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For us? For you? - 68%

gasmask_colostomy, December 20th, 2018

I was going to open with the line “Necrodeath are darlings of the Italian extreme metal scene”, but then I considered that relatively few extreme metallers would appreciate being called darlings, so I didn’t. Truth be told, not many bands in Europe generally made a start on genres like black and death metal until after Into the Macabre was released in 1987, so - if not darlings - Necrodeath could be called “the big daddies of extreme stuff” in their local area. (For a band who recently released The Age of Dead Christ, I didn’t think “godfathers” sounded suitable either.) A mention of their age is apt, though, because Old Skull was released as a 25th anniversary present/celebration. I'm never really sure whether these kind of things are supposed to be a gift to the fans or a way for the band to memorialize their time together, something that this "album" doesn't make any clearer. It's an "album" and not just an album, since no original new material is included among the 10 tracks here, which are made up of a newly recorded version of 'Mater Tenebrarum' (which featured on the debut), as well as the oldest recording of the same song - the two versions bookend Old Skull - plus eight cover versions of bands that Necrodeath hold dear.

I'm not sure that we were intended to take Old Skull as a very serious release, but see it more as a fun way to celebrate the anniversary, which anyway beats releasing a "best of" or something else redundant. To be fair to Necrodeath, the recording does cause me to bop my head and grin a bit, so mission accomplished, even if nothing really special demands continued listening. To start with the two versions of 'Mater Tenebrarum': differences exist between the old and new recordings, though I'd call the 2010 song an update more than a total reassessment of Necrodeath's style change over the 25 intervening years. Perhaps the 1985 recording can be seen as the greatest gift to the fans, seeing as this slightly predates both Into the Macabre and the demo The Shining Pentagram, so I guess it was a previously hidden demo or rehearsal recording. Of course, it's mired in grotty sound quality, the drums rattling along at the bottom of the mix, yet the semi-extreme thrash and comprehensive instrumental skills make it listenable, as does the atmosphere generated by the acoustic intro and the tolling bell in the riff that leads to the fast part. According to early band information, it should be Ingo (aka Nicola Ingrassia) on vocals and he sounds great, with a kind of ripping thrash scream close to Mille Petrozza. The updated 'Mater Tenebrarum' obviously deals with all the production defects of the first one, though doesn't alter the main elements of the song, except for removing the section with bells and getting more directly to the thrashing. The feel is thus more modern and - sadly - generic, something that the dips into acoustic atmosphere help to alleviate.

If 'Mater Tenebrarum' feels like forcing the listener to make a choice of classic and modern, the covers create no such stress, thrashing through a set of songs that were all originally written prior to Necrodeath's debut in 1987. Most of them get a faithful once over with some obvious changes in guitar tone and vocal style, which make 'Paranoid' and 'Am I Evil?' hurtle along rather swiftly. In fact, those two are the odd ones out among the choices, which mainly cover proto-extreme bands like Kreator, Bathory, and Venom. Black Sabbath and Diamond Head fit more of a "proto-everything" group, while Motorhead feature (guess which song?) and they could join either class. Due to the fairly obvious choices, I wonder whether the record company had any say in the selection process, but this might not have been so much fun if we were forced to listen to Necrodeath covering Diamond Head b-sides or something similar. Either way, you shouldn't think of Old Skull as a serious album, but as a nice bonus release that can help everyone (band and fans) to relax once in a while.