Death’s Leprosy turned 20 yesterday. In 1988, I was deep in the thrall of glam and thrash metal; I didn’t hear Leprosy until long after the fact. When I did, I was underwhelmed. I got into Death through their later records (Individual Thought Patterns onwards), and Leprosy seemed kind of boring. It wasn’t otherworldly like the later stuff, and it wasn’t vicious and raw like Scream Bloody Gore.
But after revisitation, I “get” Leprosy more. It’s a transitional record – just like every other Death record after SBG. The thrash influences are intact, and Chuck Schuldiner’s growl is still amazing. (My only gripe with later Death is that Schuldiner’s voice had considerably thinned out by then.) But Leprosy feels so different from Scream Bloody Gore, no doubt due to the new lineup: Schuldiner + 3/4 of Massacre. Rick Rozz’s Kerry King-esque whammy bar divebombs contrast sharply with Schuldiner’s more technical solos. Some riffs foreshadow the melodic later records, and Schuldiner’s lyrics start dealing with real life death (“Now you’re in the real world / Where pain and death are felt”) as opposed to the fictional, zombified kind.
The snare sound is awful, and I’m not a fan of that old-school pillowy reverb. But there are loads of killer songs here – “Born Dead,” “Left to Die,” “Pull the Plug,” “Open Casket.” Like every other Death record, Leprosy has a definite identity. It’s softer than Scream Bloody Gore and not as technical as Spiritual Healing. Ed Repka’s cover perfectly fits this atmosphere. And, hey, Dan Swanö likes it: “Personally, I take Leprosy for the only real perfect death metal album.” A lesser classic, but a classic nonetheless.