Talent is a thing that is often recognized in people at a young age, but if not nurtured properly, nothing can be made of it. From the moment he received his first electric guitar, it was evident that Chuck Schuldiner had an aptitude and a passion for playing the instrument. He practiced honing his craft every day, eventually leading to him becoming one of the most prominent figures in the heavy music scene. Schuldiner is often regarded as the father of death metal. With the creation of his band Death, he brought this new style of music to the masses.
His technical skills, shredding solos, and catchy riffs are staples of Death’s sound, and became hallmarks of the death metal movement. Chuck’s contribution to music is one of the most drastic and significant additions to the hard rock and heavy metal styles, and he has a major following. Death metal is one of the more extreme types of music, and while it is not a popular style with many, it should not be dismissed as mere noise; it should be regarded as a well respected genre due to its loyal following. It is a complex and intricate art form.
While inspiration for this genre came from Scandinavian black metal, the themes, subject matter, and tone of the two genres are different. While black metal music often creates dark, somber atmospheres, with slow heavy riffs growling satanic lyrics; death metal takes a different approach by speeding up the heavy riffs and choruses, adding more complexity to them, and by not restricting the lyrical freedom of the artist. It is a common misconception that death metal singers stereotypically sing only about death and Satan. While there are many bands that adopt this trend, it is not a requirement.
Schuldiner played a major role in shaping the style of death metal, and drew inspiration from the rapidly evolving metal genre. Schuldiner was born on May 13, 1967 on Long Island, New York. Soon after he was born, his family moved to Florida. At 9, his older brother had died in a car accident, and this sent him into depression. His parents bought him an acoustic guitar, thinking that it would help Schuldiner deal with the loss of his sibling. At first he was not interested in learning guitar because he didn’t find it appealing.
When his parents saw an old electric guitar at a garage sale, they bought it for him thinking that he might enjoy it more. Schuldiner took to the instrument as soon as he saw it. He would often spend most of his time practicing, except during school weeks when he would only practice 3 hours a day. He was influenced by many rock and heavy metal artists, such as Iron Maiden, Metallica, Kiss, and others. Schuldiner continued to practice and teach himself the guitar, and while he was a good student, he later dropped out because he got bored with education.
He later regretted this decision, and claims that if he had not become a musician, he would have liked to have become a cook or a veterinarian. At the age of 16, Schuldiner formed the band Mantas, which he later renamed Death. He was the songwriter and lyricist of the band, and composed all of the melodies. He was the only constant member of the band throughout its existence. Contrary to what many people believe, he never received a formal musical education. He claims that he has taught himself by ear, and he managed to discover scales by himself.
He most frequently used minor or harmonic minor. He would also discover and create his own type of scales that complimented his fast playing, and odd finger positioning. However, the thing that defined the style of his solos and made them instantly recognizable was his alternate pick runs during solos. The notes would often be played at blazing fast speeds, coupled with the odd phrasing, allowed him to cram a lot of notes into one beat, yet somehow still manage to keep the fluidity of the solo. This technique isn’t as evident in their earlier albums.
The style of these albums was more of a fast paced power chord attack, and while it still showcased his guitar abilities, he would still not showcase his skills properly. However 1991’s, “Human,” showcased a more technical and advanced playing style, never before heard from Schuldiner. Most of his contribution was towards metal guitar, Schuldiner also played a major role in developing the staple techniques for death metal growls. For the most part, death metal singers use a deep, guttural sounding growls to convey their lyrics.
In the beginning of his career, Schuldiner also adopted this technique for the vocals on his songs, throwing his own twist on it due to his unique pronunciation. The slow, deep growl in the beginning of the song, “Leprosy,” is one of the most somber, dark growls that he has recorded, and set a great tone for the song and the rest of the album. In his later works, however, Schuldiner began using more higher pitched, screeching vocals. This complemented the faster pace of his newer songs, and was meant to add a sense of panic and tension to the songs.
In the song, “Symbolic,” his singing helps to send the pain he is feeling of relieving old memories, and of the loss of innocence as one grows older. All of these vocal techniques wouldn’t be worth perfecting if Schuldiner didn’t have a message to send. Schuldiner’s lyrics would often focus on the typical topics related to death metal, such as death and the torment one feels, but in his third album, he decided to take the themes of his songs in a new direction. When, “Spiritual Healing,” was released, the lyrics to the songs consisted of hot debate topics, such as his anti-drug stance the issue of abortion.
These songs, like most of his songs, deal with many social and political issues, rather than just death and despair. Schuldiner had discovered the influence that music had on people, and decided to promote other ideologies, such as animal rights and civil issues. In, “Altering the Future,” he condemns the practice of abortion, claiming that striping someone of their right to live is unfair and unjust: “Creating a life only to destroy/ Born to be thrown in the trash to rot/ Abortion, when it is needed/ Execution for those who deserve it/ The giving and taking of life will always be. Schuldiner is arguing of the unfairness of making a choice regarding someone else’s life, castigating the way in which people can so easily disregard another human being. By trying to bring this issue to light, Schuldiner demonstrates that death metal bands shouldn’t be stereotyped as aggressive and dimwitted. His lyrics and prove that they are educated individuals capable of compassion.
Chuck Schuldiner’s influence on modern music stems from his creation of what is now considered death metal, through the use of his guitar and vocal skills, and lyrical ideas and themes. From his early years, it was evident that he had a natural talent and ear for music. Chuck managed to influence future generations of music and keep his legacy alive. There may not be many musicians in the death metal genre that many people unfamiliar with this type of music note, but Schuldiner’s contributions are worthy of recognition.