Decibel Books is proud to announce the publication of The Scott Burns Sessions: A Life in Death Metal 1987 – 1997, a massive 480-page oral history of the celebrated Morrisound recording career of iconic extreme metal producer and engineer Scott Burns. Fans can pre-order their copy now with an expected ship date in late October/early November.
Synonymous with the rise of death metal in the late ’80s and early-to-mid ’90s, Burns was the man behind the boards for the essential works of Death, Cannibal Corpse, Sepultura, Obituary, Deicide, Napalm Death and Terrorizer, turning their raw, chaotic sounds into something not just listenable but legendary.
The Scott Burns Sessions: A Life in Death Metal 1987 – 1997 looks individually at over 100 extreme metal albums, by nearly 70 bands, that Burns recorded throughout his career. This lavish hardcover by David E. Gehlke—author of Turned Inside Out: The Official Story of Obituary, No Celebration: The Official Story of Paradise Lost and Damn the Machine: The Story of Noise Records—goes deep inside the hallowed halls of Morrisound Recording for exclusive, detailed, in-studio accounts from Burns and the bands that made death metal history, accompanied by never-before-seen photos from Tampa music scene photographer Tim Hubbard.
“It was awesome to take a trip down memory lane with David and reminisce about all the great bands I was privileged to work with at Morrisound and abroad,” says Burns. “David did a fantastic job capturing the essence of the late ’80s and ’90s death metal scene. I think Tim Hubbard and the other photographers provided excellent pictures that add a powerful visual element to those great stories.”
Packed with tons of rare and never-before-seen photos (highlighted by a glossy 16-page photo section!) as well as a foreword from acclaimed extreme metal producer/engineer Dan Swanö, the 480-page The Scott Burns Sessions: A Life in Death Metal 1987 – 1997 is exclusively available for pre-order now via the Decibel webstore.
The Scott Burns Sessions: A Life in Death Metal 1987 – 1997 includes new interviews with current and former members of:
Cannibal Corpse • Death • Sepultura • Obituary • Deicide
For an exclusive preview of The Scott Burns Sessions, fans can read the first excerpt below, which takes readers inside the control room during the 1991 recording of Death’s landmark Human LP, where Chuck Schuldiner’s completely reconstructed Death lineup is about to reimagine the genre.
Death’s Chuck Schuldiner and Burns became phone buddies months after the release of Spiritual Healing. Schuldiner’s controversial decision to stay home instead of travel to Europe to take part in a tour with Kreator left bandmates Bill Andrews (drums) and Terry Butler (bass) no choice but to do the shows with replacements. It validated the belief by many within the death metal scene that Schuldiner was a difficult band leader, willing to sabotage a tour no matter the implications. Yet Burns felt otherwise. He had a front-row seat to the many business and management issues that nagged Schuldiner to no end. Burns felt the Death leader was getting poor advice and had people overseeing his career that didn’t cater to his best interests. So, when Death went to Europe without Schuldiner, Burns wasn’t surprised. He knew that Schuldiner wasn’t in the right frame of mind.
Burns often sat and listened patiently on the phone as Schuldiner reeled off a litany of issues: the Spiritual Healing lineup, his manager, the death metal scene and life at home. Burns was the ideal sounding board because he listened to Schuldiner and never judged. And while Burns occasionally tired of Schuldiner’s not-so-rosy view of former members of Death and fellow death metal musicians, he used it as an opportunity to implore him to keep going. Burns noticed Schuldiner’s mood brightened when he was asked about new music, with Evil Chuck offering an optimistic, “Just wait until you hear what I have.”
Human, Death’s pivotal fourth LP, is often referred to as a “revenge” album. With Andrews, Butler and lead guitarist James Murphy now fired from Death, Schuldiner assembled a murderers; row of musicians, including Cynic’s Paul Masvidal (guitar) and Sean Reinert (drums) and Sadus’ Steve DiGiorgio (bass). All three fulfilled Schuldiner’s vision of having a lineup that could now compete with the technical arms race that swept over death metal in 1991. Even more importantly, all three were kind, compassionate people who posed no threat to Schuldiner’s ranking as Death’s leader and visionary.
Burns was overjoyed to record Reinert’s drums, a fact made clear considering their prominent standing in the mix. Schuldiner took Burns up on his recommendation to switch to Marshall Valvestate amps, bringing forth a bright, warm mid-range that previously eluded Death. But for Burns burying DiGiorgio’s bass at the request of Schuldiner (something he’s apologized for profusely), Human would go down as perhaps Burns’ finest hour. Instead, as a consolation, the album was every bit the statement Schuldiner had hoped, and soon quieted the peanut gallery waiting for him to fail.
Scott Burns: To think Bill and Terry could do a tour without Chuck and get someone else to sing was silly. It was concrete that Chuck was Death. However, Chuck hated touring. It took him out of his comfort zone here in Florida. I don’t think he enjoyed being somewhere unfamiliar and having to deal with everything that came with it, like all the people nagging him, especially from the business side. I’m not going to name names, but Chuck had certain people—or I guess “a person”—in his orbit, advising him on business matters who was really unhelpful. It caused more work for Chuck. He hated dealing with that stuff. Chuck’s perfect world would have been writing and recording music in the studio. Nothing else.
Paul Masvidal: I remember Chuck being fueled by the album in a sense. We had spent a lot of time together. We had this time of getting the record together and rehearsing, and he stayed with me and Sean in Miami. We rehearsed at Cynic’s warehouse and had this whole thing going.
Then, by the time we were in the studio, we were really well-oiled and felt great. But for Chuck, the whole fuel of that record for him was somewhat of a reaction to what had happened with the band members before, where he felt a massive betrayal. He raged about that. I think a lot of the music was a big “fuck you” to his past and to all the people that liked to gossip. And let’s be honest—certain people liked to talk about Chuck. It was like his statement comeback record.
Steve DiGiorgio: Human was Chuck’s return. It wasn’t like the original lineup anymore. What the world knew of that lineup—all the albums leading up to Human—they were flushed out, and this was a new beginning. Chuck was on a mission. He was literally on a fucking mission to prove everyone wrong. He felt completely betrayed by his ex-band members. I think even the original release liner notes say, “This album is revenge.” That’s something that Chuck put in there. It was literally a statement saying, “All right, listen to this, fuckers. Eat shit now. Everything you’ve ever said about me, boom, here’s this fucking album.” That was the kind of drive he had.
Scott Burns: Even though Chuck was pissed at Bill and Terry when they did the tour, underneath it all, Chuck saw the wave of technical players coming up. 1991 was the year when it was super important to determine who could play the best, especially on the drums. Chuck had googly eyes for Sean Reinert. The 1990 Cynic demo put Reinert on the map, and Chuck, always thinking ahead, knew this was the guy to help get Death to the next level with Paul and Steve.
Paul Masvidal: I was there to support Chuck. Chuck and I had our history before Reinert when I did some dates after Leprosy. I had toured with Chuck and became his go-to guy when he was in trouble with his band. We had forged a lot of trust. I was there for whatever Chuck needed to help make Death awesome. I convinced Chuck to bring Reinert in. I was like, “You have to give Sean a try.” I don’t think he really knew about Reinert until the Cynic demo, then he realized, “Holy shit. This is the guy.”
Steve DiGiorgio: I stayed in a spare room at Reinert’s house. Besides being in rehearsal all the time together, in the off hours, we were together, getting high and checking out each other’s favorite albums. We had a really great level of communication between the drums and bass. Our stuff fit together. We always said it was like the Geddy [Lee] and Neil [Peart] combination from Rush, where the drum rolls go with the bass like a hand in a glove.
Scott Burns: Billy’s simplistic drums on Spiritual Healing eventually bothered Chuck. He and I talked about it all the time. Death metal was getting more technical, and he thought Death was getting left behind. Even though Chuck was against blast beats, getting Reinert was part of the plan to show people he was still the man in death metal, and Death was no longer writing simple death metal. He now had killer players with him on Human.
Paul Masvidal: Reinert was a totally different world from Bill. That’s just the difference a drummer will make. They define how the music sits. It’s like the drums are the whole thing, essentially. They become the entire sound. It was one of those things where Chuck felt a lot of security once he realized what we had with Reinert.
Scott Burns: I went over to Chuck’s house before the album. Chuck demoed everything on a ghetto blaster and drum machine—very basic stuff, but the songs were there. His songs were his songs. There were never any sit-downs where Chuck and I discussed rewriting parts. I may have had the occasional suggestion on how a riff or drum part was played, but we never spoke about rewriting the songs. Chuck knew what he was doing.
Steve DiGiorgio: Nearly all of the songs were written by the time I hooked up with the guys for rehearsal. I also hung out with Reinert and Paul in Miami. I really wanted to get to know them.
Paul Masvidal: It’s like we became homies. Chuck lived three hours north of us, but I’d get up there or he’d come down to see Reinert and I. We smoked a lot of weed and played guitar. There was a lot of friendship there. It felt like it was an organic thing. It seemed inevitable that we would make a record together after those years of cultivating and forging a friendship and working together. We were in service of Death but were also fans of Death, but we did push as far as we could. I remember when we were trying to dismantle a riff and push it into some new space, and Chuck would reel us back.
Scott Burns: Paul and Reinert were thrilled to do a Death record. I thought of it this way: Cynic wasn’t signed, so they knew playing with Death would help them. But they were fans of Chuck. All the kids were. Steve was like the Cliff Burton of the death metal scene. Everybody knew him and called him the “hippie of doom,” which I think came from Chuck. He was already a legend. There weren’t many bass players who played as he did. Most were chopping along to the rhythm guitars, but Steve worked around the riffs and found these open spaces.
Paul Masvidal: You can hear some Atheist-type riffs on Human. It’s funny because Chuck had a weird, contentious relationship with Kelly [Shaefer]. I remember Kelly visiting us in the studio, and he and Chuck just didn’t get along. They had this weird dynamic. Chuck wasn’t nice to Kelly, and I was never sure why. Atheist were so much in their own world. They were visionaries, so maybe there was some degree of jealousy because Atheist was pushing the envelope. It was like, “What the fuck is this music they are making?”
Kelly Shaefer: I’m going to be as respectful as possible here. I think Chuck was threatened by Atheist. When Borivoj Krgin was about to sign us to Mean Machine Records in mid-1987, we played a show in Tampa that Chuck attended. Chuck called Borivoj the next day and told him that everyone left the room when we played, and it sounded like a “train station.” It made Bori question the deal. We still signed with Mean Machine, but what Chuck said never sat right with me.
Chuck slandered Atheist to anyone who would listen, saying that we only listened to jazz and were “false metal.” He initially shunned technicality and the jazz philosophy applied to extreme metal. It wasn’t until our friends, Sean Reinert and Paul Masvidal, joined Death that Chuck recognized the value of furthering the intricacy of metal by fusing top-notch musicianship, something we were already eyeballs-deep in. He was at least a fan of Psychotic Waltz and Watchtower. Chuck is owed a world of respect for his early visionary, brutal, horror-type music, but he didn’t plan the tech-metal revolution. He showed up late and didn’t bring beer or weed!
Steve DiGiorgio: I think it just rolled when Scott saw us play and heard what was coming out. I think it was about getting the best performance we could. I don’t think we had to change or work on anything. We trusted him regarding his reputation, expertise and everything, and he trusted us with the same.
Scott Burns: Getting drum sounds with Reinert was a dream. I don’t think Chuck knew what to expect when he heard how Reinert placed his toms. Chuck was definitely used to hearing some pretty basic rolls before, but Reinert would start to warm up and blaze through his kit, and we were all smiling. The only person in the room not surprised was Paul! I could be wrong, but Sean was the first guy in metal to place his toms randomly. If you’re right-handed, your smallest tom is usually on the left. Then you’d do a roll to the left to your floor tom. If left-handed, you start on the right and go the other way. But Sean placed them wherever he saw fit, so it didn’t follow the usual pattern when he did a roll.
Steve DiGiorgio: All four of us played live. The guitar tracks were only kept as a reference so we could always have a full band playback. Once the drum kit was broken down, the intent was to set up the room, move the amps over and set up a more elaborate mic situation. Now, after the bass was done, I left the session. It’s completely organic and full of integrity. That’s the real playing: no click track, no guidelines, no grid, no nothing. We’re just following Sean, and that’s it.
Scott Burns: I will take credit for not many things, but when we did Human, Chuck started using the Marshall Valvestate. Jim and Tom Morris were good friends with Elliott Rubinson, who owned Thoroughbred Music, which was close to the studio. Elliott always made things easy for us. We could walk in with any band and get a guitar for $10 a day or buy drumheads at cost. It made a big difference when we were doing albums on the cheap.
Paul Masvidal: This is what sometimes makes incredible records. It was retaliation. It’s aggression and anger. Chuck really harnessed it, but he was surrounded by musicians like us, so it had this finesse. It was a little bit more musical, in a sense, than it had been before. It was precise aggression, which was the next level of aggression for death metal. Just really severely, precisely executed, intense death metal. Chuck loved where we came from because we were just nerds, fusion heads and jazzy geeks about playing. We were also death metalheads, too. I think he had a clear vision of the boundaries and framework for Death, and he stuck to those parameters.
Scott Burns: That was the beauty of Chuck. He was willing to try anything. No ideas were off the table during Human, which is how a song like “Cosmic Sea” came about. It was a free-form jam. DiGiorgio had to leave to do something with Sadus, so we asked Scott Carino of Fester to play Steve’s part. Chuck was impressed, but DiGiorgio was always Chuck’s guy.
Scott Burns: People gave me shit for Steve being buried. Steve gave me a lot of shit. I told Steve that I take the fall. Chuck said throughout Human, “Metal, brother. Let it flow. Play what you want.” If he hated something, he would say something. He never told Steve what to play, but he wasn’t good at saying, “I don’t like that.” When it came time to mix, he said something about the bass being too loud, so I turned it down. I won’t blame Chuck, but I should have pushed back. I still apologize to Steve about the bass sound.
Steve DiGiorgio: All the stuff Sean and I worked on was completely lost to the wind because the bass level was very low. After things cooled off and Chuck and I had nice conversations about it, he didn’t necessarily say it was as simple as a low bass fader. Chuck was saying that the guitar tone was a little too saturated. He wasn’t really that happy with it.
Scott Burns: Chuck always got pissed off at people over the phone and never in person. He wasn’t a confrontational guy, so I never heard directly from Chuck about any guitar or bass tone discrepancies.
Steve DiGiorgio: The good that did come out of it was Chuck felt bad that it turned out like that. I don’t know how Scott felt about it, but when I was called back to do the next album, there were many promises of the result sounding better, as far as justifying my presence on the album and ensuring that the bass was not lost in the mix. It doesn’t make me feel great about the Human mix, but the storyline, when you look at how it happened, sometimes, good comes out of bad. Fortunately, Scott likes it when people rip on him. I’ve always rubbed it in his face about the bass being buried, and we’ve made it a nice joke between us.
Scott Burns: Human was a big jump in the topical matter for Chuck. He started writing songs about former band members and not zombies. Musically, it bothered him that he was considered just “death metal.” He always wanted to be accepted. It was like, “Why can’t I be a great metal artist or guitarist?”
Paul Masvidal: When Chuck started cutting vocals after we had made all the basic tracks, there was this moment where it was now on him. At first, it wasn’t happening. His voice wasn’t quite right. Something wasn’t translating, and the aggression wasn’t there. Chuck was still finding it. Scott may have said, “Hey, Chuck. Come on in, man. Have a beer or something.” Chuck never drank, but he drank a beer and did like a ninja move where he was suddenly at ease. Scott asked him to try it again; his vocals were then on fire.
Scott Burns: His vocals started to change on Human. Chuck always hoped that some writer would say, “This is just great metal.” And not say “death metal” next to Death. That’s what he wanted to strive for. He was always smart enough to get musicians and, in some way, stay ahead of the curve, whether it was Cannibal Corpse or Morbid Angel. He saw the trend in faster stuff and more brutal vocals. But Chuck knew he could compete on their level because he didn’t have to write simple stuff anymore.
Paul Masvidal: Suddenly, there was the voice of the album. It wasn’t the technique with Chuck. It was Scott being himself. Scott was so helpful with Chuck in that way. Scott was so caring and loving. He wanted the best for everybody involved in that record, especially Chuck.
Chuck was psyched, and he was in great spirits. I think he felt like he had something that obviously became a new era for Death. It was the next sound.
Scott Burns: Spiritual Healing was a pretty stress-free session. I don’t think Human was like that, but Chuck was really comfortable here. It was his world where he could be creative, and guys like DiGiorgio, Reinert and Paul brought his vision to life. Human was a really good time for all of us. Everyone was happy—especially me. I felt I had gained Chuck’s trust, which meant a lot to me. Chuck and I spent a lot of time together mixing the album. I had the impression Chuck always felt like he had a target on his back because he was one of the inventors of death metal. Human was his big “fuck you” to everyone who said he was no longer the man or Death was dead after what happened with the European tour for Spiritual Healing.