Chuck Schuldiner

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Chuck Schuldiner
Schuldiner c. 1992
Schuldiner c. 1992
Background information
Birth nameCharles Michael Schuldiner
Also known as
  • The Godfather of death metal
  • Evil Chuck (beginning of career)
Born(1967-05-13)May 13, 1967
Long Island, New York, U.S.
DiedDecember 13, 2001(2001-12-13) (aged 34)
Altamonte Springs, Florida, U.S.
  • Musician
  • singer
  • songwriter
  • Vocals
  • guitar
Years active1983–2001

Charles Michael Schuldiner (born May 13, 1967 – December 13, 2001) was an American vocalist and guitarist. He founded the death metal band Death in 1983, in which he was the band's lead vocalist, guitarist and only consistent member until his death in 2001. His obituary in the January 5, 2002, issue of UK's Kerrang! magazine described him as "one of the most significant figures in the history of metal."[1] Schuldiner was ranked No. 10 in Joel McIver's book The 100 Greatest Metal Guitarists in 2009 and No. 20 in March 2004 Guitar World's "The 100 Greatest Metal Guitarists".[2] In 1987, Schuldiner founded the publishing company Mutilation Music, affiliated with performance rights organization BMI. Schuldiner died in 2001 of a brain tumor.[3]

Schuldiner is often referred to as "The Godfather of death metal",[4][5][6] although he was uncomfortable with this nickname,[7] remarking that "I don't think I should take the credits for this death metal stuff. I'm just a guy from a band, and I think Death is a metal band."[5]


Early life[edit]

Schuldiner was born on May 13, 1967, on Long Island, New York. His father Mal Schuldiner was Jewish and the son of Austrian immigrants, and his mother Jane Schuldiner was from the American South and had converted to Judaism.[8] In 1968, his family moved to Florida. He started playing guitar at the age of 9.[9] He took classical lessons for less than a year in which his teacher taught him "Mary had a Little Lamb", which he did not like very much, and almost stopped completely until his parents bought him an electric guitar at a yard sale. The young Schuldiner immediately took to the instrument and began playing, writing and teaching himself. He was known to spend the weekend in the garage or his room playing his guitar but was limited to three hours on weekdays when school was in session. Schuldiner first played in public in his early teens.

Schuldiner was originally inspired by Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Kiss and classical jazz, among others. He was particularly interested in the metal movement known as NWOBHM – New Wave of British Heavy Metal – and cited bands of that genre among his favorites. He frequently cited French band Sortilège as his personal favorite metal group. Slayer, Celtic Frost, Possessed, Mercyful Fate/King Diamond and Metallica were later influences he would apply more to his own songwriting. Later in his career, Schuldiner frequently cited progressive metal bands such as Watchtower, Coroner and Queensrÿche as influences. The official Schuldiner website, Empty Words, quotes Schuldiner's mother making the claim that he enjoyed all forms of music except country and rap.[10] He also enjoyed jazz and classical music in addition to metal and British alternative acts such as Lush.

Schuldiner performed well in school before becoming bored with education and eventually dropping out. He later regretted this decision.[11] He has stated that if he had not become a musician, he would have liked to have become a veterinarian or a cook.[12]

Musical career[edit]

Taking inspiration from Nasty Savage,[13] Schuldiner formed Death as Mantas in 1983 when he was just 16 years old. Original members were Schuldiner (guitar), Rick Rozz (guitar) and Kam Lee (drums and vocals). In January 1986, Schuldiner moved to Toronto and temporarily joined the Canadian band Slaughter.[14] However, he quickly returned to continue the formation of Death.

Death underwent many lineup changes. With Chris Reifert, Schuldiner eventually released the first Death album, titled Scream Bloody Gore, in 1987. He continued with 1988's Leprosy with the line-up of former Mantas guitarist Rick Rozz and rhythm section Terry Butler on bass and Bill Andrews on drums, and 1990's Spiritual Healing, where guitarist James Murphy had replaced the fired[citation needed] Rozz in 1989.

Schuldiner in 1989

After Spiritual Healing, Schuldiner stopped working with full-time band members, preferring to work with studio and live venue musicians, due to bad relationships with Death's previous rhythm section and guitarists. This earned Schuldiner something of a 'perfectionist' reputation in the metal community. Schuldiner had also fired his manager Eric Greif but settled and re-hired him before the recording of his next, influential release.[15][16]

Death's breakthrough album, Human saw the band evolving to a more technical and progressive style, in which Schuldiner displayed his guitar skills more than ever. He continued in this style (and continued the success of the band) with 1993's Individual Thought Patterns, 1995's Symbolic, and finally The Sound of Perseverance in 1998.

He put Death on hold after this to continue Control Denied, which he had been putting together prior to the release of The Sound of Perseverance, and released The Fragile Art of Existence in 1999. Control Denied also had other players from the latest Death album but featured a melodic metal vocalist. Schuldiner also played guitar in the "supergroup" Voodoocult on the album Jesus Killing Machine in 1994 and played a guest solo on Naphobia's 1995 release, Of Hell on the track "As Ancients Evolve" as a favor to the band's bassist at the time who was a friend of Schuldiner's.[17] Schuldiner was also asked to be one of the many guest vocalists on Dave Grohl's 2001 Probot. Grohl, Napalm Death, Ozzy Osbourne, and Anthrax all increased efforts to raise funds for Schuldiner's medical bills with Grohl trying to involve Schuldiner on an album he was working on.[18] In a 1999 interview, Schuldiner spoke about why he didn't sing on the Control Denied album The Fragile Art of Existence "...these vocals are all I ever wanted to do in Death but couldn't. I've had this dream of recording like that for years, and it seems like a dream come true. Tim Aymar is an amazing singer and this is the main difference. I think people will be surprised at the violence and strength of the album. Many people are expecting something like Iron Maiden, but, despite being one of my favorite bands, I didn't want to make an Iron Maiden-like album. I wanted to make an unpredictable album, just like I did in Death, I guess. I don't like to make predictable albums."[19]

Illness and death[edit]

In 1999, Schuldiner was diagnosed with brain cancer.[20] He continued to work on his music, continuing his work with Control Denied. He was at first unable to afford the surgery that he needed immediately. A press release called for support from everyone, including fellow artists. Jane Schuldiner urged all who read the statements about Schuldiner and his illness to go out and get insurance, stating her frustration in the American healthcare system. Schuldiner had taken out medical insurance after his first surgery, but the insurer had refused to pay because the cancer pre-dated insurance being taken out. Many artists, including Kid Rock, Korn and Red Hot Chili Peppers, got together during the summer of 2001 to auction off personal items, with the funds assisting Schuldiner's medical expenses, an effort covered by MTV.[21] Matt Heafy, vocalist and guitarist for Trivium, has also stated that the band had played a benefit show for Schuldiner while he was in the hospital in their days as a local band.[22] In November 2001, Schuldiner's condition worsened as he became ill with Pneumocystis carinii.[citation needed]

On December 13, 2001, Schuldiner died at the age of 34[23] and was cremated.[24] MTV reported that recording artists including Dave Grohl, Mike Patton, Max Cavalera, King Diamond, Ville Valo, Trey Azagthoth, Glen Benton, Jason Newsted, Corey Taylor, and all former and active members of Death, attended his memorial service.


With the assistance of Schuldiner's family, former manager Eric Greif handled his legacy as President of Perseverance Holdings Ltd. Schuldiner's mother Jane and sister Beth Schuldiner frequently interact with his fans and both have stated many times that they enjoy his music. Greif kept track of his recordings and handled Schuldiner's intellectual property. Beth Schuldiner has a son named Christopher Steele, who also plays guitar and has all of Schuldiner's guitars. BC Rich also released a statement in their 2008 catalog stating that Schuldiner's signature model Stealth will be available for purchase, and that endorsement is overseen by Steele.

Schuldiner had homes and two dogs in the area surrounding Orlando. Schuldiner built a studio inside the garage where many of his songs such as "Crystal Mountain" were inspired. Schuldiner's home office was the site of the Metal Crusade newsletter and fan club.

A legal battle began from the time of Schuldiner's death on the settlement of the rights to the partially completed second Control Denied album, When Man and Machine Collide, which was recorded in 2000–2001 and was scheduled for release in 2013.[25] Demos of these unreleased Control Denied songs, as well as early Death demos and live Death recordings from 1990, were released in the Zero Tolerance two-part compilation bootlegs by the Dutch Hammerheart Holdings company and the Schuldiners and Greif asserted rights on behalf of Schuldiner's Estate. The matter was settled in November 2009, anticipating the project being finished and released in 2010.

Tribute concerts have been coordinated or funded by Schuldiner's mother and family and various Death tribute groups internationally. Former CKY frontman, Deron Miller, who considers Schuldiner an idol of his, got the idea, while working on various projects with former Death guitarist (and pituitary tumor survivor) James Murphy, to do a tribute album. Murphy announced he would release a Chuck Schuldiner tribute album to commemorate his lasting mark on the metal community and Schuldiner's family publicly offered support for Murphy's effort, though it has never materialized. Schuldiner's sister Beth confirmed via her YouTube channel that Death: Live in Japan, a behind the scenes Death video, as well as a potential boxset containing all of Schuldiner's works including some exclusive copies of handwritten notes by Schuldiner are in the works via Relapse Records.[26] Schuldiner Estate lawyer Eric Greif held a charity Chuck Schuldiner Birthday Bash in Calgary, Alberta, May 13, 2011, featuring speeches by Greif and former Death guitarist Paul Masvidal, as well as bands performing Schuldiner's music.[27] Greif repeated this May 12, 2012, with special guest band Massacre, featuring former Death members Rick Rozz and Terry Butler.


In January 2001, Mahyar Dean, an Iranian metal guitarist/musician, wrote Death, a book about Death and Schuldiner poems. The book includes bilingual lyrics and many articles about the band. The book was sent through the site keepers of to Schuldiner, who in his words was "truly blown away and honored by the obvious work and devotion he put into bringing the book to life".[28]


Schuldiner designed the Death logo and its various incarnations during the length of his career. In 1991, before the release of Human, he cleaned up the logo taking out more intricate details and the "T" in the logo was swapped from an inverted cross to a more regular looking "T", one reason being to quash any implication of religion.[29]

Schuldiner was also openly against hard drugs; he is quoted as saying, "I've tripped several times. That's all because I don't like the hard drugs. And my only drugs are alcohol and grass."[30]

Musical style[edit]

Schuldiner was mostly self-taught as a guitarist. In 1993, he expressed a disinterest in music theory: "I know enough about what I'm playing to memorize the scales and things, but I have no idea how you would label them. As long as I can play it, memorize it and apply it, I don't need to know what you call it."[31]

In the early days of Death, Schuldiner used a "deep, raspy" death growl vocal technique. He said in 1993 that "it takes a lot of energy and a lot of throat abuse to get through a show."[31]



Schuldiner's primary guitar throughout most of his career was the B.C. Rich Stealth model, an extremely rare model produced in small amounts under the B.C. Rich US (U-) series name along with the Custom Shop, until it was released to the public as the Chuck Schuldiner Tribute Stealth. The Stealth was also released as an N.J. model in the 1980's and 1990's, but was extremely rare. Prior to this, he used a B.C. Rich Mockingbird copy, built by "someone in Florida", and a B.C Rich Ignitor. Most of Schuldiner's sound came from a DiMarzio X2N pickup placed in the bridge. During the (In)Human Tour of the World (1991–92), Schuldiner briefly endorsed a small Wisconsin custom guitar company called Axtra, who worked with him on designs, though he still insisted on using his B.C. Rich during filming of the Lack of Comprehension video in September 1991 in Orlando.


The amplifier he used towards the end of his career was a Marshall Valvestate (Model 8100) amplifier head and Valvestate 4x12 speaker cabinets on Individual Thought Patterns as well as the ITP tour and eventually started using Marshall 1960 cabinets. Before that he used various equipment including Randall RG100ES heads and Randall cabinets, and on the (In)Human Tour of the World he used a small GK 250ML miked up, despite having hollow 4x12 stacks 'for show'. On the first two Death albums, he stated he used a Boss distortion pedal, but didn't specify which, after which he used amplifier distortion.


with Death[edit]

with Voodoocult[edit]

with Control Denied[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Sympathies". Retrieved February 26, 2018.
  2. ^ GUITAR WORLD's 100 Greatest Heavy Metal Guitarists Of All Time Archived September 2, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ Gotrich, Lars (December 12, 2011). "Heavy Metal Articles: Death Is Never Finished: Remembering Death Metal Pioneer Chuck Schuldiner".
  4. ^ allmusic ((( Death > Biography )))
  5. ^ a b "Metal Rules!!: Interview with Chuck Schuldiner". Retrieved February 26, 2018.
  6. ^ "The Best Of NAMM 2008: Jimmy Page, Satriani Models Among The Highlights". Retrieved February 26, 2018.
  7. ^ "GENE HOGLAN Says CHUCK SCHULDINER Was 'Always Uncomfortable' With Being Called 'Godfather Of Death Metal'". Blabbemouth. April 12, 2018. Retrieved July 28, 2018.
  8. ^ Chuck Schuldiner Special, Voices from the Darkside, (retrieved October 22, 2011) – Chuck's folks are both Jewish, but Chuck's mother is of a Christian background.
  9. ^ Jane Schuldiner: The Unpublished Interview (page 1) Archived April 1, 2009, at the Wayback Machine. Guitar World. September 11, 2008. Retrieved May 7, 2011.
  10. ^ Perennial Questions. Empty Words.
  11. ^ Deep Look Inside, Spark Magazine. Emptywords. February 22, 2003. Retrieved February 14, 2007.
  12. ^ "Deep Look Inside". February 22, 2003. Retrieved May 19, 2014.
  13. ^ Stevenson, Arielle (October 22, 2009). "The way the music died: The earliest days of Tampa Death Metal". Tampa Bay Times. Times Publishing Company. Archived from the original on October 23, 2009. Retrieved April 26, 2016.
  14. ^ Krgin, Borivoj. Liner notes to Death's Scream Bloody Gore
  15. ^ "Thrash 'n Burn". Retrieved February 26, 2018.
  16. ^ "BAND-Precious Memories of Chuck Schuldiner by Perry M. Grayson". Retrieved February 26, 2018.
  17. ^ [1] Archived March 3, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  18. ^ Chuck Schuldiner: Biography,[dead link], (retrieved February 18, 2011)
  19. ^ "Chuck Schuldiner – The pain of a genius". August 22, 1999. Retrieved February 26, 2018.
  20. ^ "DEATH Frontman Chuck Schuldiner Dies Aged 34". Archived from the original on July 12, 2017. Retrieved February 5, 2021.
  21. ^ "Korn, Kid Rock, Slipknot Reach Out To Ailing Death Frontman". MTV. Retrieved February 26, 2018.
  22. ^ "Trivium – Matt Heafy interview 2008 (1/2)". YouTube. July 22, 2011. Archived from the original on December 12, 2021. Retrieved May 19, 2014.
  23. ^ "Death Frontman Chuck Schuldiner Dies". MTV. Retrieved February 26, 2018.
  24. ^ Eric Greif Interview – "Chuck Schuldiner" Part 3 of 6, DEATHinHD, (retrieved April 25, 2011)
  25. ^ Blabbermouth (December 17, 2012). "Work Begins On Long-Awaited Sophomore CONTROL DENIED Album". BLABBERMOUTH.NET. Retrieved February 26, 2018.
  26. ^ "Chuck/Death/Control Denied". YouTube. April 18, 2012. Retrieved May 19, 2014.
  27. ^ Celebrating Death in style: Calgary’s metalheads remember the legend Chuck Schuldiner, The Calgary Herald[permanent dead link], (retrieved June 14, 2011)
  28. ^ "Voices from Iran". Retrieved March 11, 2021.
  29. ^ Death, Alters of Metal Interviews Archived March 3, 2008, at the Wayback Machine, (accessed August 26, 2008)
  30. ^ "Deep Look inside". Spark Magazine. July 1995. Retrieved February 4, 2012.
  31. ^ a b Kitts, Jeff. (September 1993). "Dead again" Guitar School USA Magazine.