Formed in 1983 by guitarist and vocalist Chuck Schuldiner, the Orlando, Florida band Death was loud, fast, and brutal—everything a good metalhead wants in music. Unfortunately, the death metal pioneers only lasted until 1998, when Schuldiner formed a new group, Control Denied, before his death in 2001 from brain cancer at age 34.
In Santa Cruz, they have inspired one of the unlikeliest of cover bands: Zombie Ritual, which plays songs by the legendary metal band.
“We never got to see Death, because we’re not old enough,” Hartshauser says. “And it’s hard to find bands that play exclusively your favorite music.”
“So now we get to emulate our favorite songs,” says bassist, Alex Smisko. “And that makes it extra fun.”
The idea came together in April 2016 after Hartshauser went on a two-week Death listening bender. His previous band Fountain of Bile was coming to an end and the hesher was looking to start something new. He asked a friend if he could learn Schuldiner’s riffs on guitar.
“He said there was no way he could play those songs,” he remembers. “But he said his roommate knew every song ever written.”
“That’s only a small exaggeration,” laughs guitarist Greg Gunterson, who was also itching for a new project.
With the inclusion of Smisko and drummer Brett Weiser, Zombie Ritual—the name taken from the second song off Death’s first album, Scream Bloody Gore—was born. I’ve been to several of their shows, and every time two things are guaranteed: there will be more people than the last show, and everyone goes nuts.
“One of the best things about Death is that it’s not your usual horror music,” explains Hartshauser. “It deals with things everyone can relate to. Like the album Human deals with the human condition and how we have to deal with the outside world on our own.”
And while anyone who knows metal will immediately recognize what Zombie Ritual is serving up, the band adds their own touches, too.
“I try to play note for note as it was recorded,” Gunterson says. “But there are some things even Death couldn’t pull off live.”
INFO: 9 p.m. Saturday, April 28. Blue Lagoon, 923 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. $5. 423-7117.