums by Danny Walker from Exhumed and Intronaut on “Secret Face.” From here forward, it's all Hoglan, all of the time.
Keeping with the set order of moving from oldest material to most recent, the band tears through latter-years set-opener “The Philosopher” but not before bringing in a new vocalist in the form of Matt Harvey from the Bay Area's own Exhumed. Matt has to be given special mention too, because he performed probably 60% of the show and he learned it all with only 9 days notice according to Death to All urban legend. This was due to visa problems with Obscura's Steffen Kummerer, whom Matt was really a last-minute replacement for. That being said, he learned damn near all the remaining tunes of the set, down to the vocal patterns and even Chuck's guitar solos, although in the interest of haste there were obviously going to be a few tunes he wasn't able to learn in time, so for a couple tracks such as “Flesh and the Power it Holds,” he was a standalone frontman with not one but TWO former Death guitfiddle players out front, making it a five-piece unit onstage. “The Sound of Perseverance's” Shannon Hamm came out to handle 2nd-guitar duties at this point, and he and “Symbolic's” Bobby Koelble (also looking quite different from his tenure in the band) pretty much traded off from here on through the end of the show. This unit with Hamm on second guitar also proceeded to tear through the instantly recognizeable “Trapped in a Corner.”
If ever there was a low point of the evening, it was the chaotic “Overactive Imagination.” A DAMN technical song, Matt, Gene, Bobby, Steve, and Shannon gave it their all, but something veered off course, especially during that unforgiving intro riff. Some would ask how anyone could pull together a mess like that, but even that stands to show how gifted and skilled these musicians are that when something falls apart and damn near shatters, they whip out the equivalent of musical Krazy Glue and somehow make the necessary repairs to at least make it through the track.
Following this, Hamm and Digiorgio left the stage to allow the four-piece with Koelble on 2nd guitar and Clendenin on bass to blast through the metal classics “Zero Tolerance,” “1,000 Eyes,” and the always enthralling “Crystal Mountain.” The performances were true testament to how amazing that album was and it was great to see Koelble and Hoglan perform them. To myself and many other fans, the entire “Symbolic” album is a brilliant piece of metal that has not a single bad song on it. For me personally, to hear the title track performed with Gene Hoglan himself on drums in my lifetime is an awe-inspiring moment that I will treasure forever.
If there was a dry eye in the place for this memorial event, there surely wasn't a single one when the encore began. Guitarists Koelble and Hamm returned to the stage with bassist-turned-acoustic guitarist Scott Clendenin to perform the instrumental “Voice of the Soul.” It was a very impactful and heartfelt moment that really touched a lot of people in attendance, and even now typing up the recollection I'm getting a bit misty. Truthfully, you had to be there to appreciate how hard that moment hit.
Although promised many guest stars for this concert, they seemed to be numbered few and far between. The aforementioned appearance by Danny Walker notwithstanding, the only other special guest on this bill tonight was Craig Locicero from Forbidden, who jumped onstage to play “Living Monstrosity.” While I heard a few liberties taken with Chuck's guitar solo, it was still excellent to see someone new get up there and support the cause and honor Chuck's memory.
Of course, everyone knows exactly what song always ended a Death show and will forever close a memorial concert, and that is the beautifully-simple, no-punches-pulled metal epic that it “Pull the Plug.” With the exception of the obviously hurting Reinart, absolutely EVERYONE was back on stage at this point for the final moment. A MASSIVE wall of sound emanated from the stage courtesy of Gene Hoglan providing the backbeat, and no less than two bassists and five guitarists. Matt and Charles took a moment before beginning to work out who was doing which verse, and then the band just launched into arguably the heaviest rendition of this song ever. As much attention as I was paying, and as much focus as I was giving to this awesome spectacle, I failed to retain any more that what I've given you. No more words do I have to describe how magnificent this song was performed.
After the curtain call and the obligatory bow, the words that can best sum up this evening are “sincere,” “honorable,” and “awe-inspiring.” I felt the same way throughout the evening as I did when my buddy Randy first played me that blissful intro to “Symbolic” so many years ago and introduced me to the sheer musical genius of Chuck Schuldiner and Death. Even though the show lasted several hours, I never wanted it to end. I felt like I was experiencing a religious epiphany the whole night; a glorious, euphoric rapture that enveloped me and took firm hold of my mind, body, and heart.
Not many will ever understand my love for Chuck's music. I can only hope they find something in their own lives that brings as much joy as the band Death does for me. Does it sound odd to say that about a mere band, despite arguably being THE band that truly set extreme metal on it's current course?
Truthfully, I don't care if it does.
Special thanks to Maite Hablewitz for her help with the pics!
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