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Old Funeral has the dubious distinction of being the all-but-forgotten band that housed a plethora of famous musicians from Norway’s black metal underground in the early 90’s. Lost in that shuffle is the fact that they were actually a pretty good death metal band with some insane musical inspirations. Were they Swedish caliber? No, not very much. Were they as interesting as some of their Scandinavian brethren? Surely. From the primitive side of things Old Funeral was captivating, to say the least.
What we have here in Our Condolences: 1988 - 1992 is a compilation of the band’s entire history, including demos, EP’s, and live tracks that pretty much showcase the level of the band’s innate prowess with the confines of a primitive art form. If you’re seeking some thick fog of death metal design to loom overhead while you ponder ever sullenly the chunky riffing within, this isn’t the collection for you. However, if you seek a true underground classic along the lines of Fester with a little less structure, then you’ll be happy to entertain Old Funeral.
Yes, Abbath, Varg Vikernes, Demonaz, Jorn Tunsberg, major players in the infamous Norwegian black metal movement, all did stints in this band. You can certainly see the progression as you move through the records. The Fart That Should Not Be demo (Tracks 1-7 on disc one) is a truly exceptional piece of primitive death metal goodness, and it’s honestly much better this time around than when I first heard it many years ago. Maybe the remixing has something to do with it (damn you, multi-gen tape copies!), but all seven tracks are really good, especially “Persecuted By Death”, which is about as insane as anything you might encounter in a dingy, dirty club back in the day. The vocals are muddy, low-fi, screeching issuances that are really a fine fit for the bleak effort within. As I said, you don’t go into an Old Funeral release expecting polished perfection; this is as far from that as I gets, and it’s an accepted imperfection.
Now, the live tracks recorded in Bergen in 1991 are really distorted and rough on the ears for the average listener. I was tape trading for years and heard every single type of horrible recording you can think of, and this bothered even me quite a bit. To the average fan it’s going to be a skipped selection of tracks simply due to it being such a harsh recording. To be honest, while I understand the ardent fan wanting everything available, I’d have left this off as the distortion is just too loud to thoroughly enjoy the music, but it is what it is.
The Abduction of Limbs demo is a welcome exchange as the tempestuousness of the recording is ethereal and hollow-sounding enough to really capture the feel of the era as well as the genre. It’s actually great fun to revisit this recording again after my original cassette wore down to the plastic casing nub. In the grand wasteland of early 90’s underground demos, this one is right up there with the best of them. There are some truly great guitar riffs going on here and some overly decent bass work to boot. The original sound has been “toyed with,” but not to the extent that the recording loses its charm along the way. This is how it should always be handled; more bands need to recognize this so they don’t ruin otherwise classic recordings. Throwing a ton of money at old recordings doesn’t make them better, folks.
Much of the same is evident in the Devoured Carcass EP, which gets the most attention from the minions because Kristian Vikernes played guitars on it. Sadly, such an otherwise irrelevant addition might otherwise go unnoticed if not for his notoriety, but the music is not to be left as secondary circumstance. Admittedly, this EP takes on a more sinister, darker sounding vision within three tracks, which doesn’t necessarily call out the black metal looming just over the horizon as it does the band’s maturity surfacing. The riffs are heavy-as-hell hammers along a cheap fretboard and the drumming keeps a steady backbone throughout. Again, there’s nothing particularly sound in terms of technical brilliance, but simplicity is often the finest form of advancement. I loved this EP when I heard it so many years ago and it sounds as good “cleaned up” as it did on my crusty old phonograph.
“Forced to Be Lost” is a track that was recorded in ’91 and makes its initial appearance here. It’s solid enough, mixed down and unevenly enough to be that much more enjoyable. Also, the version of “Alone Walking” here is as sickening and dark as the black metal roots get during this time period, and you can hear Jorn’s influence all over it, for obvious reasons. As for the last of the live tracks that round out the album, “Devoured Carcass” from Hulen in ’91, it fares much better sonically than its predecessors. The music is clear, the vocals concise, and the bottom end just fluid enough to enjoy it in all of its ancient lunacy.
So, is the Old Funeral collection worth getting? Absolutely. For the fan that loves the long-past era of Norwegian death metal that gets criminally overshadowed by the black metal movement of the period you will undoubtedly enjoy this in all of its shadowy symmetry. While the legendary figures that occupied space in Old Funeral carry more notoriety than the band’s work, a sad instance in itself, this set should introduce the latecomers and fringe fans to something truly special for both posterity and musical enjoyment.
(Originally written for www.metalpsalter.com)