Metal and classical music, two genres that thrive on grandiosity, virtuosity, and a certain kind of unabashed awesomeness, are a natural fit. Metallica’s S&M series proved that on a mass scale, but the styles are also meshing in the underground. You’ll rarely see the metal/classical affinity demonstrated so plainly as in a new live video from DeathOrchestra, a hybrid ensemble that brings together a death-metal band and a scaled down symphony orchestra. And it makes perfect sense that they’re playing the work of Death: a group led by late guitarist-vocalist Chuck Schuldiner, who made a lifelong commitment to raising the bar for metal performance and composition.
Fittingly, the piece in the video, “Spirit Crusher,” comes from Death’s final album, The Sound of Perseverance — released in 1998, just three years before Schuldiner’s death at 34 from brain cancer. Death had started off in the Eighties playing a grisly form of metal built around battering-ram riffs and Schuldiner’s raw-throated growls, and their debut LP, 1987’s Scream Bloody Gore, would come to be known as the one of the formative efforts in the nascent style of death metal. But Schuldiner committed himself to a stunning evolution, moving through boldly progressive sounds on albums like Human (which came in at number 70 on Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Metal Albums list) and Individual Thought Patterns. By the time of Perseverance, the guitarist was drawing on the entire spectrum of metal, from head-spinning technicality to thrashy rave-ups.
DeathOrchestra, essentially an alliance between the Russian band Buicide and St. Petersburg’s Olympic Symphony Orchestra, wrings maximum drama out of Schuldiner’s riffs, with the strings amplifying the bite of the guitars. Conductor Sergei Zavarykin acts as a sort of substitute frontman, driving the symphonic musicians to match the intensity of the metal players. And the crowd is clearly convinced by the spectacle: When the outfit kicks into a crunching breakdown at around 1:20 or a righteous uptempo sprint around a minute later, you can see attendees mirroring the music’s intensity with enthusiastic headbanging and even a classic circle pit.
This isn’t the first time Schuldiner has been honored with a posthumous tribute. Former members of Death have toured as Death to All (a project that’s been revived remotely during the pandemic), and the late guitarist’s estate has been putting out live Death material online. But with its meticulous arrangements and instrumental approach, DeathOrchestra — who will release Symphony of Death, a live album featuring seven Schuldiner classics, most from Death’s later releases, on December 13th – gives fans the chance to really home in on the sturdiness and majesty of Schuldiner’s writing. And, yes, to reflect on how well shredding violins complement shredding guitars.