[aural time-slip] Death – Spiritual Healing

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[Reviewed by Peter Marks]

How to go about encapsulating the monumental achievement that is ‘Spiritual Healing’?

A good place to start would be to remember the ethos of evolution which this band always espoused. They never stood still, and this re-issue is a testament to their fanatical skills. The first disc is the studio album, blood spattered and every bit the beast you remember it being when you stuck the tape in your walkman and tuned out. The riffs on ‘Spiritual Healing’ don’t ever let up, not for one second. Solos come flying at you like knives thrown by a madman at something only he can see, up and down those frets our heroes gallop. The drums move along at a frightening tempo and the whole thing seems as though it could just explode right before your eyes at any given second. But this is controlled chaos, meticulous detailing and above all else coldly precise musicianship on an order I don’t hear anyone else having the balls to challenge.

Ever.

You get a second disc crammed with rehearsal versions,instrumentals and demos which pull back the curtain and invite you into the midst of all the mayhem. Thought you’d heard what Death were all about? Think again. There’s some intensity going on with what we’re being shown, no room to breathe, bite down on the rag and try not to make too much noise as you get eviscerated. Or go ahead and scream your head off, no one’s going to save you.

When I imagine how it feels to have the life choked out of me, this band are who come to mind first. There have been other re-releases of ‘Spiritual Healing’ but this time the best is saved for last. Disc three is primarily comprised of a live show from this tour, a gig which I had to lie to my parents about (yeah we’re just going to be at so-and so’s) and sneak out of the house to see when it came through. It’s been 24 years since I saw Chuck and company but hearing this, I’m 16 again pounding my fist in the air while Death annihilate the stage directly in front of me. There may be some who quibble over the sound quality of these live tracks but how many of them were there. How many fans of this act are there still around who remember the live aspect to this band which no amount of studio trickery can ever faithfully reproduce. Be grateful for what you’re given.

Just to sweeten it a bit more, the third CD is concluded by three demo versions of songs which heralded the start of the band’s next quantum leap forward: 1991’s ‘Human’. What else lurks? With Death you just never knew. The biggest thing to take away from this massive release is that this is when these guys really began to differentiate themselves from the rest of the pack lyrically. The by the numbers guts and gore words gave way to some very interesting observations on the world and some of the people who defile it. No love was lost on politicians, religion and the mechanisms of oppression they thrive on. Religion especially. Death seemed to have a special kind of contempt for the believers, something which certainly was inspiring to hear in an era where televangelists and pyramid schemes disguised as “revivals” were the order of the day.

Death never had a middle-ground, they didn’t mellow with age and while their sound became more diverse with time, ‘Spiritual Healing’ without doubt was a high-water mark. They had many, but this one burned through the target they were aiming at like phosphorous. Every day at school was an adventure being a fan of Death, discussing this album drew me the detention card on numerous occasions. Then as now, so many only looked at the surface and judged. But given that hair metal was at it’s zenith, this really shouldn’t be surprising.

With the passage of years, Death’s catalog is drawing more attention from those who didn’t partake the first time around… I can’t even imagine what the kids must think when they hear this. Crank it up and prepare to have your ears beaten into a bloodied pulp.

DeathSpiritual Healing
Combat, 88561-2011-2 // Relapse Records, RR 7200
CD/LP/MC 1990 // 3xCD reissue 2012

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