Chuck Schuldiner - Zero Tolerance
Karmageddon Media
Technical Metal/Old Death Metal demos
Disc 1: 10 songs (53'19") Disc 2: 19 songs (76'31")
Release year: 2005
Karmageddon Media
Reviewed by Alex

I have been mulling this review for a long time. In fact, it probably is more of an opinion than a review, and those of you who think I am one opinionated SOB (with all of the editorials) will probably get another piece of ammunition in your holster. I have been reviewing a lot of albums recently from New Aeon/Karmageddon and Candlelight USA, their US distribution outlet. This independent Dutch label has often been on the mark with its new signings, and Candlelight USA is one hard working team, spreading the word of Metal on this continent. It could be seen then whatever I will say below cuts the hand that is feeding me. Regardless, I have to say what I feel is right.

I remember receiving a jolt in December 2001. Just as the raw emotions of September 11 began to smooth over the Metal-loving world heard the tragic news that Chuck Schuldiner, one of metal’s most important and most humble innovators, succumbed to the complications of malignant brain tumor. I could not believe the Internet lines, but it was true. I vividly remember reading Chuck’s interview with Metal Maniacs about a year prior to his death describing how he was diagnosed with the disease, how he received surgery, chemo, how he and his doctors thought that the worst was behind him. Chuck was raving about his new band Control Denied. The Fragile Art of Existence was out making a dent with its technical prowess, complex songwriting and flawless execution. Chuck mentioned how eager he was to continue working with Control Denied, alas faith thought differently and the second album never saw the light of day. When Machine and Man Collide was supposed to come out on Hammerheart, the precursor of Karmageddon, but it wasn’t in the stars for poor Chuck to finish it.

Lots of rumors swirled around the pieces of the second Control Denied album. Other bandmembers contemplated whether to finish what Chuck has started. The label, of course, had some rehearsal tapes as well. Chuck’s family, especially his mother Jane, vehemently opposed pressing those on CDs. I do not know what her motivation was, and I don’t need to know. The wound of Chuck’s passing was fresh, nobody needed to know. If she thought so, her wishes had to be respected. The bandmembers were easily convinced, the music executives at Karmageddon not as much so. Four years later Zero Tolerance is out. The question WHY?, however, is burning just as strongly.

I wanted to give Zero Tolerance all kinds of benefit of a doubt. I have spun these two discs repeatedly. I wanted to believe that the label decided to give Chuck’s final parting gift to his fans, despite the wishes of his family. I am still not persuaded. On the surface the fans get a lot of goodies. Disc 1 contains four long tracks, all outtakes from the Control Denied rehearsal tapes. One can hear the brilliance of Chuck’s ideas and can only regret the album was never made. The rest are tracks from Infernal Death and Mutilation Death demos of such poor quality they seem to be a direct transfer from unmastered cassette tapes. Disc 2 continues in the same vein offering more demos, Death by Metal and Reign of Terror, and a live Death recording from their Spiritual Healing tour. Sound quality is not that much better than the Disc 1 demos. What on the surface appears to be a rarity package is, indeed, a bunch of half-baked goods. The question I kept asking myself was: “If Chuck was alive, would he ever agree to such compilation being issued?”

Control Denied rehearsal tracks do not have vocals recorded on them. Poor Chuck probably never got to that stage. The whole thing simply feels like he is trying to see what riffs will work, these are not even partial songs pieces. Remembering, from that same Metal Maniacs interview, how important he thought was for him to step away from the mic with Control Denied, how much he valued Tim Aymar’s clean vocals, I am thinking the answer to my question above is unequivocal NO. Chuck would not want this to be released. In 1999 – 2000 Chuck was not the same who started Death. At the time of The Fragile Art of Existence (what a title!!) issuance he really cared about sound quality of his music. I do not pretend I know much about the man, I just admire the vision, but I can bet my house he would not want to issue his old sub-garage quality demos. It is not how he would want to be remembered whether he stayed alive to continue with Control Denied or passed away. These demos are his personal soul searching, his humble beginnings that probably should have stayed personal and hidden from the public eye.

Just another evidence Zero Tolerance (I wonder who thought up this title now??) was never meant to be is the fact the album doesn’t even have the cover art. I guess Chuck didn’t get to that stage either and the label decided not to create it for him.

Obviously, this will not be rated. With the sound quality presented on Zero Tolerance it can’t be rated high, but I can’t associate such low quote with Schuldiner’s name. Especially considering the fact he would have never authorized this. If this was the way to commemorate a great talent, the attempt has certainly failed. If this was the way to profit from the name of a great talent, it can’t certainly be commended. Let’s just reconcile ourselves that there will never be another Death or Control Denied album and let Chuck’s soul rest in peace.

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