We’re just the tip into 2023 and everything is already better, right? That’s how this shit is supposed to work, with the start of a brand new year and the passing of the old?

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Yeah, nope.

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I lamented my dislike of the start of January last year in this very space, so I’ll skip the cynicism this year, which means I’ve already completed my New Years Resolution™ and thus can fall back into whatever bad habits I’ve had the last few decades. But the whole “new year, new you” cliche’ did get me to thinking, or at least something that passes for thought, especially about bands that either reformed or re-recorded old material. So this seems like something I can beat to death for a column or two until we’re in February and I talk about different song pairings to sex acts for Valentine's Day.

There’s plenty of reasons why artists go back and re-record old works and just as many reasons not to. As listeners we don’t hear music the way the musicians hear their own. We don’t hear the imperfections (for the most part) or the nuances that should or should not be there. Or the musicians now have greater access to better equipment or are better musicians than when they first recorded. Or they’re lazy and/or looking for an easy cash grab (see also: covers records). But for someone to redo a full record, regardless of the reason, is walking a fucking tightrope. If properly (rarely) done you then have two records of these songs that compliment each other and exist as their own individual things. When done poorly it can leave a shitted-in toilet’s taste in your mouth and can even mar your opinion of the original.

I’ve already talked a bit about Old Forest and Svartsyn’s re-recordings of old albums being great examples of bands doing this right, with their re-recordings matching the excellence of the originals while adding something unique and special to the songs. There also isn’t a lot of debate about either. But a record I did want to examine is Gorgoroth’s 2011 re-recording of their seminal Under the Sign of Hell, which I’ve learned is a pretty sensitive subject.

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Back in September I wrote about my growing obsession with Pentagram while not really having a strong opinion on Under the Sign of Hell outside of remembering taking it in as a sound reference for Krieg in the late 90s. I’ve since gone back and revisited it and finally remembered why I dug the record twenty years ago. It’s an aggressively raw record which hides layers of excellent riffs and ghostly production tricks. It was my true stepping off point with the band as I found Destroyer to be more aggression for aggression’s sake, lacking what made the earlier work so special. This was commonplace at the time, where bands would sacrifice nuance for bombast. See Marduk for reference.

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I hadn’t paid any attention to Gorgoroth after Incipit Satan because things became too much like a circus for my tastes, which I boil down to memes and King ov Hell, who is basically a living meme now anyway. So I had no idea (until a few months ago) that Pest returned to the band after the lawsuit and reshuffling of personnel, recording the excellent Quantos Possunt Ad Satanitatem Trahunt which signaled (to me) a true return to form. Right after that, for reasons I’m sure I could research if it’d make a difference, they re-recorded Under the Sign of Hell which I could say was “divisive” but I haven’t been able to find anyone who actually likes the fucking thing except myself.

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Most re-recorded albums are done with a “better” production at heart, which amounts generally to a cleaner, more produced sound. It’s difficult to say which version of Under the Sign of Hell sounds shittier as neither would have anything coming close to someone saying they’re “over produced.” The 2011 version is far more stripped down, with a lot of the weird phantom sounds of the original chased away, the biggest instance of this being the track “Postludium” being scrapped. The drums sound like the only parts of the instrument being hit are the fucking racks, like baseball cards stuck in the spokes of a bike. They sound like shit. I love them.

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There is definitely more of a clarity to the songs so that you can actually hear everything that’s going on but it’s recorded with such a raw, aggressive sound that any discussion of the record using “clarity” as a descriptor (like I just did 6 words ago) is misleading.

I don’t want to say that the 2011 is an “improvement” over the original, they both exist in their own space, but Pest’s vocals in 2011 are more confident, more violent and are my favorite performance in the band since Hat’s unmatched vocal assault on Pentagram.

When I posted about the record on social media I was met with voices decrying it as a piece of shit and intonating that I was an asshole for thinking otherwise. Looking deeper into it, the 2011 re-recording has a lot of detractors, which I could understand better if they went into Abyss Studio and redid a bunch of old material with a sterile and clean production ala Destruction, but this is a malicious, nasty record.

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Of course there’s gotta be someone into it since I can’t seem to find the vinyl for less than $50. Because of my enjoyment of this and Quantos Possunt ad Satanitatem Trahunt I became excited for modern Gorgoroth until I found out Pest was given the boot. Their last record Instinctus Bestialis didn’t do very much for me and their new vocalist reminds me more of Nergal, with that death metal-y depth to it. It’s fine, it’s just not for me. But at least there were two more Gorgoroth records for me and that’s more than I expected.

So give Under the Sign of Hell 2011 a listen. Either you’ll find it to be worthwhile on its own or you can join the choir of people who think I’m an asshole but continue reading me anyway in hopes of seeing their own bands in my year end lists. Both of these are fine with me. I’ll be back in two with some more New Years nonsense. See you then.

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