While hearing the early Nuclear Death recordings today morning, I couldn’t help thinking that underground death metal and black metal should have always remained lo-fidelity in presentation and production. That Nuclear Death specialized in somewhat sloppy, grindcore-fused death metal may lead one to surmise that only similarly rabid strains of extreme metal can benefit from such undercooked treatment. One might also say that the exponentially increasing ambition of the early death metal bands precipitated a shift towards more professional recording techniques; obviously, a Nuclear Death-type sound job would ill-suit an album like Unquestionable Presence or The Red In The Sky Is Ours, but there is no denying the grittiness heard on rough-sounding efforts like Thergothon‘s …Yog Sothoth, Insanity‘s Death After Death, Morbid Angel‘s Thy Kingdom Come, or old Nihilist compilations.
I’m no audiophile, therefore I can afford to be non-committal towards production values. I appreciate that there are many listeners who like the sound of a full-sounding ensemble, mastered and recorded as in situ. To them, and in all probability to the musicians involved themselves, this post would make little sense, but I’m speaking from a predominantly idealistic perspective. Undoubtedly, instruments ought to be heard with “just about” enough clarity to tell song structures apart. This much is not in contention. But the road to a more pristine aesthetic is slippery with temptation; can it be long before such considerations give way to more pronounced compromises on the songwriting front, either through personal choice or increased studio/producer interference?
The old classics sound great as they are, but in some way, I feel as if those bands had already commenced on this accessible path from their full-length debuts onwards. Is it mere coincidence that their demo-level efforts almost uniformly captured them at their leanest, hungriest, and angriest? I don’t think so; yes, those demos may have been abrasive around the edges compared to what was to follow with increasing maturity and studio budgets; I wouldn’t exchange the full-lengths for the world, either, but the preceding demos also exemplified the rebellious, counter-current nature of this music. Death metal. Black metal. Surely those qualifiers ought to stand for something.
Retrospective no doubt plays a big role in all this; we now know what came to be of the genre after its heyday, and it isn’t hard to think that those lo-fi aesthetics and the young ferocity accompanying them were subliminal quality checks, on integrity, and against this scene being cheapened with people of tangentially opposed life philosophies. Beauty is skin-deep; don’t judge a book by its cover; aphorisms persist because they contain no small shred of truth. The old demos make the fan work for his pound of flesh; likewise they repel those concerned with little else than surface attributes. What we consider “garage” was instead a bulwark against commercial appropriation. Underground extreme metal should have stayed like that.