on November 9, 2012
Even though the band ceased to exist in 2001 following the death of frontman Chuck Schuldiner (who died from brain cancer), the sixth album from Floridian death metal icons Death, quite simply, never ceases to amaze. Surprisingly progressive, superbly catchy, and adherently groovy, "Symbolic" (which was originally released in 1995, and re-released with four demo tracks in 2008) is a very rare find in death metal because it is a positively air-guitar-able album. Schuldiner and Bobby Koelble both come-up with gob after gob of excellent, satisfying, and instinctively memorable riffs, technically-impressive leads, and dazzling solo runs. Meanwhile, bassists Kelly Conlon (who would later go on to join Monstrosity) and Steve DiGiorgio (who is also a proud member of Sadus and Autopsy) lay down some wicked bass lines, memorable grooves, and even toss in the odd solo or two. And the band is rounded out by another indisputably legendary musician, drummer Gene Hoglan, who is also in fine form, here. His drumming may be mainly centered around blasts and thrash beats, but he is nonetheless a very godly skinsman, and his top-notch talents -- i.e. blistering feet work and inhuman dexterity -- are proudly displayed all throughout these nine songs. Plus, but no matter how technical his playing may be, it is always air-drummer worthy. (It is easy to imagine Hoglan inspiring generations of fans across the globe to get behind a trapkit.)
Finally, as with the music, the vocals are confrontational, influential, and always very memorable. (For this effort, Chuck adopted a newfound low, deathly growl to go along with his signature black metal-esque rasps, one that he would go on to use in later releases such as 1999's swansong "Sound Of Perseverance.") Add consistently epic and mature songwriting/arrangements and an excellent production job (courtesy of Chuck) to the mix, and the end result is one of the clear-cut crown jewels on the death metal timeline. It is also easily one of the most influential pieces of music in the genre's history.
Death begin the title track with a very great and catchy, chugging, abrasively grinding main riff that snowballs into a blinding onslaught of blistering licks, interesting, beeping bass lines, and pummeling blast beats. Top it all off with a nice-and-long (and wailing) melodic guitar solo section, and the end result is a very addictive set opener. Next comes, "Zero Tolerance," which aside from featuring powerful, shout-worthy vocals and inspiring, rebellious lyrics, clearly takes a page out of the Judas Priest playbook, as it lets fly a bunch of excellent, mazy, winding solos and lovely, epic-sounding guitar harmonies. And a pounding doom metal riff is included in the chorus, too. "Empty Words" features an epic arrangement, opening on a quiet note, with docile strings and melodic hand percussion. The electric guitars eventually come screaming in, though, unleashing a handful of fiery, technical solos, and creating a muscular, airtight rhythm complete with thundering thrash beats/double bass drumming and persistent, grumbling bass lines. As a result, "Empty Words" may be a mostly melodic and first-and-foremost mid-tempo song, but it certainly does not lack any potency or heaviness.
"Sacred Serenity" features a similarly epic arrangement. It begins sounding almost like a cut of pure progressive rock, with a funky, Primus-esque slapped bass part and bouncy drum beat in the intro. And again, the guitars come ripping on through with impressive, pyrotechnic soloing, and hooky, head-bangable riffing. A dreary, soft string breakdown is included later on, but this song is mostly highlighted by its excellent, epically complex soloing and deft, technical bass work throughout. "Sacred Serenity" is also of note for the way it builds and gains momentum off of itself. "1,000 Eyes" augments its machine-gun riffage with booming, bottom-heavy bass lines, and a rhythmic, galloping drum beat. Things occasionally downshift to adopt some more mid-tempo chugging, but most of the song is blistering. "Without Judgement" is backed by industrial-strength chug and churn guitar slices, and is anchored by more exceptional bass work -- including very steady, grumbling bass grooves and a short but sweet bass solo. There are a few down-tempo melodic parts (with soaring guitar harmonies and high-flying melodic solos); but they only help to add punch and delicious contrast to the fast, thrashy parts.
Following that comes something that just might be the best death metal song ever. (It is at least one of the best, and that's for certain.) Its name is "Crystal Mountain" -- need I say more?! Well, OK, no review would be complete without mentioning the gobs of eargasmic soloing, impeccable cymbal rides (cheers, Gene!), extremely catchy vocals and memorable lyrics, and awesome, flowing outro found here. Here, the band lay deliciously melodic leads on top of equally-as-tasty Spanish/acoustic guitars, and do so to unforgettable effect. Then, Death offset "C.M.," which is the album's most melodic and progressive cut, with "Misanthrope," which is a breakneck, and fairly devastating barrage of aggressive tempos, blazing guitars, and skull-splitting drum slamming. (Hoglan sure does not skimp on the blasts, here.) Finally, the set wraps up with another terrifically epic piece in "Perennial Quest," a sprawling, near eight-and-a-half minute long set closer. Most of it is relatively restrained, and it even features occasional slow and melodic breakdowns (the acoustic breakdown near the end is just plain gorgeous!). And only occasionally does the song erupt into a blast of propulsive, thrashing, blast beat-aided speed metal, thus making the arrangements brilliantly dynamic. Plus, another shred-tastic, vertigo-inducing solo section is included, as well. Needless to say, it is one excellent way to end an already fantastic album.
Progressive death metal, death-thrash, melodic death metal -- throw out the categories, because "Symbolic" is THE ultimate DM album. Even seventeen years after it was initially released, it remains the crowning achievement for each band member involved in the making of it, and one of the most essential pieces of music that a metalhead can buy!