90s rating: 3/10
2020 rating: 10/10
In 1991, aptly-named Orlando, FL death metal pioneers Death released their fourth full-length album Human, on the now-defunct Relativity Records. Human paved the way for what arguably became the most extreme experimental music movement of the 90s: technical death metal. A far cry from the band’s other classic albums, Human was Death’s first offering with fretless bass master Steve DiGorgio, also of Sadus and Autopsy.
Mastermind, lead guitarist and vocalist Chuck Schuldiner tragically died of brain cancer in 2001, aged 34. Despite this, Death’s influence on metal continues to this day. On Human as on all of their subsequent releases, they display a high level of sophistication within the brutal confines of death metal. Schuldiner’s compositions are aesthetically consistent without being repetitive. Akin to classical music, each title flows through distinct movements, telling a musical story. Like all of Death’s albums, Human is meant to be listened to as a whole, from start to finish.
Schuldiner was not only an excellent composer and solid vocalist, but also a virtuosic guitar player. His speed, accuracy, and flow continue to amaze the best of us guitarists today. His solos on Human, particularly on the tracks “Flattening of Emotions,” “Lack of Comprehension” and “Vacant Planets,” dazzle with their complexity and perfect execution.
Meanwhile, bassist DiGorgio, one of my personal favourites in metal, adds his unmistakable mystique to this record. Fretless bass in metal has an ethereal quality that is difficult to describe, except as mesmerizing and hypnotic. DiGorgio is the master of this musical niche; he shines especially brightly on “Lack of Comprehension,” a meandering sonic adventure which exposes us to thrash-like tempo shifts tied together with tasteful special effects and philosophical lyrics, cementing this album’s claim as a transitional gem between thrash, death metal, and their progressive subgenres.
In 1991, I would not have understood this album. Indeed, it wasn’t until I had reached my 20s that I even attempted to understand the death metal descendants of my idols Metallica, Slayer, and Pantera… Little did I understand, bands like Death and Possessed aren’t descendants to the pioneers of thrash, but rather more like cousins. Each group was founded in the early 80s and took the influence of early heavy metal and punk rock music in different directions.
For our local scene here in Montreal, and Quebec at large, the influence of early death metal paved the way for bands like Cryptopsy, Gorguts, and Quo Vadis to rise to international fame. The sounds explored by Schuldiner and his band on Human undoubtedly had a deep impact on what those three bands presented in the following years. Cryptopsy’s Blasphemy Made Flesh (1994), Gorguts’ The Erosion of Sanity (1993), and Quo Vadis’ Forever… (1996) were inarguably influenced by Human, as well as Death’s other albums.
Metal fans, if you’ve somehow skipped over the band Death in your exploration of heavy and extreme music genres, Human just may be where you should start. Heavy metal fans who have trouble with growling vocals can check out Chuck Schuldiner’s side project Control Denied, with the excellent Tim Aymar of Pharaoh on vocals.
by Henri Brillon
*edited by Danielle Kenedy