Review Summary: An amazing swan song from one of metal's finest bands.
I believe that it is quite significant when the biggest debates occurring about a band is which album is their magnum opus. Death, considered by many to be the creators of death metal, as well as one of the most critically acclaimed bands in the genre, has been the subject of many of these debates. Many metalheads choose Symbolic
as the best Death album, but if you ask a group of Death fans "what's your favorite album", it is likely all seven of their albums will be mentioned by someone. Regardless of debate, I firmly believe that The Sound of Perseverance
, Death's final album, is the crown jewel of their discography.
Death had been adding more and more progressive elements to their songs since Human
, and continued adding those elements to their sound on their next two releases. On The Sound of Perseverance
, the band fully embraced these elements, and opted for full-on progressive metal. Death created their most complex arrangements ever, with nearly all songs requiring near-ungodly speed and precision.
The most notable element in this regard is Richard Christy's drumming, sounding as though it would require an octopus to play. The drums have a rattling sound to them, which gives them a distinctive touch, and makes them fit in perfectly with the music.
The other individual aspects of the album also require speed and precision, but are mostly notable simply for how effective they are. Scott Clendenin plays a very important role, defying the usual lack of recognition for bassists. His bass work is quite prominent throughout the entire album, especially on "Spirit Crusher", where his eerie bass line sets the foundation for the entire song. Both Chuck Schuldiner and Shannon Hamm work together to create guitar harmonies that, despite their technical complexity, are highly memorable, and will stick in your head like glue. Schuldiner has taken the higher-pitched screams heard on Symbolic
, and used them again, except for even higher. His vocals convey the intended emotions perfectly, while it is clearly apparent that he is pushing himself very hard to hit some of the upper ranges. Schuldiner provides the best vocal performance of his career on the band's cover of the Judas Priest
classic "Painkiller", where he adopts an approach similar to Rob Halford's high-pitched wail, and executes the challenging vocal dynamics flawlessly.
But it is important to remember that when it comes down to it, the musicians are only as good as the songs that they play. The musicians are all very talented, and fortunately, every song on the album proves to be grade-A material. "Scavenger of Human Sorrow" begins the album with Christy's octopus-like drumming, before heading into the crushing sound of the guitar riff. It sets up the pattern for the rest of the album to follow, with every song feeling perfectly structured and developed. The amazing thing about the songs is that with every repeat listen they seem to reveal something new that may have been previously unnoticed.
Schuldiner always had a talent for writing insightful and thought-provoking lyrics, and demonstrates this talent in exponential qualities on The Sound of Perseverance
. From "Bite the Pain":
"Not a drop of blood is drawn
but you know how it bleeds
beware of the sharp edged weapon
called human being"
From "A Moment of Clarity"
"Life is like a mystery
with many clues, but with few answers
to tell us what it is that we can do to look
for messages that keep us from the truth"
The lyrical prowess is ever-present on the entire album, and it is lines such as the ones above that the true depth of the songs is found. The lyrics can truly be called poetry, rivaling even Iron Maiden
The best tracks can be found in "Spirit Crusher", "Flesh and the Power it Holds", "Voice of the Soul", and "Painkiller". "Spirit Crusher" is the spirit of controlled chaos set to music, with the weight of the sound gives the literal feeling of being crushed, and featuring one of Death's most memorable riffs, along with ungodly screaming from Schuldiner. "Flesh and the Power it Holds" has lyrics such as "passion is a poison laced with pleasure bitter sweet, one of many faces that hide deep beneath". The track also is one of the most rewarding songs on the album, with it's eight and-a-half minute runtime allowing the band to present countless amazing moments, from the razor-sharp guitar tone, to the emotional solo perfectly demonstrating Schuldiner's versatility as a guitar player. "Voice of the Soul" is the most mellow song that Death ever came up with, being based around an acoustic guitar and lacking percussion. The song is very emotional and has atmosphere that no other Death song does, with the fact that it is instrumental making it even better. It tells its story through the music alone, and the music speaks louder than any words could have. "Painkiller" is the ultimate example of how to do a cover, with Death giving the song the same careful treatment as they would any of their own songs. The cover stays true to the spirit of the original, and yet has it's own identity as a Death song, with the newly written solo acting as icing on the cake.
The Sound of Perseverance
is a very worthy final statement from Death, who put their all into this album and yielded the best possible results. Despite it's many intricacies, this album is quite accessible, and yes, even catchy at times. An essential album not only for fans of death metal, but for fans of metal of all types.