The Defilement and Ruination of Metal Classics

“I sure wish all my favorite bands would go back and re-record their early albums,” said no metal fan ever.

I was driving home yesterday evening listening to the 80s thrash metal classic “Bonded by Blood” from Exodus. As I was listening to the album I was thinking how of all the bands in, what I like to refer to as “The Big Seven”, (that’s the big four, Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax and Slayer, along with Testament, Exodus and Overkill) “Bonded by Blood” is the debut album that I like the best.

I like the debut albums from all of these bands, but honestly, most of these bands hit their stride by their second or third album. For me, my favorite Exodus album will always be their first. I really love the Zetro albums, and I think Zetro is a much better singer than Paul Baloff (R.I.P.), but the raw intensity and generally more awesome songs on “Bonded by Blood” make it my favorite.

Whenever I think about Exodus I eventually come around to Rob Dukes. No offense to Rob, he’s a great and talented singer, but just like with John Bush and Anthrax, it just isn’t the same. And that’s cool, the stuff Exodus does now is good metal, it just doesn’t feel like Exodus to me.

But that isn’t my complaint today. Last night while driving home my brain took me down another path. “Bonded by Blood” led me to thinking about “Let There Be Blood.” That’s when things got ugly.

There is an emerging (and disturbing) trend in metal lately where established bands with classic albums are going into the studio and re-recording one or more of their early albums. Let me just be very clear right now: THIS IS A HORRIBLE IDEA.

So let me get this straight; you want me to go out and buy a new album, full of songs I already own and love, that have been re-recorded to sound mostly like the originals, but not quite? Were you dropped on your head as a child? Are you only now suffering the consequences of all the drugs you took in the 80s?

Bands will re-record an old album under the premise of improving the sound quality. “Oh, in the 80s we were limited by the technology of the time, but now we can make the album sound like we really wanted it to by recording it again with the latest technology.” What these bands don’t seem to understand is that we fell in love with those albums despite any perceived shortcomings the band may have felt they were burdened with while recording. Hearing these bands re-record their classic albums just comes across like a bad covers album. Even if they do a really good job with the re-recording (and let’s be honest, none of these bands are producing better material now than they were then) the little nuances we have memorized and come to expect from these songs are no longer there. For me, that just makes things weird and uncomfortable.

Exodus re-recording “Bonded by Blood”, particularly with a different singer, is not only insulting, but it dishonors the memory of Paul Baloff. Twisted Sister re-recorded “Stay Hungry” and called it “Still Hungry.” I lost my appetite.

This week we saw two re-recorded albums released. The first was Flotsam & Jetsam’s “No Place For Disgrace 2014.” I love the original album, but I don’t really need a re-recorded version of it.

The second album this week, and the much bigger transgression, I feel, is Manowar’s “Kings of Metal MMXIV.” Why is this worse than the Flotsam? I’ll tell you why, because this is not Manowar’s first offense. In 2010, Manowar also released a re-recorded version of “Battle Hymns.” What’s on the calendar for 2016, a “Fighting the World” re-recording?

I have loved Manowar for decades, but lately, it’s been getting harder and harder to stomach these guys. Manowar re-recording these albums (and most of the other bands that do the same) just feels like a cash-grab that tarnishes both the band’s reputation and that of the original work. This just hasn’t been Manowar’s week, considering all the flack they are taking over the debacle of the cancelled Detroit show.

How would people feel if Metallica decided to re-record “Master of Puppets” or Slayer re-recorded “Reign in Blood?” I simply cannot imagine that would go over well.

Are there any instances where re-recording an album is actually warranted? Yes, actually. Iced Earth released “Days of Purgatory” where they re-recorded some early songs with Matt Barlow. Being that Matt Barlow was the band’s defining singer, it was cool to hear tracks like “Angel’s Holocaust” with the Barlow treatment (though the Greely versions still stand up well, in my opinion.) Despite my love of Stu Block, I wasn’t ok with Iced Earth re-recording the Barlow classic “Dante’s Inferno.” It just wasn’t necessary and seems like Jon trying to lash out and insult Matt.

If Anthrax went back and re-recorded “Fistful of Metal” with Joey Belladonna, I might get behind that, because again, Joey is the band’s defining vocalist (and I never much liked the first album.) However, despite my love for Bruce Dickinson, and how he certainly defines the Iron Maiden sound, I would not want him to go back and re-record the first two Maiden albums. I can get enough of Bruce singing these songs on the live albums.

Bruce Dickinson and “Running Free” off “Live After Death” is one huge reason why I don’t support these re-recordings. While I might wonder how certain songs would sound recorded in a modern production environment, or with a different singer, I can generally satisfy that need with a live album. While I’m not actually a huge fan of live albums, there are instances where I enjoy them. Bruce Dickinson singing Paul Di’Anno songs is one of those situations. Ronnie James Dio singing “Iron Man” is another.

If Manowar went on the road and performed the entire “Kings of Metal” album live, and recorded and released that, I would probably buy that. That would pay tribute to the classic material and give us something we don’t already have – a live version of the album. Playing whole classic albums live is another trend in metal these days, so it doesn’t seem like this would be a stretch to pull off. Give me value, not something I already have, repackaged slightly different (this brings up a whole different matter – remixes and remasters, which for the record I am fine with.) If all these bands want to do is make some quick cash, put out a Best Of album and call it a day. I’d respect that more.