Re-recording Metal Classics - For Better or for Worse?
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.
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?
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 Glen make if you unplugged his hellish bass.
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.
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.
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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