Death - Scream Bloody Gore (1987)Release ID: 171
More than just the first true death metal album, Scream Bloody Gore is bloody good entertainment.
There will always be the argument over whether Possessed or Death should be considered the first death metal band. We do know for certain that Possessed were the first to get an official release out (1985’s Seven Churches album), but trying to figure out which band’s demos beat the other to the punch always seems to end in uncertainty. Personally I can’t help but be part of team Death (no, this is not like Team Edward or Team Jacob!) for the simple reason that Scream Bloody Gore is undoubtedly the first true, and by that I mean undiluted, death metal album. As influential and entertaining as Possessed’s debut is, it contains just as much thrash metal as death metal, taking its cue from Slayer’s Show No Mercy album and beefing it up to unprecedented levels. On the other hand, Scream Bloody Gore nailed all the elements of true death metal straight up, setting the blueprint for years to come. Whichever side of the fence you sit on, no-one could ever deny that Chuck Schuldiner was one of the most talented, influential and respected musicians in the metal scene, and that Death consistently created excellent releases until Chuck shatteringly passed away.
Death never had the same line-up for two albums in a row, but that pattern began way before even the debut was recorded. Originally the band came under the moniker Mantas and contained Chuck (guitars / vocals), Rick Rozz (guitar) and Kam Lee (drums). After recording the infamous Death by Metal demo in 1984, Chuck changed the name of the band to Death as he felt this represented the vision more appropriately. There would be numerous demos recorded with numerous line-ups over the next couple of years and it wasn’t until the sixth attempt in 1986 called Mutilation that the Scream Bloody Gore configuration, which was simply Chris Reifert on drums with Chuck handling everything else, was finally achieved. The demo made it into the hands of Combat Records who signed Death up for a multi-album deal. Interestingly, Chris and Chuck initially recorded the guitar and drums at a Florida studio but were not happy with the results, deciding to start again at Music Grinders Studio where the end result was produced. Incredibly, after all these years of working at achieving his dream, Chuck was still only 20 years old when Scream Bloody Gore was recorded.
And what a recording it is! More than just the first of its kind, Scream Bloody Gore contains some really great death metal that still stands up over 20 years later. It may not be anywhere near as technical or intelligent as later Death albums, but it was never meant to be that way. Chuck just wanted to create evil sounding, gore drenched metal and that’s exactly what you get with Scream Bloody Gore from start to finish. The production quality is perfectly suitable given the intent (the remastered versions admittedly help on that front) and all instruments, including the bass, are perfectly audible and suitably powerful. The lyrics are immature to say the least but they’re all just part of the fun. No-one is going to take corkers like “watch you bleed to death, gasping for last breath, chocking on your blood, I shit onto your guts” seriously are they? If they do then they need to lighten up a bit. Obviously Death would get much, much better than this throughout the next decade, but as a starting point for both the band, and in some respects the genre, this deserves a lot of praise. After all, who doesn’t love tracks like Zombie Ritual and Baptised in Blood!? Anyone?
OK, so first off let me say I am a massive jerk. Now hear me out before you try to argue with me on this! I have always been a bit dismissive of Death and failed to see the reverence in which they are held. The reason, I now realise, is that I have always taken them out of context, something I actually get quite chippy about with younger metal heads when they do it. The reason I bring this up is that I am not as au fait with DM as many other metal fans - doom, thrash and black being my personal areas of interest. So in order to cure this ignorance I have embarked on a voyage of discovery through death metal history, starting in the mid-eighties, which means that very early on I have encountered Death once more. Specifically, I first come across their 1984 Death By Metal demo, the three-track first side of which, although it is rough as a bear's arse, is amazing and features Scream Bloody Gore's Evil Dead in very early form. So, it seems things are looking up for my relationship with Chuck's mob and thus I arrive at Scream Bloody Gore itself, which happens to be one of the two Death albums I own on CD.
Now listening to this after Possessed's Seven Churches and the aforementioned demo, I can at last hear it for what it really is, which is a groundbreaking bridge between the more brutal thrash metal and true death metal. No, I don't feel that this is yet death metal fully-formed, as it still has too many thrash riffs and the drumming is still not quite there yet, but it has definitely advanced things on in extremity from Possessed's debut. Scream Bloody Gore takes riffs from the most aggressive thrash metal and brutalise them, turning them into something more primal and dark even than those cranked out by the likes of Slayer and Possessed. Chuck Schuldiner's vocals still don't really have that guttural quality that the best death metal singers possess, but they are still pretty evil sounding for 1987. The drums and bass are moving towards the more cavernous sound that would epitomise the death metal of the early nineties and the vocals have that distant quality that plays into this aesthetic.
This isn't cerebral metal, not by any means, this is visceral and dangerous music with extremely violent lyrics that would most definitely have upset Tipper Gore and the PRMC back in '87 (which has got to have been a good thing). This was blue collar metal for those who wanted to work out some aggression after a day of putting up with shit at their place of work and needed to put on a disc and bang their fucking head until it went away. And that is something I can really get behind. This was for people like me from shitty industrial towns who saw bands like Motley Crue and Ratt and thought "This isn't fucking L.A., these guys have nothing to do with me". In truth, if I had heard this when it was released (which I didn't, it was many years later when our paths crossed) then I would most definitely have lapped this shit up - something that out-brutalised Reign in Blood, fuck, sign me up! The tracks here are insanely brutal-sounding for 1987 and still manage to provide an adrenaline rush all these years later, such is their quality. So, on reflection, I must wholeheartedly apologise for my previous attitude towards Death and in particular their debut. I was probably guilty of misplaced expectations and was listening for what I wanted to hear, not what the band had presented, which is an album that pushed metal further than any other at that point and sowed the seeds for a whole new genre of metal brutality which would still be going strong these 35 years later.
Scream Bloody Gore is most likely (depending on who you ask and how strict you’re being) the first true Death Metal record, and by that I mean it’s not Death and Thrash like Seven Churches or Blackened Death Thrash like Morbid Visions. Absolutely there are still Thrash influences, but this is primarily a Death Metal record and could not be argued otherwise.
Amazingly for a debut album in a genre still in infancy, the music is grade A material. The musicianship is tight and fast, Chuck being rather technical even here. Chuck’s growls are also prime cuts of the genre, inhibiting a fantastic middle ground between demonic growls and discernible yells. Even the production is pretty good for an underground debut, nothing groundbreaking but all the instruments including the bass are audible and strong. And that snare sound – my god, never heard anything that stuck with me so much. Just the right amount of reverb to pack a lasting punch that somehow sounds sinister. This is the kind of drumming that is simple (not easy!), but serves the music so incredibly well.
There is one weakness here. For many a non-issue, but for me a glaring one: the lyrics range from bad to offensively atrocious. They’re pretty much what it says on the title, with subjects of gore, random acts of violence, death, etc. Don’t get me wrong, there is a right way to do this – Pig Destroyer and Slayer (when Tom is writing) are prime examples of writing eloquently and effectively on such matters. The lyrics here sound like an 18-year old’s Deathcore band. They’re just so juvenile they take away from the music at parts, and ruin the otherwise evil atmosphere.
The first death metal album ever. End of debate here. There's so much here that breathes the very essence of what we all now know to be death metal that any other search for the first DM album is just redundant from the off once you have waded through the various thrash elements of Possessed on Seven Churches. What Chuck and Chris did here was simply define a whole new level of intensity and created a potent and vehement new branch of metal that to this day continues to inhabit music collections across the globe.
It's memorable as hell too. Nobody listens to Zombie Ritual, Mutilation or the title track and forgets them for the rest of their lives. Reifert's drums alone see to a large proportion of that memorability factor. Pounding and powerful throughout they bash a thunderous roadmap into the listener's brain like some warhammer crushing skulls. They sound full and assertive yet never steal the show, blending in perfectly with the rumbling bass, well-positioned in the mix against the backdrop of Chuck's maniacal and uncompromising vocals.
The guitar is a raging torrent of rampant noise that seems to swarm and consume the space it surges into, applying melody just enough to temper the storm when required but never being afraid to unleash those now trademark solos to do their nefarious acts. All helped by a solid and assured production job it should also be mentioned. The blueprint for death metal could not have been more clear or definitive really. There's a genuine sense of this album being due at this point in history, with the thrash metal masses having done their bit with the "death to all posers" attitude, this was the older brother of them all who'd been missing for a few years and had turned up again all bat shit crazy and with a lot of hours honing his evil plans for world domination with a guitar and some scrawled lyrics on a human skull. Arriving unannounced for dinner one evening carrying a dead cow on their back with teeth marks in it, they had thrown down their ghetto blaster watching the family lose their fucking minds.
It isn't five stars because of the overall quality of the music and the performances of the artists. It is five stars because of what it represents in the world of metal as a whole. A massively important album driven by the unwaivering determination of Chuck Schuldiner to deliver his own vision of what metal should be. Challenging and terrifying.
No matter what sort of death metal fan you talk to it’s rare to find one that doesn’t love at least one of the various ever-changing incarnations of Death. Everyone has their preferences which generally correspond closely with age, taste & exposure. That’s what makes Death such a classic death metal band. Perhaps the most important of all. My first encounter with Death was as a 13 year old. I was newly into the more underground end of thrash metal & had started religiously tuning in to some late-night metal radio programs. Death’s second album “Leprosy” had just been released & had taken the underground metal scene by storm so it didn’t take long for me to jump onboard with this new death metal sound. It was more extreme than anything I’d ever heard before & it intrigued me. It felt like I was a part of some exclusive club that my parents & the vast majority of my friends couldn’t understand. It wasn’t long until I became a part of the underground tape trading scene & I quickly picked up a dubbed copy of “Scream Bloody Gore”.
As a death metal album “Scream Bloody Gore” may not compare favourably when sitting alongside some of the classics of the genre but there are few albums that have had a greater influence. What makes “Scream Bloody Gore” unique is that Death managed to present a new, refined & fully realized genre on their first attempt; taking the earlier Possessed model & shaving off the edges that would still have people questioning the death metal credentials of an album like "Seven Churches". If you listen to "Scream Bloody Gore" today it is undeniably death metal even by today’s standards. Most other albums that were influential in the creation of new genres could only provide elements that were then combined with others to create the finished product. It was an amazing achievement really & that shouldn’t be underestimated.
The overall consistency of “Scream Bloody Gore” is very good for a debut album too. In fact I think that the primitive “Torn To Pieces” is probably the only track that I think is a little weaker. The rest of the songs are of a generally high quality with “Baptized In Blood”, “Infernal Death” & “Zombie Ritual” (possibly the first death metal song I ever learned to play on guitar) being my personal favourites. The raw production really suits the music. In fact I think it adds to the dark atmosphere. There are plenty of classic palm-muted tremolo-picked death metal riffs on offer but early Death unquestionably still included a hefty dose of the more extreme thrash metal that was around at the time. You can easily hear the influence of bands like Slayer & Possessed here but that element faded as Chuck’s death metal style became more defined over the next couple of albums. Chuck’s guitar solos may have lacked sophistication at this stage but they made up for it in pure energy with blazing high-speed fretboard workouts the order of the day here. The lack of a full-time bass player led to Chuck assuming the bass guitar duties as well; a role that he performs very effectively in fact. The bass is easily heard throughout & it grumbles along nicely.
Much was made of Chuck’s vocal approach. It was amongst the first true death metal performances on a major metal release. Personally I’ve always felt that guys like Jeff Becerra (Possessed) & Mille Petrozza (Kreator) were heavily influential in the push for more extreme vocal sounds. In fact you could probably throw in Quorthon (Bathory) too but there was something undeniably different about the new growlier style that Chuck Schuldiner was pushing & when you combined the deathly lyrical content it all just seemed so bad ass to a young teenager like myself. By late 1989 I’d discovered the likes of Carcass & Morbid Angel & the flood gates were well & truly opened wide.
“Scream Bloody Gore” is far from the pinnacle of death metal but it’s very hard to deny that it has a lot of endearing qualities. Chuck always understood how to walk the fine line between brutality & memorability & there’s a distinct catchiness to most of this material. “Leprosy” improved on this idea & further defined the genre a year later but the youthful exuberance & infectious energy of the debut deserves all of the respect it has garnered in the underground metal scene over the years.