The brainchild of vocalist/guitarist Chuck Schuldiner, Death started in 1983 while he was still in high school, and would go on to symbolize and help create the Death Metal genre. Various local musicians (such as Kam Lee (drums) and Rick Rozz (guitar)) would be featured on early demos. Under the collective moniker Mantas, they would get a deal with the now defunct American label 'Combat', under the condition that it also be released (subsequently by 'Under One Flag', a subsidiary of 'Music For Nations') in Europe.
For their time, they played some of the fastest most aggressive music known. Shortly later, Schuldiner moved from Florida to San Francisco, leaving the other two members behind to form their own outfit, Massacre.
By the 1987 debut, Scream Bloody Gore, the line-up consisted of Chuck Schuldiner (vocals/guitar/bass), John Hand (guitar), and Chris Reifert (later to form Autopsy; drums) was recruited to augment his performance. Machine gun riffing and lyrics depicting night time horror gave the audience exactly what the record title advertised and launched one of the first examples of modern Death Metal onto the market.
Act II was Leprosy, in 1988. With it, the band line-up grew to add the returning Rick Rozz (guitar), with fellow Massacre members Terry Butler (ex-Six Feet Under (USA); bass) and Bill Andrews (drums). It continued where the debut left off but with less fantastical plots. Spiritual Healing (1990) saw Rozz leave and replaced by James Murphy (ex-Testament/ex-Obituary). The album took a political turn by merging true crime stories with news footage and commentary slipping in (passing as lyrics) about "the establishment" and evangelist groups who were targeting the band. They would then tour in support of Kreator, but part way through, founder Schuldiner quit to later form then disband his Control Denied project (he would later resurrect it in 1998). Louie Carrisalez (ex-Devastation; drummer by trade but handling vox.) and Walter Thrashler (ex-Rotting Corpse; guitar) took his place to continue the tour; they were previously part of the road crew. The tour was a complete failure because the Europeans refused to accept the act without their founder. On return, the members went their separate ways, with Andrews and Butler reforming their old outfit Massacre.
Schuldiner would return shortly later to resurrect Death with a whole new band membership featuring Paul Masvidal (guitar), Steve DiGiorgio (bass) and Sean Reinhert (drums). The result was the 1991 release Human, which is widely considered some of Death's best work. It featured a much wider array of compositions then had previously been the case; it even included Cosmic Sea, a melodic instrumental track. But by now Schuldiner was fed up with the constant membership changes and wanted a permanent line-up in time for a 1992 European tour. He recruited Gene Hoglan (ex-Dark Angel/ex-Testament; drums) and Skott Karino (guitar). The new "stable line-up" was also not to last, for during the studio work for Individual Thought Patterns (1993) the team consisted of Andy Larocque (ex-King Diamond; guitar) as well as the aforementioned DiGiorgio and Hoglan. The tracks Overactive Imagination and Trapped In A Corner returned to the style of Spiritual Healing with its political overtones; this time against the music industry itself.
Symbolic (1995) was a well received and long awaited Death release, which featured - yes, you guessed it, more crew shifts with Bobby Koelble (guitar) and Kelly Conlon (bass). Sound Of Perseverance (1998), and a live follow-up would follow in 2001 titled Live In L.A. (Death & Raw) featuring the last line-up change of Shannon Hamm (ex-Control Denied; guitar), Scott Clendenin (bass) and Richard Christy (ex-Iced Earth/ex-Control Denied; drums). Schuldiner, however, was not a well man, and during 2000 & 2001 the underground music press was printing columns and columns of news about his recently diagnosed brainstem cancer. He would succumb to it 4PM, December 14, 2001. The future of Death as a band was limited and ended with Live In Eindhoven (2001), as did Control Denied.