Death – Symbolic
By 1995 Chuck Schuldiner had already steered Death into ‘proggier’ waters and while these death metal pioneers had undoubtedly progressed with each album, it was on Symbolic that the crystallisation of brain-frying technicality and songwriting nous reached its nadir.
Pitched perfectly as an intricate melding of classical, progressive, jazz, rock, thrash and death metal influences (never forgetting the impact Death’s own Scream Bloody Gore and Leprosy albums had on the nascent death metal scene and you can still sporadically hear the brutality of that era here), all 8 tracks on Symbolic came fully equipped with a shattering display of control, finesse and yet animalistic beauty.
Conjuring relevant superlatives to describe this genre-defining effort is a relatively redundant past-time, Symbolic‘s reputation speaks for itself. The outro to closing epic “Perennial Quest” was magnificent and mind-blowing, Gene Hogan’s drumming unmatched, Chuck’s vision unparalleled and the entire album had more depth than a hundred death metal albums combined.
“This is not a test of power” screamed Chuck on the exquisite “Zero Tolerance”. Well, it sure was a display of one! Operating within a finite group of musicians pushing death metals’ boundaries (Atheist, Cynic, Pestilence, Gorguts), Symbolic proved to be yet another milestone in death metal’s progression.
You can argue as to which is the quintessential Death album for all eternity but one thing is certain. In 1995, few bands were capable of keeping up with Chuck Schuldiner and his hired hands. Symbolic was truly symbolic of the direction Death were heading and that direction was into unchartered territory. Death metal had never sounded so free of constraints.