When I visited a vinyl fair a couple of month ago looking for some early Darkthrone material, I came across the “In the Sign” mini album by Dark Funeral which is basically a remastered reissue of their legendary self-titled debut EP. I’ve been hooked on early Dark Funeral ever since and when I found out about the reissue of their debut LP “The Secrets of the Black Arts” I knew I had to get a copy of this album.
With Blackmoon (guitar, vocals on “Satanic Blood”, Lord Ahriman (guitar) and Themgoroth (vocals, bass) “The Secrets of the Black Arts” features three out of four founding members of Dark Funeral along with Equimanthorn on the drums. The latter and founding member Blackmoon left the band shortly after the release of this album. Although not a favorite by critics at the time the album was released, it showed the immense potential by the band. Today “The Secrets of the Black Arts” is considered as an essential release of Swedish Black Metal and Black Metal in general. The version I am going to review is a remixed and remastered version which comes as a double LP in a gatefold. The first LP contains the original album and the second LP the original recording at Unisound Studios.
Quality and artwork:
The cover art was created by Kristian “Necrolord” Wåhlin who also created artworks for At the Gates, Amorphis, Dark Tranquillity, Emperor, King Diamond and Wintersun among others. There are some insignificant changes on this cover compared to the original 1996 release – namely a smaller band logo and the album title being a bit smaller and in plain silver letters instead of having a silver/black pattern. The back of the gatefold has changed significantly though. The band photos are not those featured on the back of the 1996 release but those from the inside of the original gatefold. The full-page lilac logo vanished and was replaced by a smaller logo on the top with the track list below. With the addition of the original mix by Dan Swanö the track list is longer and the appeal “Support the war against christianity” is no longer there. The inner gatefold contains the lyrics on the left side and a close-up of the church/monastery featured on the inside of the original gatefold and a simple obituary for David “Blackmoon” Parland. Also included in this release is a photo inlay with photographs from early concerts and a big poster of the cover artwork.
The gatefold is really high quality made out of thick cardboard. Furthermore, the fold on the inside – my main problem with many releases – is great as it is sealed with no air trapped inside. This makes is practically impossible for the record sleeves and/or the poster/photo inlay to get stuck and thus damaged. The whole gatefold has a glossy finish. The gatefold is therefore prone to fingerprints and makes this annoying squeaking noise when rubbing against it. I’d prefer a mat finish but that’s just a complaint on a very high level.
The records are stored in just plain black paper sleeves and are 180g black vinyl. The quality is good as there are no frayed edges anywhere, just a very tiny cut on the side of the second LP which may have been caused by transport. After some criticism on Reddit, I am going to try to further review the quality of the LP pressing beyond my usual standard phrases. This includes testing if the LP is off-center. For this purpose I measured the LP by hand as taking a picture and measuring digitally is a bit tricky when you can’t manage to align the pic perfectly. To not damage the record while measuring, I pressed a transparent sheet with a crosshair on the record, aligned the spindle-hole and marked where the groove lines begin on eight points and where the most outer edges of the LPs are. Thanks to the transparent sheet I can reuse this tool as I can wipe off the markings each time. So what does that mean for this record? Side A is slightly off-center to the disk periphery with 0.2 mm, which is within the margin of the ICE Standards. The eccentricity to the groove spiral is not affected though. To me there are no audible effects whatsoever. Side B, C and D are perfectly centered.
Sound Quality and Music:
This is going to be tricky as there are basically two version two review. This reissue contains not only the original LP remastered but also the rejected Dan Swanö mix. In an 2001 interview we get the story from Blackmoon himself, that he thought that the mix sounded like crap and thus the band (although he was the only one against it) rejected it. The album was re-recorded and remixed at Peter Tägtren’s Abyss Studios. There are some other “legends” around this release but as the only source is an interview with Blackmoon I am not sure whether they are true or not. So I am not going into detail here.
There are some differences though between the two LPs. While the original mix by Peter Tägtren needs to be played on higher volume, the Swanö mix sounds crisp and clear even on lower volume. Furthermore, there is only little surface noise audible. Please take this with a grain of salt, as I am on my replacement turntable where such problems are not that audible compared to my Dual 1219 which I get back next week (hopefully) from service.
The original Abyss Studios mix has been remastered and remixed and this was a great decision. The guitars sound better, the drums come to the fore and the vocals are less prominent. The album is brutal and evil. To summarize my experience with the Swanö Mix on LP2: “I’m speechless”. It is like listening to a whole new album and remembers me more of early Marduk than Dark Funeral. The sound is way more natural, the vocals are clearer (thus making the difference between the vocals of Themgoroth and Blackmoon way more noticeable), the guitars warmer and the drums more neutral than on the Abyss Studios mix. The whole record sounds like it was made for a vinyl release. The sound quality of both mixes is pretty high with the Swanö mix sounding better though in terms of Full Dynamic Range. It will come down to personal preferences which mix you enjoy most.
This remaster is definitely worth its money for Dark Funeral fans, black metal fans and even people who try to get into this genre. For fans who already own “The Secrets of the Black Arts” the original Unisound Studios mix warrants a purchase. The differences between both mixes are so big, they are essentially two different albums. With that in mind I am really looking forward to review a copy of “Where the Shadows forever reign” very soon…
A review of Kvelertak – Nattesferd on white/blue vinyl.
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