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Under The Sign of Hell. Ah, hearing that title always brings an evil, icy chill over my heart. And I mean that in the best way possible. It is my favourite Gorgoroth album and one of my favourite black metal albums overall. But now that feeling has been tainted. Infernus, for some insane reason, decided it was a good idea to go back and re-record this classic, and boy did they fuck it up.
When I first heard the news that Gorgoroth would be re-recording UTSOH, I was cautiously optimistic. Curious even. Sure, I didn’t expect the re-recording to top the original, nor did I expect it to be awful. I expected an album that would be cool to check out and maybe buy if I found a cheap used copy. What we have ended up with is something that even if I got it for free I would feel ripped off.
The easiest way to sum up this disaster is to say that Infernus has pulled a George Lucas. Like crazy old George, Infernus has gone back and taken something many people hold dear to their hearts and raped it. With computers.
What neither Lucas nor Infernus seem to realize is that it’s not simply having the slickest looking or sounding product that makes a classic. A classic is a classic because of so much more. Sure, some of the effects in the original Star War trilogy look dated now, and the production on the original UTSOH is far from the sterile, modern studio production that features on so many albums these days. But what made these works great was their charm. The original Star Wars is full of weird and often silly names, places and characters, but through all that we still connect with the characters and their struggle. With the original UTSOH, it was not that the musicianship and the production were perfect that made it great. In fact, it was very far from being polished and professional. Really it’s a demo quality recording with a similar level of musicianship, but it’s the strength of the songwriting and the overall atmosphere that made it great.
In fact, the raw production and loose playing make the album better. Both combine to give the album a feeling that it simply had to be made. This is not something done for profit and fame. It feels more like the musicians are so possessed by darkness and cold that they just had to express it as aggressively and brutally as possible. The re-recording, with its pristine playing and production, loses this. It’s just sterile. You don’t get any impression of how the musicians feel. There is no frantic and uncontrolled barbarity like in the original. To go back to the Star War anthology and take all the changes Lucas made to the original Trilogy. Yeah, now we see more of Cloud City and Mos Eisley. But does it make the movies better? Fuck no. During the chase to rescue the recently-frozen-in-carbonite Han Solo, we didn’t originally see windows in the background with wide views of buildings and clouds. But we didn’t need to. The audience isn’t paying attention to the distant cityscape because it has no bearing on the plot. What matters is the drama and action of the chase. With the original UTSOH, you couldn’t hear all the instruments perfectly and distinctly, but you don’t need to. What matters is how everything comes together and the atmosphere that is created. That is what the band seems to not realize with this re-recording.
The awful (in a bad way) production is most prevalent with the drums. It sounds like Lars Ulrich mixed them for Satan’s sake. I don’t know what the fuck they were going for, but these drums simply sound like shit. They are certainly not incredibly raw like on the original, but they are not completely triggered (a la Hellhammer) either. It’s like they tried to set up a bunch of trigger and mics without knowing what the fuck they were doing and just went with it.
The guitars on the album simply sound generic. Gone is the icy and blistering sound of Infernus’ guitar on the early Gorgoroth albums, replaced by a tone that could have come off hundreds of albums of the past decade.
Pest is probably the best thing on this, and even then he doesn’t sound great. His performance just sounds so phoned in. This is most prevalent on Profetens Apenbaring. His clean vocals just sound so uninspired, like he just quickly stopped by the studio, did it in one take, and then left without giving two shits how it sounded. On the original recording of this song he sounded so passionate and insane. Here he just sounds like he is killing time till in between church burnings…or, more realistically, picking his kids up from daycare.
In short, Gorgoroth dun goofed. Really they should have just worked on new material instead of shitting all over their past. And before anyone accuses me of being an elitist who only likes early '90s BM, I liked “Quantos…”, even though I would have preferred if it had dirtier production. It had some good songs, and at least it still sounded like the band cared. With this re-recording it sounds like they have given up. Infernus used to bullseye womprats back home in his T-16. Now he is just a middle aged man who has lost touch with the essence of black metal. And with the force.