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A band re-recording an old album or even just some of its classic songs is an issue that seems to divide many music fans. Most purists think that the original version of a song is the definitive version, and in most cases that tends to be true. Nevertheless, from time-to-time metal bands release these re-recordings whether it be a way of fulfilling a contractual obligation, improving upon the original production quality, or just doing it for the hell of it. Amorphis has recently joined the ranks of these bands with the release of Magic and Mayhem: Tales From the Early Years. The band has re-recorded tracks from its first three albums in celebration of its twenty year anniversary as a group. The necessity of re-recording these classics could be debated. (Perhaps re-recording is the only way Nuclear Blast could use studio versions of these songs to make a sort of "greatest hits" collection since the original versions were released by Relapse?) Whatever the case, let's take a look at what Magic and Mayhem has to offer.
Magic and Mayhem presents the listener with a decent overview of Amorphis' early days and covers most of the band's well-known concert favorites along with a few deeper album cuts. One of the oldest tracks, "Vulgar Necrolatry" originally dates back to the demo of the pre-Amorphis band, Abhorrence. The song then appeared later on an Amorphis seven inch and eventually as a bonus track on The Karelian Isthmus. Two other Karelian Isthmus tracks also get the update treatment ("Sign From The North Side" and "The Exile of the Sons of Uisliu"). The Tales From The Thousand Lakes era receives the most attention with a whopping six songs. Amorphis has chosen to re-record half of the Tales album for Magic and Mayhem, plus a cover song from this era of its career as a bonus track. Unfortunately this cover is of The Doors' "Light My Fire" which originally appeared on Amorphis' Black Winter Day EP. It was a bad idea in 1995, and it's still a bad idea today. Elegy, perhaps the album that is least in need of a sonic makeover, is represented by four tracks including the classics "Against Widows" and "My Kantele."
Unfortunately, there's not much use for any of the Magic and Mayhem re-recordings because they just aren't that different from the original versions. The sound is very full and thick, but the original production on all three original albums was already pretty solid. The main draw is hearing "new" vocalist Tomi Joutsen use his great set of pipes on these classic tunes, but most of us have already heard him sing the bulk of these songs live. Fanboys like myself will enjoy listening for the subtle differences in each song (a new keyboard sound here, a slight change in an arrangement there) and maybe some newbies will be able to benefit from Magic and Mayhem as a sort of introductory disc to Amorphis. Nevertheless, the old fans should really just stick with the original albums, and people who are new to early Amorphis should just buy Elegy and then work their way backward through the catalog. If you've seen or heard Amorphis live in recent years, you already know what Magic and Mayhem is going to sound like. There are subtle changes to the songs, and there is a newer vocalist out front, but that's about it. Well, at least it will make for a good Amorphis compilation when I go on road trips.
Originally written for http://www.metalpsalter.com