Chuck Schuldiner: Lust for Life
He called his band Death, but Chuck Schuldiner loved life, family and of course, metal.
The vision was everything. It pushed Chuck to create Death, in 1984, and through Death he came to define at last the genre of metal infesting the underground. The release of Death’s full-length debut, Scream Bloody Gore, in 1986, gave the scene a united front and furthered the awareness of death metal as a genre. Although the music’s standards had long been established, Chuck raised the bar with his technical and melodic riffing, while he upped the horror quotient with lyrics that drew colorfully from gore movies like Make Them Die Slowly and Re-Animator.
The death metal scene grew, and as the audience for established acts grew, a host of new bands emerged, each trying to out shock its predecessor. By the early Nineties, the scene was overpopulated by speed-riffing Satan-worshipping metalheads. “Death metal has now become exclusively about being evil, Satanic and playing full speed ahead,” Chuck complained to U.K.’s Metal Forces in 1991. “It’s not what I’m into at all.” By then, Chuck had tackled topical subject matter that included abortion (“Altering the Future”), the struggles of the terminally ill (“Suicide Machine”) and the right to die (“Pull the Plug”).
Committed to his vision, Chuck gave shape to death metal, then took it to new heights. But it was not without its costs. His demands of himself and his band frequently led to acrimonious partings between him and his musicians. Business dealings left him feeling overwhelmed and depressed: “The biggest frustration with the music business for Chuck were the labels,” says Jane Schuldiner. “He told me that if he could bypass the labels and just play for the fans, he would be a happy man.” And in the spirit of all pioneers, Chuck could be recklessly impulsive, as when he pulled out of a European tour just days before it was to begin.
But humility tempered his character. “He was always surprised when people would come up and say they were such a huge fan,” says Christy. “He was the most humble guy. I don’t know if he ever realized how important he was to the metal scene, because he looked at himself as a fan of it.”
And so it was, in 2000, during Chuck’s brief recovery, that he and Christy were attending a King Diamond show in St. Petersburg, Florida. The corpse-painted thrash metal singer was a favorite of Chuck’s, and Diamond’s guitarist, Andy LaRocque, had even briefly performed with Death, on 1993’s Individual Thought Patterns. With LaRocque’s assistance, Chuck and Christy were escorted backstage.
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