Review Summary: A death metal essential that only gets better with each listen.
The final four records by Floridian metal legends Death have long been hailed as masterpieces, impeccable collections of music essential to any lover of death metal, or extreme metal in general. Each of them have their own amazing qualities about them: Human represents the astronomic growth from just a death metal group into prog-metal masterminds, Symbolic features some of Chuck's most fantastic songwriting & lyrics, and The Sound of Perseverance is extremely technical. But of these final four records, Individual Thought Patterns is definitely the black sheep. Written in between the flourishes of genius that were Human and Symbolic, Chuck Schuldiner was once again in a tight situation. He was once again searching for a second guitarist and yet another drummer. After selecting Andy LaRocque to be his rhythm guitarist and the impeccable Gene Hoglan behind the kit, the band was all set to record their fifth album. However, with the pressure stacked against them after making such an amazing record, and getting used to the new band members, how were they going to create a sufficient follow-up? This was the last album of the final four that I listened to. As it is pretty much just an amalgam of Death's 80's sound and the sound they would use on their last two albums, I went into this purely expecting it to be a record of transition, and to be nowhere as good as Human or Symbolic.
Until I listened to it.
The opening drum fill of "Overactive Imagination" hit me with such brute force that my jaw dropped from pure astonishment. The syncopated 9/8 riff was so freaking filthy and technical that I immediately asked myself, "How can this get any better?" Oh, but it does. Chuck is still a guitar wizard, and he still has the best quasi-thrash-sounding vocals in the genre. He can still solo his ass off, and he has surrounded himself with even BETTER musicians than he had before. As usual, Steve DiGiorgio is setting his bass guitar on fire with his nasty fills and terrific solos. The deep tones DiGiorgio uses are pure bliss (is that the right word to describe a DM bass line?) The twin guitar interplay of Schuldiner and LaRocque is impeccable, with the two of them almost making my brain explode with their fantastic solos on "Jealousy", the euphoric opening riff of "Trapped In A Corner" or the just plain epic guitar lines of "The Philosopher". The songs combine the crazy time switches and relentless instrumentation of their final years, but with the short track lengths and unadulterated rage of their early days. Schuldiner's lyrics were improving rapidly by the time the band recorded ITP: the title track and "The Philosopher" are two of the best songs ever penned under the Schuldiner name. Gene Hoglan is easily the best drummer the band ever had, pulling off lightning-fast double-bass rhythms and cascading tom rolls with ease, all while playing very well dynamically and not overpowering the sound too much. His opening fills on "Overactive Imagination" and "Mentally Blind" are especially mind-bending.
The production on this record is fantastic (although I do have a 320kbps rip of it: I don't know how the physical copy sounds). Every instrument is given a moment to shine, with the drums being crisp but extremely well-tuned, the guitars chugging and unrelenting although possessing an undeniable sense of melody & harmony, and almost funky bass work that is clear on every single song at one point or another. And thank goodness, Chuck's voice is actually clear. He does a great job articulating but lets the instruments do the talking (or rather, barking) when he needs to. Chuck will always have one of the most unique voices in death metal, despite his clueless detractors who say his voice isn't deep or growly enough. Since when was that a requirement? If every death metal vocalist did that, it would be a pretty derivative style.
Don't let the fact that it's lowest rated of the big 4 fool you. ITP is a nearly flawless gem that is too overlooked on the site (and by Death fans themselves) and in my opinion is every bit as good as The Sound of Perseverance, while falling just below their two essentials, Human and Symbolic. Buy (or pirate) this now, you won't regret it one bit.
Recommended Tracks (asterisk signifies best song on the album):
Trapped In A Corner
Individual Thought Patterns