We here at Heavy Blog like to ponder the big questions: Who are we? Why are we here? Why is the bass so low in the mix? You know, the big stuff. In order to better address such pressing matters, we bring you Heavy Issues: a bi-weekly column by which we plan to get to the bottom of things. But we can’t just do it on our own, we want to know what you think as well. Read our responses below and weigh in with your own opinions in the comments
This week’s question is: Which album would you like to see remastered or re-recorded?
Scott: Mayhem – Ordo Ad Chao (2007)
When Mayhem first announced last year that they were remixing/remastering one of their albums, Ordo Ad Chao immediately jumped to mind as the clear choice. The album has always been a glaring production misstep in the band’s discography that deserves some much-needed studio polish.
Alas, the announcement actually revealed that Grand Declaration of War (2000) had earned the full re-release treatment, new artwork and all. Admittedly, I think Grand Declaration is criminally underrated and misunderstood, which may have been why Season of Mist decided to reintroduce it to a new audience of listeners. Even so, the slightly cleaner, more modern sound bestowed on Grand Declaration pales in comparison to the improvements that could (and should) have been directed toward Ordo Ad Chao, the epitome of a black metal diamond in the rough.
If we’re to believe an Extreme Drumming Forum thread from 2007, Mayhem drummer Hellhammer said the band’s goal for the record was to sound “necro as fuck.” Personally, I think it would be more appropriately described as a muffled mess. Every instrument genuinely sounds like the sessions were recorded with the cheapest mics available. The only member who sounds somewhat normal is Attila Csihar, whose performance is top notch and as bizarre as always. Unfortunately, the way his vocals are mixed presents the other huge issue with Ordo Ad Chao. Frankly, everything sounds like it was mixed by a group of producers with contrasting visions, but Csihar’s vocals sound particularly loud and out of place as they topple the underlying music.
He’d be the biggest distraction if not for Hellhammer’s drumming, which has to have the largest deficit between musicianship and production I’ve ever heard on a metal album. In the Extreme Drumming thread, Hellhammer said they only used triggers for his kick drums and added that entire kit wasn’t equalized. I’m by no means a production expert but, however this process was conducted, the results sound like Hellhammer was recorded behind a brick wall but then had his subpar recordings turned way up in the mix. And whenever he fires up the kick pedals or toms, the low-end is immediately maxed out. Depending on how high you have the bass turned up for you speakers, these tom or kick rolls mostly drown out the remaining instruments, which of course are lacking clarity to begin with.
This isn’t a case of a band using lo-fi production to achieve a raw or cold aesthetics to fit the music, as the album simply doesn’t fit the compositional blueprint of a lo-fi black metal project. Mayhem essentially picks up where they left off with the tight, blast-heavy black metal of Chimera (2002) while exploring more adventurous ideas, resulting in an aggressive but still slightly progressive take on straightforward black metal. Unfortunately, this summary is based on some generous assumptions, since any promise Ordo Ad Chao presents is severely stunted by the inability to fully decipher what’s going on.
This band’s puzzling production choices are all the more confusing given the circumstances. Mayhem have always played a slightly more experimental brand of traditional black metal, but by the mid-2000s, this point was even more true than it was when they broke onto the scene. They had just released the fast, well-produced Chimera a few years prior, and were only seven years removed from the well-orchestrated weirdness of Grand Declaration. While the reception for these albums varied, Mayhem were unquestionably one of the biggest bands in the genre, and both records sounded like they had the professional recording and production one would expect such a prominent band to have.
With this being the case, it simply made no sense for the band to choose production quality that flew in the face of the resources available to them, especially when their stated “necro as fuck” goal hindered the actual music. I’ll still hold out hope that the album receives a proper remix/remaster in the future, but for now, Mayhem and SOM definitely picked the wrong album to re-enter the studio with.
Josh: Trivium – Shogun (2008)
I’m aware that we have at least a couple of people here at Heavy Blog who hold this album in exceptionally high esteem. Yet, despite being seemingly tailor-made to suite my tastes, up until their latest offering, Trivium have always been a tough sell for me. On the surface, there doesn’t seem to be any reason why I should regard albums like Metallica’s Master of Puppets (1986) and …And Justice For All (1988) so highly, but fail to connect with Shogun. However, up until The Sin and The Sentence (2017), there was something about their music that just always seemed lacking and, in light of their most recent opus, I’m strongly suspecting that it’s the performances themselves.
Two noticeable differences between The Sin and the Sentence and all the Trivium albums that came before it are the quality of Matt Heafy’s vocals and the addition of drummer Alex Bent (Brain Drill, Dragonlord). Heafy’s vocals had always been a major roadblock between me and Trivium. I appreciated his ambition, but it always felt like he reaching beyond his capabilities; whether clean or gritty, his voice often sounded strained and lacked the power to deliver the vocal lines he was going for. None of that is true on The Sin and the Sentence. Heafy’s vocals had been gradually improving with each album. They took a noticeable leap forward with Vengeance Falls (2013) (I honestly believe David Draiman is the best thing to have ever happened to the band) and on The Sin and the Sentence they’re both powerful and dynamic. The recently released re-recording of “Pillars of Serpents”, from Ember to Inferno (2003), shows just how far Trivium have come over the last fifteen-years, and the difference in vocals between the two versions of the track is staggering. There are moments on Shogun (“Throes of Perdition”) that hint at Heafy’s future prowess, but I want to experience the entire album with him at the peak of his powers.
Along with Heafy coming into his own, Bent’s contributions behind the kit really pushed the Trivium sound to another level. While Travis Scott’s drumming on Shogun is perfectly serviceable – and often centre-stage (see the opening to “Kirisute Gomen”) – but it’s also not the most creative or idiosyncratic performance. Bent brought a lot of his own personal flavour to Trivium’s most-recent album and you really feel his influence on the band’s sound. Conversely, I feel like any other comparable drummer could have delivered a similar performance in place of Scott on Shogun. It’s not like the drums are lacking on the album, but I would love to see them pushed further.
Shogun isn’t an album in desperate need of being re-recorded and I know there are many who would argue that it’s perfect the way it is. To my ears, however, there’s a world of difference between it and Trivium’s most recent offering—even if the songwriting itself suggests they should be on more equal footing. Shogun isn’t crying out as obviously for an update as the band’s notoriously rough debut, and a decent live album would probably also achieve the desired effect. However, while Ember to Inferno might benefit the most from an overhaul, an updated Shogun promised far greater rewards. There’s no real reason why the band would re-record a perfectly fine record, which is widely their masterpiece. Yet, from an entirely selfish perspective, I long to get as much out of Shogun as I feel like I’m meant to (and that everyone else seems to) and I have no doubt that Trivium, as they are now, would be capable of taking this already-outstanding album to the next level.
Further Considerations: Of course, it took me writing 600 words on Shogun (which, let’s not forget, is an album that sounds perfectly fine), to realise that the real answer to this question is I Killed the Prom Queen’s Music for the Recently Deceased (2006). I don’t know what went wrong during the production process, which was handled by Fredrik Nordsröm no less, but the album is so overly loud that it constantly crackles and clips throughout. The problem isn’t that noticeable on streaming services, but as soon as you run it through any kind of equalisation it all goes to hell. Yet, somehow I still managed to listen to it virtually nonstop around the time it came out. Madness. Oh, and it would also be nice to get a version of Parkway Drive’s Deep Blue (2010) where I could hear anything other than the kick drum.
David: Circle Takes The Square – As The Roots Undo (2004)
I think it’s safe to say that this is the absolute pinnacle of screamo concept albums (which is not to say that’s a plentiful well to draw from), and even at a time that was ripe with invention and transcendent records, As The Roots Undo still somehow managed to feel way ahead of its time. It’s a record that lives in its own world; the first time I heard it it was just everything I could imagine wanting in a single package. It completely blew me away and created an expectation for all subsequent bands and releases that I quickly realized couldn’t be attained. It’s frenetic and challenging, wildly heavy in spots and then achingly beautiful elsewhere, an almost impossibly intense and fully-realized musical experience.
Take a song like “In the Nervous Light of Sunday,” for instance. Its opening guitar and drum sequences have a complexity that could summon phrases like “math-metal,” but even to use a genre tags that suggests complicated, experimental compositions boxes in Circle Takes the Square in an unfair manner. This is just one of a dozen moments on the record where their musical approach is so unbridled that – to this day – I still can’t tell if the riffs make sense or if they’re dancing on the edge of unraveling. That’s just how it goes with this album – it’s raw and untamed, but at the same time so meticulously planned. Later on in the same song there is a passage where the band breaks down into an acoustic-led refrain featuring male/female dual vocals which feels folksy in a completely genuine and effective way, even as ever-agitating screams pierce the mix. Then it takes a hard turn into a finale steeped in tribal-sounding drumrolls and gang vocals. I haven’t even covered everything that happens in this song. It’s so all over the map in the absolute best of ways.
Every song on this record is a highlight, but this isn’t meant to be an album review so I’ll move on to the point. The peak track on this record for me is “Non-Objective Portrait of Karma,” with its extended atmospheric guitar intro that eventually builds into what I can only describe as possibly the most explosive and emotionally exhausting three and a half minutes of music I have ever heard. I don’t even know what to do with myself when I hear it, even today. I typically end up basically blacking out and coming to with my fingernails boring into my palms. But as time has gone on and the production game has changed I’ve noticed more and more that the sonic impact has lessened somewhat. There is a lack of fullness in the heavy parts, an absence of low end that is beginning to pale in comparison to what we expect today. This slowly-emerging lack paints the entire record in a new light that isn’t favorable despite As The Roots Undo’s unimpeachable creative value. Eight years later they released Decompositions, Vol. 1 (2012), which essentially featured a cleaned up version of a similar production value, so one would imagine that it’s all a part of their chosen aesthetic, but still, as time has gone on bands and producers have dreamt up new ways to make songs pop, and it would be highly intriguing to hear how that approach could benefit CTTS’s studio work.
Perhaps the best way I can highlight how As The Roots Undo would benefit from a refresher would be to point to the discography of another band that holds a dear place in my heart. These Arms Are Snakes are a band who came out of the gate swinging with top-level material when they debuted out of Seattle in 2003. Their first two releases, This Is Meant To Hurt You (2003) and Oxeneers or The Lion Sleeps When Its Antelope Go Home (2004) are high-level mid-aughts post-hardcore brilliance, snarling and giving zero fucks, but somehow simultaneously thoughtful and mature. But it wasn’t until Chris Common took over on drums and production duties after their second record that they had someone who seemingly stepped back and said “hey guys, you DO realize that Brian Cook is in this band, right?” Once the ace in the hole was defined, and Common could build everything around Cook’s muscular low end, These Arms Are Snakes completely took off sonically. Their first two records may have some of their best songs (though tracks like “Mescaline Eyes,” “Crazy Woman Dirty Train,” “Woolen Heirs” and the show-stopping groove masterpiece “Ethric Double” may suggest you hold their beers), but Easter (2006)and Tail Swallower and Dove (2008) have proven to be by far their most listenable as time has gone on. This is 100% the Chris Common effect; his production took a great band and made them sonically unstoppable.
Now, I fully understand that Circle Takes The Square probably can’t go back and completely overhaul As the Roots Undo. But this is, at the end of the day, a post that works in delicious hypotheticals, so dream with me here. I am thinking of a world where CTTS goes back in time, beefs up the guitars, then rebuilds As the Roots Undo around a newly-imagined, sinewy and laser focused rhythm section centered in the mix for maximum visceral impact. The record will never stop being brilliant, but there are moments that feel a little thin and hollow in 2019 that if rounded out would give it that added edge necessary to help guide someone hearing it for the first time down its densely-brambled pathways to the considerable prize that lies on the other side.
Eden: Blind Guardian – Beyond the Red Mirror (2015)
When I first heard that Blind Guardian were going to be releasing a new album, I was weary. Their output in the late 00’s wasn’t incredible, though it definitely had its moments. When I heard that this album was slated to be a conceptual continuation of Imaginations from the Other Side (1995) (one of their best releases) my spirits weren’t lifted much; reboots, long-awaited sequels and their ilk tend to disappoint. But when the first few singles came in I was pleasantly surprised: the writing was inspired, everyone sounded fresh, and I was officially excited for the album. Except for one thing. The production was bad, bordering on terrible.
Throughout the album, the most egregiously offended instrument was the synths. They were buried deep in the mix, at times close to inaudible. Elsewhere, the guitar tones felt flat, all depths scooped out of their bottom. The end result sounded mechanical and brittle, lacking a lot of that shine and flash of the unique Blind Guardian sound. Hansi Kürsch, signature vocalist and one of the main reasons behind the band’s success, sounded passing at best, though here too the high notes lacked clarity and definition.
It’s a mystery how this came to be, as the man behind the production was none other than Charlie Bauerfeind, who had worked on the band’s most iconic albums alongside other famous bands like Gamma Ray, Helloween, and more. Perhaps it was a time constraint which prevented the quality of product we usually come to expect from him? Perhaps something the band demanded threw a wrench into the works? Perhaps it was just a new approach which didn’t pan out. Regardless, Beyond the Red Mirror is one of Blind Guardian’s more accomplished works in their latter era and thus deserves a better production job than it got.
That’s it for us, but we want to know: Which album would you like to see remastered or re-recorded? Let us know in the comments, and if you have any questions or topics you’d like the Heavy Blog crew to cover, suggest away and we may use it in a future installment!