quinta-feira, 14 de abril de 2011

Looking Back: Precious Memories of Chuck Schuldiner (Part I)

Charles Michael 'Chuck' Schuldiner

"Life ends so fast, so take your chance, and make it last." - "Pull the Plug"
By: Empty Words
Magazine: Metal Maniacs / USA
Article: Precious Memories of Chuck Schuldiner
Written by: Perry Grayson
Published: May 2002

A retrospective on Chuck Schuldiner (Death & Control Denied) has been long overdue. Unfortunately Chuck will not be around to read these words. Chuck was 34 when he passed away on Thursday, December 13, 2001, after a long bout with brain stem cancer. It was a sad day for metal. I'd been researching and writing this piece for months when the news came. Chuck's suffering is over, but his memory remains bright. In '96 I penned a Death article for my zine Yawning Vortex to spread the word about Chuck's new project, Control Denied. My services seemed imperative again when Chuck was diagnosed with cancer in '99. I'd intended this to be a retrospective, not a memorial.

Reconstructing history without Chuck's participation is something I was forced into. Chuck had been ill for over two years when I first started this article. He and I last spoke on a tour bus in December '98. The love Chuck had for his fans is mutual. The fans' support proves some metalheads are indeed sensitive individuals. Sorrow for the loss of our hero is overwhelming. We wish he could have pulled through, but find solace in the 8 albums of uncompromising metal Chuck forged. Chuck's lyrics to "Suicide Machine" tell us "How easy it is to deny the pain of someone else's suffering," but we cannot overlook Chuck's musical contributions or his endurance in fighting his illness.

The Birth of Death

The energetic metal axeman and gravel-throated vocalist didn't always have 8 studio albums under his belt. He was born Charles Schuldiner on May 13, 1967 in Long Island, New York, the son of Mal and Jane Schuldiner. Chuck's began a long way from the famous Whisky in Hollywood or the Dutch Dynamo Open Air Festival. In the quiet Orlando, Florida suburb of Altamonte Springs Chuck spent most of his life. It was late 1983, according to metal journalist Borivoj Krgin, when Chuck was joined by guitarist Rick Rozz (a.k.a. Frederick DeLillo) and drummer/vocalist Barney "Kam" Lee to form the Mantas, the precursor to Death. The primitive metal birth pangs for Chuck & Co. were filled with an urge to shock audiences, fueled by bravado and clashing personalities. Par for the course for teenage kids forming a band, much less one of the heaviest metal acts on Earth!

Chuck enjoyed recalling simpler times. He told Guitar School, "When I first started the band, I'd only been playing guitar for six or seven months-I couldn't even play a lead. My main goal was to bash out the most brutal riffs ever with the most brutal guitar sound ever, but I always had an urge to become a better guitarist. Though things were very crude back then, I still had a vision of becoming a very musical death metal band. I knew it would take time to get to that point, and I worked hard to get there." Complexity must evolve from something. Chuck pointed out to Ill Literature that it was "Rick, Kam and myself-we didn't even have a bass player. Reflecting on his youth, Chuck told RIP's Jon Sutherland, "If you listen to my early demos, you can hear the Venom influence." In a chat with Metal Mania video show, Chuck cited Kiss, Anvil, Mercyful Fate, Exciter, Raven, Slayer, Hellhammer, Celtic Frost as "early stuff I feel lucky to have been a part of." Voices from the Darkside recently interviewed Kam Lee online. "It was during high school," said Kam. "I was starting to get into darker metal like Venom, Hellhammer, and Mercyful Fate. I'd bring the albums to show classmates and watch them get spooked 'cause the stuff was so dark ...This caught the attention of Rick [Rozz]...Then Rick asked me if I would try out as a drummer...Later that week Rick contacted Chuck, and everything from that point is history!"

"History" leaves much to fill in. Borivoj Krgin pointed out "they had a bassist for one very rough recording (pre-Death by Metal), but it was certainly no one that was in the band long enough to qualify as a 'member.'" Mantas' first official demo Death by Metal (Summer '84) had a homegrown cover with a picture of Chuck, Kam, and Rick in front of a sign bearing the words "Danger, High Voltage." DBM's original track list was "Legion of Doom," "Mantas," "Power of Darkness," "Evil Dead," and "Death by Metal." Kam told Voices from the Darkside, "It was recorded in Chuck's parent's garage...and 'Power of Darkness' was always on it...Chuck did the vocals on that one..."

Mantas' first gig supposedly occurred on August 1, 1984, but trouble was brewing. Borivoj's liner notes to the Death reissue CDs explains that "lack of local support for the band's music was at least partly to blame for the constant internal turmoil within the group and Mantas' eventual break-up in late 1984...Within weeks, however, Chuck reconciled with Rozz and Lee..." Chuck told Metal Mania, "I wanted to reform a new band with a new lineup called Death. I unfortunately had to resort to my old members..." The bass-less Death by Metal was then "reissued" with a black cover adorned with skulls and an inverted cross. Listening to early Mantas & Death tapes, one notices Kam and Chuck vying for vocals. Chuck screams "Power of Darkness"-and on "Beyond the Unholy Grave" both duel on grunts and screeches. "He'd get tired after a while, so I picked up the vocal duties. First I tried to sing in a normal voice, but that didn't work, so I went for the more brutal approach," Chuck reminisced to Guitar School. Death concentrated mostly on rehearsal tapes to make the rounds in the underground.

The Chuck/Rick/Kam lineup only played a few shows-as Kam put it, "covered in blood and gore...black makeup around the eyes and stuff!" Hirax singer Katon DePena contacted Chuck in the early days of the metal underground: "He was young at the time but already showed signs of becoming one of the elite in the underground. He was very into Hirax. He had all our demos. Chuck sent us the rehearsals because he wanted to see what we thought about his band. We thought they were great and encouraged him to keep making tapes...I have some favorite demos and that's in there with all of them. Fuckin' great...just complete raw metal." Borivoj recalls first hearing about Mantas "at the Metallica/Anthrax/Raven gig at the Roseland in New York City back in August 1984. I happened to see a flyer of theirs...put up by two guys, Mark [Conrad] and John [Gross], who used to do a fanzine called Guillotine in Florida...it contained a phrase along the lines of 'heaviest' or 'sickest', which caught my attention. So I wrote to the address on the flyer...included cash for the cassette, and got a letter backfrom Chuck a few days later along with a copy of the Death by Metal demo."

Death's second official demo was October 1984's Reign of Terror, which Borivoj divulges "was never actually mixed-and cost a whopping $80 to record!" Death gigged at Ruby's Pub in Brandon, Florida, on November 9th and December 30th. The latter show was taped by John and Mark from Guillotine and sold as the only official live recording. Rick was out of the band soon after. The 3-song Infernal Death demo appeared in March of '85. Several more rehearsal tunes were committed to tape by Chuck and Kam when Scott Carlson (bass) and Matt Olivo (guitar) of Flint, Michigan's Genocide relocated to Florida in May to join Death.

Terry Butler, Bill Andrews, Chuck, James Murphy

 Scott was the first to contact Chuck: "I mailed him a copy of our demo...I read about them, and they sounded so close in spirit to what we were doing...I sent Chuck a tape after reading about him in Guillotine. Matt and I were a musical concept without a drummer or a second guitarist. And Chuck and Kam were without a bassist or second guitarist. It sort of made sense to merge. We packed all of our stuff into one Chevy Malibu and drove straight down there. 24 hours straight till we knocked on Chuck's front door." Practices took place in the Schuldiner's garage. Matt recalls, "It was probably an average of a 110 degrees in there, but we loved it. It was intense and so much fun. Because we already knew the songs. There were never any lulls in rehearsals." Scott remembers the only sour point: "At first it was bliss. We found a kindred spirit in Chuck and John and Mark from Guillotine. But Kam was going through personal problems, and he wasn't really able to fully able to commit to the band. We were so young and naive that we just saw it as him being a wimp or a poser...It was just at the time that we were mad at Kam, but in the big picture I understand his position. I don't have anything bad to say about him. I've hung out with him since and had fun. The death metal world ended up a being a better place because of it. You got Massacre, Death, and Repulsion out of it." Matt focused on memorable times: "We had so much fun and talked for so long about playing death metal. We would sneak into this drive-in theater and watch the same movie every night just to get out. It was just the time-of-your-life type of thing. It was contrasted by the situation with Kam. That was the only thing stopping us from going to the moon."

Matt and Scott paint a picture of Chuck, plugging away at a fast food job to accumulate equipment. "Here was Chuck from Death," Matt explained, "the coolest up and coming metal band, and he's wearing a Del Taco uniform with his hair pulled up." He may have worked his ass off, but, as Matt noted, "Chuck always had great support from his parents. He was never out in the cold with his metal." Jane and Mal Schuldiner were supportive of their son and his band. Scott relishes their time living at the Schuldiner house: "Chuck's mom was too sweet to deny us. She made dinner for us every night. She was an angel. Chuck's dad was always cool. They never gave him grief about anything...except like taking out the trash... when it came to Chuck's future they never stepped in and made decisions for him." "We had talked to someone at Combat that said 'make a demo and you've got a deal,'" said Scott. "Matt and I went down the mall where Kam hung out to talk him into coming back to the band. He was totally against it. That's when we knew...we weren't gonna get anywhere. We decided to go back home and regroup. And Chuck went and started his adventure. "We were all young.... When we left we didn't really know how to talk to Chuck about it. We knew it was gonna bum him out. Instead we talked to his mom, and she talked to him about it first." San Francisco was on Chuck's horizon Chuck and Repulsion awaited Matt and Scott. "He just wished us all the luck in the world and we did the same for him," Scott said.

Big Chuck lives!
By September, Chuck's relocation to San Francisco was in motion. He teaming up with ex-D.R.I. drummer Eric Brecht and a bassist also named Eric. This lineup recorded the lightning fast rehearsal demo dubbed Back from the Dead by fans. It was also during this first jaunt to San Francisco that Chuck, now handling all the vocals, stepped foot on stage again. Borivoj Krgin maintains "they had this idea to make Death the fastest and heaviest band in the world, which Chuck quickly grew tired of-unsurprisingly. Eventually, he went back to doing what he did best-playing super-heavy riffs at varying speeds, always concentrating first and foremost on crushing brutality rather than speed." This lack of dynamics eventually led to Chuck's return to Florida by December of '85. A quote from the German zine Deathfuck unravels Chuck's brief trip to Toronto, Canada, in January '86 to join death/thrash band Slaughter. "It's unbelievable...Evil Chuck, who just joined Slaughter in early January, left 'em again in the same month! Official news from Slaughter headquarters tell that Chuckie baby had to leave 'em coz of a total lack of band dedication..." It was Slaughter bassist Terry Sadler who, years later, explained perhaps the biggest reason for Chuck's hasty departure to Snakepit's Laurent Ramadier in 2001: "He lived in my parents' basement with me for a while and my parents had no idea. They found out and the shit hit the fan. They wanted him and me out! I think Chuck overheard our fighting and took off...We had no bad feelings towards Chuck...but rumors started flowing...We now wish Chuck the best of luck with his health, and we're not kids anymore slagging each other!"

Chuck wasted no time in heading out west again after his return to Florida. Chuck hooked up with drummer Chris Reifert on his second San Francisco jaunt. Chris revealed that he met Chuck before any big formal advertising could be done for musicians. "Early in the year. I heard he was looking for members out here. I already knew about the group...I was pretty excited...I got the gig. He was going to put an ad on the radio on a local station. A friend of mine told me about it before it even got aired. I got the phone number." Chris furiously pounded the skins behind Chuck's whirlwind guitars and acidic vocals as early as a two song rehearsal tape from late March '86. Chuck's bond with Chris Reifert was the defining point for improvement in Death's seedling sound. Chieko Redmer, then a young metal fan, met Chuck at Ruthie's Inn in '86: "I could barely even walk straight. I remember that he was standing against the wall inside, and I ploughed right into him-almost knocking him down! I didn't know who he was, but he helped me up and saw that I was very sick! I remember telling him I was about to puke. He was so nice that he escorted me outside so I could throw up in the planter! This was a pretty nice thing to do for a total stranger, not to mention it being embarrassing for me! He was a total gentleman. He presented me with a business card with the slogan 'Corpse Grinding Metal' on it! Very suave! We started hanging out after that, and I met Chris. They would practice at Chris' house in Concord. I'd go over there to watch...I never forgot how funny Chuck is! His wacky personality and silly sense of humor... He would say these goofy things back then like 'understand rubberband?' and 'know what I mean, jellybean?' Those days were great times...No responsibilities. It was a bummer when Chuck went back to Florida, but...Chuck never seemed to lose his humbleness even though he got famous."

In April, Chuck and Chris quickly followed up Combat's request for a pro demo with Mutilation, the most polished of the early Death recordings. According to Bernard Doe of Metal Forces, Mutilation was made with "Chuck also playing bass." Doe conceded Mutilation was "the band's best recording to date; both in terms of material and production." The underground and Combat Records were in agreement about Mutilation. Despite the fact that the band was still only a duo, Combat signed them up to a five-album deal.

2 comentários:

P disse...

Cheers to the Death TR team for running the article here! I'm stoked that you're keeping Chuck's legacy alive.

The formatting was lost when the piece was pasted in, so a lot of italicized mag, zine and album titles appear in normal text. I'm usually a stickler for that stuff. Regardless, I'm just happy for folks to read the article.

Grateful acknowledgement to the following individuals for their kind assistance and/or encouragement while I was assembling "Precious Memories...": Kees & Yvonne Kluitman, Steve "Fretless Hippie of Doom" DiGiorgio, Scott Carlson & Matt Olivo (Corpses forever!), Shannon "Silver" Hamm, Scott Clendenin, Chris Reifert, Chieko Redmer, Rob "Doomed Planet" Preston, Jimmy Durkin, Katon DePena, Eric "Griffy" Greif, Borivoj Krgin, Walt Trachsler, Mike Bear, Ana Greco, Matt "McMetal" Conley, Ray Dorsey, Liz Ciavarella, Jochen Hoffmann and Brian Harris.

P disse...

P.S. The last photo in your post is the first Individual touring lineup. That's Ralph Santolla (lead guitar), not Andy LaRocque. Metal Maniacs editors mistakenly published the pic as being Andy, who never played live with Death.