Re-issues, it seems, have become big business in recent years with all sorts of deluxe/remastered/bonus DVD packages coming out to tempt fans out of their hard-earned cash. Whether such packages offer value for money is very much down to the individual band and your own desire for the bonus material on offer, particularly when the bonus discs traditionally range from demos that were considered unworthy at the time (a disconcerting practice of publically airing failure that must annoy as many bands as it pleases) to live tracks and b sides and often form more of a grab bag of variable rarities than anything you’re likely to listen to on a regular basis.
There are, of course, exceptions. The Peaceville re-issues of Darkthrone and Isengard recently threw in a bonus disc with a newly recorded commentary which offered great insight into the recording process, while Pearl Jam finally released their long-missed MTV Unpluged performance with ‘Ten’ and now obscure French black metallers Blut Aus Nord have resurfaced with 2001’s ‘the mystical beast of rebellion’ and raised the bar by recording a companion piece to the album that takes the atmosphere of the original recording and twists it into new shapes and atmospheres.
For those of you who already have this excellent release you need read no further – you already know how good this album is and can skip to Disc 2. For those of you who are, as yet uninitiated then read on! ‘The mystical beast of rebellion’ is a sprawling, six track, forty-six minute journey through brutally fast, hypnotic black metal, progressive elements and epic songwriting. Split into six, mostly lengthy, ‘chapters’ the music is harrowing yet filled with unexpected elements, most of which only reveal themselves upon repeated listens. ‘Chapter I’ thus opens the album with what is superficially a straight-forward ride through traditional black metal pastures except after a few listens certain elements make themselves known that already take this album out of the ordinary and into the realm of the special; guitars bend too far out of tune, riffs coalesce and fragment under the white hot blast of the drums and jarring sound effects, hidden low in the mix occasionally appear adding subtlety and texture to an already interesting track. ‘Chapter II’ begins after a brief period of quiet and the guitars appear to mimic the howling winds that rage inside the most glacial of black metal tracks while the vocals are seemingly torn from the wretched depths of the soul itself. The track mimics the raging forces of nature to such a degree that it’s easy to imagine the temperature in the room in which you’re listening to the music drop by several degrees as the music howls and screams around you. ‘Chapter III’ serves as a development of this sound – the harnessing of nature to a pure black metal template and it is even more claustrophobic and glacial than its forebear. The shortest track here it suddenly abates into the darker, quieter place that is ‘chapter IV’ which builds upon a similar guitar sound but which sees more dynamic range as the track ebbs and flows through its 7 minute run time. ‘Chapter V’ slows down to a crawl (a sound reflected in the bonus disc) with churning sludge riffs replacing the maelstrom of the first four chapters and unsettling sound effects lurking beneath the menacing mix. It’s a mesmerising, terrifying track that slows as it progresses, yet never sees interest levels dip thanks to the masterly use of instrumentation and atmosphere. The final track of the original album, ‘chapter VI’ sees the speed return along with a further development of the central riff that runs through the tracks while the vocals reach a fever-pitch intensity that is almost hard to bear. It’s a savage and unhinged ending to an album that pushes the boundaries of extremity to new levels and yet the overall effect is that of being subtly ensnared as a spider builds its web about you. It’s as if the only option is to succumb utterly to the inky blackness offered within the music or be lost to the raging hurricane that abounds – like staring at an Escher drawing, the music is hypnotic, inspiring, calming and invigorating and you don’t want to tear yourself away until you have gleaned understanding as to what it is you are witnessing. It is a masterly release indeed and if you have not yet heard it then purchase is nigh on essential.
With disc 1 having brutalised you with its warped speed and unrecognisable vocals, disc 2 slows the whole process down. Gone are the light speed drums and razor sharp riffs and in their place are riffs carved from pure obsidian. Disdaining speed Blut Aus Nord have discovered a new power in their music and with this they mine a purer strain of black, doom laden and oppressive and, to my mind they actually better the original content. With only three tracks on offer, the disc still clocks in at a mighty thirty minutes (bear in mind the original six track album lasts only for about forty minutes) as each of the new chapters stretch endurance to breaking point with their suffocating, hate-filled atmosphere. With each track labelled ‘Chapter 7’ to underscore continuity from disc 1, the new material has been well recorded to blend with the original tracks while the sound is more early Paradise Lost (think ‘Gothic’) with shimmering leads occasionally breaking out of the grim, discordant murk. ‘Chapter 7.7’ is a case in point. At eight minutes, the track has plenty of room to breathe with huge discordant riffs swelling to fill the space left by the earlier, faster arrangements. The lead playing is not overly technical but it is fluid and augments the track beautifully offering up whole new side to Blut Aus Nord’s blackened style. As a companion piece it is utterly magnificent, recalling the atmosphere of the original but offering up a twisted new interpretation that is equally hypnotic and addictive. ‘Chapter 7.77’ arrives so rapidly on the heels of 7.1 that you’d be forgiven for thinking it is a continuation of the same track if you didn’t have the display in front of you and, indeed, like the first record much of the sound here is a continuation and development of the first track with the sound stretching and developing in ways that listeners to disc one may never have imagined when this fine release originally appeared ten years ago. Slow, heavy as hell, it takes a full three and a half minutes before drums or vocals even appear, yet such is the power of the riffs being deployed that on the first few listens you don’t even notice their absence. Like a classical composition, the tracks have been carefully crafted so that the music throbs and pulses, never specifically ending at the end of a given track number but flowing across the whole CD in movements, each building upon the last. It is an impressive feat of imagination practiced upon a grand scale and an exquisite reason as to why you should purchase an album that may already be in your collection. The final track ‘chapter 7.777’ – a monolithic, twenty minute beast, rises out of the progressive close of its predecessor with a huge droning riff that bleeds out of the speakers phasing in and out of what might traditionally be called tune but actually sounding utterly immense. Progressive, but also arty the closest reference point might be a progressive rock band playing Sonic Youth covers in the style of My dying bride… if you can imagine such a thing. A multi faceted, utterly original piece of music that is clad in inky blackness and gothic grandeur it is a remarkable, fascinating, draining trawl through one man’s heart of darkness and like Conrad’s iconic novel it is an epic journey that can open up new areas of perception and interest.
A lot of thought and effort has gone into this stunning reissue. With liner notes explaining clearly the motivation behind the reissue, a rather sturdy and attractive digi-pack housing the two discs and a second disc that not only compliments but also betters the original content, this has to be one of the best value reissues to appear ever. Not so much a reappraisal as a chance to witness a more rounded, complete work, with its additional chapters ‘the mystical beast of rebellion’ now feels complete whereas before, despite the excellent nature of the first disc, it was arguably left wanting. The forty minute coda that makes up the second disc draws a fitting close to the more youthful rumble of its forbear and adds an element of mystic, magical grandeur that offers a more involving listening experience. Filled with subtle nuances and a real sense of atmosphere this is a work of extraordinary confidence and skill and demands your attention if you consider yourself a fan of extreme metal. Absolutely groundbreaking.