I'm assuming it's safe to call "Leprosy" Death's finest hour, right? I mean, it pretty much captures the Death tribe retching up some of the sickest staples of primitive death metal ever while the innards of the excellent "Scream Bloody Gore," another obligatory classic, gestate noticeably on the side. And yeah, all of Death's records are high in substance (though I don't care for "The Sound of Perseverance" all that much) and dynamic in their own unique ways, which obviously makes Death the antithesis of a band like Annihilator whose legacy rides on one excellent record while the others fight for scraps. That consistency is a hallmark trait of a superior band; Death's legacy remains a monumental statement in the world of death metal for obvious reasons.
But that's old news, and everyone knows that. Death is the Geico of death metal, minus the sh*tty sense of humor. The great thing about "Leprosy" is that it's not necessarily the seminal Death album, but for several reasons the seminal Death album of a certain era of the group when the band was undoubtedly at its peak, at least in my opinion. I just think it's the perfect representation of Death from the blistering title track to the insane madness of its closing number-no frills, fillers, byproducts, or bullsh*t. "Leprosy" is pure death metal, and a metal masterpiece that remains one of the genre's finest moments.
The fact remains that "Leprosy" has not depreciated one iota; this has to do with the fundamental traits of death metal itself. Not to give you a history lesson here, but this was released in 1988 when the genre was still stumbling around blindly in a dark room, discovering itself and the world around it. "Leprosy" is important because it's one of the first clear actions of the death metal identity kicking down the wall and making its presence known; one of few masterpieces that first hit the switch. And really, who could call its blueprint anything but spectacular? It all boils down to a number of parts integrated properly to make complex, structured anthems that bite like razor blades and stick around indefinitely like truly memorable music tends to.
I'm pretty sure there's a difference between catchy and memorable. I always assumed 'catchy' was more of a tangible quality; music becomes catchy through repetition and accessible musicianship. To be memorable requires truly exceptional material that is . . . well, truly exceptional. Memorable music doesn't need to be tangibly repetitive or intentionally accessible because it already has the necessary components to make itself remarkable, and that's how "Leprosy" succeeds. The songs dip up and down like a rollercoaster of death metal's signature moves in excellent progressions that are both complex and mesmerizing.
On the instrumental side of things, "Leprosy" is the best example of unfiltered death metal. These songs are stuffed with what are debatably some of the finest tremolo riffs the genre has ever known and perfectly measured mid-to-slow-paced sections that add huge depth and explosiveness to the mayhem. Percussion patterns are heavy on the bass-snare designs and double bass kicks are given ample room on the backdrop, and the hugely disgusting growling vocals match the flow of the band as they naturally surge from section to section. The album can really be diced up and dissected rather simply, but its few parts make its majesty untouchable.
Chuck and Rick Rozz were a killer guitar duo. Here they throw up dozens of riffs and every single one of them is memorable, even legendary. Not once do the frenzied, slicing tremolo riffs and those sickeningly slow guitar grooves filling these tunes halt, and not once does the magic fade. Hey, these songs are some of the finest death metal staples ever: try to argue the title track, "Left to Die, and "Pull the Plug" are just your run-of-the-mill death metal tunes. "Pull the Plug" is definitely one of the finest surfaces ever built on this unhallowed soil; it's undoubtedly a classic of the genre. Now add another seven songs that are just as ruthless, vile, maniacal, frenzied and brutal, and that's "Leprosy" in a nutshell.
Its atmosphere is the little rotted cherry on the sundae of guts. The guitars are thick and ravaging against the explosive bass work and the outstanding percussion. Obviously Chuck's growls are a wonderful representation of the album at large-uncooked, beastly, horrifying. The drums seem to be a focal point of criticism around the album due to the unmixed, explosive snare drum that sounds like a bomb going off every second, but you know what? I love these blaring snare beats. They're like a perfect side of garnish to the raw, rotten, primitive sound quality and atmosphere coursing through the bones of "Leprosy," and I wouldn't change them for a million dollars. I can't imagine that bulldozing beat on the introduction of "Forgotten Past" to be any less bold if the snare were properly mixed.
I love "Leprosy." Is there a ton of variety? No. Are their huge orchestral movements and woodland instruments? No. Is the production shiny and flawless? No. Is your a**hole going to be pounded like there's no tomorrow every time you listen to it? Yes, yes, and yes. It's filthy, disgusting, vile, repulsive, and mercilessly devilish from the slow opening booms of the title track to Chuck screaming at the listener to CHOKE ON IT! AS YOUR TONGUE GOES DOWN! "Leprosy" is great because it's unapologetically dirty and honest, a picture of one of metal's best bands at one of their many heights; it is pureblooded death metal for thirty-eight minutes. So, in sum, you may keep your Fleshgod Apocalypses and your Black Dahlia Murders-I'm good with this.