DEATH — Individual Thought Patterns (review)

DEATH — Individual Thought Patterns album cover Album · 1993 · Technical Death Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
Necrotica
When "The Philosopher" was played on MTV and got featured on Beavis & Butthead back in the 90s, it was clear that Death were becoming influential even beyond the realms of death metal. Keep in mind that, while Headbanger's Ball was a popular MTV program back then, it usually featured artists more rooted in traditional, alternative, and thrash metal. More extreme genres of metal were thrown in there from time to time, but were often tucked behind the primary stuff that was being shown/heard. That, and the program was canceled in 1995, around the time that Death were finally getting more recognition. Basically, what I'm saying is that a band like Death being on MTV rotation is nothing short of an anomaly. But, in hindsight, "The Philosopher" was a great piece of music to get people into the band; from the now-iconic tapped guitar intro to the bizarre shifts in rhythm, "The Philosopher" was the sound of a band venturing into their bold and most adventurous territory yet. Throw in some of Steve DiGiorgio's finest (and finally more audible) bass work yet and Gene Hoglan's intricate drumming, and this song was a perfect appetizer - and closer - for its parent album, Individual Thought Patterns. The second album in Death's highly acclaimed "Final Four," this also might just be their most fascinating album as well.

The album itself is a formula nearly perfected, blending death metal, progressive metal, and even jazz fusion into a ten-song whirlwind of masterclass musicianship and multi-faceted lyrics. Chuck Schuldiner's songwriting was tighter than ever by this point, with the ability to pack so many riffs and twists in each song to vary their moods considerably. "Mentally Blind" is a perfect example, switching from a speed metal-influenced pre-chorus to a slow, atmospheric crawl in a matter of seconds without killing the song's pace. There are also a few welcome additions to Chuck's musical arsenal here, such as the beautifully written acoustic intro to "Destiny" (which would eventually be more fleshed out in 1998's "Voice of the Soul") and the Cynic-influenced "jazz metal" portions of "Trapped in the Corner." In fact, there's a LOT more jazz here than on Death's other albums, based on the guitar chords and rhythmic structures. The title track even gets a bit groovy in the pre-chorus, although it still benefits from some technical bass melodies underneath. You could also argue that this album, alongside Symbolic and The Sound of Perseverance is one of the Death albums most akin to classic progressive rock in style, as the band seemed to be gradually working themselves away from classic death metal to focus on a sound that's more intricate and diverse. But what makes it work in Individual Thought Patterns' favor is that it still retains the rawness of the previous albums in the process. It's like you're listening to the unpolished production values and jagged guitar work of Human combined with the epic compositions and progressive tendencies of Symbolic in one single package, which is pretty damn cool.

But, as I stated, the adventurousness is what makes this album especially notable in Death's discography. There's some genuinely surprising material here, so let me briefly list a few highlights:

-A Latin jazz portion in "Out of Touch" which sounds like Death's interpretation of Atheist -A melodic outro in "Nothing is Everything" that mixes catchy guitar leads with a chugging riff for a nice juxtaposition of sounds -A chromatic solo by Andy LaRocque in "Overactive Imagination" that sounds like an evil circus, followed by one of the album's jazziest riffs -The aforementioned acoustic portion of "Destiny" which beautifully kicks off the song and gives it an epic feel, along with some of that Latin flair in the lead guitar -Some very weird discordant harmonies and melodies in the intro/main riff of the title track, which somehow feel both natural and out-of-place at the same time -An extended bass solo in the outro of "The Philosopher," which takes up the last minute of its runtime -A breakdown in "Mentally Blind" that shows all the deathcore kiddies that you can still make a breakdown that's well-written while retaining its heaviness/distortion

Those are just a few of the interesting elements strewn about, and they're coupled with some of the best lyrics you'll ever hear on a Death (or death metal) album. Among the subjects covered are Schuldiner's perceptions of jealousy, social norms, and other realistic topics regarding the human experience. It's cool to hear concepts that started out on Spiritual Healing fleshed out so much in Death's later work, as well as hearing a band that really makes you think about the world around you and might even influence your perceptions of that world. Especially notable is "The Philosopher," which (as far as I can tell, at least) concerns people who think they know everything on their high-and-mighty proverbial pedestals, while never acknowledging the opinions and thoughts of others in their narrow-mindedness. Pretty sophisticated subject matter, to say the least.

While it's not quite my favorite record in Death's impressive catalog, Individual Thought Patterns does come incredibly close to that distinction regardless. It's such a fun album to listen to because of it's experimental and progressive nature, while showcasing an incredibly high quality of lyricism on top of all that. It doesn't reach the production polish of Symbolic, but it seems better off with the rawer production that was used, as it marries the album's instrumental complexity with some edge. Just trust me on this: if you're a death metal or progressive metal fan and you haven't listened to Individual Thought Patterns you're missing out on one of the best records from either genre.
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