Death - Leprosy (reissue) [Relapse - 2014]As cliche as it is to say a band needs no introduction, DEATH needs no introduction. However, maybe some of you stumbled upon this review while researching death by leprosy. If so, good luck, and don't type too hard, you'll need your fingers for picking off the rest of your scabs. Since I've already insulted you, I might as well explain that Death is a legendary death metal (*shock*) band from Florida. Founded as Mantas by metal virtuoso Chuck Schuldiner in 1983, Death's early history was riddled with line-up changes, relocations, and frustration. In 1987, they scored a three record deal with Combat Records, and the rest is history. Their debut, Scream Bloody Gore, was met with great fan approval, and their follow up, Leprosy, cemented their place in the death metal legendarium. Now, 26 years later, Relapse is giving Leprosy the deluxe reissue it deserves (the sixth in their campaign of Death reissues).
The three years between their first demo and Scream Bloody Gore must've seemed like an eternity for Chuck Schuldiner. The guy had a vision; He wanted to make brutal, but skilled and creative, death metal. Scream Bloody Gore is a great first album, but Leprosy shows Chuck's vision and drive a bit more clearly. Although released only a year after Scream.., Leprosy shows great growth in the songwriting and skill of the band. It's fast, vicious, and brutal, but also allows itself to open up to dark melodies and reflection. There are numerous moments on this album when you can easily hear how much Death influenced other bands (I get lots of early Morbid Angel and Ripping Corpse towards the end). Tracks like "Left to Die" and "Pull the Plug" still have the same impact now as they did in 1988, and there has been A LOT of death metal released in the meantime. That goes to show just how much death metal meant to Chuck and how well he crafted it. Leprosy is a timeless death metal treat, and if you've never heard it, remedy that instantly. There isn't much I can say about the album that hasn't been said in the past 26 years, so I will trust you'll do your own research and check it out. I, as a handsome and diligent reviewer, have other fish to fry with this reissue.
Deluxe reissue gets bandied about a lot these days, and most of the time, it's deserving. Relapse's treatment of Leprosy is a deluxe reissue in the truest sense. Not only was it lovingly remastered by mastering master Alan Douches (don't let the name fool you!), there is a 24 page booklet featuring pictures of the band as well as new liner notes from Jeremy Wagner (of Broken Hope fame) and metal radio host Ian Christie. Also, if you like choices, Relapse has you covered. The CD comes as a 2xCD or 3xCD, and the LP comes as single or double (in a box set with other goodies) and in a few different colors (though, most are mail order only). Yes, extras are all well and good, but what's on them? Are they worth it? Well, it depends. The 2xCD is a no brainer because, well, it's the minimum you can grab (I'm not delving into LP stuff here because I like my music portable, convenient, and easily rippable). The 3xCD contains all the material of the 2x, but with unreleased live tracks as a bonus. So, if you're a massive Death fan and want these rare live tracks, go for it! Be forwarned, though, that they're not the best quality.
Enough with the bulldink, here's the business. The first disc is Leprosy and sounds awesome. We've already discussed that. The second disc is comprised of rehearsal tracks for the album from two different sessions. The first four were recorded on 9/23/1987 (a Wednesday? Cool, that's the same night I play D&D) and the last six are from the 12/05/1987 session. These rehearsal takes aren't great quality audio, but they're fantastic musically. When spun after the album, the difference in recording quality is super obvious, but totally expected. What isn't expected, though, is the mindblowing intensity of which the tracks are played. The band was in awesome form and the live style mic-ing adds to the appeal. The drums have a more natural sound and this helps to propel the tracks immensely without jumping out too much in the mix. "Open Casket," "Choke On It," and "Left to Die" come out swinging and are as vicious as you've ever heard Death. As an added bonus, these three rehearsal tracks have no vocals, so you get to enjoy brutal death instrumentals for once! The fourth track is another recording of "Left to Die," but this one has Chuck growling out the lyrics. Either he isn't on a mic or it was plugged into a Rubik's Cube, 'cause he's so buried in the mix, you'd think he was in another room. The December tracks are recorded a bit better, but still suffer from the effects of time (soft and some flanging). All but "Leprosy" and "Primitive Ways" are played during this session, so you're almost treated to the whole album again. These rehearsals are a lot closer to their official counterparts, but a bit more ballsy. Not as much as the September sessions, but it's rad to hear nonetheless.
Disc three is for the live hounds and Death completists. Suffering the same problems as the rehearsal tapes, the recordings are soft with weird panning and flanging issues. Whether it's due to time or poor recording is unknown (to me), but the end result isn't very impressive. Death definitely delivers live, though, so if you don't mind this crummy audio, you'll be pleased with their performances. Growing up as a fan of Death, it's easy to forget that Chuck was just a kid when this was going on. Hearing his banter and song introductions is almost cringeworthy, however, I would've done the same thing when I were 21 (if I weren't too busy doing absolutely nothing with my life...weep for me, internet). Overall, the live tracks are worth a listen, but nothing worthy of replay.
Goddamn, this is a great record. I feel that most people prefer the more refined and technical Human era Death, but their first two are the highlights for me. It's fast, brutal, and a bit brash, but the skill and songwriting cannot be denied. Did they get to be better musicians as time went on? Yeah, obviously. How wouldn't they? But that's not to say their first two are amateur. Leprosy is early death metal at its finest. Paul Casey