Death metal started in Altamonte Springs

Death in 1989. From left to right: Terry Butler, Paul Masvidal, manager Eric Greif, Bill Andrews, and Chuck Schuldiner.
Original Death trio of Rozz, Lee, and Schuldiner

Death was born in Altamonte Springs. No, that’s not some sort of poetic oxymoron. “Death” is the name of a band founded in 1983 by three students: Chuck Schuldiner, Kam Lee, and Rick Rozz. Schuldiner attended Lyman, while Lee and Rozz went to Lake Brantley High School.

Early heavy metal bands like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, and Kiss inspired the trio. Schuldiner, the group’s lead guitarist and vocalist, was just 16 when they started performing locally. He reportedly named the group “Death” as a way of coping with the loss of his older brother, Frank Schuldiner, who died in 1976. Chuck was then the same age as when Frank passed.

The band briefly called themselves “Mantis” but took on that darker name soon after. Their self-made tapes circulated in the underground metal world in the mid-80s and quickly developed a cult following. Over the years, a revolving door of members filled out the group. Schuldiner was the one constant. Lee and Rozz continued to succeed in various other bands over the years.

Death metal derived from earlier heavy metal traditions like “thrash metal,” performed by more mainstream bands like Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax. It deviates from thrash by having a more guttural, faster, and overall darker sound. Its vocals are usually groaned rather than screamed, and the topics are more like a horror movie than social rebellion.

It is characterized as having two guitarists, a bass player, a vocalist, and a drummer. Death metal has a feverishly fast pace. The guitars are tuned to a lower register, highly distorted, and played with harsh riffs and abrupt changes in melody and tempo. The vocals are your quintessential roars and growls, usually at the lowest range possible by a human voice.

Although the content of the music may vary into other topics, it often centers around gore, death, zombies, and other violent topics. Sometimes, the songs can venture into spirituality or exorcism; however, it is usually not explicitly anti-Christian or Satanic in nature. That stereotypical vein is more closely aligned with another metal sub-genre called “black metal.”

Florida played a huge part overall in this musical movement during the 1980s. The Tampa to Orlando corridor was the most influential region in the country for death metal. Other early groups in the I-4 area included Nasty Savage, Morbid Angel, Obituary, and Deicide.

During the late 80s and early 90s, Death’s popularity grew within the clubs and sub-culture. “Death by Metal,” one of their early demo mixtapes, received acclaim before they landed a record deal. Following three more demo albums, Death released seven studio albums: Scream Bloody Gore (1987), Leprosy (1988), Spiritual Healing (1990), Human (1991), Individual Thought Patterns (1993), Symbolic (1995), and The Sound of Perseverance (1998).

Musical historians proclaim Scream Bloody Gore as the first true death metal album. Chuck’s style matures and becomes more polished through his later releases. They become more melodic, include more variations of mood and personality, and the vocals take on a more precise sound.

Was the “Death Metal” genre named directly for them? There’s a little debate around that, but it is one of the prevailing theories.

To say the least, the music is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea (this author included). However, it has given rise to many other sub-genres and has a worldwide niche following.

Many thank Altamonte’s Chuck Schuldiner for that. He is often called the “Godfather of Death Metal” and “one of the most significant figures in the history of metal.” Famous heavy metal biographer Joel McIver ranked Schuldiner the 10th greatest metal guitarist ever. Chuck humbly shirked off such accolades.

“I don’t think I should take the credits for this death metal stuff. I’m just a guy from a band, and I think Death is a metal band.”

Chuck Schuldiner

Chuck’s Sickness and Passing

In 1999, Chuck was diagnosed with a form of cancer called pontine glioma, which infects the brain. He went through rounds of treatment and surgery; however, the disease returned in 2001. Sadly, he passed away from the tumor on December 13, 2001. He was only 34 years old.

Schuldiner did not have health insurance and struggled to pay for the treatments. A campaign rose up to help the family raise the money. It drew contributions from mainstream artists like Kid Rock, Korn, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

His legacy is profound across modern heavy metal bands, with many considering Chuck an idol. There have been several books covering Chuck Schuldiner and Death’s influence. After his death, the albums have been remastered and included unreleased bootleg tracks and rehearsal tapes. These also included other bands, Control Denied and Voodoocult, that he joined late in his career. There have been many tribute concerts from his adoring followers and family, with talks of additional tribute albums and box set releases yet to come.

An authorized biography is currently in the works; its author recently contacted me for background on Seminole County. He said that no matter where he traveled, he always loved Altamonte Springs and considered it home. So much so that Chuck asked for his ashes to be spread in the woods of Altamonte Springs, where he fondly remembered playing as a boy.

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