Friday, May 24, 2013

JERKING THE CIRCLE Vol II: Death - Individual Thought Patterns

Crushed under its own weight

What time is it?!  Time for another installment of Jerking the Circle!  Yes kids, the series wherein I take a look at albums that get tons and tons of praise from certain groups within the metal community (or just the community at large).  Today we look at a band that released some stunningly great albums, and instead focus on what is by far their worst one.  Goddammit Chuck, remove your head from your anus, por favor.

Death had a moderately lengthy and quite illustrious career, spanning seven albums of wildly varying sounds and an even more unpredictable lineup.  And this, Individual Thought Patterns marks both their lowest point as a band, and also (bafflingly) their most star studded lineup.  Death has always basically been Chuck Schuldiner's Revolving Band Selected Via Musical Chairs Matches, and in 1993 he managed to strike potential gold by retaining the fretless hobo of Sadus fame, Steve DiGiorgio, and bailing on the technically proficient but writing impaired hacks from Cynic and replaced them with goddamn Andy LaRocque (known for King Diamond), and motherfucking Gene Hoglan (known for every fucking band ever).  Seriously, you ever play that game where you daydream up the ultimate band?  Chuck Schuldiner fucking did that, and whatever personality issues the man had that caused members to leave constantly/him to constantly kick them out, I really wished he would have found a way to rein it in around this era, because there is so much star power potential in here I could go blind by looking at it.

And then I actually heard the album.

Yeah, I guess stars are prone to supernovas, because this is an unmitigated disaster.  Don't get me wrong, despite my general distaste for prog, I don't dislike the fact that Chuck decided to take the band in a more progressive direction (they were pretty much devoid of death metal from this point onwards).  Hell Symbolic is probably my favorite album by the band, just a smidgeon above Leprosy.  But this here is a goddamn trainwreck.  This is what happens when somebody who's good at being hard and fast and heavy decides that that path is too stupid and instead tries to be more intellectual about everything.  And hey, to his credit, he did eventually figure it out, because Symbolic is great, but Chuck didn't have a goddamn idea what he was doing when writing this album.  Listening to this in one sitting, I'd be hard pressed to tell you where each song ends and a new one begins, much less which song is even actually playing, even after a decade of being a Death fan. 

There are moments of brilliance scattered throughout, as "Destiny" has a fantastic riff hidden somewhere in the middle, as does "Nothing is Everything" and "Overactive Imagination", but that's really all I can do for critique; pick out random bits from random songs and tell you whether it's good or bad.  It's woefully unprofessional, and I get that, but it really feels like the album was written and recorded in that same haphazard direction.  Lots of shit happens, but I don't think anybody other than Chuck himself actually knew why.  This is probably the most literal collection of riffs and ideas I've ever heard.  Very few sections repeat later in a song, it's basically just a 40 minute gag reel of jazzy proto-tech-prog ideas that the band was noodling around with but couldn't really decide on how to arrange.  So they just decided to play them all in one long 40 minute take, arbitrarily consider it a new track every four minutes or so, and call it a day.  It's a shame because the talent is obviously there, but at this point Chuck was no longer in a transition phase, and therefore had neither that excuse nor the leftover bits of pummeling death metal morbidity that he had on HumanIndividual Thought Patterns is instead it's own entity with no crutch to lean on, which is unfortunate because it's rather malformed and disabled.

There was also a quite bizarre malady that plagued the band during this middle era as well, and that was that the more technical, proggy, and wanky the music got, the shorter the average song was.  The average song lengths on both Human and Individual Thought Patterns are shorter than their more simplistic predecessors in Leprosy and Spiritual Healing.  This kind of writing (when not done in such a slapdash and poorly arranged manner) definitely lends itself to a more spaced out format.  I normally prefer shorter songs, mind you (one of the reasons Gama Bomb will always be better than Cyclone Temple), but nothing here has room to breathe or develop.  Instead we're presented with ten claustrophobic and rushed exercises in vaguely deathy progjazz.  Again, the entire album is presented as a collection of unrelated things, and that's basically the end of it right there where it starts.

The production job is also a nagging whack in the shins, as like with the previous album, it's rather thin and lacks the punch of their earlier recordings.  We've all heard Leprosy, we understand how good they can sound.  The guitar tone on that album was as thick as a baby's arm, and yet here it's this wispy gossamer.  I realize they were going for more precision and less chunk, but the music is noticeably less powerful this time around and it suffers for it.  The widdly wanky parts are well suited to this kind of sound, I'll admit, but there are occasions when real riffs and double bass and whatnot actually do happen, and they end up laughably weak in the grand scheme of things.  "Weak" is an adjective that applies only to this album throughout all of Death's discography, and that's a giant mark against it.

Overall this is too jazzy and not thought out enough for it's own good.  There are far too many segments where the instruments all just kind of break down into their own thing and all wander away from each other.  The percussion is definitely prone to this, with Hoglan being wildly misused and left to just mostly fuck around with bizarre cymbal patterns.  When Chuck reined it in on the following two albums and focused more on cohesive songwriting and logical progression, they knocked it out of the park.  But here?  Not at all, not yet.  The kinda awkward but still good transition phase in Human had long passed, and they were fully into the prog territory at this point, but frankly, the songwriter here still wasn't entirely sure of himself, and as a result Individual Thought Patterns is a complete mess, and probably the only skippable album in Death's entire career.

RATING - 38%

3 comments:

  1. Thoughts of a Rock Lover, I assume.
    I have no love for rock.
    Mind you, I came extremely late to death metal, more exatly from raw black and crust.
    Yes I agree, this is not an easy album, so what?

    Difficult patterns? OK, you like easy poppy structures, do you?

    I smell the smell of hipsterism XD

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    1. You... you do understand that the problem with the complex structuring lies in how unorganized, inorganic, and underdeveloped it is, right? The fact that it's complex is not a problem in itself, that'd be a silly thing to say, the problem is that it isn't well put together.

      STRETCH! GIT ON BACK THERE!

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