Left to Die: The Spirit of Chuck Schuldiner
For those who have interacted with me in the slightest within the past 3 months, I’m sorry. To those who have not, I have not shut up about this show since I heard about it. At 7pm sharp my buddy Emilio and I waltzed into The Reverb rearing to go. Emilio, who had put up with my non-stop yammering, had buckled and agreed to come with me and had even agreed to drive. Dude is seriously an amazing friend! Death shirt and camera bag in tow, I eagerly approached the ticket taker when Coop Schuh of Orpheus, Gorgatron, and Carnographer fame (all local death metal) preempted me in announcing my presence to the ticket taker. “He’s with me, should be Brian Schmidt under Orpheus.” Never have I ever received the VIP treatment like that. Coop must have been excited!
Headlining was Left to Die, a band which some of you may scratch your heads at if you aren’t in the know. Of course, the Imagery is iconic, and the name sounds familiar to those who have dabbled in 90s death metal… “are they like a Death cover band?” Au contraire, they are so much more than that. This, in fact, is the closest you will come to seeing Death live without a time machine. Sporting an all-star roster of Gruesome founders, Matt Harvey of Exhumed and Gus Rios of Malevolent Creation, alongside ex-Death heavy hitters Terry Butler of Obituary, and Rick Rozz of Massacre, Left to Die’s mission is to celebrate Chuck Schuldiner’s life and music with some of the dudes who helped write it. Of course, sporting half of the Leprosy lineup, it would be a waste to not play the landmark album in its entirety, hence the name Left to Die, a popular track on the album. So, believe me when I tell you, this is literally the closest to seeing Death as you can get.
In case you couldn’t tell, Death is my favorite band of all time. I’m a bit of a history buff for niche things that most people don’t care about, and Death metal history is one of those things that I soak up and regurgitate to people who mostly don’t care. Here’s my chance to nerd out to the few people who aren’t in the know. Death and the man behind the band, Chuck Schuldiner, hit the metal scene hard in 1987 with their raw and heavy horror themed classic Scream Bloody Gore, setting the metal world ablaze continuing the blueprint laid out by Possessed with their monumentally important Seven Churches, which not only sets the blueprint but coins the term “Death Metal.” Yes, I’m that guy who says, “actually Possessed did it two years earlier,” but to downplay Scream Bloody Gore’s importance would be criminal. SBG had turned away from a lot of thrash metal tropes that Seven Churches had within its core DNA, and established the underlying fundamental dark, moody, and horror movie gore-fest inspired themes within the burgeoning death metal genre. It was fast, raw, unapologetic, and set the stage for the subgenre to dominate the metal world.
Some would say their follow up, Leprosy, is almost as, if not more important than SBG as it was the first Death metal album that the metal industry threw its weight behind. Backed by Combat Records, it had a higher budget, was more technically proficient, and was Engineered by Scott Burns, who was instrumental in crafting how grindcore, slam, and death metal sounds within the mixing room. Where SBG was the underground hit that set the tone for death metal, Leprosy was the much anticipated follow up that put the band, and death metal on the map.
Sorry for the history lesson, I live for that stuff. Anyways, up first was local hunks Orpheus, who always bring a whole posse of people when they perform. They’re one of the only technical death metal outfits in the area, and they’ve got a devoted following that typically makes it out to every one of their shows. I think it’s important to note that the band is heavily influenced by Death, specifically post Human Death. For those not in the know, this 1991 entry released just four years after SBG, and took the band in a different direction stylistically, leaning into a more technically complex and progressive direction, straying away from the established gore-inspired themes. This was another landmark album for not only Death, but death metal, and the brand-new tech death genre. Musically Orpheus is the spitting image of this era of Death, making them the perfect openers, and my “in” to the show.
“What’s up Omaha, we are Metallica,” joked coop, starting off the night on a jovial foot. “I really have to poop,” he continued, not joking this time. He was in luck too, as their set was comprised of 3 songs, although they ran about 10 minutes each per tech death code of conduct. What’s always amazing about Orpheus is how good the instrumentation is. The Arpeggios, the tempo changes, the complex time signatures, everything is executed with precision, and their live shows are no exception. During the first minute of their set the crowd bursted into a circle pit, which pushed me to the very edge of the venue, into a group of symbols set aside for an easy access set change. Sorry to any of the musicians whose symbols I knocked over. After the second song Coop announced, “You guys think I’m joking but I really need to poop,” which prompted the crowd to chant “Sh*t your pants!” After their set Coop ran to the bathroom, and it sounds like he made it just in time.
Orpheus is always a fun time! Check them out at their next show, or blast their 2020 release Cast Into Oblivion on the band’s Spotify page. Or message Coop pictures of hot dogs until he sends you a copy.
Next up was the only band I was not familiar with prior to the show, Mortuous, which had a whole vibe. Their entire set was lit with deep red lights, which complemented their slightly doomier brand of death metal, and the band really kept quiet for the most part allowing the music to speak for itself. The audience seemed transfixed on their performance during the runtime of their set. The band has both Mike Beams, another Exhumed Alumni, and Chad Gailey, of Necrot, so it's got loads of cred in the death metal scene, and seemed to be channeling early Autopsy, which was one of the first bands to add doom metal elements in the mix, and funny enough has founding member Chris Reifert, who played drums on SBG. Whoever picked the bill did a fantastic job putting together a lineup that really fits the spirit of early death metal. It was also a nice change of pace from the barrage of high-pitched screams from the other bands, as the vocals were mostly on the low guttural end.
The red lights made for a challenging shoot but produced some killer photos.
Check out these doomy, death metal, demons on their bandcamp page. Through Wilderness is a low-key BOP if you like Autopsy, doom metal, or death metal.
Skeletal Remains brought the spirit of Morbid Angel with their bass heavy slappy chugs, and weedly meedly tremello’s set to funky time signatures. I’m not super familiar with their catalog, but I really enjoyed their 2020 release The Entombment of Chaos, and not just because they had Entombment in the name. The cover art looks heavily reminiscent of a Dan Seagrave cover... Oh wait, that is a Dan Seagrave cover! Now that I think of it, the album has a swagger similar to Left Hand Path, and sounds quite a bit like it mix-wise, but with a fresh coat of paint.
Skeletal swept up the “Congregation of Flesh” into a “Euphoric Bloodfeast” of swirling balls of hair and denim, “Devastating Internally” those who skated the outskirts. What remained was a “Cosmic Chasm”, or “Seismic Abyss” so to speak, within the center of the floor. The band was thorough, and those left alive are “…Still Suffering.” While the “Mortal Decimation” was impressive, their merch booth was even more so. (Wow, that was bad. I’m so sorry for that. My therapist says I need to stop using interesting song titles as a substitute for good writing. I use it as a coping mechanism to come to terms with my “Traumatic Existence…” Jk I’m done.)
Skeletal’s merch booth was incredible. There was a huge collection of GOREgeous gigantic back patches, hats in every color, fanny packs, windbreakers, and every variation of back covering cotton available. It was like a mobile Wonka’s chocolate factory, but for death metal merch. At the end of the show there was a huge line. I waited like 15 minutes to get a pretty sick Condemned to Misery 90s flat brim, and it was worth every slimy, sweaty, smelly post show minute.
You can grab some of their killer swag on their killer site www.skeletal-remains.com
Left to Die was pristine! Both Rozz and Butler were at the top of their game, performing as if they had released Leprosy yesterday. It was incredible seeing some of the godfathers of death metal still ripping through some of their best works 34 years later. Both Harvey and Rios did a fantastic job as well, with Rios nailing original drummer Bill Andrews’ parts to a tee, and Harvey sounding as if Chuck Schuldiner had been resurrected. No doubt, the band achieved its goal of sounding exactly like the 1988 Death lineup. In between songs Harvey announced the performers and their accolades, including himself, but with the caveat that there was no substitute for The Man who deserved to be in his place. “Say his name,” he commanded, and the crowd chanted “Chuck, Chuck, Chuck,” until Harvey cut them off, proclaiming that if they were still playing his tunes, and we all were still listening to them, then his spirit must have been among us.
The band played Leprosy in its entirety, although out of order to make room for the most pleasant surprise. They were not just playing Leprosy tunes; they were also playing Scream Bloody Gore tunes! Their set included “Zombie Ritual”, “Denial of Life'', '' Baptized in Blood'', and they ended their set on “Evil Dead,” which is my personal favorite on that album. To say I was in a state of euphoria is an understatement. I was having so much fun that I put the camera away after the first few tracks and passed my bag off onto Emilio, poor guy, so that I could spend the rest of the show in the pit. It was serene hearing these tracks I’ve heard a million times, songs I’ve been banging my head to all of my life, songs I never thought I would hear done justice live, faithfully performed. It was the most fun I’ve had in years and will go down as one of, if not my favorite show of all time.
I can’t wait to see Left to Die again. I read somewhere that they might be working on an EP after the tour, but I am unable to find the article again. Perhaps I dreamt it. I would also love to see these guys tackle some other Death material, like tracks off of Spiritual Healing, or perhaps they could even get some of the Cynic guys involved for a set based around Human.
Follow Left to Die on their socials, and blast Death on every platform!
Chuck lives on through his music, and in every bit of the death metal genre, kept alive and thriving by every one of death metal’s loyal disciples. Keep the party going my dudes!