The True Legend
posted on 4/2012 By:
Well, this certainly is a queer thing. Sweden’s Svartsyn has long been an exceedingly peripheral member of the nation’s embarrassment of black metal riches. Despite becoming somewhat transparently enamored of the ‘orthodox’ black metal zeitgeist around the time of 2005’s Bloodline and since, Svartsyn mainman Ornias has run a pretty tight and straight-ruddered ship over the course of six albums. Svartsyn’s debut The True Legend has long been out of print (though yours truly happened across a beat-up copy ages ago and snatched it up for a song), so it’s not outside the realm of typical practice for newish label Agonia to have put together a snazzy reissue of this rare album.
A snazzy reissue, however, is not exactly what you will get with this version of The True Legend. You see, a reissue is one thing, and a complete rerecording another, but this manages to be both and neither. With this 2012 version of The True Legend, through what one can only assume is a laughable chain of ill-conceived decision-making, the listener finds that while the overall sound has been spiffed up from the original master tapes, the vocals and guitars were completely rerecorded. And the first song has been omitted. And the rest of the running order has been slightly reshuffled. And a few of the chuckle-worthy English-as-second-language-isms in the song titles have been corrected. The mind, as they say, boggles.
Originally recorded in 1996, in terms of songwriting, The True Legend overflows with all the classic signifiers of the Bathory-centric second wave blueprint: straight-ahead blastbeating, relentlessly arpeggiating tremolo melodies, raw howling, and a judicious amount of down-shifting into a bloodied Celtic Frost stomp. The initial version of the album was, to put it somewhat mildly, a shitshow of a production job, a bacchanal of muffled and blown-out treble. Thus, with all the studio fuckery on this new version, the songwriting comes into much sharper focus, which would presumably be all for the good except that even given the treble volcano of the original, the songwriting was there, but so was that other all-important attribute: atmosphere.
All of the changes that have been made to “improve” on the sound of the original are for the worse. The drums, which were remastered rather than rerecorded, sound quite awful, radiating a clipped buzz that pervades the cymbal work. The vocals are another jarring change. While on the original they were a distant but forceful wash of middle-to-upper register rasped throat-puking violence, here they are pushed way up front but sound more like a mildly harsh distempered groan than a state of unhinged mania. Plus, using such a large amount of reverb on vocals when they’re pushed way to the fore is much more distracting and ill-fitting than when used on vocals that are already intended to be a distant and alien presence.
But here’s the real kicker: Have you got some asshole friend who’s always saying how he can’t stand black metal because it sounds like hell and you can never hear the bass? Sure you do. (He’s probably a bass player.) Well goddamnit it all to Helvete and back, but on Svartsyn’s classically shitty-sounding original version of The True Legend, the bass was approximately ten times more audible than it is on this sad, limp re-envisioning. And there was some groovy shit going on with the bass, too, so shame on its occlusion. The tremolo work is, as expected, much clearer with the rerecorded guitars, but because the bass was prominent enough on the original, and usually doubled the guitar lines, you could always sense - if not perfectly separate - the guitar’s melodic content from its insanely thin (almost to the point of dissipation) mist.
Here’s the point around which I’ve been dancing: the original album was, despite (and probably because of) its flaws, a really quite awesome thing. Harsh, splashy, reverb-y, speeding-off-the-rails-even-though-already-late-to-the-second-wave-game, shitty, echo-y, gnarly, high-fiving radness. This new version, although ostensibly intended to present the work in a more professional light or to more closely adhere to the band’s original intent, drains it of every last bit of the reckless enthusiasm that was its crucial ingredient. This whole re-whatever aims at a revisionist history, but fails by misunderstanding the reason a few blighted souls out there might still be trying to track it down. The original was charmingly of its time. The update is a grotesque splicing of ill-fitting elements, and thus its shabbily Frankenstein-ed nature cannot but seep through (in a slightly less neatly allegorical but still nicely applicable take on the Prometheus myth). The songs are the same, but they’ve been bled dry; the songs are not the same.
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