In the past few years, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of artists who are going back and re-recording previously released material. From melodic metal artists like Kiss and Victory, to the speedy Dragonforce, to thrashers like Exodus and Sodom, to the heavier end of the spectrum with acts like Dimmu Borgir, this trend is present in every genre. This month we ask why? Is it necessary, mandatory, a cash grab plain ol’ fun… or somewhere in between? Enjoy!
Let’s assume that ‘remakes’ refers specifically to a band re-recording either full albums or selected songs from their past discography to be released as an entirely ‘new’ full-length album. I’m guessing (hoping?) ‘re-masters’ are beyond the ambit of this question, which is a good thing since there’d be 17-page rants on Ozzy and Megadeth alone. Although you can’t tell me 2005’s ENEMIES OF REALITY post-Sneap was worse than 2003’s…
This is such a fraught and contentious issue of metal that divides fans both on principle and in specifics. Is re-making an album fundamentally permissible, or is it a move worthy of disdain and disregard?
I think this depends on the reasons for the re-make, and to see this coherently we have to get down to specifics. For example, I think that Sodom had a great reason to do THE FINAL SIGN OF EVIL (2007). I didn’t think it was a great album, but the reasons for doing it were, I thought, morally fine. They wanted to re-visit 1984 all over again by re-recording the five songs on their EP, IN THE SIGN OF EVIL, plus another seven original songs that were written at the time for a full-length album but which could not be recorded/released due to budget. To me, this is, in effect, a new album with previously unheard material. They had the songs already! Also, the way they went about it was unusual, which in itself is refreshing. So many bands pretty up re-recordings, but Sodom went entirely the other direction, not only by re-uniting the 1984 line-up – Witchhunter (RIP) and Grave Violator + Angelripper – but by also getting an amateur (their webmaster) to produce the album, thus getting the raw and ‘authentic’ amateur feel. On the band’s own terms, they succeeded in giving fans a glimpse of what a full length IN THE SIGN OF EVIL would have sounded like, and went as far as possible to make it as authentic an experience as possible.
On the other side of the coin is the disgrace and laughing stock that is the former Prince of Evil, Ozzy Osbourne, who re-recorded BLIZZARD OF OZZ and DIARY OF A MADMAN with new members so that he wouldn’t have to pay royalties to the members who had played on the original albums. Lee Kerslake and Bob Daisley sued Ozzy for royalties on the albums they had played on, and Ozzy, instead of paying what was owed, decided to delete Kerslake and Daisley’s contributions, and re-recorded their material with Rob Trujillo and Mike Bordin. The new re-recordings were then marketed as the exclusive and only versions of the albums. Fans were not only pissed off at this disgusting outright cheating of some decent talented musicians, but complained that the re-recordings sounded nothing like the originals. There’s only one four-letter word that can describe Ozzy these days and that begins with a C and ends with a T. Let’s not even talk about Sharon.
Isolated examples like Mercyful Fate re-recording ‘Evil’ and ‘Curse of the Pharaohs’ for Guitar Hero are to me harmless, because (1) it’s not an album or official release and (2) they couldn’t find the original master tracks. It’s not a sin.
Ditto for bands who genuinely feel that their older material is not done justice by its production or by its performance by members not up to par. Schmier from Destruction, when asked by Metal-Mayhem UK what THRASH ANTHEMS had that the older stuff lacked, replied: “Playing skills, tightness and an up-to-date sound.” The problem with this is that it’s hard to evaluate how genuine a band is. Why release a whole album of re-recordings when you could tack it on to the end of a bona fide release as bonus material, like what Suffocation have been doing? If they are genuinely unhappy with the recording of selected older songs, they re-visit them in a more ethical way. But the way other bands do it, at best, could be seen as a drying up of creative ideas; at worst, it’s a money-making exercise playing on the affection of fans!
Some bands claim that it is the fans themselves who ask for re-workings of classic material. Take Arch Enemy’s recent compilation of re-recorded songs from their first three albums. Here’s what Michael Amott had to say to Ultimate-Guitar about why they did THE ROOT OF ALL EVIL: “Re-recording those tracks was a request from our fans, basically. Our fans kept leaving messages on our websites, saying they’d love to hear Arch Enemy’s current lineup playing and performing some of those old songs.” Schmier told Metal Team UK “The kids liked the (old) songs and the fans had been demanding it for a while”. Fair enough I guess, although I really don’t think much of either THRASH ANTHEMS of THE ROOT OF ALL EVIL. Also, I’m a bit sceptical that metal fans, with their notorious tendencies towards hide-bound and nostalgic ‘back in the day’-ness would demand this, but whatever…
Some bands want to bed in new members and get them accepted by fans as a part of the band. I think that’s some Jon Schaffer (CEO, MD, Grand High Master) internal policy, to get new or returned members to do re-recordings of old stuff. They’re hit-and-miss in that department: DAYS OF PURGATORY and Matt Barlow was a definite improvement over John Greely, but it’s almost as if poor Tim Owens is going to be systematically expunged from Iced Earth history with I WALK AMONG YOU becoming, I reckon, the first of quite a few re-recordings in the future. Arch Enemy may not have had the specific intention of papering over Johan Liiva’s contribution to its history, but, in the fans’ eyes, Angela Gossow is firmly cemented as the face of Arch Enemy for some time to come (and while on the topic, she does a terrible job on the new album).
But I guess what really bugs fans the most is a band fucking around with a well-loved part of the band’s history. I don’t suppose too many people were that fussed when Testament announced FIRST STRIKE STILL DEADLY, but the vitriolic outcry over Exodus’ LET THERE BE BLOOD was frightening. And I’m in complete agreement. BONDED BY BLOOD is undeniably and irrevocably a classic. It stands as a historical document not only of what one of the best thrash bands of all time were all about, but also of a particular mood and a special sound that exemplified and typified 80s metal to so many people. I’ve already mentioned metalheads’ especial and curious tendencies towards nostalgia, but re-working BONDED BY BLOOD is akin to heresy. Why mess with fucking perfection? How can you hope to re-capture the mood, the energy, the rawness, the rage, the youthfulness of that moment? Why would you let Rob Dukes replace, yes, replace Paul Baloff? With LET THERE BE BLOOD, not only were Exodus subliminally telling fans that they were all idiots to invest so much emotion into the original, but they were also reminding fans of (a) what it used to mean to be a fan of thrash and of Exodus and (b) what Exodus had become. It is a reminder of the passage of time, and of the deterioration of values, and of growing old, and of death. Paul Baloff RIP, incidentally.
Gary Holt told About.com the reasons for doing it: “we always thought how cool it would be to give the album the benefits of modern technology…If you listen to the re-recording they sound as up to date and current as anything anybody is putting out there now. That’s a testament to how great the songs are.” No shit, Einstein. The songs are awesome. But saying they need the benefit of modern technology is like wanting to stick your 80-year-old grandma in a corset, thongs and fuck-me heels and asking her to relive her glory days as a pole-dancer.
In summary, I have no objections against remakes and re-recordings in principle, it’s just that I’ve been unable to find a decent reason for their existence. Only the bands themselves can tell us why they do it. For fans, I cannot think of a single remake that has reached the beloved status of the original material. For all their perceived ‘flaws’, the original material are just more than musical notes and sound waves carved on CD or cassette or vinyl; they represent memories; they contain the past. They should remain there.
In the past few years there has been a massive increase in the number of Metal artists who are going back and rerecording material from their past. While in the grand scheme of things, the number of artists who have revisited their past is very small, the trend is noticeable with several dozen appearing in the past few years.
There are many reasons why an artist may choose to re-record old material. Some artists such as Ozzy do it for, at best financial gain, or at worst, out of spite to cut certain artists out of royalties. Some use it as a way to get out of contract without having to provide new material to a former record label. Some artists do it to feature a new member, for example the Victory remake album, Fuel to The Fire from 2002. Many artists claim to want to take advantage of modern recording production technology, such as Sodom and Saxon. Some even do it for the hell of it, namely for fun, to revisit songs they may have written 20 years ago.
The reaction to these types of releases range from, largely indifference to in some cases outrage. In this authors experience there are very few remake albums that have received wide-spread praise as being superior to the original material.
As with most albums, the validity is determined by the listener on a case-by-case basis and largely influenced by the relationship the listener/fan had with the original material. Some people think it is horrible to redo certain beloved classic albums, I heard that a lot with the recent Exodus remake. Some think it is great to revisit old songs. There is seldom fan consensus in execution, delivery and appreciation of these records.
For the record, regardless of motive behind the remake, and regardless of my opinion of the band and/or the original material, I really enjoy hearing these remake albums. I don’t really care what the bands motive is, I just want to hear the songs even if it is done to spite someone else. I have many remake albums in my collection and always enjoy them. For example the Saxon remake, Heavy Metal Thunder is a great example. My old Saxon cassettes (!) are worn pretty thin so to hear the new band, firing on all cylinders with crunchy modern production is a real thrill.
To me it is a very interesting exercise to listen to these records and compare the new sound, the new arrangements and in the case of new members, the new performance on the album. I enjoying comparing songs on a song by song basis. I always ask myself, “Why did they choose to redo this song compared to that song?” “How does Singer X sound compared to Singer Y?” “How does it sound compared to 10 or 20 years ago?” Sometimes there are liner notes which help in the analysis of the remake and it’s always fun to read the motivations behind the decision to redo older songs. An excellent example of such an essay can be found in the remake of Dimmu Borgir’s remake of Stormblast.
Sometimes the songs are improved, sometimes not, sometimes there is no discernable difference. Sometimes the package is given care and attention, sometimes not. These are the little things that make a compare and contrast exercise enjoyable. Overall I’d rather have these additional gems in my collection than not have them and I’ve still always have the original versions to enjoy as well.
Honestly, I’m tired of hearing about bands aping their legacy in general, whether it’s re-recording old tunes or performing an entire "classic" album in concert. If you have nothing current to offer the fans and all you can do is use your back catalog as a safety net, then you seriously need to question your motives for continuing on as a band.
I’m over the excuse that "the poor production values on the old songs really didn’t show how powerful blah, blah, blah…" I call shenanigans on that one, because an album is more than just a collection of songs – it’s the entire context surrounding it. The packaging, the production, the artwork, where the band was at mentally when they wrote the album, the moment in time that you picked the album up – it’s all of those things that create the listening experience and what makes certain albums so important to us as fans. If you strip away all of the surrounding context with the intent to just jazz up the songs, you lose something in the translation.
Case in point: Dimmu Borgir re-recording STORMBLAST. The original version was just fine. The rough production and packaging made the whole thing that much more ‘evil’ to a legion of eager black metal fans and helped build the street cred that they’d eventually have the opportunity to ruin. If Dimmu had sounded this clean on the original release (both in production and performance), they likely would have taken a ton of flack and looked like a bunch of namby pamby school boys when compared to trailblazing albums like DEATHCRUSH or A BLAZE IN THE NORTHERN SKY. Why not break out the original master tapes, clean them up, work out new distribution and re-release the original with some added goodies from the era?
Regardless of the motivation, whenever a band decides to re-record old material with a new lineup, there’s a 50/50 chance that you’re going to piss off your fan base, or at the very least leave them scratching their heads. Anthrax, Testament and Exodus have all released albums of re-recorded classic material, which left some fans wondering, “why?” Okay, so Anthrax did it as a fan record and to show some love to John Bush and the Testament disc had “stop gap” written all over it. But Exodus’ LET THERE BE BLOOD has probably touched the most nerves within the metal community. As good as the current Exodus lineup is (Lee Altus joining the band was the best decision Gary Holt could have made), the re-recording of one of thrash metal’s cornerstone albums left many with a WTF taste in their mouth. As good as these albums may be on their own merits, it’s really a no-win situation.
And then there’s re-recording tunes to circumvent legalities, one of the most blatant being Mr. Ozzy Osbourne. In an effort to stop paying royalties to Bob Daisley and Lee Kerslake, he simply had Robert Trujillo and Mike Bordin record over their parts on BLIZZARD OF OZZ. Never mind that Daisley and Kerslake were principal songwriters on the album, business is business and the Osbournes are greedy. Then make the new version of the album the only one available for purchase, and viola, nobody’s the wiser. Except anybody who’s ever heard the original Jet Records version of BLIZZARD. Then, you might feel like you’re getting screwed.
So what’s a fan to do? Are the bands out of touch for continuing the practice or are the fans to blame for continuing to eat this stuff up? Either way, it’s a trend that’s not likely to go away.
To put it bluntly, remake albums are a waste of time, a waste of your money, and offers nothing new other than a curiosity factor of the wouldn’t it be cool to hear:
- their new vocalist tackle the older material
- the new line-up do these songs
- the old songs with better production
While this is a mild curiosity, for me it’s a waste of the band’s time and energy. You can hear what the singer or new line-up is like by seeing the band live or by picking up a live concert video. As for the old production being “shit” or not up to modern (everything louder than everything else) standards, then for most, the original package and sound is what we like (or maybe we don’t and would rather the past left in the past)! I’m ok with slight re-mastering/re-mixing…but not blasphemous re-recording of a person’s parts (a la the Ozzy fiasco).
The main album which I think worked was not a full remade album, but a bunch of remade songs with the new singer. That album is DAYS OF PURGATORY from 1997 and is the first album I really got into from Iced Earth. However, I am not in the least interested in hearing the planned re-recording of 2007′s FRAMING ARMAGEDDON with Barlow on vocals. Tim Owens was great in Iced Earth, he’s not Barlow, but he’s not something that needs to be wiped from existence! The vocals previous to Matt Barlow were in a word – amateur.
Other waste of time remakes include:
Edguy’s THE SAVAGE POETRY from 2000. It was originally released in 1995 as a demo. If the demo was so bad, why not re-mix/master? Don’t have the originals? – Then well really it wasn’t that great anyway as the band moved onto much better things, so who cares?! Maybe the band does…hmmm, it’s their decision, so whatever floats their boat, but I’m not buying it.
Exodus – LET THERE BE BLOOD. Many herald BONDED BY BLOOD as the best thrash album of all time. You don’t fuck with that…period. Sadly they did.