Friday, March 30, 2012

Morbid Angel "Illud Divinus Insanum (The Remixes)" (Season Of Mist)

You've just released a fairly ill-received album: on any level, a pretty terrible record, but one which attracted most cursing and gnashing of teeth courtesy not so much of its inexorable badness, but by dint of its wilful deviation from what your acolytes regard as a 'proper' metal template. These upset fans are baying for blood, demanding that you formally renounce all the experimental and industrial nonsense that you were tentatively (if hamfistedly) trying to embrace. So what's your next step ?

Well, if you're Morbid Angel, it's to make your next release a double CD containing some two and a half hours of left-field remixes of tracks from said album. Not only that, but somebody then obviously worried that perhaps 31 tracks and a mere eleven versions of "I Am Morbid" wasn't enough, and came up with the idea of an additional dropcard download to ensure that you actually get 39 remixes - including a baker's dozen "I Am Morbid"s - and an album clocking in at an epic *three hours and six minutes*. That's ten times as long as the best album of 2011.

But as you'll have guessed already, "Illud Divinus Insanum (The Remixes)" is not the disaster it should be, and don't listen to those who tell you it is. Quite the reverse: it is *completely* ace. "The Remixes" is better than the original album, better than many a Morbid Angel album, better than many other people's remix albums, better than most other people's original albums. It's exactly the kind of thing more bands should be doing, especially if it's the last thing their fans want. And to be fair to the Angel, they have longstanding remix credentials: it's fourteen years now since Earache's "Hellspawn" (a document of that label's brief if sadly abandoned obsession with dance culture) showcased their two excellent collaborations with the Berzerker.

For us, the only saving grace of the original LP was probably the raging debate it engineered on the proper use of Latin, given that surely the grammatically correct title would have been either "Illud Divinum Insanum" or "Illus Divinus Insanus". It was heartening to discover how many extreme metal (well, alright, mainstream-extreme metal) fans cared about a so-called dead language. Little details can sting, can't they: like the great "Emma's House" correct lyric controversy exposed in the Sarah fanzines, the resolution to which was that Bobby called "it" Emma's House, which of course we his most fervent devotees already knew.

But let's focus on the music, specifically the remixes. Yes, it probably would have been helpful if a mere four tracks from the original LP didn't account for some *twenty-nine* of them. But then again, perhaps it all adds to the Napoleonic grandeur of the whole enterprise. Real highs are plentiful, but if we - reluctantly - had to limit our pick of the Illud Divinus remix pops to a mere top twenty, we'd go for: DJ Ruffneck and Scott Brown both separately invigorating "I Am Morbid" with hammer happy hardcore, yet (especially in Ruffneck's case) preserving large chunks of the original within the madness; Mulk's whirlwind, V/Vm-Test meets electro-goregrind "Existo Vulgoré"; Sylvgheist Maelstrom's fabulous, discombobulated and ghostly "10 More Dead"; Roger Rotor's "Radikult", which would (seriously!) have sat comfortably on the Fall's "Levitate" LP; Tek-One nicing up "10 More Dead" through the medium of UK lurchstep; Igorrr expertly *rinsing" his "Remixou Morbidou" with compact drum n' bass; Laibach's opening "Wall Of Morbid" mix, which alternates Viennese drawing-room chamber music with something akin to the sound of an air-raid (well, why wouldn't you ?); Chrysalide's clanking industrial re-jig of the single "Nevermore" (surprisingly, the only version of that song here); Project Pitchfork's achingly definitive version of the charmingly silly "Destructos vs The Earth / Attack", with its warm, almost moving, tones hinting at New Order and the Mode; HIV+'s feedback-drizzled, wind tunnel take on "Too Extreme"; John Lord Fonda's pitch-shifting, eventful Metallyzer remix of the same; Ahnst Anders' windswept, atmospheric remoulding of "Morbid"; Mixhell's "Too Extreme", which not only goes for a predominantly instrumental touched-by-the-hand-of-disco approach (we'd have believed it if it turned out to have been remixed by Bronski Beat or even Fosca) but halfway through starts to ape the Mary Chain's "Cracking Up"; Dead Sexy's crunching, proto-space-grunge-hop "I Am Morbid"; Toxic Avenger's danceably devilish "10 More Dead"; Brain Leisure's alternately mournful and celebratory "Black Symphony" version of "Too Extreme"; the Horrorist's techno-spattered yet grisly "Existo Vulgoré"; Black Lung's concerningly high-voltage alarm and siren-crammed take on "I Am Morbid" and Evil Activities' holds-unbarred "Radikult", which fully realises (and celebrates) the original's sense of the absurd, including the infamous "kill a cop" rap segment and those priceless lyrics (altogether now: "we've been crossing the line / since 1989").

And that's (literally) only the half of it: there are a bunch of other distinguished names who've rolled up for remix duties, including cEVIN kEY from Skinny Puppy, Treponem Pal, Combichrist (we think their interpretation of "Destructos" here may have been the B-side to "Nevermore"), Skold, Mondkopf (even if his rather austere "Radikult" casts a pall slightly too leaden for our normally briskly dancing feet) and intriguingly a particularly strong contingent of French remixers, no doubt partly reflecting the provenance of the label. After several listens, which has frankly taken us quite a long time, we're not sure that there is a single duff track here: and many improve with each hearing. Nobody at all seems to have volunteered to remix "Blades For Baal" or "Beauty Meets Beast", which is a shame, but hopefully there'll be a sequel which can rectify this: we'd like to hear MA remixes from Jamie Ball, Sven Wittekind and Kevin Shields, for starters.

Some of you will remember past cults of the remix, like that 1990s obsession with all indie records ever being remixed, even if only by some bloke down the pub (or, even worse, Paul Oakenfold), as if to prove that we were all "down with" dance culture, whereas in fact dance culture was happening at raves deep in the countryside, was laughing at us, was unencumbered by the presence of any of us, and we were "down with" precisely nothing, save a fleeting grasp of the disappearing coat-tails of someone else's revolution. Well, "The Remixes" demonstrates how far things have, thankfully, moved on, and how remixes can improve original tracks, as well as bringing out new colours and flavours. In particular, the theatrical silliness of the original LP is cast in a new, much more sympathetic light: for example, the remixers have spotted how "Too Extreme", for example, has missed its true vocation as a camp Europop number. Moreover, whereas in the old days remixes were often indulgent, normally twice the length of the original track to justify filling out the grooves of a separate 12", many of the mixes here are significantly shorter than the lumbering original versions.

For all these reasons, "Illud Divinus Insanum (The Remixes)" is a riot, and frankly a work of some greatness: the proverbial silk purse from a sow's ear. Next time round, the Angel shouldn't bother releasing the studio LP at all, but hop straight to the remixes. We could dwell on the hundreds of records we could have been listening to, had we not been parcelling up three hours at a time to spend with this one, but we can't imagine how that would have been *nearly* as much fun.

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