Laurestine is one of these great albums that leave a mark on you, and that has the power to change your perspective on a whole musical genre. It has been lauded by many, even us, as one of the best albums of 2015, and deservedly so. The intertwining of orchestral and electric instruments in the context of extreme metal, post-black metal if you want to label it, was executed to near perfection, and both sides really complemented each other. On May 6th, So Hideous will release an orchestral version of the same album. I was understandably very excited about this, but I was quickly disappointed. Let me explain where Laurestine Orchestral went wrong, horribly wrong, and why you should not buy it, or even listen to it, lest it might ruin the original for you.
Laurestine was the mutuality of orchestra and metal band. Even though it would still be very interesting to hear the orchestra alone, the experience would be diminished, and reduced to something just like listening to classical music; devoid of the interplay between it and metal music. The guitars and bass add their part to it all, which is not something to overlook. Beyond the timbre that they add, mostly distortion, they also introduce new notes, different melodies and chords, tremolo-picked passages, and everything else that adds to the experience and which is inimitable by classical instruments. It would still be possible to play these parts with an orchestra, but here on Laurestine Orchestral, no such effort has been made. Basically, it’s the whole album stripped of guitars, bass, and vocals. That’s what’s wrong.
What’s horribly wrong, then? The drums. I could not believe my fucking ears. A faint silhouette of what used to be the drums track on Laurestine remains, haunting its orchestral version with a ghost of its former self. It’s a bit like when you try to EQ out vocals on a track, but can never manage to do so completely without ruining the whole song, you still can hear them faintly in the background, taunting you and refusing to be erased from existence. That could not be it! They couldn’t possibly have tried to tweak the equalizer bands to remove the drums. No, this would’ve affected the classical instruments’s sound as well, and that sounded too good to be it. Then, I remembered how the recording process went: a few weeks after recording the band, The First Light Orchestra – a 30-piece classical ensemble – recorded their parts. It occurred to me that it would be unthinkable for such a large group to all have headphones to listen to the backing track, or the click, and that, in order to be most comfortable, they should be able to hear each other as well. Then, the only plausible scenario is that they would’ve played along to the drums track, and click perhaps where there were no drums. For thirty musicians to be able to hear this track while playing, it must’ve been played quite loudly. And the side effect of this is that the backing track bleeds into the microphones used to record the orchestra. I believe that’s why we hear a faint, hollow drums track underneath the classical instruments. Of course, in the context of the full band, this is no problem since the full drums, and all the other instruments, will be played in synchronicity and will mask this rather quiet collateral damage. But, in the context of an orchestral version, hearing this unwanted and shallow background noise really detracts from the experience, and brings everything to a flop. They did not re-record everything, of course due to monetary constraints, and I can’t imagine the time (and money!) it would take to record each player individually in a soundproof room with headsets on so we cannot hear the backing track. This would be utterly unthinkable, especially since the orchestra has already been recorded for the original release. However, I think that endowing the orchestra with a conductor, who himself only would listen to the backing track, might have been an alternative avenue to explore.
Certainly, the reasons behind recording thusly are completely understandable, and cause absolutely no inconvenience on Laurestine. What’s befuddling is why they would decide to release an orchestral version of the album, being all too aware of its inherent flaws. Maybe their label pushed them to do so, in order to milk the album until it’s dried through and through. Or, if it’s not their label, maybe it’s the band themselves who wanted – or needed – some funds for their future, and decided to disfigure their newborn child to grab some change from the morbidly curious passers-by. And if only the leaking drums were the only problem with it… The whole thing is riddled with audio problems such as compression misbehaving, a strange post-production fade-in at the midway point of “Yesteryear”, and even a digital clipping, just like a glitch, at 0:47 on “Relinquish”, which sounds just like a badly edited track, as if they did absolutely no fade-in or cross-fade on it.
You should not buy Laurestine Orchestral, and not even listen to it. The whole thing about So Hideous’s 2015 masterpiece was the balance between classical and metal music, and the organic manner in which both are tied together. Remove the metal part, and you’ve got only a pale shadow of itself. Fail to correctly mute the drums, and you’ve got an untrue orchestral album to which I’ve grown more revulsed with each consecutive listening. Top that off with an unprofessional finish, and you’ve got an album I want to stay clear of at any cost. The sole reason I could understand anybody wanting to listen to this album is a classical musician who would be interested in better hearing the intricacies of the orchestra members here, and not listening to it for the music, but rather for how it’s played. And if you want to support the band for their future real endeavours, I suggest you buy some merchandise, or buy the original Laurestine again, but don’t touch this desultory piece of work.
A promotional copy of the album was provided for this review.
1. Yesteryear – 7:56
2. Hereafter – 4:16
3. Reliquish – 6:29
4. The Keepsake – 6:48
5. Falling Cedars – 5:39
6. The True Pierce – 6:21
7. A Faint Whisper – 4:34
Total running time: 42:03
Release date: 2016/05/06
Label: Prosthetic Records
Filetype listened to: MP3
Bitrate: 192 kb/s, CBR
Sampling frequency: 44,100 Hz, 2 channels