Review Summary: A near perfect album marred a little by lack of memorability and the minor fact that there is too much going on. This is an album to invest time into and let every genius moment be soaked up.
Death's story is some of the most interesting reading/listening that one can persevere in. Throughout a 15 year career they created and repeatedly revolutionized a genre with each installment getting more and more progressive and insightful, culminating in the masterpiece that Symbolic was and eventually ending with the tragic demise of Chuck Schuldiner-the heart and soul of Death. Whilst active Death unleashed seven albums of death metal goodness that is near unrivalled. Scream Bloody Gore created the genre, and Leprosy refined it before Spiritual Healing marked the first deviation from the path of death metal in its purest form with some more progressive song structures and lyrics that moved into more tabboo subjects such as abortion as opposed to sacrificial rituals and human illnesses. From 1991's Human onwards their catalogue is nearly flawless with that particular album being a thirty minute long maelstrom of riffs and each album adding more and more to this template. Whilst each of these is close to perfection it is debated which one is the weakest of the lot with Individual Thought Patterns being the album most often named from Death's final four. Whilst this may well be true, this should not be taken as any manner of insult as what this album is is something quite special.
Individual Thought Patterns is the fifth album in Death's discography, released two years after Human and containing ten songs with an average length of about four minutes per song, clocking in at forty eight minutes. To think that one year prior to this the Fate greatest hits collection had been released and then this was released, destroying eighty percent of that compilation effortlessly. Chuck Schuldiner was right to disapprove of the song selection on there, as Sony were proven wrong in placing songs such as the title track to Spiritual Healing on there, no matter how good that song was, when this was right around the corner. This was the album that featured Destiny with its fantastic incessant riff-work and that killer slow section following the solo and accompanying fast riff. This was also the album to feature hit song The Philosopher, one of the band's best known due to Beavis and Butthead mocking Chucks vocals and the accompanying video for this song. No matter what way you look at it, back to front Individual Thought Patterns was destined to be a classic.
This is Death's most progressive album to date and yet still managed to keep the song time down. Throughout each one of these songs there are enough lightning fast changes in speed to make this an epileptic's worse nightmare. Imagine taking the heaviness and balls out speed of Scream Bloody Gore and interweaving the genius twists of an album such as 2112 by Rush and what you have is Individual Thought Patterns. Neither of those albums realistically have too much in common with this release but to combine the stylistic approaches is to find the formula that makes this album work so well. Out Of Touch is a great example of how progressively-oriented this album is and yet is also a good means to point out how Chuck never forgot rule number 1 of death metal-make it heavy as hell. The song opens up with a nice little drum roll from none other than new band member Gene Hoglan of Dark Angel fame, and moves through a slow, jazz-influenced section before at forty seconds it leaps into balls-to-the-wall speed mode. Then, just after the minute mark, the song slows right back down and we have some heavy palm muted riffing from Chuck with Steve DiGiorgio's bass thumping away in the background. At 1:57 a thrashy riff comes in whilst Chuck throws his soul into his vocals and then in comes a highly technical solo that is cleverly worked around the dynamic musicianship that never seems to stop changing. At 3:10 one might think the song was about to end with some clever lead noodling before suddenly we are kicked in the face again by a fast as hell tremolo riff and the song then continues to dance around with speeds until the thrilling end where we are given one chord to end it all. On this song Death managed to work in more musical ideas and changes in direction in the space of four and a half minutes than many bands can accomplish in entire albums, such is testament as to how talented Chuck really was-the man was a visionary, nothing more and nothing less.
The drumming on this album is nothing short of incredible. There are near-constant debates as to whether Sean Reinert's machine gun sounding drums on Human, as evidenced by the introduction to Flattening Of Emotions, are better or whether Gene Hoglan's relentless work is better and the truth is neither of them are better than the other. Both put in thrilling performances with highly technical drum beats and fills thrown in left right and centre, with Sean's performance on Human being a little more contained than Gene's flashy drumming on this album. Mentally Blind shows off his ability to let loose with double bass drumming better than almost any drummer out there but he is not afraid to mix his performance up a bit as is found in The Philosipher. All the way through this album there are constant speed changes that never fail to drop the listener's jaw right to the ground. Gene Hoglan gets the job done on this album with emphatic style. Holding up the other end of the rhythm section is Steve Digiorgio with his fretless bass guitar whose instrument does not, for once, go unheard as the production job is handled masterfully by Scott Burns. He also puts on a great show, with his bass lines usually following the guitars for the most part but this is as expected with metal and it is just nice to be able to hear the work of a bassist for once.
The guitar work has always been the centrepiece of any Death release and on Individual Thought Patterns this is shown off constantly. From the tapping intro to The Philosopher to the crushing riffs of the album's shortest song, Nothing Is Everything, back to The Philosopher's stop-start riff, this is as varied an album as a pair of guitarists could hope to concieve. Andy LaRocque and Chuck Schuldiner handle the guitars on this album and both are as talented as each other with each guitarist having numerous solos and fills on the album from Andy's incredible work on In Human Form to Chuck's aforementioned shining moment during the intro to The Philosopher. The riffs have a huge amount of contrast to them as the songs consistently jump from fast tremolo picking to more deliberate, slower paced riffs and each one never fails to shred your face off. This is one album where the guitar work is completely flawless from the opening moment right through to a thrilling conclusion. Chuck also handles the vocals on here, as with every Death album, and his performance is something to be proud of. His voice was fast ascending in pitch by this point, which would later culminate in the manic shrieking found on The Sound Of Perseverance, but this is the last traces of the low tones that populated earlier Death albums. His lyricism on this album is something really rather special. Chuck had just as much talent with a pen as he did with a guitar, continuing the journey through his mind and his thoughts on various topics that began on Spiritual Healing. Chuck was a philosopher, through and through, as is evidenced by the lyrics to songs such as Mentally Blind and Trapped In A Corner. The lyrics are just the icing on an already perfect cake.
This album is as close to perfection as can be found and paved the way for something even greater that came about with the very next album, Symbolic. The only minute criticism that can realistically be found with this album is that it does not have enough truly catchy moments to it, instead shifting up so many styles in the blink of an eye that there is little to truly latch onto. It will take many a number of listens for moments to stick in your head from this album as opposed to Human which instantly hooked you in. In many ways this built upon Human but that album was just such a whirlwind and still pulled you in within mere minutes that Human slightly tops this. However, Individual Thought Patterns is brilliance incarnate that no death metal fan should go without.