This is a difficult one to approach objectively. How does one discuss a record that one has loved so much for so long? When prompted, and often when not, I will cite Esoteric's 'The Pernicious Enigma' as the greatest album in the genre. For the sake of disclosure I also really ought to add that my love of this album, as well as the other earlier Esoteric works, actually led me to be a member of the band for two years – although a full decade on from the original release of the album in question. As the album is such a personal favourite, and the remix was so eagerly anticipated by myself and other old-school Esoteric fans, I wanted to do a feature with interviews from key players (respectively: Esoteric's Greg and Stu, of Aesthetic Death Records), but I was also asked to write a review of the remix. So, whilst I will try to offer a detailed and interesting view of the album, I can't promise that it won't be an uncontrolled gush of fan-boyish glee. You have been warned...
First things first, this is a true remix – something that the general record listening public often seems to understand has taken place when hearing the word 'remaster'. But whilst a remaster is simply a tweak to the dynamics and tone of an existing stereo mix of the album, this is the real deal, a return to the original multi-tracks to alter the sounds and balance of each individual drum, guitar, bass and tripped out vocal track, with the goal of increasing clarity, and bringing to the forefront elements that may have not originally been apparent. When the album was originally mixed, it was always going to be a challenge. Just under 2 hours of music was recorded in a very limited time period, and mixed in a hurry by an engineer who had never heard anything like this – indeed there had never been anything like this! The disappointment with the mix of the original was what drove the band to self-record/mix from this point on, which started with the follow-up 'Metamorphogenesis' and continues to this day, with front-man Greg Chandler operating his own studio, out of which have come many classic Doom recordings per year. So when it came to doing the re-release of the album as part of the ongoing Aesthetic Death vinyl releases, the decision was taken for Greg to go back and try to achieve what was originally intended.
The appeal that the original album had for me was its atmosphere: dark, foreboding and claustrophobic throughout, with no moment in its almost 2 hour length ever breaking the spell. I was also blown away by its innovative use of FX to create sounds I had never heard before. The vocal effects were especially inspiring to me and have been something I have tried to emulate myself many times. It was so uncompromising – indeed out of the first four Esoteric albums that were available at the time I discovered them, it was the one that took longest for me to appreciate. On my first several listens I just found it to be too much, and instead used it mainly to gain a reaction from my friends (who were often not fans of Metal, never mind Doom) when giving them a ride in my car. But when it finally clicked, it REALLY clicked, and to be honest I don't think it would be an exaggeration to say it was a life changing moment. Since then, throughout any fluctuations in my musical tastes and habits, it has, along with a small number of other records, remained totally constant as a record to turn to to achieve a certain mood or atmosphere.
With such an attachment, you might expect a reluctance to hear a modified version of it. In many cases, you would be right. On so many classic albums in the extreme metal genre, flaws in it's production are part of what makes it. Would 'Scum' or 'Transilvanian Hunger' be what they are if they were re-made to have the polish of a contemporary metal-core record? I feel ill even suggesting such a thing. With this record, however, I had some confidence. Subsequent records have proven that Esoteric are able to straddle atmosphere with polish, and if anybody was going to do the record justice it would be Greg, the band's driving force over the last 20+ years. I was also reassured during the remix process, as I was lucky enough to hear the results bit by bit during that.
For me, this remix has totally nailed it. The atmosphere is absolutely retained, but everything just sounds that little bit clearer. The drums which previously lacked punch and clarity, especially on the faster sections ('Creation (Through Destruction)', 'A Worthless Dream') now cut through throughout. All of a sudden I am hearing subtleties that I just wasn't aware of before – beautiful tom work in the intro of 'Passing Through Matter' (always my favourite Esoteric track), interwoven lead lines in 'Sinistrous', and the individual notes in the previously blurry Death Metal/Industrial hybrid 'At War With The Race'. The changes are subtle enough that one might not even realise that they were listening to a remix, until the realisation dawned that there were suddenly whole layers of things that now stand out rather than blending into the general sound.
If it can please a rabid super-fan like me, I honestly think that anybody who is a fan of the original album is going to love this remix. I would also suggest that fans of the later Esoteric albums who never 'got' the early stuff might give it another chance, as it is now clear that all the elements that are touted now were always present, just hidden behind a veil. Any fans of extreme Doom who don't already know the record (do such people exist?) should be very happy too. My only caveat when recommending would be that, for a newcomer to the genre, the later records - especially the last two - do offer more variety and some lighter and, dare I say, slightly easier listening tracks, so may be an easier introduction. After all, even I found this a difficult and challenging record at first, and therein lies the appeal.
As a final note, it is worth pointing out that, as with the others in the series, the Aesthetic Death triple vinyl is beautiful – if extremely heavy – and sounds fantastic. Label owner Stu has confirmed that the remix will be put out on CD at a later date, but this may not be for some time, so for the time being, buy the vinyl. If you don't have a turntable, buy one – it'll make you super cool anyway.
Review by Kris Clayton