Now here’s a cannibal of a different color. Some may be aware of the Death To All tours that happened over the last few years, but for the unfamiliar, Death To All is a cover act paying homage to Death and the late, great Chuck Schuldiner by running through the greatest hits of the seminal band’s discography live. At various times the band has featured actual members of Death like Sean Reinhart alongside veterans of other acts like Malevolent Creation (Gus Rios) and Exhumed (Matt Harvey). From that loving tribute tour, a loving side project was spawned. Savage Land is a new kind of Death tribute, written by Harvey and Rios to be an album slotted between Leprosy and Spiritual Healing in the Death discography. Even the Ed Repka cover art bears a striking similarity to his work on the Leprosy album. So yes, this is an entire album written as Death, by fans of Death, for fans of Death. Death for all, you might say. And by the way…Death.
And to say they nail it is a major understatement. This sounds uncannily like a lost Death album in every way. Harvey sounds exactly like Evil Chuck and you can tell he’s studied the man’s delivery down to the smallest quirk. Likewise, his guitar playing is exactly like Chuck’s and the rest of the music recreates the point in time when Death was still a primitive entity with slight progressive traces beginning to appear at the edges. This results in eight songs of quasi-vintage Death that you never heard before (because they didn’t exist).
The title track will begin the stupefying as you hear what appears to be a missing track off Spiritual Healing, complete with all the little quirks the band had in the late 80s. If you’re familiar with the old material, the segment at :30 will have your jaw on the floor due to its eerie accuracy. From there it’s off to the races, with one old timey Evil Chuck-esque reboot after another. “Trapped in Hell” reeks of Leprosy, but features the fluid, techy solos that didn’t show up until James Murphy came aboard. “Hideous” dips back to the Scream Bloody Gore days to borrow its rudimentary charm and “Psychic Twin” is the twin of “Living Monstrosity” from Spiritual Healing. Other amusing moments come from titles like “Closed Casket” which is a riff on “Open Casket,” and “Gangrene” which I suppose is a distant relation to leprosy.
Is there a downside? Well, naturally these tunes aren’t as good as what Death was churning out back in the day, and though they’re close approximations, they’re just approximations. Still, it’s a fast, easy listen with many moments of nostalgic deja vu.
There isn’t much to be said about the individual performances besides how slavishly they ape the original material. Harvey has Chuck’s vocal and guitar techniques down cold and he and Daniel Gonzalez (Possessed) adroitly walk the line between the brutish simplicity of Rick Rozz (whammy dives) and the technical expertise of James Murphy (everything else), and some of the solos are highly impressive
Actually assigning a score to this oddity was a real challenge. It’s undoubtedly a fun listen and a novel project, but what should be made of it? Savage Land is clearly done with great attention to detail by musicians who grew up spinning the original albums, and I’m sure it was done in the spirit of utmost respect. That said, it can still seem morbid, creepy or like blatant exploitation if approached with a cynical mindset. I’m willing to take it as a worshipful tribute, and as such it’s a blast, but if this is intended to be the start of an ongoing project, I may start to feel otherwise over time.
While discussing how best to evaluate this, Mr. Fisting asked me if I would ever reach for this over the classic albums, And no, I wouldn’t. But for a week or two, it’s fun to imagine you’re hearing one more dose of music from the man who helped create both death metal and tech-death, but left us way too soon. Well done, gents, and if you ever do this again, let’s see you tackle the Symbolic era next.