The subject header from Albert read: “top 5 idea”. The body read: “The greatest death metal albums marred by terrible production.” He then presents three albums, Reek of Putrefaction, The Red in the Sky is Ours, and Breeding the Spawn. Immediately, I recognized a gold post idea if there ever was one. Certainly, there are reasons why, say, Breeding the Spawn sounded like an army of pitbulls arguing with a battalion of Sherman tanks muffled by the thickest pillow on planet. There are reasons why some albums sound better than others. Most of the time it’s due to two things: money, which equals time and experience, which equals quality. So, Albert and I started discussing two more albums to round out the Top 5. I proposed Malevolent Creation’s Retribution and Carcass’ Swansong. He countered with Morbid Angel’s Blessed Are the Sick and At the Gates’ With Fear I Kiss the Burning Darkness. Settling on the list before you wasn’t easy, but it’s fairly obvious to veterans, who were there when all these records went down, came out, and were derided–in ‘zines and magazines–for their terrible productions. Read on and present your own list!
5. Eucharist – A Velvet Creation
1993 (Wrong Again)
Swedish upstarts Eucharist presented a strange first impression with 1993 jaw-dropper A Velvet Creation. Though available only through mail-order (or really good indie stores) the year of its release, A Velvet Creation had a remarkably thin production. Most death metal, at the time, even by Swedish standards, had heft, a weight attributed to studios like Sunlight and Morrisound. Young Eucharist were also on very young Wrong Again Records, a Swedish indie without the budgets of Century Media or Nuclear Blast. Recorded MusikMaffian in Varberg, Sweden by Fredrik Larnemo, who went on to produce Ablaze My Sorrow and Decameron, A Velvet Creation wasn’t the end product the band expected. In fact, guitarist/vocalist Markus Johnsson has recently said the production “sucks”. Nevertheless, the brilliance of the songwriting—such as “March of Insurrection”, “A Velvet Creation”, and “Once My Eye Moved Mountains”—is undeniable. While At the Gates, Dark Tranquillity, and In Flames were garnering international recognition for the ‘Gothenburg Sound’, it was Eucharist who were taking it a decidedly classical direction, even if the members were barely out of high school, on A Velvet Creation.
4. At the Gates – The Red in the Sky is Ours
At the Gates have spoken openly about their dissatisfaction of The Red in the Sky is Ours production. To quote then-guitarist Alf Svensson in our Hall of Fame article, “I remember discussing the choice of studio a lot, but I can’t remember why we ended up choosing ART Studios. But, after all, it was convenient for us since it was located in Gothenburg. We didn’t really have the money yet (not even a signed record deal, actually), and I remember that the studio was really expensive. After a few days we realized that he [producer Hans Hall] didn’t have the first clue about metal. And certainly not death metal. I still remember the surprise on Hans’ face when Tomas started sound checking the vocals for the album. ‘Is this the way it is supposed to sound?’” Clearly, At the Gates were young—around 18—and inexperienced, the lack of a label deal and significant funds also put stress on the recording sessions. Nevertheless, while The Red in the Sky is Ours borders in skinny—sound-wise—there’s a bit of charm in its non-heaviness. Actually, that charm, as Svensson discusses, is pure anger mixed with unbridled innovation. Kingdom fucking Gone, indeed!
3. Sepultura – Schizophrenia
Recorded in J.G. Estudios in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, it’s immediately curious that the producer credit goes to not an individual, like Scott Burns, but to a record label, Cogumelo Produções. Based on the Seps’ second album sound, it’s fairly evident the folks guiding the sessions and twiddling the knobs (engineer Tarso Senra had quite a job on his hands) were fairly inexperienced and/or had very little time—due to scarcity of funds—to properly capture then-white hot Sepultura at their most intense and aggressive (that’d be two years later on Beneath the Remains). Again, it’s important to remember this was 1987 in Brazil, which was, back then, was as foreign as the Atacama Desert, and that bands like Sepultura didn’t have the resources of their “First World” counterparts. It’s also super-important to remember that guitarist Andreas Kisser brought in a whole new perspective, his traditional heavy metal mind meeting up perfectly with Max Cavalera’s more primitive, Hellhammer-meets-Discharge approach. Which, of course, lead to Sepultura writing a blisteringly aggressive album—even though there are three instrumentals—that still stands the test of time. But the production could’ve been better. The 1990 Fullersound remaster helped matters nominally.
2. Carcass – Reek of Putrefaction
British death metallers Carcass hit the ground running on gore-filled Reek of Putrefaction. The group set the standard for grossing out uppity critics and myopic fucks, who had, on the surface, deemed the Liverpudlians unfit for commercial consumption due to the graphic nature of the album art and Jeff Walker’s Harvard medical dictionary lyrics. But the songs, like the quaint “Carbonized Eye Sockets” or the prosaic “Vomited Anal Tract”, were buried deep inside a wall of sound, the likes of which would have Phil Spector running for the lavatory. The original production, by Mike Ivory (Sacrilege, Napalm Death), was useless, so the band and label had to quickly regroup, calling up Paul Talbot to “salvage” Carcass’ first foray. Though we’ve had almost 30 years to adjust to Reek of Putrefaction’s scraping, blood-caked production, it still causes our ears to curl and hair to stand on end. That is until we get to “Pyosisified (Rotten to the Gore)”, which is only about 4-minutes in. By that point, we’re deep in Carcass’ mushy wound.
1. Suffocation – Breeding the Spawn
Renowned for its garbled production, Suffocation’s follow-up to landmark debut, Effigy of the Forgotten, was never destined for greatness. This is likely because nobody ever really heard Breeding the Spawn in all its labyrinthine glory. Primary songwriters’—Terrance Hobbs, Mike Smith, Frank Mullen, and Doug Cerrito—new twisted, obscenely technical songwriting was barely audible in the morass of Paul Bagin’s production. That Bagin handled the Human Waste production should’ve clued him into Suffocation’s endless and constant mass of riffs, drums, and vocals. Apparently, Breeding the Spawn’s atrocious production values wasn’t entirely Bagin’s fault. Turns out, according to the Suffo dudes, then-label Roadrunner Records was reluctant to send the band back to Morrisound, where Effigy of the Forgotten was recorded with Scott Burns in 1991, opting to keep the New Yorkers local. The end result in 1993 was a surprise to not only Suffocation, but also to fans, who were waiting for death metal’s heaviest band to up the ante. Luckily, Suffo fans are slowly getting the chance to re-hear Breeding the Spawn by re-recording tracks on each of their post-reunion full-lengths. To wit, new album, Of the Dark Light, features a re-cast of banger “Epitaph of the Credulous”.