Schuldiner on tour in Coalville, 1992
|Birth name||Charles Michael Schuldiner|
|Also known as||"The Godfather of Death Metal", "Evil Chuck" (at start of career)|
|Born||May 13, 1967|
Long Island, New York
|Died||December 13, 2001(aged 34)|
|Instruments||Vocals, guitar, bass|
|Associated acts||Death, Slaughter, Control Denied, Voodoocult|
Charles Michael "Chuck" Schuldiner (May 13, 1967 – December 13, 2001) was an American singer, songwriter, and guitarist. He founded the band Death in 1983. His obituary in the January 5, 2002 issue of UK's Kerrang! magazine said that "Chuck Schuldiner was one of the most significant figures in the history of metal." 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". Schuldiner founded the publishing company Mutilation Music in 1987, affiliated with performance rights organization BMI.
Schuldiner is often referred to as "The Godfather of death metal", although he was "uncomfortable" with this nickname when he was alive, 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."
Schuldiner was born on May 13, 1967, on Long Island, New York to a Jewish father of Austrian descent and a mother from the American South, a convert to Judaism. Both of his parents were teachers. In 1968, his family moved to Florida.
Schuldiner was the youngest of three children: he had an older brother named Frank and an older sister named Bethann. He started playing guitar at the age of 9; his 16-year-old brother had died and his parents bought him a guitar, thinking it would help with his grief. 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 saw an electric guitar at a yard sale and bought it for him. The young Schuldiner immediately took to the instrument. After getting amps, he never stopped playing, writing and teaching himself. Schuldiner 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 Metallica, 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 band. 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. 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 dropped out. He later regretted this decision. He has stated that if he had not become a musician, he would have liked to have become a veterinarian or a cook.
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. 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 Rozz 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.
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. Throughout his career, Schuldiner was not afraid to take on controversial lyrical subjects, taking an anti-drug stance on "Living Monstrosity" and writing about abortion in "Altering the Future".
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. 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. In a 1999 interview Schuldiner spoke about why he didn't sing on the 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."
Illness and death
In May 1999, Schuldiner experienced harsh pain in his upper neck, which he initially thought was a pinched nerve. He consulted with a chiropractor and a massage therapist/acupuncturist who recommended an MRI examination, which discovered that the nerve was being pinched by a tumor. On his 32nd birthday, May 13, 1999, Schuldiner was diagnosed with a high-grade pontine glioma (a malignant type of brain cancer that invades the brainstem), and immediately underwent radiation therapy.
In October 1999, Schuldiner's family announced that the tumor had necrotized and that he was on the way to recovery. In January 2000, Schuldiner underwent surgery to remove what remained of his tumor. The operation was a success. However, the Schuldiner family was struggling financially. The total costs of the operations came to US$70,000, which the Schuldiner family could not afford. Many fundraisers, auctions, and benefit concerts were held to help cover the costs. The money began to come in as the metal community realized that Schuldiner's life was in danger.
Schuldiner continued to work on his music, continuing his work with Control Denied. About two years after his original diagnosis, in May 2001, the cancer returned and Schuldiner began to feel ill again. 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 tumor 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. 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. Schuldiner received chemotherapy with vincristine. Like most drugs used in the treatment of cancer, the side effects were harsh and weakened him greatly. In November 2001, Schuldiner's condition worsened as he became ill with pneumonia.
On December 13, 2001, Schuldiner died at the age of 34 and he was cremated. 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 handles his legacy as President of Perseverance Holdings Ltd. Jane and Beth Schuldiner frequently interact with Schuldiner's fans and both have stated many times that they enjoy his music. Greif keeps track of his recordings and handles 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. 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. 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. 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. 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 emptywords.org 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".
Schuldiner once described himself as "a lover of life", "friendship", and "animals". "I would like to live forever, if it was possible", he once said in an interview. He commonly spoke out against artists who were "out of control", garnering negative attention to the death metal scene. Schuldiner openly condemned and disavowed stereotypes of metal musicians as being harmful to animals, people, or being "anti-life".
When asked about his opinions regarding an afterlife, Schuldiner responded "I don't know", but elaborated that he believed "this is hell", and that demons are in people, as they "create evil", also stating that "this is heaven" because of love and happiness. Although his parents are Jewish, Schuldiner did not go through any formal religious training. In the documentary, "666 at Calling Death", he was asked whether Satanism was a part of his music. He replied, "Not at all. I really don't want to involve any type of religious theme in our music. I think that's more of a personal thing. Yeah, I'm not a Satanist and I definitely don't put that into our music on purpose. I was really young when the band first started out. I was never really into writing Satanic lyrics at all, personally. We did write gore lyrics, but it was more like kind of tongue-in-cheek, horror-movie type level. Nothing like encouraging people to go out and hurt themselves or anything stupid like that. It's pure fantasy-movie type, scary stuff. And then, I just really got into writing about reality, which is what we all have to deal with." 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.
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." Schuldiner also stated that he was pro-choice. He is quoted as saying that "it should be legal. If I was a woman surely I would like to have a choice to have a child or not. In U.S. lot of new-borns are killed because they were unwanted. It is better to solve it immediately when a woman finds out about the pregnancy and she doesn't want a child. Better to go for an abortion than to kill a baby. That is terrible. Men cannot force women to keep a child when they themselves feel they can't."
Guitar equipment and vocals
Schuldiner's primary guitar throughout most of his career was the B.C. Rich Stealth model, an extremely rare model available only through the BC Rich custom shop until 2008, when it was released to the public as the Chuck Schuldiner Tribute Stealth.(The stealth was also released as an N.J. model in the 80's and 90's, but was extremely rare) Prior to this, he used a BC 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 BC Rich during filming of the Lack of Comprehension video in September 1991 in Orlando.
The amp he used towards the end of his career was a Marshall Valvestate (Model 8100) amp head and Valvestate 4x12 speaker cabinets on Individual Thought Patterns as well as the ITP tour and eventually started using Marshall 1960 cabs. 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.
In the early days of Death, Schuldiner used an early proto technique of growling vocals. As his career progressed, his vocals heightened in pitch. By Death's final album, The Sound of Perseverance, he employed high pitched screeching more similar to conventional screaming techniques. His vocal style has influenced many death metal vocalists.
- 1987: Scream Bloody Gore
- 1988: Leprosy
- 1990: Spiritual Healing
- 1991: Human
- 1993: Individual Thought Patterns
- 1995: Symbolic
- 1998: The Sound of Perseverance
- 1994: Jesus Killing Machine
- Control Denied
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