Retrospective: Death’s “The Sound of Perseverance”

TSoP

Looking through our archives, there really is a disappointing lack of Death-related material here on Horns Up. And okay, a large part of that is down to the fact that a good—I don’t know, 80?—percent of our content focuses on new stuff: new album reviews, headlines, etc. And, well…for reasons we’re all aware of, Death hasn’t had much going on in the way of “new stuff” in some time. But even with all of the Retrospectives and #TBTs we do…I still count just one mention of the death metal legends in our site’s history. And almost a year in, that’s unacceptable. So today, I’m going to remedy that, by covering the band’s landmark final album, The Sound of Perseverance, for this week’s Retrospective.

I’ll admit, I was a bit late to the party on Death. Sure, I knew them, but I’d really been a metal fan for a couple of years before I first ventured into their stuff. That initial exploration was with this album, which I bought sound unheard at—believe it or not—Best Buy. Remember when Best Buy used to have a shockingly decent amount of metal albums in stock at a given moment? Those were the days.

At any rate, I took this thing home and popped it in, only to have my expectations completely shattered. Wasn’t death metal supposed to be…thick? Gruff? With booming, powerful vocals? That’s what I’d come to understand about the genre from the, admittedly, limited exposure I’d had up to that point. But this? This was different. This was shrill. This was nimble. This was piercing at a level I’d never heard in extreme metal up to that point. Listening to a song like “Bite the Pain,” I got the feeling that Death’s music could quite literally do just that, and bite someone if it felt so inclined. The band’s brand of brutality (say that phrase five times fast, I dare you) was just that sharp, its aggression that refined.

And of course, the central figure behind it all was Chuck Schuldiner: his haunting, throaty shrieks instantly ingraining themselves into my memory, never to be forgotten; his guitar lines slicing their way across my ear drums as if capable of physically drawing blood. In going back and listening to earlier Death material afterward, it became easy to understand how incredible a talent he was—the dude just had such a consistent body of work over his 18 year career—but even so, Perseverance still feels like a different level. The songwriting showcases the perfect blend of technical proficiency, progressive tendencies and the sheer death metal blitz people had come to expect from him. It’s constantly enthralling. Songs like “Spirit Crusher” or “Scavenger of Human Sorrow” sound every bit as fresh now, seven years after my first listen, as they did then—and I’d venture people who bought the album when it first dropped 18 years ago can say the same.

But let’s not forget the supporting players either. In his sole studio appearance with the band, infamous hired gun / current Howard Stern Show personality Richard Christy turns in an absolute masterclass on drums. There’s not a single compositional twist or turn Schuldiner throws his way that Christy doesn’t handle with aplomb. And full credit to Scott Clendenin as well—on an album notable for its high-end-dominant production, his rumbling bass performance always finds ways to creep through the mix and wow you.

Ultimately, there’s nothing you could ask of The Sound of Perseverance that it wouldn’t be able to deliver on. It’s a stunning, intricate piece of work that never once fails to impress. (Even on their album-closing cover of Judas Priest’s “Painkiller”—a jarring listen for me initially, but as big a grower as I’ve ever experienced in metal or otherwise.) I won’t pretend it’s the easiest listen in the world—it’s more or less a constant reminder of how huge a presence Schuldiner was for death metal, and how devastating his loss remains, even more than 13 years later—but it’s a constantly rewarding one.

So whether it’s your first time through or your hundredth, pop it on and marvel:

Keep it heavy,

-Dan

Live. Love. Plow. Horns Up.

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