A (almost) full live compilation of death thrash
Mortification is a death metal band tinged with the catchiness of thrash from the early nineties. They've had a long, successful road since then, putting out thirteen studio albums and a few live albums as well. Their focus- Christianity- has apparently not wavered as each album has been strictly focused on the Christian faith, but not in a sense that takes away from the metal side. Indeed, it appears that Christianity can find its place in metal with these veterans amongst other bands. Now, with 20 Years in the Underground, Nuclear Blast has compiled numerous songs that make up the Mortification legacy that is yet far from over.
20 Years in the Underground is two discs with over an hour of catchy headbanging music. However, take note that only the first five songs are studio done while the rest are all live. The studio songs were taken from earlier albums and rerecorded. They aren't bad, but Mortification fans probably will not take much notice to any difference if they already own the albums that the songs come from. The production may be a bit better on tracks like "Grind Planetarium" where the vocals aren't as scratchy and the bass is plenty audible. The drumming is a rapid fire automatic instrument that never lets up while the guitars are a groovy addition to the shouted vocals. Any fans of technical metal will probably appreciate the style combined with the older death metal bands like Death, Obituary, and Slayer.
The rest of the next thirty ones tracks are all live. And Mortification did an excellent job of making sure the songs sounded as live as possible. One will notice a distinct drop in quality as the sound is fuzzier, a lot more raw, and the crowd in the background is most noticeable. There's plenty of interaction between the band and the audience to create the atmosphere needed for a live setting. And (this will depend on opinion) the music being played sounds much more human and like that you would hear on a demo album rather than a studio album. Some tracks like "I'm Not Your Commodity" are great renditions of the studio version that keep up the death thrash vibe while combining it with the gritty raw sound of human error and perseverance. The vocals are obviously the most "terrible" sounding amongst the group, but one can rarely expect a vocalist to sound the same on the stage as he or she does in the studio with extra recording equipment. However, during most of the "Spoken Word" tracks, the sound seems extra fuzzy, like a strong static is hanging in the background that ruins everything while the vocalist barks like he's in pain to do the lyrics. The music seems dull and inspirational, like a melded mess. One could expect such a performance from a band who put out one or two albums, but for a band that's been around as long as Mortification should have the ability to perform their music live with better quality (or perhaps the blame lays on the producer instead).
The last few tracks are also live, but acoustic. This helps the music a little bit, but not the vocals. They sound out the place as the vocalist grunts along the acoustic guitars, making the show seem like a bad Nirvana performance. The audience interaction is still the highlight but the passion and excitement heard from the live tracks just isn't there anymore. The heaviness is gone, the thrashiness is gone, and the vocalist still sounds like his voice is going out the window, with maybe a few fans behind it. Death thrash was not made for acoustic versions, and neither was Mortification.
Ultimately, expect a live show from 20 Years in the Underground instead of a "best of" compilation. The album certainly sounds underground enough with it's gritty production combined with catchy tunes, but it doesn't seem to live up to the legacy that Mortification has left so far. Their studio albums have been epic, rough, and enjoyable, from Post Momentary Affliction to Relentless, and 20 Years in the Underground seems to have taken that music and just made it even more raw, not for the better unfortunately. Those who enjoy raw, live albums will certainly find this a treat, however, with maybe a few laughs from the ridiculous acoustic songs.
(Nuclear Blast Records/Riot! Entertainment)