Saturday, February 21, 2009

Death- Scream Bloody Gore

Overrated. While Death were among the greatest metal bands, and while this album is marked everywhere *as* a Death album--even at this early stage--it is unremarkable (at this historical moment) and almost a chore to listen to.

The problem with Death's career is that their early albums don't have a lot of personality: Spiritual Healing versus Leprosy versus Human, etc.--they are all about the same, in sound and production. While these may have been landmark releases when they came out individually ("A new Death album! Sick!"), time has leveled out these differences and what remains to those who do-not-pay-attention-to-metal is the following:
1) Death were the original death metal band. Ergo, there must be something "extreme" (fast, heavy, crazy) about them.
2) Death eventually became a proggy jazz-metal band, embodying all that is "uncool" about metal.
3) Death's career therefore has two poles, an early, juvenile inventing-death-metal pole--best accessed on their first album--and a later, prog pole--best NOT heard on their last album. 

This is how fans ruin things. My #1 rule for music: take each album separately. The final Death album, Sound of Perseverence, is actually quite accessible (as indicated by the astonishingly powerful Judas Priest cover, "Painkiller"), while it is their penultimate record, Symbolic, which stretches the pretentious prog elements furthest. On the other end of things, the first few Death records are fairly interchangeable with one another, and there is no reason to value Scream Bloody Gore over its immediate successors, except that the album cover and title are the coolest. People who talk about music, but don't listen to it closely enough, feeling the need to say which *kind* of metal fan they are, are apt to overstate and misrepresent every nuance of the Death catalog. My opinion: their best records skip around, with the 2nd album Leprosy being quite good, and then the 5th, Individual Thought Patterns (featuring King Diamond guitarist Andy LaRoque!), and then the 7th, Sounds of Perseverance.

You would only know this, of course, if you paid attention to the quality of songs, rather than facing an album initially with the idea of what kind of fan YOU are. If one is utterly committed to LOVING bone-dry production, simple "primitive" riffs, and a "straight-forward" post-thrash vibe--then honestly, why even listen to music? Or, why not just pretend to like Possessed's Seven Churches instead? On the other hand, for the discerning listener, there is much to take away here. 

This album dates from 1987, but many of the songs evidently go back to numerous demos starting in 1984, so that "Death Metal" in some ways predates the definitive thrash bands like Kreator or Exodus...  On the other hand, though, by 1989, Death's early style would be completely superseded by Morbid Angel's Altars of Madness album, itself superseded by the Blessed are the Sick album (1991) and Deicide's Legion (1992). So the "heaviosity" here can only be historically relative, which (I hope) is not a reason anyone listens to music: "Wow, this *must have been* so good, once!" 

In my opinion, extreme metal quickly devolves into a race to be the *most* something or other: most technical, most evil, most kvlt, etc. And so, once some record is not "this year's model," it sounds not only simplistic, friendly, and mainstream in comparison, but because the band neglected to write songs in the first place, also boring and tepid. While Death did become immediately outdated, Chuck did write some excellent tunes here, and taken one-by-one the conviction of these songs and the superb guitar-solos are fine indeed. But the album as a whole is a bit dreary and unpleasant--lacking the catchiness of Possessed and also of, say, Spiritual Healing. 

In every sense, this record is a must-own for self-respecting metal fans, and despite what I've said it really is a classic of early death metal. However, it is also dated, and not among the band's best works, which is saying more about the excellence of Death than it is pointing to the shortcomings of this work.

Score: 3.5/5 stars (*** 1/2)
Best songs: "Regurgitated Guts," "Evil Dead"

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