Review Summary: Evil Chuck melds the best aspects of tech death and prog metal together and leaves the chaff behind, creating an album that's even smarter than that Earth-sized brain on its cover!
For my money (which admittedly, ain’t much lately), Individual Thought Patterns is one of the most flawless, intelligent, and all-around BEST albums I’ve ever heard in my life, heavy metal or otherwise. Now, let us take a moment to examine why that is; first off, it’s one thing to have a pristine, glistening, immaculate production on an album, another thing to have a line-up full of nothing but instrumental virtuosos, and yet another thing to have songwriting that fills up an uninterrupted 10 tracks/39 minutes with nothing but incredibly intricate, dynamic, highly compelling material with nary a misfire to be heard.
But still, it’s yet another thing when you have all three of those elements present on the same record; sure, some albums have one element, maybe even two of them, but all three?? It’s like lighting striking in the same place twice, like winning the lottery three times in a row, like rain on your wedding day; it just CAN’T happen! It’s almost like the metal gods should’ve traveled to Tampa back in ’93, set foot in Morrisound Studios, and f ucked with ITP’s production and Chuck’s songwriting skills (this being back when they still could, before he died and become one of them in metal heaven), and banished Schuldiner, LaRocque, DiGiorgio, and Hoglan to the four corners of the Earth, never again to reunite and hog so much metal awesomeness to themselves.
Fortunately for us, since the metal gods don’t actually exist, Chuck & the gang did complete Individual Thought Patterns, and blessed us with Death’s finest moment. Every other Death record has some merit, but while Human was hampered somewhat by a muffled production and a few dud tracks, and the final two albums went too slick with their productions, and had weaker songwriting overall, ITP was blessed by what might be my favorite production job of any album (hard to believe its 18 years old now), with every single instrument given its own superb, polished sound, as well as a strong clarity inside the overall mix, so we never lose track of any of them, even the often-neglected bass.
Performance-wise, ITP also has the finest line-up Death ever assembled (perhaps even of any metal band line-up), with extreme drumming icon Gene Hoglan alternately precision-blasting away and keeping up relatively loose, flowing drum rhythms, as well as throwing in generous amounts of intense drum fills to spice things up. Bass guru Steve DiGiorgio does an incredible job with his lively, jazzy playing (the fact that you can hear him a helluva lot better here than on Human doesn’t hurt), and finally, Andy LaRocque and Chuck himself share rhythm/lead guitar duties, trading off thrashy, intense riffing and ambitious, fluid, winding, unpredictable, high-energy solos, which are scattered generously throughout every song. The guitar duo’s playing never fails to impress me, and as far I’m concerned, track-for-track, ITP is the ultimate guitar album.
Finally, let’s talk a little bit about ITP’s songwriting/general style, the factor that I feel is most responsible for its greatness; now, I’ve seen ITP described as being a tech death album as well as a prog metal album, but just glancing at the song lengths, none of which even exceed 5 minutes, you might be wandering how ITP could be prog-y, seeing as how songs in that genre typically last for an eternity. To find the answer, let’s go by halves; the tech death half of ITP comes from its complex but relatively-short song structures, but the songwriting here lacks the somewhat-disjointed, bi-polar, blind aggression that characterizes tech death, where the songs undergo random changes for seemingly little reason, and with a usually only tenuous connection to what came before (I love me some tech death, but you know it’s true!).
On ITP, however, the songwriting always has an extremely strong sense of continuity and a cool, collected intelligence to it, belaying the frantic instrumental work. The songs don’t abruptly switch into another riff just to show off, but rather, keep up a logical, continuous flow that always feels like it evolved naturally out of what came beforehand, and is smoothly moving forward into what's next. This interconnected approach is what reminds me of progressive metal (at least, the good prog metal) on Thought Patterns, and combined with the tech-y intensity of the instrumental work, plus the shortness of tech death with no prog-y bloat, all combines together to create its greatest strength.
Individual song-wise, ITP has more than enough variety to satisfy, from the relentless speed of opener “Overactive Imagination”, the more brutal impact of “Jealousy”, the surprisingly-slow battery of “The Philosopher”, and just about anything else you’d care to name, without a single miss in the entire batch. I wish I could force myself to single out more individual songs here, but it’s just so hard when an album’s so uniformly, all-around great as ITP; it’s almost a crime to draw any more attention to a single song. Yes, a few tracks are slightly less memorable than others here, but they’re still all great, so no real complaints to be had here.
So, I know I’ve praised this one up a f uckton in my review, but what can I say? It’s my favorite Death album, and in my all-time top 10 albums. However, if you’ve never heard ITP before, I won’t get mad at you if you don’t absolutely love it on first listen, or even your first few listens, seeing as how relentlessly intense it is, and how it almost has TOO much goodness to absorb in one sitting. But, I do suggest that you stick with it and apply your tiny intellect toward fathoming its greatness, as wonderful things wait to reward those who persevere, and come to appreciate this work of art.