Review by Daniel for Death - Spiritual Healing (1990) Review by Daniel for Death - Spiritual Healing (1990)

Daniel Daniel / December 14, 2018 / 0

In 1988 Chuck Schuldiner had turned the underground metal scene on its ear with Death’s second album “Leprosy”. It had really raised the bar as far as extremity was concerned but had also combined it with some excellent song-writing & memorable hooks. Extreme metal fans lapped it up it & it ended up going down as one of the defining death metal records in history. When the release of Death’s third album was announced most people were expecting an even more brutal assault on their senses. It marked the first Death release since my conversion to death metal so I had more than a casual interest in it.  

“Spiritual Healing” saw Chuck make a number of conscious changes to his tried & tested formula. Firstly he decided to tone down the brutality a touch & incorporated some more progressive ideas into his song-writing. Listening back now it doesn’t sound like anything major but at the time it was regarded as a fairly adventurous approach. Chuck brought in hired gun guitar shredder James Murphy to add some class to the solos & Terry Butler got the opportunity to contribute on bass guitar for the first time. There was also a notable change in Chuck’s lyrical direction. This time he was tackling real life issues like drugs & abortion instead of the standard death metal themes of zombies, murder & general nastiness. These changes contributed to a more mature & professional sounding Death; one that was obviously looking to continue leading the pack rather coasting on past successes. Not everyone was positive about Death’s new direction but personally I thought it opened up a world of new possibilities & was intrigued.  

Upon first listen it’s immediately obvious that this was not going to be “Leprosy II”. The clean & powerful production is an obvious step up from the raw ugliness of the past & everything sounds quite precise. There are some more adventurous timings on offer than we’d heard from a death metal band to that time but I wouldn’t say it’s anything over the top by today’s standards. In fact the drumming is quite simple throughout the album & that has always annoyed me a little. Bill Andrews drumming during the fast sections is simply not brutal or interesting enough for my liking & I feel that Chuck would have been much better served by recruiting someone more capable. Terry Butler puts in a solid performance on bass although I must say that I prefer the more progressive & challenging bass lines that are a feature of all subsequent Death releases.  

On the more positive side of things James Murphy’s guitar solos are quite special & add an entirely new element to the band; one that would be a constant for the band even after his departure. Chuck’s riffs are consistently brilliant & I think his vocals sound more powerful & intimidating than ever before. Opening track “Living Monstrosity” is an absolute corker & is my favourite track on the album but the next four are all very solid pieces of death metal. There really aren’t any weak songs but I think the last three are probably a touch lower in quality than the rest of the album so things do just tail off a little in the back end. Most tracks have some cracking riffs that really utilize the production advancements & you are constantly reminded that this is a more mature Death than you’d heard on their first two albums.  

"Spiritual Healing" is an often overlooked album in Death's back catalogue due to the classic releases either side of it but if you disregard those & look at it as a singular piece of art then it offers a clinical & fresh take on the death metal concept & a damn fine listening experience. In fact I probably favour it slightly over Death's ground-breaking debut album "Scream Bloody Gore" to be honest. "Spiritual Healing" is generally regarded as a transition album (& that idea is not without merit as 1991’s “Human” would expand & improve on the ideas Chuck presents here) but there is more to this album than that. This is high quality death metal that oozes class.

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