Legendary Musicians Pay Homage To The Father Of Death Metal

By Avinash Mittur

June 22nd, 2012, The Regency Grand Ballroom, San Francisco CA: Throughout my years of living in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, I have had the fortune of meeting dozens of people who all share my love for heavy metal music. Whenever I have a chance encounter with a fellow metalhead, one of the first topics of discussion tends to be the various subgenres of metal that we commonly enjoy. When the topic of death metal comes up, I’ve grown accustomed to hearing the following phrase: “Death metal? Nah, I’m not really a fan. I love Death though!” There is just something about the music of Chuck Schuldiner that manages to transcend the auditory confines of death metal, and reach out to any lover of heavy music. On Friday night in San Francisco, music lovers of all kinds of musical backgrounds came together to celebrate Chuck’s music and legacy, and his former bandmates and friends did a fantastic job of making this event a massive success.

Before the show started, one could immediately sense a warm and welcoming vibe in the Regency Ballroom. Death’s ex-manager and the mastermind behind the Death to All Tour, Eric Greif, could be spotted happily chatting with fans by the merch booth. Many older fans who had seen Death in their prime sported tattered tour shirts, and legions of young fans were huddled about the front rail, ready to get the best view they possibly could. Even some of the bay’s local heroes, like Steve “Zetro” Souza and Chris Kontos, could be found amongst the 1000-strong audience.

The show began with a 45 minute set from Gorguts. Before their set even began, the packed Regency Ballroom was already cheering Gorguts’ name. By their own admission, this was their first time visiting the bay in a decade, but the band’s live ability certainly hasn’t diminished in that time. Guitarist and frontman Luc Lemay’s vocals were dead-on; Luc never lost his breath or skipped phrases, and still managed to nail his complicated guitar parts with ease. The band understandably concentrated on their later material, but they still acknowledged their first record by bringing out “Stiff and Cold,” much to the audience’s delight. Luc made sure to thank the crowd repeatedly- he certainly left no one in doubt of his appreciation, that’s for sure. As to be expected from a band that plays such a technical brand of death metal, Gorguts’ performance was flawless. Even if guitarist Kevin Hufnagel and bassist Colin Marston didn’t move about the stage much, their technical brilliance and banging heads more than made up for it. After a final run through of the title track to their second album, “The Erosion of Sanity,” Gorguts left the stage to a massive applause from the Regency’s occupants. Gorguts was a great choice of an opener for this show, not merely because they were contemporaries to Chuck in his prime, but because they put on an all-around stellar show.

 Gorguts Set List:

1. From Wisdom to Hate
2. The Carnal State
3. Orphans of Sickness
4. Nostalgia
5. Stiff and Cold
6. Inverted
7. Obscura
8. The Erosion of Sanity

After about half an hour of waiting, Sean Reinert, Charles Elliot, Paul Masvidal and Steve DiGiorgio took the stage and immediately busted out one of Death’s earliest classics, “Zombie Ritual.” The old-school fans of course went crazy, but the insanity would only continue to escalate throughout this marathon performance. Despite suffering from a torn achilles tendon, Sean gave a great performance on drums and still somehow managed to kick in the double bass when he needed to. Paul was perhaps the most energetic presence onstage, constantly hopping about and headbanging his neck into oblivion. Charles’ low growls, while admittedly very unlike Chuck’s early vocals, were certainly not bad, and did a fine enough job at keeping the audience happy. His and Paul’s leads were fantastic, and cheers would erupt as soon as either began to play a solo.

After a quick appearance from latter day Death bassist Scott Clendenin for “Left to Die,” Gene Hoglan ascended his drum throne and proceeded to utterly wreck his kit. Simply put, Gene put in one of the most incredible drum performances I have ever seen. Even for the non-drummers in the crowd, one couldn’t help but be in awe of his insane speed, dexterity and stamina. Years ago I had seen Gene drum for Dethklok, and while he gave a solid show then, this night saw a wild animal unleashed. Steve DiGiorgio’s bass playing was perhaps just as technically accomplished with his left hand flying all about his fretless bass’s neck while his right fingers were constantly plucking at his strings with hardly a break to give them a rest. This lineup with Gene on drums played songs from “Human” and “Spiritual Healing,” and continued the theme of loosely following the chronological order of Death’s releases. Intronaut’s Danny Walker made a short appearance to sub in for the ailing Sean Reinert, and the slightly reworked lineup tore through “Secret Face.”

The next lineup change was a major one; Charles Elliot traded places with a surprise guest, Exhumed’s Matt Harvey, Gene returned to the drums, and Paul Masvidal relinquished his spot to Shannon Hamm, Death’s final guitarist. Matt was a last minute replacement for Obscura’s Steffen Kummerer, who had issues making it into the states. In this reviewer’s opinion, Matt did an outstanding job with both his vocals and guitar work. During the song that this lineup played first, “The Philosopher,” everyone had a chance to shine, especially Matt, Steve and Shannon, who all gave mindblowing solos. Having Matt sing was an extremely creative choice, especially considering his relative obscurity in comparison to the other musicians featured at the show. Far more so than Charles’ vocals, Matt’s high screams channeled Chuck’s voice astoundingly well, and his enthusiasm onstage was a delight to see. He expressed that enthusiasm by sprinting all over the stage when he wasn’t singing, and running right up to Shannon whenever the two had dueling solos. He even led the crowd in chants for “Overactive Imagination” and “Crystal Mountain,” chants that the audience was more than happy to participate in. Shannon was no slouch either, nailing his solos with a stunning level of ease. With Matt and Shannon both on guitar, the songs became more reliant on their twin solos, as to be expected from the later Death records. For the most part, both guitars cut through fine, but there were occasions when a quick solo would hardly be audible for its entire duration. These were exceptions to the otherwise phenomenal sound at this show, easily the best I’ve ever heard at the Regency. For “Overactive Imagination” Matt ceded his guitar duties to Death’s axeman during the “Symbolic” era, Bobby Koelble. Bobby did a good enough job with his parts, although he remained stoic onstage compared to everyone else. While Matt initially seemed awkward onstage without a guitar to occupy his hands, he quickly grew accustomed to the change and began moving his body about like any good solo vocalist should. Soon enough, Scott Clendenin replaced Steve onstage for the rest of the main set, and the band played “Bite the Pain.” These tracks from “The Sound of Perseverance” and “Symbolic” drew the most crazy reaction from the crowd, although they were still very active throughout the entire set. The pit was consistently full of action, and the front rows were pure chaos as fans constantly crowdsurfed over the rail.

As I said earlier, the last chunk of songs easily received the most cheers from the audience. “Crystal Mountain” in particular drew a massive ovation from the crowd. However, it was certainly the tracks from “The Sound of Perseverance” that threw the crowd into the wildest frenzies. “Bite the Pain,” “Flesh and the Power It Holds” and “A Moment of Clarity” ended up causing the most violence on the floor- it wasn’t hard to see which Death album was the favorite of this audience. After “A Moment of Clarity,” the musicians took an encore break. An acoustic guitar was soon set up though, and nearly everyone knew what was coming next. As we all expected, Scott, Shannon and Bobby all came out to play a beautiful rendition of “Voice of the Soul.” This was the most moving moment of the concert, as photos of Chuck showed on the backdrop and all remained silent to listen to his music. From an objective standpoint, this was a nice break from the metal, but it was a downright awe-inspiring and gorgeous five minutes of music regardless. When the song ended, those watching from the balcony gave a standing ovation while those on the floor cheered their lungs out.

Forbidden’s Craig Locicero then came out to play guitar on “Living Monstrosity,” along with a returning Charles, Gene and Steve. Craig gave the same high level of energy as he always does with Forbidden, and made sure to headbang like no tomorrow. Finally Craig exited the stage, and Matt, Paul, Scott, Shannon, Bobby and Sean all went onstage for an all-star rendition of “Pull the Plug.” Matt and Charles traded vocal lines and sung the chorus together as if they’d been in the same band for years, and everyone else could be seen with huge smiles on their faces. The Regency crowd gave their final burst of energy for “Pull the Plug,” and before they even knew it, the 2 hour and 15 minute set had come to a close.

This Death to All concert was utterly amazing, and I absolutely encourage anyone who can to go see one of these shows. If this had been any other metal concert, I might have complained about the thirty two dollar tickets (forty six after “service fees!”), but this show was worth every penny and then some. Every musician gave their very best to this audience, and Chuck Schuldiner’s music was given the justice it so deserves. Not only Eric Greif, but also Anton Hefele & Ian Macdonald from Sick Drummer Magazine,¬†and everyone else behind this tour should be extremely proud of their results and efforts; as of right now, Death to All is easily the tour to see of 2012.

Death to All Set List:

1. Zombie Ritual
2. Leprosy
3. Within the Mind
4. Torn to Pieces
5. Left to Die
6. Suicide Machine
7. Lack of Comprehension
8. Flattening of Emotions
9. Secret Face
10. The Philosopher
11. Trapped In a Corner
12. Overactive Imagination
13. Bite the Pain
14. Zero Tolerance
15. 1000 Eyes
16. Crystal Mountain
17. Flesh and the Power it Holds
18. Symbolic
19. A Moment of Clarity
20. Voice of the Soul
21. Living Monstrosity
22. Pull the Plug

After the show at Tommy’s Joynt across the street, there was something said by a concertgoer that caught my attention. This fan mentioned to his friend while waiting in line: “You know, I’ve never really been a metalhead, I’ve always been more of a punk rocker. But there’s just something about Death, man. I don’t know what it is dude, but I just love ’em.” Regardless of how technical or heavy Chuck’s music ever became, it was always able to connect on such a basic level with any kind of music fan. There’s just something about Death indeed.

Overall gig rating: 10/10