Had it not been for his untimely passing in 2001, I have a feeling Chuck Schuldiner and Death would still be pushing the extreme metal envelope to the limit. After virtually inventing death metal in 1984, Chuck then turned the genre upside-down into a progressive and technical behemoth with a long string of more experimental albums. With Human, Death began incorporating progressive and jazz-influenced sections into their music, and from there onward Chuck Schuldiner kept widening the scope of death metal. Three years after the essential Symbolic, Mr. Schuldiner proved he was far from running short on ideas with The Sound of Perseverance. What we have here is possibly the most progressive and technically-demanding album Death ever released, and the end result is nothing short of amazing. As expected, Chuck's hand-picked cast of musicians is top-notch, the production is stellar, and (most of all) it's filled with enough killer riffs to keep you headbanging the entire time. What's even more impressive is that this isn't even my favorite Death album - that in itself proves what an excellent body of work Chuck Schuldiner has been involved in over the years. This isn't the best starting point for any Death newbie (that would be the legendary Symbolic), but anyone who wants to call themselves a metal fan better make sure this finds its way into their collection.
The Sound of Perseverance almost completely defies categorization when it comes to genre tagging. You could call this a death metal album - but it's extremely uncomfortable among the likes of Morbid Angel and Deicide. You could call it prog metal - but it looks out of place among albums from Dream Theater and Fates Warning. Hell, progressive death metal is even inaccurate when you think of the other bands that pioneer that genre. Although firmly rooted in death metal, this is an incredibly unique album. You can't even find another like it in Death's own discography. The music here is highly-technical and filled with constant tempo changes, time signature shifts, and complex rhythm patterns. In one sense this album is very similar to Atheist's Unquestionable Presence, but even that's a bit of a stretch. Chuck Schuldiner was a visionary who reinvented himself with each new album and seldom tried to sound like any other band.
From the beginning of Richard Christy's opening to "Scavenger of Human Sorrow", you know you're in for a real treat. Opening the album up with some of the most powerful metal riffs in existence, Chuck continues the album in a similar fashion. After the highly technical, almost sinister, "Bite the Pain", Chuck Schuldiner delivers an amazing vocal performance in "Spirit Crusher". Although every song can be regarded as excellent (pardon maybe the cover of Judas Priest's "Painkiller"), my favorite has to be "Flesh and the Power it Holds". Scott Clendenin's bass playing on this track is spectacular, not to mention Richard Christy's technical acrobatics and the guitar mastery from Evil Chuck and Shannon Hamm. "Voice of the Soul" is possibly the softest song Death has ever performed. It begins as a light acoustic guitar bit, before a killer electric guitar solo dominates the rest of the piece. This is a truly beautiful song that harkens back to the early New Wave of British Heavy Metal. The next two tracks serve as two more killer slabs of technical metal, before closing the album off with their cover of Judas Priest's iconic "Painkiller".
After introducing one of the best lineups in the history of metal with Human, Chuck Schuldiner managed to find an equally excellent (and, in some cases, even better) lineup with each following release. I especially have to give a nod in Richard Christy's direction - man, he is one hell of a drummer. Whether or not he's up there with Sean Reinert and Gene Hoglan is up for debate, but it's hard to critique his mind-blowing drumming on The Sound of Perseverance. Scott Clendenin handles bass duties on this album and does a terrific job as well. Death was one of the few extreme metal bands that utilized the bass significantly - you'll even find some bass solos on The Sound of Perseverance. Shannon Hamm takes care of half of the guitar playing here, and certainly gets the job done well. This album is filled with highly demanding guitar sections, and Hamm delivers them with ease. And of course, you have "Evil Chuck" Schuldiner handling the vocals and guitar. He was simply a spectacular musician in all regards; there's no other way of putting it. A lot of people will criticize his higher-pitched vocals on this album, but I personally love them. It's definitely an acquired taste, though.
The original album consisted of 9 songs and a 56:13 playing time, but the 2011 Relapse reissue features 10 bonus demo-tracks. As I write this, I only have the digital version, which benefits from new artwork, a remastered sound, and the aforementioned bonus tracks. The physical edition supposedly contains a repackaged layout, which I'm confident most Death fanboys will want to get their hands on. The 10 bonus tracks on the Relapse Reissue are all demo tracks of songs that would later be on The Sound of Perseverance. As such, the bonus material is largely non-essential and only for the die-hard fans. It's interesting to listen to some of these demos, but I'd take the album cuts over these demos any day of the week. If you already own The Sound of Perseverance, the Relapse Reissue isn't really an essential purchase unless you're a collector of sorts. For newbies, this is worth picking up since it's probably the easiest version to find of this album nowadays.
The production of The Sound of Perseverance was one of the best in extreme metal, and the remastered version shines an entirely new light on this factor. Jim Morris & Chuck Schuldiner created a sound here that was raw and unpolished, but extremely effective and powerful. I like the sound of Symbolic a bit more, but the production of this album is still amazing nonetheless.
The Sound of Perseverance is an album that every self-respecting metal fan owns, and the new Relapse Reissue gives a good reason for anyone who doesn't own it to finally give this masterpiece a shot. I would've originally given this album a 4.5 star rating, and the bonus material isn't noteworthy enough to make me think twice about that score. Unfortunately, this album would end up being the last Death album before Chuck lost his battle with brain stem cancer in 2001. So as a swansong to the possibly the greatest metal band of all time, The Sound of Perseverance does its job, and does it pretty damn well at that. Rest in peace, Evil Chuck... the metal world misses you!
Disc 1: (classic re-mastered TSOP album)
1. Scavenger Of Human Sorrow
2. Bite The Pain
3. Spirit Crusher
4. Story To Tell
5. Flesh And The Power It Holds
6. Voice Of The Soul
7. To Forgive Is To Suffer
8. A Moment Of Clarity
1. Spirit Crusher - 1998 Demos (No Bass)
2. Flesh And The Power It Holds - 1998 Demos (No Bass)
3. Voice Of The Soul - 1998 Demos (No Bass)
4. Bite The Pain - 1998 Demos
5. A Moment Of Clarity - 1998 Demos
6. Story To Tell - 1998 Demos
7. Scavenger Of Human Sorrow - 1998 Demos
8. Bite The Pain - 1997 Demos
9. Story To Tell - 1997 Demos
10. A Moment Of Clarity - 1997 Demos