Death – Spiritual Healing (1990)

Recorded – 1989
Released – February 16, 1990

Chuck Schuldiner – guitars, vocals
James Murphy – guitar
Terry Butler – bass
Bill Andrews – drums
Eric Greif – Keyboard

The last of Death’s “pre-prog” period of death metal, Spiritual Healing presents a more refined approach than what was present on the sledgehammer of Scream Bloody Gore or the baseball bat of malice present in Leprosy. This album isn’t a single, somewhat unwieldly bludgeoning weapon of sonic destruction like the last two; it’s a bit more dynamic, better presented, and more complex both in music and in lyrics.

Schuldiner’s ability to string together riffs continues its ascent with Spiritual Healing, complicating the song structures he compounded on the last release and making the riffs more likeable and diverse. The opening verse of “Altering the Future” is backed by an intentionally disorienting slurring of notes off the easy beat before solidifying into the classic thrash-inspired death shredding of the second verse and Schuldiner’s guitar solo. But he compounds it more later, with both Schuldiner and Murphy following each other in synchronous melodies offset by Butler’s on-point bass.

The double-guitar riffs present on tracks like the opener and “Defensive Personalities” are greater additions to groundwork Schuldiner laid in Leprosy, integrated into the structures of the song better, flowing from one riff to the next with greater ease, and generally providing an altogether more cohesive listening experience. Andrews’ drumming helps bring it all together, pulling more complicated drum lines into the mix to complicate the rhythm as the guitars drive forward like manic locomotives.

Lyrically, Schuldiner matured from the gore-spouting youth of his first two outings into a reflective critic of religious institutions, healthcare, and the treatment of mental illness. Each song’s content presents a unique topic; “Altering the Future” features the inhumanity of abortion as its talking point, while the title track is a direct assault on the psychopathic justification of killing in the name of religion. They’re worded and constructed about as well as the lyrics on his previous albums—end-line rhyming and no discernable meter to speak of—but the shift in focus is worth a note, as it foreshadows what is to come with Schuldiner’s oeuvre.

Overall, the album is tight and well-put together, but like its predecessor, it lacks the spirit innovation and musical maturity that is to be found in his later work. The lyrical shift implies a greater dimension to the product, and the slightly more complicated compositions foreshadow what is to come. Although a solid release, in retrospect, it is little more than a final breath before the plunge into Schuldiner’s subsequent later-period work and the heights he’d reach there. It’s certainly worth a look according to its own merits, though.

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