Review Summary: Death's Symbolic is one of the the crown jewels of all of death metal, combining the perfect amounts of brutality, creativeness and melody to create an indispensable metal classic.
In 1987, Chuck Schuldiner was at the very humble age of 20 when he shook the metal world to the core with Scream Bloody Gore
, perhaps the first true death metal album. Combining thrashy, rapid riffs with harsh, grinding vocals, it changed the focus of extreme metal from thrash into a different beast altogether. Death did not fall into oblivion, however, even despite numerous lineup changes through the years. The albums got better and better and Chuck began to add many progressive elements to the song writing with 1990's Spiritual Healing
, moving away from the gory themes of Scream Bloody Gore
and 1988's Leprosy
. The result was perhaps one of the finest four album runs in metal history, with 1991's Human
, 1993's Individual Thought Patterns
, 1995's Symbolic
and 1998's The Sound of Perseverance
all being considered as some of the finest material the death metal genre has ever produced. This brings me to my review of the third album in this run, and what an album it is.
Chuck and rhythm guitarist Bobby Koelble's spectacular guitar work is the first thing that immediately makes its presence known on this album, with the album opening and title track, "Symbolic". Their demonic and often diabolically swift riffs shred at the speakers as images of Slayer run rampant throughout the first lightning-fast verse. Drummer, Gene "The Machine" Hoglan makes his nickname known as his hyperactive double-bass, creative cymbal work and psychotic fills appear throughout the album. Bassist Kelly Conlon, takes over from the much-loved Steve DiGiorgio, and while he doesn't provide as good of a performance as DiGiorgio's fretless mastery on the previous two Death albums, he still churns out a reliable showing that supports the guitar wizardry throughout the entire album. Even more impressive within the guitar work is the absolutely magnificent solos that wind their way throughout the songs. Chuck really outdid himself on this one, the solos are all incredibly well-written and enjoyable to listen too. Never do they fall in the realm of mindless showing-off, they all contain noticeable amounts of melody, while still being incredibly fast and often exceptionally technical in places. Check "Zero Tolerance" and the title track for some (but not all) of the best examples. Chuck's grinding, raspy growl saturates the album throughout, and his diction is rather great too, allowing for the great lyrics to be understood. These are much more than your typical death metal lyrics, these are near poetry in their creativeness and really allow the album to be enjoyed even more.
The entire album consists of strong tracks, but if I had to pick the best stand out, I would probably pick "Crystal Mountain", the seventh track. Progressiveness envelops this track from beginning to end. Buckets of melody infiltrate though the song's very core and Chuck's lyrics are at some of their highest points of the album. The solo is suitably fantastic and a middle-eastern style clean section comes over the the main riff at the end, adding even more uniqueness to an already exceedingly dazzling display of guitar divination. This track is really an amalgamation of all that the album stands for and it sounds positively magical. Other astonishingly amazing tracks include the album opening and hard-hitting "Symbolic", the thunderous, raging "Zero Tolerance", the wondering "1,000 Eyes", the refined and thrashy "Without Judgement" and the cranked rolling of "Misanthrope". To be completely honest, I could've listed the entire album in this section, but I felt these were the tracks that I enjoyed the most (although I did enjoy them all). The consistency of this album is a constant throughout and none of the tracks are skip-material, to say the least.
is a tactile, spectacular showing of the true power of Death. It is incredible from beginning to end, and shows all of the genius of Chuck Schuldiner's mind. While I would've liked to see a bit more performance from the rhythm section, it still comes across as an indispensable classic of the death metal genre and even metal as a whole. The guitar work from the opening riff to the end is positively orgasmic and is musicianship at its finest. In essence, if Human
is Death's K2, this is Death's Everest. Symbolic
gets a well-deserved 5 out of 5.
RIP Chuck Schuldiner (May 13th, 1967 - December 13th, 2001) F**k You, Cancer!