On June 23, 2012, I had the pleasure of experiencing some music I never would've imagined witnessing in a live setting - the music of the legendary DEATH. Since Chuck Schuldiner's tragic passing over a decade ago, it seemed as though (apart from a few small-scale tributes here and there) his music would never be played in concert again. That is, however, until the DEATH TO ALL tour was announced a few months ago. As part of this gig, various members of DEATH and other guests would get together to remember Chuck's music and raise some money for an excellent cause.
The Sweet Relief Foundation was established to help out musicians in need of medical assistance, and nearly all the proceeds from the DEATH TO ALL TOUR benefit this foundation. Although Chuck's medical condition may have been terminal regardless of treatment, far too many visionary musicians simply do not make enough money to pay their overwhelming hospital bills - this charity aims to help those folks out and hopefully prevent us from losing even more fantastic musicians and human beings in the future. I was happy to help out this great charity, and equally excited to finally experience the music of Chuck Schuldiner live.
For my birthday this year, my family and I flew out to Los Angeles to enjoy a nice vacation and attend the DEATH TO ALL show as VIP members (well... me and my dad, at least. Getting my mom to go to something like this would be quite a monumental task!). Getting a VIP pass was definitely key, as I got to watch DEATH and GORGUTS warm up, talk to some great musicians, eat dinner with some of my idols, get plenty of autographs, and meet up with other metal fans eager to hear the music of Chuck Schuldiner live.
After speaking a bit with Luc Lemay (GORGUTS) and Steve DiGiorgio (DEATH, SADUS), I claimed my position in front the stage to get ready for GORGUTS (the opening act) to perform. For those unfamiliar with GORGUTS, they are a Canadian technical death metal that's been around since 1989. Their first few efforts were fairly straightforward old school death metal, but with 1998's "Obscura" they moved in a hyper-technical and avant-garde direction; it can definitely be argued that "Obscura" is one of the most challenging, technical, and downright amazing albums in death metal history. Without going into too much detail, the band put on an excellent show and the crowd quickly warmed up to their quirky and experimental death metal approach. Luc Lemay is a really cool guy both on and off the stage, and the entire band appeared to be at the top of their game - the tight and complex compositions didn't keep the band from coming across as energetic and playful, and overall I enjoyed Gorguts even more than I anticipated. Definitely an excellent way to begin the evening.
After a short intermission, DEATH took the stage and performed a few tunes from earlier albums like "Scream Bloody Gore" and "Leprosy". Sean Reinert (drums) actually had a leg injury prior to this show, and played the gig wearing what appeared to be a massive leg brace. He had to pull out from a few of the more difficult tunes, but I was still quite amazed that he was able to play as well as he did with such an injury.
The lineup switched numerous times throughout the show, with Steve DiGiorgio and Scott Clendenin switching out bass duties between many of the songs. All of the members of DEATH (as expected) put on an excellent performance, and the two guest vocalists/guitarists, Matt Harvey (EXHUMED) and Charles Elliott (ABYSMAL DAWN) both were impressive frontmen. Initially the show was supposed to feature Steffen Kummerer (OBSCURA), but due to Visa issues, he had to be replaced by Matt Harvey - while I do absolutely adore OBSCURA, I also love EXHUMED and it's clear that Matt Harvey put his entire heart and mind into this performance and was an excellent choice for the gig. Obviously nobody can replace Chuck himself (and I believe Matt actually said this at one point during the show), but that doesn't at all denounce the excellent musicianship and class these two gifted players exhibited during the show.
Lots of classics were played throughout the show such as "Symbolic", "Crystal Mountain", "Trapped In A Corner", "Flesh and the Power It Holds" (this song was especially amazing to witness live), and "Leprosy", but the real highlight may have been the encore. After a long applause, Scott Clendenin came on stage armed with an acoustic guitar. Everyone in the crowd knew that this could mean only one thing - "Voice of the Soul" from the final DEATH album, 1998's "The Sound of Perseverance". The performance was top-notch, and the crowd's quick shift to dead silence showed that everyone in the crowd was just as impressed as I was. Afterwords, the band played "Pull the Plug" (with every single member on stage), and then the show was over.
All in all, this was an awesome night, and one that I am very privileged to have experienced. While I may never be able to see Chuck Schuldiner perform his art live, this was the next best thing; the fact that roughly fifteen-hundred metalheads gathered in a beautiful venue to celebrate his life, vision, and music is the perfect sentiment to the man's brilliance and lasting impact in the extreme metal community. Chuck Schuldiner is the sort of irreplaceable legend that only comes around once in a while, and the sheer number of people united by his music is inspiring - if you have a DEATH TO ALL gig coming up in your area, do not hesitate in picking up some tickets. It's definitely worth it!