Death was an American death metal band from Orlando, Florida, founded in 1983 by guitarist and vocalist Chuck Schuldiner. They are considered to be one of the most influential bands in heavy metal and a pioneering force in death metal. Its debut album, Scream Bloody Gore, has been widely regarded as the first death metal record, while the band’s driving force, Chuck Schuldiner, is acknowledged as the originator of extreme metal. The band ceased to exist after Schuldiner died of brain cancer in December 2001, but remains an enduring metal brand.
Founded in 1983 by Chuck Schuldiner under the original name of Mantas in Orlando, Florida, 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.
Scream Bloody Gore was released in 1987, widely considered a genre template for death metal. By this time Schuldiner had 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. Spiritual Healing was recorded in Tampa in the summer of 1989. By this time Schuldiner abandoned the “gore” lyrical theme for more social critique and melody was added to the band’s sound. In 1991, Death released Human, which is considered a more technical and progressive album than their previous works, incorporating complex rhythms, riffs and song structures. 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”.
In 1993, with the release of Individual Thought Patterns, 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. For 1995’s Symbolic, Death abandoned its eight-year relationship with Relativity and signed with Roadrunner Records, their European distributor. 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 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. 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. 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 a hospital. On December 13, 2001, Schuldiner was released and returned home an hour later, where he died. His death was exactly 3 years after Death’s final concert.
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”. In January 2001, Mahyar Dean, an Iranian musician, wrote Death, a book about Death and Schuldiner and released it in Iran. The book includes bilingual lyrics and many articles about the band. The book was sent through the site keepers of emptywords.org to Schuldiner, who in his words was “truly blown away and extremely honored by the obvious work and devotion he put into bringing the book to life”.
Schuldiner designed the Death logo and its various incarnations during the length of his career. In 1991, before the release of Human, he cleaned up the logo taking out more intricate details and the “T” in the logo was swapped from an inverted Cross to a more regular looking “T”, one reason being to quash any implication of religion. The logo was changed again, between Symbolic and The Sound of Perseverance, with a more streamlined look and the removal of the hooded reaper above the “H”, among other changes.