Num Skull – Ritually Abused re-issue has fatal flaws

num_skull-ritually_abused

The late 80s were an extremely volatile time for metal music. The speed metal movement that had started a handful of years prior was simultaneously peaking and sounding its death rattle. The noises coming from Europe and developing in New England were firing warning shots across the bow of metal as it had been known in full-out, transformational revolution. 1988 saw the release of Bathory Blood Fire Death, Bolt Thrower In Battle There Is No Law, Napalm Death From Enslavement To Obliteration, Carcass Reek Of Putrefaction, and demos from Paradise Lost, Samael, Rotting Christ, Rigor Mortis (pre-Immolation) and Exmortis, just to name a few. One can only imagine that this must have placed tremendous pressure on fledgling speed metal bands as the music world they thought they knew crumbled around them.

Very few of them escaped this period intact. Bands that had issued one or two great albums seemed to perceive that they could not continue as they had been. They saw a fork in the road: either trying to emulate one of the “big four” or struggling to “get harder” to keep up with the tectonic shift death and black metal were creating. Either move alienated the fan base they had built and universally failed as a result. This writer cannot think of one band that consciously changed vocalists and/or styles that got better because of said shift at that time.

This is not a lesson in music history or an album review, but it is important to understand the context of a given release. It is easy today to call up a band, a song, an album, and sample it immediately, piece by piece. Consuming historical output in a vacuum, outside of the understanding of the environment in which it was produced and unleashed, is simply folly. The timeline of modern metal, now at over three solid decades, conveys the idea that there were obvious plateaus and curves, slow and deliberate. However, focusing in closer reveals that there were a great many peaks and valleys along the way, some single high points among a lot of noisy low points.

Focusing on the US, 1988 saw some fine thrash releases from Nuclear Assault, Rigor Mortis, Vio-Lence, Wehrmächt, Wasted Youth, Wargasm, and the subject of this writing, Num Skull. Num Skull’s release of Ritually Abused, while not a game-changer, was significant. It toed the line of death metal; one can hear some hints of Immolation in some of the riffs on this album. The spitting delivery and effects on the vocals were very unique and helped set them apart. And, perhaps most importantly, it remains one of the very few releases from a midwestern-US band at that time. The midwest had the proto-death stylings of Macabre and Impetigo, the progressive metal of Anacrusis, the punk of Life Sentence, and the thrash of Zoetrope, but for thrash that edged closely to death metal, Num Skull were it. Ritually Abused caught them at their peak, before they decided they needed to be yet another poor-to-mediocre “brutal” death metal band to be discarded as also-rans. They were extremely talented, high-energy, and unique in a musical world filling up with same-ness.

Fast-forward to 2014. The original Ritually Abused is criminally difficult to find, with the lone CD pressing fetching triple-digits on eBay and in trading circles. When Relapse announced that finally, after much pleading, they were going to reissue it, complete with bonus track, it seemed time to rejoice. A limited-run of 300 units, pressed on purple vinyl, was promised, along with a CD and new apparel. This was an opportunity for younger listeners to hear what was a peak during the swan song of the US thrash movement with some proto-death metal tendencies, and for the label to pay respect to one of their deceased children, Medusa Records, with a release that helped put them on the map.

Upon inspection, the colors on the cover appear richer and the back cover has a new layout. Opening it, there is a basic lyrics sheet and plain sleeve. OK, so it’s not a deluxe reissue — this is not ideal but it is forgivable. After all, at least this piece of history was unearthed and given new life. Dropping the needle, fond memories of youth are replaced with jarring incongruity and disjointedness. What was originally a quick, seductive and declarative introduction of “The End” (“The end is near…”) followed by the huge, rhythmic hook of the title track was now the machine gun blast of “Death And Innocence”. Confused, a listener might consult the track listing again. As written, it shows the familiar order with the addition of a bonus track originally written for one of their demos:

  1. The End
  2. Ritually Abused
  3. Death And Innocence
  4. No Morals
  5. Friday’s Child
  6. Off with Your Head
  7. The Henchman
  8. Pirate’s Night
  9. Turn of a Screw
  10. Kiss Me, Kill Me
  11. Rigor Mortis
  12. Murder By The Minister (Bonus Track)

However, the lists of tracks as present on the disc is as follows:

    Side A

  1. Death And Innocence
  2. No Morals
  3. Friday’s Child
  4. Off With Your Head
  5. The Henchman
  6. Pirate’s Night
  7. Side B

  8. Turn Of A Screw
  9. Kiss Me, Kill Me
  10. Rigor Mortis
  11. Murder By The Minister (Bonus Track)
  12. The End
  13. Ritually Abused

The CD is also thus plagued. Such a clear display of “no fucks given” from the label dismantles the flow and intent of the original album and leaves the listener with a much less effective product. The lack of even basic quality control on this, after over a quarter of a century of waiting, demonstrates the fact that Relapse had no respect for this band or this release, a piece of its history. Relapse passed up an opportunity to finally give this release some deserved love and perhaps atone in some small way for the massive ignoring and lack of promotion payed to this upon its original release in favor of a quick cash-grab from their back catalog.

One wonders what little effort it may have taken to reach out to the band and seek their input and involvement on such a reissue. This has been done repeatedly lately to a high degree of success and satisfaction from fans; albums from Sacrifice, Darkthrone, and Bl’ast are prime examples of how to do proper reissues. Alternately, a few sentences from label leaders or peers about what the band meant to them at the time, initial reactions to hearing the album, etc. — anything — would have been a nice inclusion. At absolute minimum, a simple CD-to-vinyl rip using the 2002 disc as source material, while not giving a proper vinyl sound, would have resulted in a correct track listing and required exactly zero effort. It seems Relapse went out of their way to fuck this up, as though they gave the pressing plant some idea that there was a band called Num Skull that once upon a time had an album entitled Ritually Abused and let them figure out how to press it, never once checking any test pressings prior to collecting money and shipping another product about which they are ambivalent.

At their genesis, one likes to think that most record labels start with the idea of giving voice to deserving artists that would otherwise go unheard and unnoticed by other labels. In the mind of the listener, a label also bears the responsibility of curator of a slice of music history. Dear reader, what is the half life of such a fantasy? At what point does a label simply become a business with no artistic integrity left in their empty souls? At what point does churning out album after album of whatever flavor of the day fits best into the accepted formula that will sell enough product to turn a profit become more attractive than unleashing quality, moving music? Some rhetorical questions without answers, but one would think re-issuing a “lost” gem that requires minimal investment of money or time would be a simple feat if the label had one cell of shit-giving left.

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8 thoughts on “Num Skull – Ritually Abused re-issue has fatal flaws”

  1. Concerned Citizen says:

    Relapse Records doesn’t seem to care anymore. The Disembowelment 2CD compilation has a glitchy digital popping noise on track 6, and it’s not my version – it’s on their bandcamp as well. Amorphis’ The Lost Name Of God has this as well on the re-issue with Privilege Of Evil for bonus tracks. These weren’t present on the original versions.

  2. Killian says:

    Can anyone comment on their Repulsion – Horrified 2CD reissue? I’ve been meaning to pick that one up, assuming it’s worth getting.

    1. Daniel says:

      It’s awful. They brickwalled and clipped the entire album. The last decent reissue they put out was Convulse World Without God and that was a needle drop from an LP that they just made louder for no reason (bad but not that it’s unlistenable like Repulsion). For Incantation, the Mortal Throne and Diabolical Conquest LP reissues were decent as Hell’s Headbangers did them. The LP and CD reissues of Onward to Golgotha sucked.
      http://dr.loudness-war.info/album/list?artist=repulsion&album=

  3. thisoneheredude says:

    My CD seems to have the track listing in correct order. With that being said,

    FUCK RELAP$E
    U
    C
    K

    R
    E
    L
    A
    P
    $
    E

  4. Anthony says:

    I wish this reissue was better. Their Atheist, God Macabre, Convulse, Alchemist and Repulsion reissues were all excellent. Was there some kind of issue with the musicians or the rights or something, like they bought it from Num Skull’s old label, and Num Skull got in a fight with that label, or something else? It just seems out of character for Relapse.

  5. TC says:

    original label was medusa, child label of relapse.

  6. Anthony says:

    Maybe one of the Num Skull guys said something un-PC or anti-pot once. If you want to give yourself a headache, listen to an Exit-13 album and read along with the lyric sheet. Apparently we can solve the energy crisis with hash oil.

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