Death – Individual Thought Patterns (1993)

Chuck Schuldiner – guitars, vocals, production
Andy LaRocque – guitar
Steve DiGiorgio – bass
Gene Holgan – drums, guitars

Two years after the most significant shift in Death’s sound, Individual Thought Patterns hit shelves in mid-June of 1993, marking yet another transmutation of style and direction. Although maintaining the high standard of musicianship set by the last album, the mix of talent and the execution of Schuldiner’s experimental ideas fall short of the heights Death had proven itself capable of.

This said, the album remains steadfastly progressive. The opener “Overactive Imagination” features off-time motifs sandwiched between kinetic shredding and fairly melodious solos. The second track continues in much the same vein, harkening back to the sound and riffs of Spiritual Healing, a taste of desperation and frantic zeal. In terms of musicality, Individual Thought Patterns is more like a progression of pre-Human structures and ideas, a return to form, rather than an expansion of its predecessor’s tone.  “Trapped A Corner,” for instance, exemplifies a churning of riffs, a back-and-forth of tones through verses that shifts immediately into an extended section of trading solos between Schuldiner and LaRocque—but the sound is more akin to a more complicated version of the songs on Spiritual Healing than the pseudo-jazz elements found on Human.

Individual Thought Patterns has been hailed (or criticized) for apparent incorporation of free-jazz elements into its mix of riffs, extreme metal, and blitzkrieg guitar chaos. This isn’t something I’ve ever understood; of the ‘later-period’ or progressive metal works of Death, Human is the closest Schuldiner comes to incorporating any remotely jazz-like elements into the mix, and I think this is due to the presences of Reinert and Masvidal than anything else. Individual Thought Patterns, like Human before it, certainly belongs together with the progressive metal albums of Atheist, Cynic, Pestilence, et al that all came about during the same period, but of these, it’s the least jazz-like of any of them.

Lyrically, Schuldiner continues his exploration into reflective, personal lyrics; anonymous polemics against caricatures continue to dominate his content, with angles ranging from criticizing facades and pretentiousness to an attack against the pursuit of academic knowledge and intellectual book smarts. Individually, each track has something to offer, but there’s not much variation between them. That isn’t typically what you listen to Death for, though.

Although continuing largely down the same path blazed by Human, the lack of presence exhibited by the new members, coupled with the erratic songwriting, means that Individual Thought Patterns simply doesn’t quite measure up to its predecessor. The musicians brought on board for Human’s production had more than ability and talent working in their favor—something that these musicians here certainly have in spades—they had musical personality; their contributions had coherency and contingency and sounded like more than just a series of tones or noises thrown off by a competent and directed but rigid musician. This is where Individual Thought Patterns fails; the songs and pieces are no more than the sum of their parts, and although each part is advanced, technical, enjoyable and pretty good, the sum is merely a collection of these features and not a strengthened and indivisible whole of atmosphere, mood, and passion. Human’s pieces had a fluidity to them, a spaciousness both in production and in execution that Individual Thought Patterns lacks.

But perhaps that’s to be expected.  Human is an album transcendent of its genre, and although Individual Thought Patterns pursues the same end, it can only effectively be judged according to its genre and its personnel.  It does well, sounds great, and remains a staple of the extreme metal catalogue.  Recommended for fans of Death and metal in general, not so much for people outside the genre.

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