Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Death - Leprosy (1988)

Leprosy is the second full-length album from Death. Recorded in Morrisound, this L.P. was released in November 1988. For this outing, Chuck Schuldiner recruited three members of Massacre. This album takes what was created on Scream Bloody Gore and continues in that vein, though retaining less of the aggression and fury found on that classic. Death's second album is primitive and raw, and it is the embodiment of Death Metal.

This was actually the first Death album that I purchased. I was seeking their debut, but found this instead. I obtained this around the same time as Slowly We Rot and Blessed Are the Sick, so it is forever linked to those albums as well as the season of decay in which I bought it. These songs possess the atmosphere of cold autumn nights, for me, since that is when I spent most of my time soaking this all in. I would go on to buy many more Death albums, in the following years, yet none of them had the same effect as Scream Bloody Gore and Leprosy. For me, these albums are the epitome of Death Metal.

The L.P. begins with the title track, unleashing heavy, doom-filled riffs that create an aura of decay. After a mid-paced beginning, and Chuck's dead and rotting vocals, things speed up a bit. The fast parts don't seem quite as fast as those found on the previous release, however. There are a variety of tempos found in this song, alone. Also, the feeling is somewhat reminiscent of old Slayer. This is primitive, yet epic in its hideous glory. The lead solos really add to the song as well. This is a good example of less being more, as Death accomplishes quite a lot within this limited framework.

"Born Dead" is a little faster, containing eerie solos and very memorable riffs and vocal lines. "Evil" Chuck's screams are very primal and sound as if his throat is rotting or sliced open and bleeding in the night. Unlike later Death Metal albums, the focus of this is the guitar riffs and nothing else. The drums are simply there to keep time, rather than being the driving force behind the music.

The somewhat relaxed thrash riffs continue on "Forgotten Past", though things do speed up as before. It is amazing to see how much can be accomplished within the boundaries of this musical style. The songs sound very similar, yet they are completely identifiable from one another. This song features a very nice tremolo riff that doesn't get quite enough time to evolve, though the excellent lead solo that follows it more than makes up for this.

As the title indicates, "Left To Die" features lyrics that are quite morbid and bleak. The opening riff is godly, especially as it transitions into the slower riff that accompanies Chuck's death-scream. Leprosy truly is filled with nothing but classic songs. It is odd that the pioneers of this sound managed to do so much, yet those that followed released piles of monotonous garbage. Everything about this song is great, from the killer solos to the primitive riffs and the undead vocals. Chuck Schuldiner doesn't get enough credit for the performances from the first two Death albums, as too few people regard these albums as highly as they should.

The next song is well known, among fans of the band, and remained a staple of live shows for the duration of the band's existence. "Pull the Plug" begins with more mid-paced riffs. The tempo actually changes several times, taking the listener on a dark journey. You can feel your lungs rotting from the inside, as you are unable to breathe. The lyrics resonate in your mind as you fall into the realm of decay.

"...Release me from this lonely world
There is no hope..."

"Open Casket" begins with crushing riffs and a building sense of tension as you are carried forth toward the endless graveyard. The slower riffs in this song are filled with doom and dread, accentuated by Chuck's vocals which are consumed by the stench of decay. This feeling continues on "Primitive Ways". Again, with regard to the solos and overall production, one cannot help but be reminded of the early Slayer albums. The song arrangements are somewhat complex, compared to Scream Bloody Gore, yet still raw and simplistic.

This classic album concludes with "Choke On It", which really does feel like the ending of an epic journey through a foggy landscape of forgotten crypts and decaying flesh as the moon illuminates the night sky. The opening riffs are slow and serve to imbue the listener with a sense of doom, before speeding up for a bit. Again, the song slows down to a morbid crawl, as emaciated hands reach up from the damp soil, pulling half-decayed bodies from their shallow graves in search of mortal blood. This song features some of the best riffs of the whole album, which says a lot considering the high quality of this release.

Leprosy is a classic album that should be owned by anyone claiming to listen to this style of music. It belongs to an elite group of albums that also includes Scream Bloody Gore, Altars of Madness, Slowly We Rot and Consuming Impulse, among many others. The first two albums from Death are essential and these are the first records that come to mind when I think of Death Metal.