Dark Funeral – The Secrets of the Black Arts 2LP reissue

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.

Quick Facts: 
Artist: Dark Funeral – official webpage
The Secrets of the Black Arts
2LP, black vinyl, reissue, remastered, repress – Discogs Link
Century Media

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…

Up next:
A review of Kvelertak – Nattesferd on white/blue vinyl.

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Review: Emperor -In the Nightside Eclipse 2LP Reissue

This time I’m going to review a reissue of a timeless classic. “In the Nightside Eclipse” is the first studio album of Norwegian black metal pioneers Emperor and one of only four full Albums by the band. By the time Emperor became famous I was completely new to the whole metal music genre and focused on bands which were easier to listen to. So I discovered Emperor the other way round through the releases of their frontman Ihsahn (A review of his new album “Arktis” will be done once the record is released by the way) and working my way through the music of Dark Funeral, Darkthrone, Summoning and Mayhem. I acquired this record at a vinyl fair in Graz, Austria for a bit above used market prices. This release is only the fourth time this album is released on vinyl in over 20 years. The other versions are the original release from 1995, a picture disc and a blue vinyl version of this records. I won’t review the music as this album is already critically acclaimed and considered to be nothing less than a masterpiece.

Quick Facts: 
Artist: Emperor – Official Site (links to Facebook)
Album: In the Nightside Eclipse
Version: 2LP, black vinyl, ltd. reissue  – Discogs Link
Label: Candlelight Records / Reissue by Back on Black
Found at: Vinyl Fair

Reviewing reissues will become a bigger part of this blog in the future as those releases are rather tricky. They are either hit or miss in terms of overall quality and sound. Sometimes they are a big improvement over the original release and sometimes they are plain garbage. Back on Black is apparently no independent label but part of Plastic Head Distribution. Steve Beatty, the founder of both Plastc Head created Back on Black solely for the purpose of reissuing and remastering metal classics. He is also the co-owner of Candlelight records and plays base for the band October File.

Quality and artwork:
What caught my attention almost immediately is the coloring. The cover of this reissue is way darker than the original releases. Due to the darker colors and the increased contrast the cover appears to be more detailed than the original one. The back of the gatefold is close to the original. The layout is the same and just varies in the placement/font of the track list and label information. The cardboard used is thick enough to withstand clumsy handling. Combined with a rather glossy finish it feels rather sticky. I always get the urge to wash my hands after I handled this gatefold. This may be due to me buying the record second-hand but I normally only get this feeling with records way older. The inner gatefold is a beautiful, calm, rural landscape, typically for black metal releases of this era. The lyrics and credits are placed on the bottom of the inner gatefold and blend perfectly with the picture. The sleeves housing the records are plain black paper. Combined with the cardboard of the gatefold this drives me insane. Placing the record sleeves in the gatefold sleeves is a frustrating task, as they get stuck quite often due to the materials rubbing against each other. The records themselves are as perfect as they can be. 180g black vinyl creates a great immersion of quality and compared to releases from other labels there are no flaws whatsoever (well-rounded hole for the spindle, perfectly rounded edges and placement of the sticker).

Sound quality:
On a scale from hit to miss this is clearly a miss. I was really excited to put this record on but in the end I was really disappointed. The music sounds like an amateur live recording, tinny and sometimes even muffled. The rest of the album is a wall of sound. It is save to say, that the original master was not used to create this reissue. I did some research and I strongly suspect that the master from the equally bad 1999 CD-reissue by Century Black was used to create this LP. A comparison between the original release and the 1999 reissue can be found on the stevehoffmann.tv forums. The various other sources like streaming on Spotify, YouTube and Amazon music sound way better. There’s nothing left to say about this atrocious sound quality.

While doing my research, I found a lot of posts complaining about Back on Black releases and even calls to boycott the label. The problem with some of Back on Black’s reissues is, that the original master (or a high quality master) is not available and they decide to release a reissue from a low quality source. I don’t like this one bit and just not doing a reissue might have been the better option but this does not mean all of their releases sound bad. On the contrary, some of them are huge improvements, some of them on par with the original version and some really bad. So if you are going to buy a Back on Black reiusse, make sure to do some research. The comments section on Discogs, the stevehoffmann.tv forums and even the reviews on amazon are helpful in this case. In case of this album, there are only a few options left on vinyl. The original release is rather pricy and if you are not a fan of picture discs (I for instance prefer a gatefold or a single sleeve) your only other options are bootleg or Back on Black reissues. Stay away from this release if you can. I’d recommend buying it on CD if you want a physical copy.

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Review: Nekrogoblikon – Heavy Meta Picture Disc

A “goblin metal” record released via the bands own label, run by “Elliot Box, an immortal wizard lizard who uses magic to make money off of music bands.” As you might have noticed, Nekrogoblikon do not take themselves very seriously. But be not mistaken, they are bloody professionals. I first came across Nekrogoblikon through their already cult-like music video to “No one survies” of the 2011 album Stench. 4.6 million views on youtube speak for themselves. Just for the sake of comparison: Amon Amarth gets way less views on their music videos. To be honest, I lost track of Nekrogoblikon till last month, when they played in the smallest venue in my hometown in front of 50-70 people. And to make it clear, this gig is in the top 10 of all the concerts I visited (including Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Metallica…). Unfortunately the gig was near the end of their european tour and all the vinyl copies of Heavy Meta were already sold out. So much for my plan to get the sleeve signed… Nevertheless, I managed to snag a copy of this album via Discogs as the LP was not available at their european store that time.

Quick Facts: 
Artist: Nekrogoblikon – Facebook page
Album: Heavy Meta
Version: LP, picture disc  – Discogs Link
Label: Mystery Box LLC
Found at: Discogs Marketplace

Reviewing this album took me some time as there was way more to research. First of all, Mystery Box LLC is the bands own label, so it is not possible to gather information about the usual quality as there are no releases on this label. Furthermore, I have not found the album in any of the databases I usually use. So I used a different approach this time. I compared the sound quality of the vinyl record, the digital download (comes with the album), high quality streaming on spotify and normal streaming. I did not use any technical equipment to measure anything, so the sound quality is really subjective this time.

Quality and artwork:
The album comes in a single cardboard sleeve. The cardboard is rather thin compared to other albums. Additionally, my copy has been glued together badly at the top (a bit skewed). The record itself is as perfect as a picture disc can get. Compared to other picture discs I own, the grooves are clearly visible and the record is not that heavy. The feel is definitely right. The record sits in a printed inner sleeve which has about the quality of a better poster. The record was apparently pressed by Pirate Press Czech Republic which is known for their high quality pressings.

The cover artwork is pretty awesome – especially how the band depicted themselves (see the image on the left). The back is just the landscape of the cover continued with track list and some additional information The inner sleeve is the band playing in a lake at sunset, again with a larger goblin prominently featured on the upper half. The large goblin is a recurring image as it is placed on the album cover, the inner sleeve and side A and B of the record. The record is beautiful as you can see in the pictures below.

Sound Quality:
Taylor Larson (Mastering) and Matt Hyde (Mixing) are not names I have heard of in the past. Larson apparently worked with Toothgrinder and Veil of Maya in the past, while Matt Hyde is a member of the band From First to Last. So once again it was not possible for me to deduct anything regarding the sound quality from the names. So it was about time to conduct my own experiment. The setup I used consists of Nubert nujubilee 40 stereo speakers and a Denon PMA-925-R amp for all sources. The vinyl was played on a Dual 1219 turntable, the lossless via my pc connected to the amp, and streaming both via pc and my smart phone (Oneplus One).

I won’t bother you with a report of every single source and just jump to the conclusion. The sound quality on vinyl is great and on par with the lossless downloaded files. I honestly can’t hear any difference here. Spotify high quality streaming was a bit tricky. Using my smart phone as a source the sound was a bit washed up and some instruments hard to identify. When I used my computer as the source the quality improved but did not reach the quality of the vinyl. Standard streaming on Spotify was noticeably worse than any other sources used.

The Music:
Nekrogoblikon classifies their music as goblin metal (duh). It’s a very keyboard heavy mix of melodic death metal with folk elements. Their music has recognition value – if you hear Nekrogoblikon, you know its them! This is a concept album about the band (We need a gimmick!) and thus the name “Heavy Meta” – you should definitely check out the lyrics. Compared to their past releases the album is definitely more accessible in terms of music and although rather short, one of my top 10 releases of 2015. I won’t go into more details as there are plenty of reviews out there, but I’d suggest to just listen to a few tracks on YouTube or any other legal source.

For a self-released vinyl picture disc the quality is great and among the better picture disc releases in my collection. The sound quality is good and on par with the high quality download files. If you’re into Nekrogoblikon’s music I’ll definitely recommend a purchase.

If you manage to see them live, go for it. Their show is amazing, the atmosphere is great and seem to care a lot about their fans.

Thanks for a great show in Graz!

Truly yours, your biggest fan this is.. ah suck it.

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Review: Amon Amarth – Jomsviking 2LP black vinyl

I was pleasantly surprised when I got no notification last week that the vinyl release has been delayed. And I was even more surprised when the records were delivered to me on the actual release date. So I am finally able to write a vinyl review on time and not years after the release of a record. Amon Amarth accompanied me through my teenage years from “Avenger” through “Versus the world” to “With Oden on our Side” and now “Jomsviking”. Although I am a huge fan, there are two major questions which come with this record. Does the international release via Sony change anything? And more importantly – will Amon Amarth deliver in terms of Jomsviking being their first concept album? Let’s find out.

Quick Facts:
Artist: Amon Amarth – website
Album: Jomsviking
Version: 2 LP, black + CD  – Discogs Link
Label: Sony
Found at: Amazon

“Jomsviking” is the thenth album of swedish melodic death metal legends Amon Amarth and their first in nearly three years after “Deceiver of the Gods”. This version is the double LP version (180g) in black. The Vinyl gatefold is advertised with including a pop-up viking boat and the album as CD (in a papersleeve). The vinyl version also includes the bonus track “Vengeance is my Name”. The CD is apparently only part of the european release via Sony.

Quality and artwork:
The gatefold is thicker then the usual double LP releases and that’s a big plus. The thickness comes from the pop out viking ship and the rather thick records which are 180g black vinyl. The aforementioned viking ship is propably the biggest let-down. I don’t know what I expected but this adds nothing to the gatefold. The record itself is perfect, heavy, pitch black, perfectly shaped and no blemishes whatsoever. The quality is simply great.

They have gone all out on the artwork this time with five different artists contributing to the additional artwork. Two artists nearly exclusively worked with other bands before (John Lorenzi – Megadeth, Samwise Didier – Hammerfall) whilte other’s seem to be pretty unknown in the field of album art. You should definitely check out the work of Indonesian Illustrator Adi Kalingga on www.silencer8.com. The impressive cover art was designed by Tom Thiel a german illustrator known for his work on various board games (Labyrinth), video games (The Settlers III) and album art (Amon Amarth, Brainstorm). He is also known for his artwork for the german tabletop RPG “Das Schwarze Auge”).

Sound Quality:
The sound quality is okay but worse than I expected from a Metalblade record (which it still is, despite the Sony release outside of the US). Listening to the album with turned down volume sounds crappy. The sound is washed up when you listen to the album on lower volume. The FDR Rating of the album is mediocre at best and a perfect example for the loudness wars. The differences between high quality spotify streaming and the vinyl version fortunately noticeable. But there are only little audible differences compared to the CD version which comes with the record. The album was produced, recorded and mixed by grammy winning producer (for Opeth – Deliverance) Andy Sneap who worked with legends like Accept, Saxon or Arch Enemy in the past. His mastering is usually near perfect, so I can’t quite put my finger on where the sound issues come from. On higher volume, the record sounds great fortunately.

The Music:
Die hard old Amon Amarth stuff fans might need some time for this album. It’s more melodic and less heavy/brutal than their past releases. Although this should be no surprise considering the direction of the past albums. To answer my intitial question – they did deliver. This is a great concept album with a variety of different styles and tells an interesting story. Only the part of Doro Pesch on the Song “A Dream that cannot be” sounds a bit odd. In my opinion, there could have been better choices for the female vocals but that’s just critique on a very high level. The album gets better and better with each time you listen to it. So if you are undecided to buy, give it a try on Spotify or YouTube first.

While the quality of gatefold, the vinyl record itself and even the added CD is great, the record has surprising flaws in terms of sound quality. Higher volume is needed for the record to sound clear and good. On lower volume it’s really hard to distinguish the different instruments and sometimes even the vocals. I am used to better releases by Metalblade to be honest. I’d still recommend it if you are a vinyl enthusiast. If you are all in on sound quality I’d recommend buying the losless version.

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