Reissue Radar: Morbid Angel – Altars of Madness (1989)

altars of madness

Earache Records is doing another one of their brief, ultra-limited record sales. This time, they are releasing Morbid Angel’s classic Altars of Madness on vinyl; they claim that this release will be one of their “Full Dynamic Range” remasters, which purport to not be afflicted by the brickwalling that took over popular music with the advent of digital recording. Needless to say, this is certainly a classic of death metal, although many on DMU prefer the versions of the songs here that appeared on Abominations of Desolation. Anyone who isn’t fortunate enough to grab this vinyl and wants a version of this album with improved dynamic range regardless will probably have to scrounge up some cash for an original pressing.

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Dødheimsgard to rerelease Kronet Til Konge

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As part of Peaceville Records’ holy mission to rerelease every shred of music they can, Dødheimsgard is releasing a vinyl pressing of their debut album on December 11th. I haven’t actually listened to Kronet Til Konge, but it’s apparently a fairly standard work of Norwegian black metal perhaps most notable for showcasing one of Fenriz’s many performances. It also predates both Dødheimsgard’s brief flirtation with the small black-thrash ‘movement’ (read: Monumental Possession) and their evolution into a goofy experimental metal act. This repress also contains the usual sort of additions – contemporary photographs, new liner notes, and other biographical material for the sake of added value.

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Mayhem – Live in Leipzig reissued for its 25th anniversary

mayhem-live_in_leipzig
I guess Peaceville really doesn’t know when to quit with the compilations and reissues (or that at least they’re a viable way to make more money off known famous works), since they’re also rereleasing Mayhem’s Live in Leipzig. This is specifically the 25th anniversary of the concert documented, as opposed to when it was first ‘officially’ pressed and sold to a mass audience some years afterwards. The CD version of this rerelease also contains a contemporary recording of the band in Zeitz, Germany. See Peaceville’s site for more details.

Whether Live in Leipzig is at all worth your time depends, perhaps, on how you value the various ‘eras’ of Mayhem. It is likely the easiest way to experience the band’s ‘classic’ lineup, featuring both tracks that would eventually make it onto De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas as well as somewhat revamped older tracks from the band’s early, proto-death metal days. As a listener, I find the most value in the polished studio work of Mayhem’s formal debut (because I value Atilla Csihar’s contributions), but the looser intrepretations here are worth at least a few spins.

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Morbid Angel – Entangled In Chaos (1996)

Morbid Angel - Entangled In Chaos (1996)

With Earache Records promising us a re-release of this live album on vinyl in October, and an otherwise quiet week of upcoming relevant releases, I thought it might be a good idea to give this a more detailed look. Live albums are fundamentally interesting on a few levels – their attempts to capture something of the experience of a concert, their value as documentation of a period in a band’s career, the chance to possibly hear reinterpretations of favored songs, and so forth. Entangled in Chaos came out at the tail end of Morbid Angel’s commercial golden age and before the band tried to reinvent itself with Formulas Fatal to the Flesh. The product is low on references to the previously banal Domination for whatever reason, although whether that’s due to timing or creative reasons is beyond my knowledge.

These rerecordings end up more polished and standardized than the originals for the second time in MA’s discography, as the long holdovers from 1986 already got the Lemon Pledge treatment when they first entered the studios. Sometimes, the end results are rather stripped down; for obvious reasons studio adornments aren’t available, and Trey Azagthoth’s guitar solos are consistently altered from their original forms. Hearing the band’s earliest material with a production closer to Covenant or Domination is mildly interesting, to say the least, although the concessions to a live environment often cost these tracks some of their power and more musically interesting aspects. The performances are otherwise faithful to a fault, as such strict reproductions leave little room for reinterpretation… with the caveat that this is difficult to do successfully in a metal context and in this case might’ve resulted in an undesirable Domination II or similar.

There are not very many essential live albums in the realm of metal, and you can probably do without Entangled in Chaos in most cases. If you absolutely need to hear Morbid Angel playing relatively faithful but not particularly passionate renditions of their first era or are otherwise a collector, though, this rerelease may be to your tastes.

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Darkthrone to rerelease Soulside Journey on September 25th

Darkthrone - Soulside Journey (1990)

Even Peaceville Records is getting in on the compact cassette revival. While Soulside Journey is far from stereotypical for Darkthrone, and furthermore already saw a cassette re-release in 1996, this is still a fine addition to your collection in its various forms for the strength of its content. Prior to creating several genre-defining works of black metal, Soulside Journey showcases the band performing a musically literate and melodramatic variant of death metal. It’s an admittedly sparse and atmospheric take on the genre that takes some acclimation to fully understand, but one that rewards attentive listeners. Funnily enough, this dodges the convenient upcoming 25th anniversaries of Darkthrone’s upcoming material, but those are likely too obvious for the record labels to ignore in the coming years. In the meantime, Darkthrone will probably see a great deal of reissues – the questionable Black, Death, and Beyond compilation, for instance, was recently reprinted on compact discs.

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Blood – Christbait re-release coming on September 28th

Blood - Christbait (1992)

Vic Records is rereleasing Blood’s 1992 album Christbait on September 28th. This German death metal/grindcore act received some praise in the old archives for successfully adding some conventional musicality to a standard formula. In that regard this is similar to how Carcass and Napalm Death expanded their sounds on Symphonies of Sickness and Harmony Corruption; Christbait is similarly more intelligible and elaborate than Blood’s previous work (although still fairly simplistic) while retaining much of its intensity. Newer bands would do well to learn from these examples if they want to create works of similar quality.

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Septic Flesh – 1991-2003 (2015)

Septic Flesh - 1991-2003 (2015)

Floga Records is releasing a box set of Septic Flesh’s first era in cassette format. While this box-set is limited to 300 copies and the format is somewhat obscure, much of the content included is of high quality, as Septic Flesh’s early discography is one of the high points of Greek underground metal, measuring up to such luminaries as Rotting Christ, Varathron, and Necromantia.

Septic Flesh began their career playing rough death metal, but even on their earliest demo (Forgotten Path) showed signs of the melodic, atmospheric sound that would become their signature. The abrasive death metal elements would remain for some years, but the band’s heavy keyboard presence, an emphasis on consonant guitar leads, and elaborate compositions make for a a more contemplative experience than, for instance, the generally more aggressive American metal acts. Septic Flesh’s first full-lengths admittedly suffer from flaws in their production that detract from the possible intensity they could reach (like the use of a weak drum machine), but they still capitalize on the band’s ability to create ethereal soundscapes in the context of metal. Mystic Places of Dawn and Esoptron in particular are masterpieces of this style, effortlessly integrating this into the admittedly declining quantities of death metal that this era showcases.

Later albums in this collection showcase the band reaching simultaneously towards higher heights of orchestration and problematically trying to secure some gothic metal money. This niche became enormously popular in the mid-90s despite being so wide as to encompass similar acreage of musical ground. Septic Flesh never discarded their ability to write melodic hooks, but after 1995, they were quick to simplify their style and write more accessible, less cavernous songs. These changes become strikingly obvious on Revolution DNA, which trades in the mythological and occult themes of previous works for sleek, shining futurism. That the band manages to retain their melodic prowess makes it serve as a functional and adequate work of pop music, but it is truly a low point of the compilation. The band’s previous overtures towards the mainstream (primarily in the form of operatic vocalists) were spun off into their own project (Chaostar), and Septic Flesh was arguably sundered. In recent years, partially represented on this compilation’s finale, Sumerian Daemons, the band has embraced the great simplification of their past, albeit overlaid and decorated with modern metal technique and an orchestral presence, creating music that in its strengths resembles that of mainstream film music filtered through the extreme metal mold. The new Septic Flesh is a much louder and brutish beast, separated from the atmospheric voice it was born with, but hints of the past permeate even the band’s latest releases to give it strength in its darkest hours.

1991-2003 is excellent as a historical archive and a collector’s item, at least for those few who value compact cassettes. It is probably entirely useless outside that niche, although it’s always possible that a similar box set may come out in a more accessible format. In addition, like other comprehensive box sets, it comes with its share of chaff and filler. Individual albums by Septic Flesh should not be too difficult to find, though, and some of them have even been reissued with new artwork and bonus rarities. The early full lengths are certainly worth the listener’s time.

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