|Origin||Orlando, Florida, United States|
|Genres||Death metal, technical death metal, progressive metal|
|Labels||Combat, Relativity, Roadrunner, Nuclear Blast, Relapse|
Death was an American metal band . founded in 1983. The band’s founder, Chuck Schuldiner, is considered “a pioneering force in death metal and grindcore“. The band ceased to exist after Schuldiner died of brain cancer in 2001, though it remains an enduring metal brand.
Death is considered one of the most influential bands in metal. The band’s debut, Scream Bloody Gore, has been described as “death metal’s first archetypal document” and “the first true death metal record”. One music biographer has referred to Schuldiner as the “Father of Death Metal” while another has claimed that Schuldiner is “readily acknowledged as the true founder of the U.S. death metal scene”.
As of 2008, Death had sold over 2 million albums worldwide, with over 500,000 copies sold by December 2009 in the U.S. alone (excluding the numerous sales before the SoundScan era) making them the top-selling death metal band worldwide, and only topped in the U.S. by Cannibal Corpse.
Early history (1983–1987)
Founded in 1983 by Chuck Schuldiner under the original name of Mantas in Orlando, Death was among the more widely known, early pioneers of the death metal sound along with California‘s Possessed. In the late 80s, the band was both a part of and integral in defining the death metal scene which gained international recognition with the release of albums by a number of area acts.
Together with Kam Lee (Barney Kamalani Lee), and Rick Rozz (Frederick DeLillo), Schuldiner started to compose songs that were released on several rehearsal tapes in 1984. These tapes, along with the Death by Metal demo, circulated through the tape-trader world, quickly establishing the band’s name. In 1984, Schuldiner dissolved Mantas and quickly started a new band under the name Death. Tim Aymar, in an article written in December 2010, states that Chuck Schuldiner renamed the band Death in order to turn his experience of the death of his brother Frank years earlier into “something positive”. Its members included the same Rick Rozz and Kam Lee. Another demo was released, called Reign of Terror.
In 1985, the Infernal Death tape was recorded and released. Rick Rozz was out of the band by early 1985. Kam Lee played with Scott Carlson and Matt Olivio, bassist and guitarist respectively, of the band Repulsion for a short time. However, Kam had some “personal problems” that caused him to be ejected from the band. Olivo and Carlson left soon afterward.  Schuldiner moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and recruited DRI drummer Eric Brecht, but he was not happy with this incarnation of Death and moved back to Florida without a band. In 1986, Schuldiner got an invitation from early Canadian thrash band Slaughter to play on their album, which he accepted, moving to Canada. However, this only lasted two weeks, and he returned to the States. He returned to Florida, then moved back to the San Francisco Bay Area again, where he joined with 17 year old drummer Chris Reifert. They recorded the Mutilation demo, which led to a deal with Combat Records, owned by Important Distribution (later becoming Relativity, and subsequently Sony), that enabled them to record the first LP.
Scream Bloody Gore was released in 1987, widely considered a genre template for death metal. Schuldiner briefly had a second guitar player, John Hand, but Hand did not appear on the album (though his photo did). By this time Schuldiner had moved back to Florida, splitting with Reifert who had elected to remain in California, where he went on to form Autopsy. There, Schuldiner teamed up with former bandmate Rick Rozz and two members of Rozz’s band Massacre, Terry Butler and Bill Andrews.
In 1988, that line-up recorded Leprosy. After much touring in support of the album, including a quick and ill-planned tour of Europe, Rick Rozz was fired in 1989. After a tour of Mexico featuring guitarist Paul Masvidal (later to re-emerge in the Death camp), a replacement was found in James Murphy, with whom the third album Spiritual Healing was recorded in Tampa in the summer of 1989. Murphy was sacked relatively quickly. By this time Schuldiner abandoned the “gore” lyrical theme for more social critique as Death’s musical style progressed from a more brutal style of death metal to a more complex, technical death metal. Additional melody was added to the band’s sound as well as more varied timings and song structures.
In 1990, on the eve of a European tour, Schuldiner decided against traveling, claiming at the last minute that he felt the tour was not adequately organized (and citing the group’s previous disorganized European tour in 1988). Andrews and Butler continued with the tour of Europe as ‘Death’ to fulfill the band’s contractual obligations, and recruited roadies Walter Trachsler (guitar) and Louie Carrisalez (vocals) to replace Schuldiner, much to Schuldiner’s shock and disgust. Schuldiner took legal action and Butler and Andrews were fired from the band.
Schuldiner abandoned the idea of a band set-up altogether and began working with session musicians only. Schuldiner hired Steve DiGiorgio and recruited Sean Reinert and Paul Masvidal from underground Florida band Cynic. In 1991, Death released Human, which is considered a more technical and progressive album than their previous works. Human was Death’s best-selling album yet, receiving many accolades and some MTV play for the group’s first video, directed by David Bellino, for the track “Lack of Comprehension“. Due to obligations with his primary band Sadus, DiGiorgio was forced to depart after the recording of Human and new bassist Skott Carino did Death’s extensive world tour, from October 1991 until March 1992, in addition to appearing in the music video for “Lack of Comprehension”.
Schuldiner fired his manager Eric Greif after Spiritual Healing but settled and re-hired him before the recording of Human. Although there were at least two lawsuits between Greif and Schuldiner, Schuldiner was characteristically mellow in an interview with Thrash ‘n Burn about what the writer referred to as his “gruesome collaboration” with Greif: “We just came to the conclusion that it was stupid just fighting all the time, taking each other to court and all that stupid shit.” “Fate has an interesting way of working these things out…Yes, we had a falling out, but we’re working together again and it takes a lot of worries off my mind knowing Eric is the man for us”, Schuldiner told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
The final years (1993–2001)
In 1993, Reinert and Masvidal left the group to continue with Cynic, Schuldiner being unable to persuade them otherwise. Schuldiner replaced them with drummer Gene Hoglan of the recently dissolved thrash metal band Dark Angel, and worked with guitarist Andy LaRocque from King Diamond for Individual Thought Patterns. LaRocque being obligated to his band, Schuldiner hired a then-unknown Ralph Santolla as touring guitarist. Death was arguably at the peak of their commercial and popular culture success, and the video for the track The Philosopher even made it on to an episode of Beavis & Butt-head in 1994 (Beavis also parodies Schuldiner’s vocals in a mock ‘drive-thru’ order of ‘tacos, to go!’ in death-metal style). Also in 1994, Death abandoned its eight year relationship with Relativity and signed with Roadrunner Records, their European distributor. For 1995’s Symbolic, Santolla and DiGiorgio were exchanged for underground Florida musicians Kelly Conlon and Bobby Koelble. For the Symbolic tour Brian Benson was brought in on bass (Conlon having left the band prior to the tour due to conflicts with Schuldiner).
After Symbolic, Schuldiner and Roadrunner mutually agreed not to pursue an album option and he began writing songs for his progressive metal band Control Denied. Schuldiner entered into a licensing agreement with Nuclear Blast for both Death and Control Denied, and subsequently started writing material for the seventh Death release, The Sound of Perseverance. The new roster for Death included Florida musicians Richard Christy, Shannon Hamm and Scott Clendenin, and The Sound of Perseverance was completed at Morrisound Recording in Tampa and released on Nuclear Blast in 1998.
After the album and two supporting tours, Schuldiner put Death aside to pursue Control Denied with Christy and Hamm. Clendenin was dropped in favor of Steve DiGiorgio, who was once again available, and an underground power metal singer named Tim Aymar. Though the line-up and writing style was largely the same, Schuldiner created Control Denied in large part because he was displeased with the harsher vocals for Death. However, rather than betray what the band Death meant and sounded like to the fans, he opted to create a new band: “For me, it is just a matter of evolving, doing it the right way. I didn’t put out a Death record with this stuff on it. I made the right choice and changed the name of the band. I tried to do everything the right way.” As Schuldiner finished Control Denied’s debut album, he was diagnosed with brain cancer, forcing the band to scrap plans for a U.S. and Canadian tour. As he worked on the second release, Schuldiner’s condition improved, but the tumor left him in a weakened, vulnerable state. He contracted pneumonia and was placed in the hospital. On December 13, 2001, Schuldiner was released and returned home where, one hour later, he died.
The aftermath (2001 onwards)
The second Control Denied release has yet to be completed and was mired in legal problems involving its Dutch label, the musicians and Schuldiner’s sister Beth, the former of whom have publicly stated their desire to complete the album, and former manager Eric Greif representing the Estate. In 2004, Hammerheart Records released a two-part bootleg made up of old, pre-Scream Bloody Gore demos, along with partial demos of the unfinished album and live Death recordings from 1990. This was issued under the name Chuck Schuldiner, not Death or Control Denied, but its markedly unfinished state and lack of vocals led to the release not being successful, aided by Schuldiner’s mother Jane’s pleas for fans to stay away from it. In October 2009, Greif litigated against Hammerheart, representing Schuldiner’s Estate, and all matters were settled by December, theoretically allowing for the Control Denied album to be completed by the other musicians.
Members of Death have since stayed active as musicians. Gene Hoglan from Dark Angel and Andy LaRocque from King Diamond had already made a name for themselves, with LaRocque continuing to work with King Diamond while Hoglan has done stints with a wide variety of bands including Strapping Young Lad and Fear Factory. Paul Masvidal found success with Cynic alongside fellow Death member Sean Reinert, who continue to release albums and tour in the present. Richard Christy went on to gigs with Acheron and Iced Earth before joining The Howard Stern Show, though he has recently resurfaced on the metal scene with Charred Walls of the Damned. Ralph Santolla has also played with Iced Earth, as well as Sebastian Bach; both are bands which Steve DiGiorgio played in as well. While Santolla is now in Obituary, he was previously in Deicide. DiGiorgio also played for Testament and is still active with his original band Sadus. Bobby Koelble founded the Orlando rock-funk-Latin fusion group JunkieRush in 2000. James Murphy was also in Testament, formed projects such as Disincarnate, as well as having stints with death metal bands Obituary and Cancer. Murphy was also stricken with cancer, for which he received treatment, and, along with Deron Miller of CKY, attempted to organize a Death tribute album. Kam Lee formed the band Denial Fiend with Terry Butler, who has also found success in Six Feet Under. Scott Clendenin resides in Central Florida and works in production.
On May 10, 2010, it was announced that Perseverance Holdings Ltd. and the Schuldiner family had partnered with Relapse Records to re-master and re-issue the Death and Control Denied releases. On December 13 of the same year, it was announced that The Sound of Perseverance would be the first Death album to receive this treatment, and was released February 2011 in a 2-CD and 3-CD format. The Human album has been remixed, with Schuldiner’s intellectual property lawyer Eric Greif stating that Sony had lost the tapes of the original mixes, and was reissued in 2-CD and 3-CD formats as well as a digital release. Shortly after, the Individual Thought Patterns album was reissued. In February 2012, Relapse Records released a 2 CD live album entitled Vivus! that included the previously released 1998 concerts Live in L.A. and Live in Eindhoven, including liner notes by drummer Christy and manager/lawyer Greif.
On March 16, 2012, it was announced by Sick Drummer Magazine and the Schuldiner’s corporation, Perseverance Holdings Ltd., that musicians who previously played in Death would take part in a benefit tour titled “Death to All” for the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund.  The former Death members slated to participate were drummers Gene Hoglan and Sean Reinert, bassists Steve DiGiorgio and Scott Clendenin, guitarists Paul Masvidal, Shannon Hamm and Bobby Koelble. It was later announced that Obscura vocalist Steffen Kummerer and Abysmal Dawn/Bereft frontman Charles Elliott would assume vocal and guitar duties for the tour, but visa issues make Kummerer’s participation impossible and he was replace by Exhumed vocalist/guitarist Matt Harvey. After the tour, Eric Greif, acting as President of Perseverance Holdings Ltd. (PHL), alleged that the owners of Sick Drummer Magazine, Ian Macdonald and Anton Hefele, had not paid the charity, the musicians, PHL, the crew or the booking agency despite the five shows of the tour being successful.
Music biographer Garry Sharpe-Young considered Death “a genre-breaking band…centered upon frontman Chuck Schuldiner” and that the band “would become one of the prime instigators of the death metal movement”. However, Schuldiner dismissed such attributions by stating, in an interview with Metal-Rules.com, “I don’t think I should take the credits for this death metal stuff. I’m just a guy from a band, and I think Death is a metal band”.
- Chuck Schuldiner – lead vocals, guitar (1983–2001), bass (1987-1988)
- Shannon Hamm – guitar (1996–2001)
- Scott Clendenin – bass (1996–2001)
- Richard Christy – drums (1997–2001)
- Rick Rozz (1983–1985, 1987–1989)
- Matt Olivo (1985)
- John Hand (1986–1987; joined during the mastering of Scream Bloody Gore, which he was credited on, but left before recording or playing anything live.)
- Paul Masvidal (1989, 1990, 1991–1992)
- Albert Gonzalez (1990)
- James Murphy (1989-1990)
- Andy LaRocque (1993)
- Ralph Santolla (1993; never recorded with the band, but appeared in the “The Philosopher” music video)
- Craig Locicero (1993)
- Bobby Koelble (1995)
- Shannon Hamm (1996–2001)
- Scott Carlson (1985; also vocals)
- Erik Meade (1985)
- Terry Butler (1987–1990)
- Steve DiGiorgio (1986, 1991, 1993-1994 (feat. the Symbolic demos), 1997-1998 (only on the The Sound of Perseverance demos))
- Skott Carino (1991-1992)
- Kelly Conlon (1995)
- Brian Benson (1995)
- Scott Clendenin (1996-2001)
- Kam Lee (1983–1985; also vocals)
- Eric Brecht (1985)
- Chris Reifert (1986–1987)
- Bill Andrews (1987–1990)
- Sean Reinert (1991–1992)
- Gene Hoglan (1993–1995)
- Richard Christy (1997–2001)