Saturday, 8 December 2012

Death - Spiritual Healing (Reissue) (Album Review)

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 20 November 2012
Label: Relapse Records
Track Listing
Disc 1
1 Living Monstrosity 5:08
2 Altering the Future 5:34
3 Defensive Personalities 4:46
4 Within the Mind 5:34
5 Spiritual Healing 7:44
6 Low Life 5:23
7 Genetic Reconstruction 4:52
8 Killing Spree  4:16
Disc 2
Spiritual Healing - Rehearsals
1 Altering The Future 5:34
2 Defensive Personalities  4:49
3 Within The Mind 6:08
4 Within The Mind - Take 2 6:59
5 Spiritual Healing 8:44
6 Killing Spree 4:18
Spiritual Healing - Studio Instrumentals
7 Defensive Personalities 4:47
8 Spiritual Healing 7:48
9 Within The Mind 5:37
Joke / Jam Tracks
10 Satanic Jam  2:43
11 Primus Jam 3:38
12 Jon a Qua - Take 2 3:05
13 Jon a Qua - Take 3 3:06
14 Jon a Qua - Take 4 1:35
15 Jon a Qua - Take 5 1:38
16 Jon a Qua - Take 6 2:51

Death’s landmark ‘Spiritual Healing’ record is nothing short of genre-defining. Originally released in 1990, Spiritual Healing marked a new turn in the Death discography, one which ushered in cleaner production, a new level of boundary pushing musicianship and songwriting skills that were previously unimaginable from a metal band. Spiritual Healing sets the standard for riffs, insane time changes and of course mainman Chuck Schuldiner’s masterful guitar solos. Now reissued as a double cd housed in super deluxe packaging featuring brand new liner notes from Death players James Murphy and Terry Butler, Chuck’s mother Jane Schuldiner and Michael Poulsen (Volbeat), disc 1 features a completely new remaster of the original album and disc 2 contains 16 previously unreleased rehearsal, outtakes and studio instrumentals


Just as Motorhead is Lemmy, Chuck Schuldiner was Death. The man's personality, whims and wants are stamped all over every album the band put out and, of course, every album is different. That being said, it is very difficult to review Spiritual Healing objectively and independently of the other releases Chuck put his name to. Each album is a point in time and a snapshot of the erstwhile main man's musical vision at that point. Crucially, Spiritual Healing is something of a crossroads release.

A new direction had been taken- this is not a re-hash of Leprosy, nor is it The Sound Of Perseverence. There are few who would argue that Scream Bloody Gore or “Leprosy were progressive albums, but they do represent the birth of a genre and the pushing of the musical envelope. So too does Spiritual Healing push the envelope, but in a markedly different way.

Once this re-issue is played, it is obvious that time has gone into the re-mastering process. The sound is bright and clear. The vibe is very different to Leprosy- this is NOT standard death/thrash fare.

“Living Monstrosity” gives us traits of the old Death and points us in the direction of what was to come. Chuck's shriek/growl is present and correct, as are numerous time changes. The lead break at the mid way point would be in no way out of place on Individual Thought Patterns or even Symbolic. Another crucial feature of the release is displayed here; time changes throughout the solos. And Justice for All must have been on Schuldiner's radar- the trait is shared by the two albums and it makes for a really quite progressive feel. Not Opeth, perhaps, but far, far removed from Venom or Possessed.

“Altering the Future” starts slow and doomy and a 3:4 (or is it 6/8?!) time signature is introduced. This lends the track a rather jazzy feel. It swings rather than shreds and dexterity is favoured over power and aggression- another signpost of things to come and makes the title rather apt. “Defensive Personalities” starts with straight thrash and death metal riffs but at 1.26 there is a riff that would not be out of place on any one of the era's black metal releases. Harmony lead breaks and dropped snare beats abound giving again a proggy feel and structure.

“Within the Mind” gives the listener another slower riff and overall pace with those signature time changes through the solos cropping up again. The title track follows with 7.45 or so of progressive death metal. There is genuine bile in the delivery of the vocals and lovely tempo changes to keep the listener guessing, the extended solo section at the midpoint is also an aural treat here.

The almost conventional mid-tempo start to “Low Life” settles you into a false sense of security briefly, before beats are again omitted or pushed and abrupt time changes kick in (closed hi-hat work is a feature of this release; not used much these days). There are riffs which sound like leads and the solo sections often sound like a kind up sped up Iron Maiden. The ending is low and slow- again there is no predicting this album.

“Genetic Reconstruction” offers socially/scientifically conscious lyrics, tempo changes, more solos and the feeling that “Zombie Ritual” is a long time in the past. “Killing Spree” closes this landmark release with more odd time feels and time changes and many ventures up the neck by bass player Terry Butler.

The bonus material on offer with this particular edition takes the track list to a colossal 23 (more if you get the three disc set). This is really for completists. If you have a hankering to hear rehearsal tapes, instrumentals and jams, you will love it. It is interesting and a useful way to immerse oneself in the album- particularly looking for differences, song development etc. Perhaps most telling is the “Primus Jam”- a fusion fuelled jam showing off jazzy chops. The signs for the future of Death were in place- Chuck just needed further line-up changes to fully realise his vision.

Listening to the album is a time capsule- James Murphy and Chuck really do shred like its 1990, the drums of Bill Andrews thud rather than crack and it is clear that the times were changing. As Chuck intones: “Replacing what is real by using technology...” in “Genetic Reconstruction” you can't help feeling sad that this ended up being a prediction of the future of music. If you look at the quality of musicianship displayed on this album and every Death album that followed, it is very difficult to imagine similar quality and genre development being achieved organically today.  No doubt about it, Death paved the way for modern giants of the metal genre by including elements that were at the time positively avant garde and introducing a musicality hitherto not found in the extreme metal genre. For this album, and those that came before and after, we owe Chuck Schuldiner and all those that played with him a huge debt.

Written by: Richard Maw

Thanks to Pip at Relapse record for hooking us up with the record to review.  You can purchase the record here.  For more info about the band check the links below. 

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