Retro-review: ‘Individual Thought Patterns’ by Death

If you’re a fan of death metal then you’re probably familiar with the band Death.

Death’s founder and lead vocalist, Chuck Schuldiner, is credited as the “Father of Death Metal” with the entire genre taking the name of his band. It was Death’s 1987 album Scream Bloody Gore that’s credited with launching the genre and inspiring other musicians to adopt their own variation of the sound.

The growls, the down-tuned guitars and the double-bass drum blast beats that are staples in the genre all originate with Death. Like them or not, they set the mold which has not been broken for more than three decades now.

By the time 1993 rolled along, Death was still active. It had seen many lineup changes, but the sound remained largely the same. It had a dedicated fan base and at the age of 26, Schuldiner was considered the elder statesman of the scene.

When Individual Thought Patterns was released, it was during the last months of death metal’s heyday. It seemed that the genre was on the verge of breaking through, rising from the underground into the greater consciousness. After all, thrash metal had already broken through with bands like Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax having platinum albums.

Why not death metal too?

Metal was big, with even Danzig getting airplay on regular hours of MTV and the channel’s biggest show, Beavis and Butthead, being led by two metalhead characters. Beavis and Butthead’s reactions to what they watched on their TV could make or break a band. It’s thanks to Beavis and Butthead’s enthusiastic reviews that Gwar and White Zombie enjoyed mainstream success.

Alas, when Beavis and Butthead finally got a video by Death on their show, they destroyed it and the genre’s chances at the mainstream with two words “this sucks.”

Death wasn’t alone in getting the thumbs down from the duo. Carcass and Morbid Angel were mocked as well.

After that, it seemed that death metal took a mighty fall with several bands breaking up and labels full of death metal bands moving to something else. Death metal was left in the cold.

Which brings us around to Individual Thought Patterns and what many thought was going to be a break out album for the band, elevating them to the level of acts like Pantera and Danzig. It definitely wasn’t that, but it’s a strong showing nonetheless.

Schuldiner is not only vocalist on Individual Thought Patterns, but plays guitar as well. Joining him in this incarnation of death are guitarist Andy LaRocque, bassist Steve Di Giorgio and drummer extraordinaire, Gene Hoglan.

The album

Individual Thought Patterns kicks off with the explosive “Overactive Imagination,” which is a good, if not fairly typical, death metal opener. Schuldiner’s vocals are what really drive the song, and his pipes are at their best sounding here. Sure, he has that death metal snarl, but he’s also coherent sounding, which puts him a head above many of his imitators.

In Human Form” is where the album really feels like it kicks off. This song batters the listener with an all-out aural assault of guitar, drums and Schuldiner’s roar.

“In Human Form” is followed up by “Jealousy,” which feels like a good old fashioned Death song with its mix of skin-clawing melodies and a rhythm that’s relentless.

After “Jealousy,” you’re hit by a three songs that sound very similar to each other. I promise, you could skip anywhere from 11:11 to 23:34 and not notice that you’re listening to a different songs.

Things get back on track with the title track “Individual Thought Patterns.” It’s a pretty crazy track, but it sounds really good with its tempo changes and Hoglan’s outstanding drumming. I can see why they chose it to represent the album. It may not be catchy, but it is memorable.

Following up the title track is the booming “Destiny” which packs quite a wallop thanks to Hoglan and Di Giorgio working together. The track is like getting pummeled in the gut nonstop, with a bass track that moves through you, causing your beer belly to ripple.

Things wrap up with “The Philosopher.” A mighty fine song that had the misfortune of being roasted by Beavis and Butthead. Their negative commentary pretty much killed whatever momentum Death had, well, dead. It’s too bad as this is one of the strongest tracks on the album, with a catchy chorus and a rather easy-to-swallow music blend (for death metal that is). Di Giorgio gets to shine a bit on bass as well, supplying that “bawoowbawoow” that is instantly memorable in the song.

The album as a whole is pretty good, despite some tracks that you feel like you’ve heard before. Let’s not forget that Death is pretty much Schuldiner’s baby and it’s going to focus on his vocals and showcase his guitar skills, which are top notch. Even in the less-memorable songs, his melodies stand out.

The verdict

Hey, I can’t call Individual Thought Patterns a bad album at all. While I won’t call it a “must have,” it’s definitely worth a listen, at least for the five songs I thought of as standouts.

Would I buy it?

Maybe if I had some extra money to blow. Overall, you’ve got five tracks that really stand out while the others are pretty interchangeable with each other and songs on previous Death albums. I wouldn’t call it an average album because of the quality of those five songs. At the same time, I can’t call it a great album because of the other five. So, we’re just kind of stuck in the middle.

But hey, check it out for free on YouTube, the whole thing is there, posted by the band’s label, Relapse Records.

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