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Death - Symbolic CD (album) cover




Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

4.24 | 501 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
3 stars Absolute Masterpiece - of Metal

For a guy who played in a thrash band in the early 90's, Death's SYMBOLIC takes everything I loved about the genre, threw it in a big pot, added habaneros and cooked on high heat for several days. The result is a juggernaut of great riffs, precision playing by all instruments, fairly intelligent lyrics, and very good production. Without a doubt, this is one of the best extreme metal albums I own. But it's not prog.

The most progressive part of the album is the use of rhythm. By the time of this album, bandleader/mastermind/guitarist/growler Chuck Shuldiner has successfully made the transition from intentional jarring time changes to a music that is basically without time signature. This a technique used by many of the classic prog acts including Genesis and Yes, a testimony to a mastery of that aspect of music. After listening to SYMBOLIC, many straighter metal acts seem laughably simple and pedantically plodding. The success of this insane use of time owes tremendously to the talents of "Atomic Clock" Gene Hoglan. His clinically precise, insanely fast drumming, often sounds beyond the reach of human appendages. Certainly, the pinpoint sharpness of his execution would not work in all bands. But here it is perfect, allowing Shuldiner's compositions to weave in and out and still always sound connected and musically valid.

The riffs and guitar playing are superb, drawing on the thrash giants of the 80's and turning up the complexity, syncopation, and speed to a dizzying degree. The playing is very precise and composed, a very modern notion of lead playing that is really unseen in the genre before this band. In fact the guitars on here are so good that album is worth having just as an electric guitar fan, regardless of taste in its other aspects. At the same time, nothing that is played is truly new. Every lick has been played before - maybe slower, maybe less exact, but this music is VERY grounded in its influences. The riffs grind and pummel, but you've heard all the styles before, from Crazy Train style circular pedals to Metallica style death polkas to Megadethish sixteenth runs.

The vocals are, well, ugly. Shuldiner's growls are relatively high pitch, intentionally atonal, and on some listens just laughably bad. In today's age of evolved harsh vocals, the voice here seems pretty unrefined. The lyrics are pretty difficult to understand in places. To be fair, Chuck communicates rage, pain, and desperation in his delivery, but there is very little variation in that expression. The lyrics I can distinguish are solid enough.

Like most thrash metal, there is essentially nothing harmonic going on at all in the music. Occasional simple interval twin leads come in, but this is not a layered music. Much of the riffing is done with two guitars and bass in unison. The use of soloing over accompaniment is within the usual metal vocabulary, though it is well done. Flurries of notes provide sounds rather than traditional melodic ideas. Though only the vocals approach atonality, this is not even as layered as Mastodon's new release and nothing compared to Opeth's best work.

I like this album, a lot. It is a masterpiece of extreme metal. It moved the genre forward. It features some insane drum work, and great riffs. But it is an enormous stretch to call this prog. Still, for this site it lies somewhere between a 3 and 4. If this were a metal site 5+.

Negoba | 3/5 |


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