Saturday 19 April 2014

Death - Leprosy 3 Disc Reissue (Album Review)

Album Type : 3 Disc Live Album
Date Released : 29/4/2014
Label : Relapse Records

Leprosy Reissue, track listing :

1. Leprosy 06:19
2. Born Dead 03:25
3. Forgotten Past 04:33
4. Left To Die 04:35
5. Pull The Plug 04:25
6. Open Casket 04:53
7. Primitive Ways 04:33
8. Choke On It 5:54

The sixth installment in Relapse’s exhaustive reissue campaign of DEATH’S immensely influential catalog is ‘Leprosy’, the band’s titanic second album.  Originally released in 1988 ‘Leprosy’ was a pioneering album, building upon the thrash sounds of Metallica and Slayer but adding a previously unheard level of raw extremity.  These songs are the roots of an entire genre:  death metal.  While this was only the second record Death released, it immediately cemented them as heavy metal icons.

Meticulous care has been put into this reissue.  The entire album, as well as the bonus material has been painstakingly remastered by Alan Douches (Mastodon, Nile, etc).  Deluxe 2XCD contains 50 minutes of previously unheard and unreleased Leprosy demos and rehearsal material housed in an embossed o-card package with a 24 page booklet featuring unseen pictures of the band as well as brand new liner notes from Ian Christe (Sirius/XM) and Jeremy Wagner (Broken Hope).  LP features the remastered core album on wax together with a download card for all of the music included on the 2XCD.

Super limited deluxe vinyl box set available exclusively from containing: the remastered core Leprosy album on exclusive colored vinyl; a 2nd LP containing unreleased rehearsal material from the Leprosy sessions housed in an exclusive jacket with original flyer art on exclusive colored vinyl; an exact replication of the original Combat newspaper print LP insert, and; a Leprosy turntable slipmat.  Comes with a download card for the entire 3XCD’s worth of music.  Strictly limited to 500 copies. 

The Band :

Chuck Schuldiner | Vocals, Guitars
Rick Rozz | Guitar
Terry Butler | Bass
Bill Andrews | Drums

Review :

The Death albums are steadily getting the deluxe re-issue treatment. Leprosy comes in a 3 disc set- the album (remastered), rehearsal recordings and a live disc as a bonus. Extensive it is, how much you will want it depends on your affection for such curios and of course on your affection for the album itself.

I have to be honest, Leprosy has historically been my least favourite Death album (Symbolic is the best, for me, closely followed by ITP). The reasons for this are mostly (pathetically) based on the production. The snare has an appalling sound- massive but unclear. It is a shame as the material is very, very good. The title track sees Schuldiner (and assorted sidemen) reaching far beyond the shock and gore of the debut and taking in changes, odd time feels and stellar guitar work. Vicious stuff for sure- particularly for the late eighties.

What follows is more standard death metal fare- less progressive and grand sounding but effective nonetheless. There are riffs aplenty through Born Dead and again stunning leads. Forgotten Past leans towards the thrashier end of the DM spectrum with the oddly 80's trait of using a closed hi-hat in the thrash verse sections- not many people do that any more! Left to Die has a classic Schuldiner feel to the riffs (and those vocals...!) and introduces a very Obituary groove feel for a few sections.

Which brings us on to a metal classic; Pull the Plug. Aside from the title track, this is the one off the album that most metal heads know. Pulverising bass drums meet dexterous riffing and changes. The band had the chops and the remastering job goes some way to highlighting this- the sound is bright and clear through headphones and not even the bin lid-placed-over-a-plastic-bucket sound of the snare can obscure the sound of this particular line-up operating at the top of their game. Thunderous and vicious.

To be fair, Open Casket also has some renown and has great riffs and a better snare sound (I will not mention it again- sorry!). Primitive Ways reminds me of Sepultura- in both title and all out thrash assault- great track. Choke On It rounds the album out with some style- again, the band spreads their wings and things get a bit more technical. Oddly, the longer you listen to the record, the more the production makes sense- a bit like ...And Justice For All. The remaster really is good- it has brightened the whole thing and things are very clear which is astonishing considering the budget that the band were probably working with, the newness of the sound and the technology available at the time.

I first heard this album on vinyl twenty years ago. Listening to it now makes me yearn for a time when death metal had actual songs that didn't just feature blast beats and breakdowns and Chuck was still alive. As noted in a past review of Spiritual Healing, Schuldiner pushed the boundaries of extreme music and developed a genre as he did so. His influence cannot be overstated. The rehearsal recordings are curios for fans only- they sound like any rehearsal recording you have heard in the past- that is to say that they are near unlistenable and sound as if they were recorded by a Dictaphone placed inside a thick sock. Still cool, though! The live set is very rough indeed- bootleg quality for sure- do not expect anything like the Live in LA album that was released posthumously. The volume fluctuates, the guitars are muddy, as are the vocals and...Everything else, really.

In summary, then, Leprosy is a much better album than I remembered it being- and saying that does it a disservice. It is a classic. The remaster is one of quality, the artwork is Ed Repka, and therefore super cool. The bonuses are for collectors only- they do not add much to the album per se, but are an interesting one time listen. If you are looking for early death metal and like Death, then getting this reissue is a no-brainer. A Quality album played by quality musicians at a time when the genre was fresh and developing quickly.

Words by : Richard Maw

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