Walking into Irving Plaza to be greeted by a merch booth boasting Death shirts, a stage proudly flying a Death banner, and pushing through a crowd made of Death shirts was something I simply never thought I'd see. While the Death to All tour was billed as a tribute to Chuck Schuldiner, the late godfather of death metal, to the crowd, Death was very much alive that night. The goal of the tour is to raise money for Sweet Relief, a charity that helps musicians with medical needs, much like Chuck had before his untimely demise. Shirts bearing Chuck’s likeness, including tour-specific shirts commemorating his life and music, littered the crowd of shirts, which spanned all types of metal, old-school thrash metal, death metal, all the way to underground black metal. Much of the crowd was on a pilgrimage, evidence by the huge number of people running around Penn Station in death metal shirts.
Unfortunately, the air conditioning in the venue was very much not alive that night, which became quickly apparent when Gorguts took the stage, this tour marking their first activity in a long, long time. Their set was relentless, technical, and tight. They did very little talking, save to remind us that “there is no Gorguts without Chuck; there is no death metal without Chuck.”
And then the time came for the remaining members of Death to take the stage. It must have been at least 110 degrees in the venue, but that was hardly a deterrent to moshing, crowdsurfing, and general mayhem that one can only expect from a once-in-a-lifetime event. Filling in for Chuck (large shoes to fill) were Charles Elliott of Abysmal Dawn, and Steffan Kummerer of Obscura. Steffan in particular stood out by blending in: it was easy to forget that he wasn’t Chuck Schuldiner, as he managed to do a very impressive impression. This is not to discount Charles’ performance in any way! He absolutely kicked ass as well. The setlist was brilliantly put together, having around 20 songs off every Death album. The must-have songs were all there: Flattening of Emotions, Living Monstrosity, Crystal Mountain, and even a performance of the partially-acoustic instrumental Voice of the Soul, which evoked more emotion than I thought possible at a metal concert. They closed with all the performers playing “Pull the Plug,” boasting the loudest audience participation of any show I’ve seen, despite the sheer exhaustion.
The unbearable heat in the venue actually added to the intensity of the show, and by the end, those wearing shirts were in the minority. The band members understood and threw us some water, for which we were eternally grateful.
Ultimately, this Death tribute show was a tribute. While it was the closest many of the younger members of the crowd will ever get to seeing Death, there was an understanding that there is no Death without Chuck, evidenced by the gradual shift from chanting “Death” to chanting “Chuck.” That was the point of the show- to pay tribute to this man who lives on as a legend through his music, and to avert the tragedy that took his life so early. After this unbelievable night, Chuck Schuldiner is remembered even more than before, as his music lives on.