Thursday, October 13, 2011

Something Old, Something New: Death - Human (2011 reissue)




Death - Human reissue (2011 Relapse Records)

The loss of Death/Control Denied mastermind Chuck Schuldiner in 2001 was a really punch in the gut to the metal community.  From his early days in the Florida death metal scene to full-fledged hero status among technically-minded guitarists everywhere, Schuldiner was an influence who surpassed genre grey areas.  But as tragic as his early death was, there was a tragedy of strictly musical dimensions that affected his career, whether he recognized it or not.  Quite simply, it was the technical limitations of the day (probably compounded by budgetary constraints) that kept his masterpieces from sounding their best.  It's a shame that Chuck is no longer with us, because 20 years after the release of the legendary album Human, Relapse Records has issued a remixed and remastered version that brings the audio quality up to the level of the musicianship, something that the original version simply couldn't achieve.

The Human reissue is available in a number of versions.  I pre-ordered the two-disc version (with T-shirt) in June, waited impatiently as the weeks passed, and was ecstatic when it finally arrived.  I'm usually the first to criticize the unnecessary remixing, remastering and butchery of classic albums (Ozzy, Megadeth, etc.) as well as the inclusion of poor-quality demo versions, but I have to applaud Relapse for getting this right.  For starters, remixing duties were handled by longtime Death collaborator Jim Morris, an excellent and logical choice for a reissue of this magnitude.  Secondly, and of particular interest to metal musicians, is the decision to include instrumental tracks, which really does earn the adjective "bonus" for anyone who wants to more easily learn to play the songs.

So, how much does this version of Human improve upon the original?  This should be a primer on how to properly remix and remaster a classic album.  The original Human was a true feat of songwriting and musicianship, but let's not kid ourselves here - the mix was murky, too quiet (even for pre-"Loudness Wars" productions) and just not up to the task of conveying the musical genius contained within.  The guitars were too thin, the bass virtually non-existent, and the entire album just lacking the power that proper metal albums demand.  The result of the remix/remaster treatment is nothing short of unbelievable.  Honestly, I'd gone into this with very modest expectations, as most remixes just boost a couple of frequencies that sound harsh and noisy after the remastering process, but I was pleasantly surprised to say the least.  Not only can you hear Steve DiGiorgio's fretless bass flowing through each and every song, but Chuck's exchange of riffs with Paul Masvidal (also of Cynic, in case you missed the memo) no longer requires close study to decipher.  This is Death as it was meant to be heard.

There is only so much that can be said about Human's contents that hasn't already been repeated endlessly.  This is where Chuck & Co. set a new standard for technical/progressive death metal, and it's only fitting that Paul Masvidal and drummer Sean Reinert are once again enjoying success (albeit with far more prog and far less death metal) at the helm of Cynic.  It's too bad that Chuck couldn't witness first-hand how far those two have come after all these years, and more importantly for the sake of this review, how good Human is sounding.  

There's no need to rate an album like Human, but as far as this reissue is concerned, I conservatively score it 5 out of 5.

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