Review Summary: A shining example of what all death metal should be like, even if it falters here and there.
The late 80’s were a bountiful time for the more extreme genres of metal. On the one hand, thrash metal was developing and blossoming off its double base of New York and San Francisco, with another strand taking its first steps somewhere in Europe; on the other hand, a new genre was being helped along by bands like Possessed and Mantas – a genre some started to call death metal.
And while Possessed would soon implode, leaving a short but seminal oeuvre, for Mantas the story would be somewhat different. After a split-up and some failed attempts by leader Chuck Schuldiner to join already established bands, the group would get back together, with a new formation, and change their name to Death. At that moment, one of the most important legacies in metal history began to take form.
The first fruit of the “new” Death was Scream Bloody Gore
, a somewhat incipient and immature effort released in 1987 by the duo of Chuck Schuldiner and Chris Reifert, later a key player in the scene himself. The good results yielded by this first tentative step led to the appearance, one year later, of sophomore album Leprosy
, which perfected the group’s formula to the extent where the band sounds transfigured and miles from the primitive duo which recorded Scream Bloody Gore
A large portion of this feeling is due to the fact that this was
an entirely new formation; only Schuldiner crossed over from the previous album, with the rest of the band now being comprised of Rick Rozz on lead guitar, Terry Butler on bass (the Six Feet Under one, not the Black Sabbath one!) and Bill Andrews on drums. And while this would prove to be another one-album formation – with Rozz quickly leaving to be replaced with James Murphy – they certainly did the best with the time they had together, because, simply put, this album is extraordinary.
In fact, Leprosy
showed Death progressing in leaps and bounds. Schuldiner’s songwriting, previously as monotonous as it was catchy, now became varied, with technically intrincate song structures and multiple tempo changes within the song. Furthermore, his cohorts’ high technical level ensured that this was as far from the primitive aggression of Gore
as humanly possible. The band who recorded the 1985 album would never have been capable of writing a six-minute epic in aggression like Leprosy
, let alone interpret it as flawlessly as this formation does.
is not the only high point of this album. While it is by far the best song on this album, all three introductory tracks are remarkably strong, with the straightforward thrash blast of Forgotten Past
coming the closest to dislodging the title track from its podium. Born Dead
is a more typical death metal tack, but it does contain a great chorus and some impressive thrashing parts. The first weak spot on the album is Left To Die
, which nevertheless contains another attractive chorus section, and is immediately atoned by the whopping Pull The Plug
, with its often oppressive slow pace and suicide-wish lyrics. This song has since gone on to become a Death classic, as well as a landmark of the genre itself, and the least I can say is that it deserves it.
The album’s main problem, then, starts after Pull The Plug
. Simply put, the last three songs cannot compete with what came before, and their presence ends up detracting from the album as a whole. This isn’t so much true of Open Casket
, a good song with some nice slow parts, a shredding solo and a fun “keep it simple stupid” chorus towards the end. Primitive Ways
and Choke On It
, however, are nothing but inferior rehashes of the already rather average Left To Die
, and do not sound like they belong on the same album as the whopping tech-fest of the title track or the chugging oppression of Pull The Plug
However, even with these expendable tracks, the final result is more than satisfactory; it is classic. As a five-song EP, this would have been beyond perfect, but as an eight-song album, it is still decidedly above-average, and deserves its status as a classic. Death were innovators both in the musical and in the lyrical front – they were probably the first band to use gory subjects for their lyrics, and one of the first to approach gore from a clinical rather than a merely “gross-out” perspective – and their influence in today’s death scene is not only unsurprising, it is merited. And while the band would go on to more fusion-oriented, progressive styles of music in later releases, Leprosy
stands as the magnum opus of their simpler, heaviness-oriented years. Recommended to anyone who likes thrash, death, or is merely curious about the origins of their favorite genre; hell, recommended to anyone who likes metal, period
. Go out – or to your computer – get this album, and enjoy it as much as I did and do. You can thank me later.
Pull The Plug