Death - Spiritual HealingFollowing on from their re-issues of Human, The Sound Of Perseverance and Individual Thought Patterns, those cheeky folks at Relapse have blessed us with a long awaited remaster of the legendary Spiritual Healing album. A totally new remaster with extensive liner notes and a whole bundle of bonus tracks, this is another one to add to my collection and dent my wallet.

First off, it has to be said that the 2 disc edition contains the album and a set of demos and jams, but only with the 3 disc edition do you get a stunning previously unavailable live set from 1990 featuring the line-up that recorded this gem.

Having already established themselves as masters of brutal, incendiary death metal on Scream Bloody Gore and Leprosy, it was this, their third release, that saw the emergence of more progressive and technical elements of Chuck‘s playing and the refining of his compositional skills. Having managed to persuade soon-to-be death metal luminary James Murphy (Obituary, Disincarnate, Cancer, Testament) to join the fold, Chuck shared writing credits with him on several tracks although the bulk of the material was still composed by Chuck and bassist Terry Butler.

Sadly this was to be the last album featuring Butler and drummer Bill Andrews before a rather acrimonious split prior to the “Cynic” line-up that went on to craft the genre classic Human. Although a fine rhythm section that added a hefty sense of groove to the simpler barrages, one wonders if they would have been capable of growing with Chuck in the years to come as the band’s sound became more experimental and the music itself more technical. That said, the liner notes provided by Butler are excellent (as are those provided by Murphy and Chuck‘s sister).

What this album engenders is a real sense of excitement. Being old enough to remember hearing it for the first time (and therefore without the context of the albums that followed), putting this on again all these years later still gives me goosebumps. The unrelenting pounding of finely honed riffs starts to give way to a sound that was altogether different and intriguing. The unmistakeable surge of a band wanting to take death metal somewhere else, pushing the boundaries of metal songwriting to the point where genre tags could be defied altogether.

The flourishes from Schuldiner and Murphy in the solos and lead breaks were not your average fare and the time changes and even the keyboard touches on the title track were alien to the ears of a teen death metal fan. They sounded…weird…but in the very best way. They begged repeated listens and filled my head with questions as to where Death may go next. As we now know they grew into a unique force with a string of classic albums to their name, but a career sadly cut short by Chuck‘s ill health.

The production itself left a little to be desired, lacking the punch of Leprosy or the clarity of later releases, but the remaster has been done superbly and brings the sound up to date as far as is possible with the source material.

This album captures Death at a turning point; still primordially brutal but evolving into a new monster with greater depth and broader appeal. It is impossible to pick stand out tracks as there really isn’t a duff one here, but ‘Living Monstrosity’ and ‘Killing Spree’ top and tail this masterpiece superbly. The bonus jams and rehearsal tracks are a fascinating listen and capture the savagery of the whole band in full flow in a rehearsal room.

Listening to Chuck‘s work is always bittersweet, with the constant sadness that we will never hear what would have followed his Control Denied material, but a real sense of gratitude that this man left his stamp on heavy music and influenced a generation. Horns aloft, air-guitar at the ready….time to give it another spin.

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