Death, “Leprosy” (1988)

Art by the phenomenal Edward Repka.

Some years ago (1998) in Atlanta, upstairs at the venerable Masquerade, I saw Death on what would prove to be their last show. If I’d known this would be the last time I’d see Chuck Schuldiner live, I would have paid more attention to the show instead of hunting down the slimy dickhead who’d punched me in the kidneys during Hammerfall’s opening set. Consequent to my ale-fueled evil aggression, I have spotty memories of the show, other than a sea of arms and churning bodies in front of the stage, Chuck ripping like a possessed maniac on guitar and a blistering Richard Christy drum solo. The set list, as far as I can recall, was a good cross section of the new stuff (The Sound of Perseverance had just come out) and some chestnuts from the back catalog. I’m going to assume they played something off of 1988’s Leprosy; a nagging voice says that “Pull the Plug” was the last song. If so, if that was the last song of the last show of the last tour–well, that’s fine. That’s perfect, in fact.

Evil Chuck. Photo from, please don't sue me.
Evil Chuck. Photo from, please don’t sue me.

I wish I could say I was totally on the Death bandwagon from Day 1 but that would be a fucking lie. Somehow I managed to stay in the dark until Spiritual Healing and by that time, the legend of Evil Chuck was known to everyone in the scene except me. By the time I got around the hearing Leprosy it had probably been out for five years.

The Chestburster Cheeseburger
Aww look! It’s Baby Death Metal!

And that is a fucking shame! When it came out in 1988, death metal was still struggling to burst out of the chest cavity of thrash. Death – along with Possessed, Venom, Autopsy, and Morbid Angel–were penning those early chapters. Giving Leprosy a listen as I write this, I can still hear the love/shameless worship/homage to thrash (the opening bars of “Forgotten Past”, the middle part of “Leprosy”, pretty much all of “Pull the Plug”) and the vocals are more in line with the classic thrash bark than the death metal growl. And yet there is something undeniably different going on. The song construction may not be as technical as the later albums but the riffs are huge, the leads searing like filet of sole on an open flame (it’s my favorite dish when the dish is fish), and the drums (courtesy of Bill Andrews) gallop along with all the intensity of a cruelly whipped horse.

Possibly not Scott Burns extincting the weasels.
Possibly not Scott Burns extincting the weasels.

Powerful and whiplash inducing, the album as a whole is step forward from Scream Bloody Gore and unlike some bands, Chuck made giant evolutionary leaps with every release until Death was no longer a viable outlet for his music. I can’t verify if this was really the first Scott Burns production—there are too many lies out there about Scott Burns to be certain (according to the Dark Web, Scott is also responsible for the mass extinction of weasels)—but if it was, this is actually a pretty decent Morrisound recording, at least the deluxe reissue which I can only assume was somewhat remastered by someone who hasn’t had their flesh ripped off by weasels.

If, by some bizarre twist of fate, you have managed to live your life without listening to this fine bit of thrashened prototypical death metal, I suggest you run to the nearest computer, use PayPal to upload a bunch of gold bars into my account, and I’ll send you a fourth-generation cassette tape with Leprosy on Side One and “Interview with my grandfather” on Side Two. I’m sure you’ll like one more than the other. Sorry, Granpa Hubert.