Unquestionably one of the most important and influential metal acts to have ever emerged from the North American continent, Florida’s Death came together in late 1983 when guitarist/vocalist Chuck Schuldiner and guitarist Rick Rozz (real name: Frederick DeLillo) got together with drummer/vocalist Barney “Kam” Lee to form Mantas. Drawing musical inspiration from Venom and Slayer, the trio (no bassist had yet entered the picture!) went about composing original tunes and making very rough, crude rehearsal recordings to send out to various tape-traders around the world. Internal turmoil within the group and Mantas’ eventual break-up in late 1984 resulted in Chuck’s vow to carry on making music that was “faster and heavier” than anything he’d done before.
Heralded as a genre innovator, Chuck partnered with drummer Chris Reifert and took to the studio. Released in May of 1987, Death’s debut record Scream Bloody Gore, described as “death metal’s first archetypal document”, was immediately met with praise and accolades, with magazines and fans hailing it as one of the most important death metal releases of all time. However, with Chuck once again having returned to Florida and Reifert basing himself in San Francisco, Schuldiner –in yet another surprising move– decided to join forces with three-fourths of Florida’s Massacre (including Rick Rozz). This marked the first touring incarnation of Death, which made its first major live appearance at that year’s Milwaukee Metalfest, co-promoted by Death future manager, Eric Greif. During the successful club tour that followed, Death aired three brand-new numbers (“Born Dead”, “Open Casket” and “Pull The Plug”) that Chuck had written for the group’s sophomore outing, which showcased a more mature, focussed direction for the band while retaining the brutality that had become the group’s trademark.
By April of 1988, Death had returned to the recording studio (Tampa’s Morrisound facility) and, under the guidance of Dan Johnson, laid down their much-anticipated second album. A polished-yet-savagely-heavy effort, Leprosy, like it’s predecessor, had its roots firmly in the Slayer/Venom/Hellhammer school of songwriting, but with an increased emphasis on the kind of melodic passages that would later become central to the group’s sound. Not surprisingly, this powerful combination was an instant “hit” in the metal underground and became a major influence on hundreds of bands that emerged during death metal’s “resurgence” in the late ’80’s, including groups such as Entombed and Napalm Death (who ended up recording their Harmony Corruption album at Morrisound Studios in an attempt to recapture Leprosy’s distinctive production).
In the decade that followed, Death issued several more critically-acclaimed releases while gradually gravitating towards a much more technical musical approach, one that would inevitably alienate some of the group’s longtime fans. Along the way, Chuck came to be rightfully regarded as one of the pioneers of the death metal genre, while Spiritual Healing came to earn its place in the annals of death metal history as one the finest albums ever released under the banner.