Chuck Schuldiner: Lust for Life
He called his band Death, but Chuck Schuldiner loved life, family and of course, metal.
Two years of traveling between coasts had convinced Chuck to make his home in Florida, near Altamonte Springs. His family welcomed the decision. “Chuck moved out on his own to a town near us and saw us when he wasn’t touring, inviting us over for dinner and visiting us often,” says Jane. Chuck had invited Reifert to return to Florida with him, but the drummer declined, preferring to stay in California. Their separation was amicable, and Chuck wished him “good luck in the future” in the credits of Death’s second record, 1988’s Leprosy. Once settled in Florida, Chuck went about creating a new Death lineup, a process complicated by his demanding standards. Henceforth, he would be the group’s only consistent member.
“I think he was a perfectionist,” says Kaye. “He really had a high standard and maybe that made it harder for some people to work with him and meet those demands. And as the band went on, the music just got more complex. It was easy to play that kind of music poorly, but it was very hard to keep up with someone like Chuck.”
For Leprosy, Chuck turned for studio support to Massacre, the death metal band Rick Rozz and Kam Lee had joined in 1985. By this time, Lee had left the group, replaced by Bill Andrews. With Massacre bassist Terry Butler onboard, Chuck was freed from four-string duties. Recording was, by various accounts, a happy experience. Chuck’s old friends proved they were up to his standards, and Leprosy’s polished production puts their contributions to good display. Musically, Chuck was continuing to grow, his philosophical side emerging in “Pull the Plug,” a song about life support and the right to die.
The group reconvened for 1990’s Spiritual Healing, with virtuoso metal guitarist James Murphy replacing Rozz. The album marked a breakthrough in Chuck’s music and lyrics. Turning his attention to the daily headlines, he found everyday America a place of tuneworthy horrors. “Living Monstrosity” spoke to the crack epidemic and the drug’s affect on unborn fetuses, while “Altering the Future” laid out what he saw as the implications of abortion. With their focus on real-life problems, the new songs seemed more morbid and pessimistic than Chuck’s previous songs. While it was appropriate to the genre, Chuck wasn’t simply mining topics for their suitability; he believed in what he sang. He was, says Jane, a “deep thinker, a ponderer, and his lyrics came from his feelings about life happenings…and things he felt was wrong in the world. He was a very concerned person for the wronged people in this world, and it saddened him.”
Musically, the album showed Chuck continuing to grow as a songwriter and guitarist. “I started practicing more and came up with the idea that, for this band to move forward musically, we’d need a cleaner approach, something real dry and in your face,” he told Guitar magazine. At a time when death metal was in danger of becoming a grunting, Satan-glorifying parody of itself, Spiritual Healing showed that death metal was important and that Chuck Schuldiner was undeniably the person to show the way forward.
Ironically, Chuck had been cast out of his own band. In the weeks after the album’s completion, personal and business problems had begun to overwhelm him, and Chuck pulled out of the European tour that had been lined up. “I came to a point [at] which I thought everything was doomed to fail,” he told Arno Polster, without elaborating on the details, in the March 1991 edition of Germany’s Rock Hard magazine. To his surprise, his band members decided to go without him. It was an unforgivable mutiny, made worse by their denunciations of Chuck onstage and in the media. Butler told Rock Hard that Chuck was home, mowing the grass. In response to their actions, Chuck hired an attorney and gained the rights to the name Death. “After all, Death is still my band,” he told Polster. “I thought they were my best friends, but I was wrong. At all times, musicians are replaceable. Friends are not.”
Chuck had never needed an excuse to fight for his music. Now handed one, he responded with devastating force. Human, his followup to Spiritual Healing, was a calculated retaliation to his former bandmates, who claimed he was washed up; to the media, which painted him as a narcissistic monster; and to anyone deluded enough to believe his detractors. “This is much more than a record to me,” he told Metal Hammer’s Robert Heeg in the December 1991 issue. “It is a statement. It’s revenge.”
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