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OpEd

Re-recording Metal Classics - For Better or for Worse?

Photo of Cradle Of Filth

Band Photo: Cradle Of Filth (?)

Back in 2005, Dimmu Borgir was a band still basking in the unholy success of its latest outing “Death Cult Armageddon.” And yet instead of launching into a new opus for fans to consume the band members decided on a new approach; they would re-release an early and often praised album (“Stormblåst”) by completely re-recording it, updating the sound with modern production and slap “MMV” on the end. There had of course been prior examples of bands making this choice, but it was perhaps here that best truly crystallized the new era of metal re-recordings. No doubt you have heard of similar re-recordings in the same vein, perhaps most recently Gorgoroth’s “Under the Sign of Hell 2011” or Burzum’s “From the Depths of Darkness”? Perhaps not, but that’s what I aim to uncover for you here.

Not being a fan of Dimmu outside of worshiping the band's Arcturus co-conspirators, it wasn’t until 2008 I had my mind opened to this idea through none other than my thrash idols Exodus and the re-recording of 1985’s “Bonded By Blood.” Here I’ll assume you’re all familiar with the album because, well if you’re not then stop right now and go get it. No really, stop. “Bonded By Blood” is an unassailable classic of thrash metal, one of the greatest examples of pure aggression and balls to the wall metal there is, easily capable of neutering a lesser man, pillaging the beer from his fridge and carrying off his girlfriend.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that like a decent sect of the metal community, the re-recording dubbed “Let There Be Blood” was met with the cold indifferent stare normally reserved for those who choose to pogo over holy ground. Even disregarding the touchy subject of original vocalist Paul Baloff (RIP), slower tempos, aggression sucking modern production, and a different vocalist highlighted all the things that were so damn great about the original - no offense to Rob Dukes.



Both covers screams artistic genius of course.

And so my youthful mind was set. Re-recordings were shameless cash ins, plastic shadows strung upon skeletons that once adorned legendary gowns, serving only to highlight the homogeneity of modern metal, the fallacy of the idea of “good” production and the sad battle we all face with time. Well, that was until I heard Manowar’s “Battle Hymns MMXI."


See Manowar (being the bastion of all pure steel and true metal and therefore unquestionable) decided for whatever reason to pull the same stunt with the already decidedly killer 1982 debut “Battle Hymns.” And I’ll be damned if Manowar didn’t do it well. Eric’s soaring vocals, the pounding percussive battery of original drummer Donnie Hamzik, Sir Christopher Lee’s narration - all of the elements gave me a raging metal hard on from the moment I hit play. Don’t get me wrong, the original still stands it’s ground. But these songs were made to be played loud. “All men play on 10” right?


Unfortunately, loin cloths were not reprised to promote the album.

So where does this leave me? Are re-recordings the albumized antichrist? Unavoidable modern progress curing all our production woes? Dependent on if your vocalist is aging in reverse like Eric Adams appears to be? To avoid grinding us to a halt with too much of my usual scalpel blade analysis let’s trot out the examples and let them defend themselves.

Original Vision

Sometimes things in the studio just don’t work out. Despite the fact many like I have a soft spot for 1983’s “Born Again,” one time Black Sabbath vocalist Ian Gillian infamously smashed his copies of the album when he heard the mix.

Incantation for example is well known for re-recording and renaming (the excellently brutal) “Mortal Throne of The Nazarene” after immediate dissatisfaction with the original effort. In retrospect for us now, it's a puzzling move seeing the album's legendary status is due in part to the suffocating atmosphere. Likewise fellow gore mongers Devourment re-recorded the long awaited sophomore album ““Butcher the Weak” when the band felt the production didn’t do a service to the songs and fans who’d waited for a follow up to the influential debut. Here, the follow up re-recording was crushingly deserved.

Meshuggah is one of the bigger names sporting the clout required to be able re-record an album in order to see an original vision through. The 2006 version of “Nothing” featured custom 8 string guitars and a new rigs to power the obscure assault, as opposed to the original which feature detuned 7 strings that struggled with the task. German troopers Sodom on the other hand had to wait 23 years to see the band's vision out with 2007’s “The Final Sign of Evil”. This was a re-recording of Sodom's debut EP, this time including 7 never heard tracks that were left out due to lack of money for studio time. While Sodom is perhaps well known for early quasi-black metal aesthetic brought about by raw as guts production which the group made an effort to retain, so surely it’s a worthy cause to hear ancient classics?


Orchestral Re-recordings

Metallica may have set the stage early with the divisive “S&M” experiment, but other brutes are also showing their tender side by translating their primitive beatings into orchestral scores. My Dying Bride kicked off last year with a 3 CD classical collection of re-imaginings of doomy MDB songs, and Cradle of Filth is set to follow in 2012 with “Midnight in the Labyrinth” which you can hear Dani discuss in our recent interview. A recipe for success? Certainly bands like Apocalyptica have at least shown it can be but the jury is still out on this one.

And dare I bring up the phrase “Unplugged”? If you don’t stretch to Alice In Chains, there are at least examples from other bands such as Trouble or Gamma Ray. Perhaps even Cynic’s Re-Traced EP or Black Label Societies “The Song Remains Not The Same” albums are worth a mention here too. Personally, I’ll leave that for the flannel wearers.


The face I imagine Glen would make if you unplugged his hellish bass.
The face Glen make if you unplugged his hellish bass.


New Vocalist

Ah the old singer switcharoo. As vocalists tend to define eras and cause fan-base schisms like no other member quite can, it leads to the tantalizing idea of revisiting old recordings for a new take. If for nothing, purely to satisfy those primal fan questions of legend vs. legend.

Iced Earth (perhaps one of the few bands who’ve made it unscathed through multiple vocalists) took this approach on “Days Of Purgatory” by recording an album of first era songs with definitive vocalist Matt Barlow at the helm. Necessary? Not really, especially given the bad-ass Greely versions; but not particularly offensive or unwelcome either. The same might be said for the band's 2008 Barlow versions of Ripper Owens songs like ”The Clouding” or 2011 re(-re!)-recording of the bands opus “Dante's Inferno” - this time featuring Stu Block.

Not to be left behind in these shenanigans, Swedes Arch Enemy took the opportunity to re-record some early 100% testicular songs in the form of “The Root of All Evil.” This time of course it featured Angela Gossow’s bellowing and no doubt appeased many of her worshipers.

And with the eternal Belladona vs. Bush comparisons, Anthrax of course had “The Greater of Two Evils.” Although recorded "live" in the studio over two days, for a lot of fans this was one way to hear studio versions of early Anthraxian anthems, except this time with John Bush on vocals.


Splice and Dice

Perhaps the fact that at this point I only have disasters for examples might shows that overall in our exploration we are leaning towards re-recordings having the habit of appearing as insincere cash ins. Or just looking at fan-bases, the analogy might be throwing a bone into the face of a rabid wolf that was already happily eating a bone.

Due to conflicts over royalties, the 2002 version of Ozzy Osbourne’s otherwise crowning solo achievement “Blizzard of Ozz” had the bass and drum sections recorded to wriggle out of this little dispute. Of course, almost as if the commercialism of that decision seeped into the music like a maleficent cancer, the re-recordings neither well produced or received.

Likewise, dark metallers Bethlehem made a brain meltingly bad decision to abandon the band's otherwise fantastic goth/rock direction and spend time re-mixing the relatively ground breaking album “S.U.i.Z.i.D.” The result was “A Sacrificial Offering to the Kingdom of Heaven in a Cracked Dog's Ear,” an album maligned by fans for being wholly unnecessary and needlessly splicing Niklas Kvarforth in on vocals. Uhh... why?! As the original albums vocals were one of the defining characteristics, this is for sure one of the biggest puzzlers metal has re-produced.

Updated Sound

We may as well throw the rest in the pile of gettin’ with the times. The pro tools times.

Thrash luminaries are probably the biggest participants in this wave of re-architecture, Destruction had “Thrash Anthems”, Testament had “First Strike Still Deadly,” the aforementioned Anthrax and certainly not least Tankard had “25 Years in Beers.” Once again I’m strangely split. While I always found Tankard’s rough and raw production on classics like “Chemical Invasion” to be endearing and timeless, some of Destruction’s early material always given me aural fatigue by the riff load despite the quality of the songs.

There are several other stragglers I’ve left out such as Amorphis' “Tales from the Early Years,” but to bring us full circle, how about those black metal re-recordings by bearded lord of Burzum? Or Satanic sheep terrorizers Gorgoroth? Well to be honest I’m still puzzled about both for reasons outside of this rant. If for nothing, the irony of black metal acts built upon primitive and raw production re-recording their albums to meet modern times gives me a migraine.


Under the Sign of Hell 2011
Note to self: Roman numerals are kult. Decimal numbers not referencing dates of great battles or plagues are not.

I hope you can see that barely covering examples, I’d need a 30 part review series to fully analyze and distill the essence of success and failure when it comes to retreading hallowed steps. What I can say for sure is that bands should tread lightly; avoid commercial decisions at all cost, truly strive for completing creative visions and avoid the easy way out digital recording techniques offer if possible. After all, one man’s garbage is another mans “Pleasure To Kill.”

...also, if Metallica try and re-record “Ride The Lightning” I will hope you’ll all join me in lighting ourselves on fire outside James Hetfield’s no doubt cavernous mansion in protest. So, re-recording metal - for better or for worse?

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11 Comments on "Re-recording Metal - For Better or for Worse?"

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zMETALlica's avatar

Senior News Correspondent

1. zMETALlica writes:

I think it all depends on the band, the original recording, and how horribly loud the re-recording is. If the band had a sh** budget the first time around, it's always good to rerecord when you are famous and/or rolling in dough. take the iced earth's example :). though the re-re-recording of dante's inferno was good vocally, but lacked the orchestral feel of the first (why did they just use a horrid synth and not make it epic like the first?!).

# Jan 11, 2012 @ 7:50 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Anonymous Reader
2. Andy Synn writes:

I did exactly the same sort of column a month or so ago (i'm not enough of a prick to try and link to it, this is YOUR site) so it's definitely interesting to read someone else's take on the whole thing.

I personally think the Dimmu re-recording was a good idea, but I had forgotten about the Exodus one... that was terrible!

The question of ethics and intent is even more muddled when you bring in the issues of whole album re-recordings vs compilations of re-recorded tracks vs b-sides and bonus tracks, etc.

# Jan 11, 2012 @ 12:52 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
ZMA's avatar

Member

3. ZMA writes:

Yea I think it really depends on the band. Cause I've heard re-recordings that sound better then the original but then I've heard ones that sound horrendous .

# Jan 11, 2012 @ 1:44 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Anonymous Reader
4. Persecution Mike writes:

It depends !

# Jan 11, 2012 @ 1:52 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
deathbringer's avatar

Founder, owner & programmer

5. deathbringer writes:

It definitely depends on the band and release. I've liked all of the re-recordings that I've picked up (Stormblast, Days of Purgatory, First Strike Still Deadly, Greater of Two Evils). Except maybe the Ripper versions of Something Wicked songs on the Overture of the Wicked (and I was sent that for review - didn't actually buy it).

I'm not a big fan of the orchestral renditions or unplugged, although the right bands can pull it off.

Metallica is the one band I hope never, ever tries to re-record their classics. They would fail in just about every department possible, IMO, and given the production woes of the past two albums, who would actually trust that they would turn out any better there either?

# Jan 12, 2012 @ 9:47 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Anonymous Reader
6. vulgardisplay writes:

i would just like to hear Justice for all w/ actual bass

# Jan 12, 2012 @ 10:03 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
RememberMetal?'s avatar

Writer/Reviewer

7. RememberMetal? writes:

Remixing and remastering have a better (though not perfect) track record for me, I would think in most cases it's a safer, smarter and likely less costly prospect.

I think bands that are closer in time and style to the material in question tend to make better re-recordings as well but as stated in the article, this is not always the case. If Lamb of God were to re-record "New American Gospel" I imagine the results would far surpass Metallica re-recording "Ride the Lightning".

On a semi-related note, the guitars on (re)"Nothing" by Messhuggah made a classic album noticeably better. Minor surgery perhaps but all the same, re-recording worked for the better.

# Jan 12, 2012 @ 10:16 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
deathbringer's avatar

Founder, owner & programmer

8. deathbringer writes:

RM? Did you ever check out the remaster of New American Gospel? I am torn on it - it sounds fuller on the low end, but almost a little muddy to me. I didn't think the original recording was that bad to begin with, but I should go back and listen to it again.

# Jan 13, 2012 @ 9:49 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
hellrat's avatar

Member

9. hellrat writes:

Great topic Cyn...I really enjoy your take of initiative regarding aspects of non-mainstream interests in metal music...btw, still waitin' on your follow up article about Metal Art, brother :)

Svenska death/thrash band The Crown has done a number of rerecordings, most notably the re-do of Crowned in Terror (retitled Crowned Unholy) when Johan rejoined the band the first time. I love Tompa as a wicked vocalist, but was never quite happy with his performance in The Crown....Johan just fits them better. The re-record also had Janne do his drum tracks over, with a much better, beefed up sound. They since have recorded interim vocalist Jonas Stahlhammer over several old tracks, to pretty damn satisfactory result.

Agree with the analysis of the music of Dante's Inferno, Zmet...but Stu's brilliant vocal contribution more than makes up for it to my ears ;)

'Bringer man, do you mean 'Unplugged' as proper studio re-recording, or do you include the live stuff as well? Alice in Chains unplugged is simply incredible...Mariah Carey's early 90's one as well, really shows off her untouchable vocal chops of old. I certainly agree about orchestral/metal mash ups...they generally just sound so ludicrously pretentious and tranparently contrived. Nah, no thanks!

Wouldn't mind hearing Justice with the bass as well Vulgar...guess maybe young J-bird was just startin to get screwed by the double d!cknoses in that once-great band, as the bass was pretty prominent in the Garage Days EP he first played on

Ya, it's a very fine line to tread when it comes to this question...there is the very real probability of overworking, and thereby degenerating, a masterfully finished piece; but there exists a possibly equal potential to sonically enhance a work that could be perceived as lacking in some regard, and bring it into its final perfection...its a tough call

I for one really enjoy the nasty, gritty and raw sound of many older era recordings for some types of music...but also really enjoy the fvcking heavy, crisp, full sound quality that modern METAL production is capable of

Aaaah, a real conundrum! Once again, great article \m/

# Jan 17, 2012 @ 12:58 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
ConspiresTo's avatar

Member

10. ConspiresTo writes:

Sounds good on paper. I was excited when Anthrax decided to release "The Greater of Two Evils" back in 2004, as like Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer they had suffered from really poor production on their earlier albums. The production was better, granted, and I prefer John Bush anyway, but there was something missing. The enthusiasm, danger, youth, whatever that was missing made it sound like a covers album.....and they are never good!

# Jan 30, 2012 @ 3:54 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
RememberMetal?'s avatar

Writer/Reviewer

11. RememberMetal? writes:

Deathbringer

Indeed. NAG should be fully re-recorded. The source material deserves it.

# Jan 30, 2012 @ 5:33 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address

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