Requiem Reimagined Review – Alfonzo

Requiem Reimagined & Reviewed

by Gus “Alfonzo” Knezevich

Overall Rating: 8 / 10

At almost 25 years of age, Doom’s community has had plenty of time to reflect upon the years that gave us Memento Mori, Hell Revealed, Requiem… the widely regarded classics of WAD history. In that same time, the original soundtracks for those titles have continued to enjoy use across all emerging disciplines of level design: with tracks like “Give In (With Pleasure)” and “And Blood Will Spill” jostling for position against even the most celebrated tracks from commercial games. And is it any wonder? These guys knew how to make MIDIs! Now, finally, in 2018, they’ve shown they know how to “reimagine” them, as well…

Requiem Reimagined marks the return of the old guard: David Shaw, Mark Klem and Jeremy Doyle alongside guitarist JD Herrera. It comprises high-production adaptations of all tracks composed for the set and brings to bear all the skills (and equipment!) at the musicians’ disposal. To say nothing of how the album fares when all is said and done; it’s an excellent initiative and a monumental undertaking–the total running time pulling up a little short of two hours. No doubt the normally reserved members of Doomworld will come clamouring over the top of each other to stick their ears in this one.

So, how does it hold up?

The challenges faced by an album of this calibre are in some ways familiar and in other ways unusual (it’s not like there are many studio adaptations for twenty-year-old high-profile MIDIs in circulation, these days). Aside from the weight of expectation, transitioning away from the original format and game context forces the kinds of creative decision-making you wouldn’t have to contend with elsewhere. Hasn’t every player who’s tread the mines of Requiem’s Reactor or Dens of Iniquity developed their own ideas as to how these tracks could sound–or should sound–given the treatment they deserve? My guilty ass had to suppress two decades of built-up biases before hitting play on some of these numbers. This, on top of the need to turn perfectly fitting game tracks into something you can appreciate in isolation, divorced from old, ASHWALL towns and glacial bases… It’s admirable the way in which creative license has been used to embellish structurally, for sound and for length, to the extent that it has.

That said, Doom has half of its musical roots buried deep in metal–heavy metal–and a good portion of what’s on offer in Reimagined was just waiting to be grabbed by the scruff of the neck and shoved into overdrive. Klem’s original body of work in particular is detailed and percussively diverse enough that discovering a unique path of production for each track can only have been easy. Or is that… Destruction? As with tracks like the foreboding Under Death or the fast and loose Rage, it’s an example of one that trusts completely in the shape of the original, allowing the handiwork of Herrera to give that extra lick of polish to an otherwise well-rounded piece. No problems there, just quietly: JD has already amassed an impressive body of work performing awesome covers of tracks by the same musicians. His presence here is resounding.

While Klem’s tracks do occasionally speed off the trail into more risky territory (Lordly Might incorporates several stylistic deviations that make the whole sound a little loose and misdirected), it’s the work of Shaw and Doyle that’s the most removed in some way or other… and which through risk offers the most reward, potentially. If you can get over the shock to the system you’re likely to experience with The Helix, for instance, a track which has been partly disappeared beneath some eighties inspiration, you may be better positioned to enjoy the more seemly changes to a track like Hunter’s Lair, which has had its transitional highlights consolidated to create something more fluid and evocative.

Here’s a run-down of each track in review. Scores are out of ten: **Note that a number of tracks are still wrapped up in production as of this writing and have been omitted**

Barracus Returns
7 / 10

In vanilla Doom, you had a solid ten-or-so seconds before the title screen melted away to reveal some demo of a dude playing badly. Title tracks were short and ultra-detailed as a result, with Barracus being no exception—whoever he is. Dicing up such an iconic flourish would have been a bad move, probably, so the team has opted instead to have it preceded by a spooky-cool signal-finding: the album getting ready to unleash on the listener. Simple enough, and it goes without further comment.

Rhythm of Carnage
8 / 10

A rip-roaring introduction that’s one among Shaw’s more conservative reimaginings in the album. Extended just enough to allow for more structural complexity and some fresh guitar-work by Doyle, it compliments the whole album listening experience before it satisfies on an individual level… but this is more a point in retrospect, considering some of the more demanding entries further down. It’s sure to get the blood pumping.

8 / 10

Rage gets into lane early and steps on the gas. It’s true to the form of the original but finds the time and space to allow Herrera off the hook with some distinct solos–grafted seamlessly so that I had to double check to make sure they weren’t in the MIDI to begin with. At times I felt the percussion was perhaps not leading into the transitions as tightly as deserved, though it’s a negligible point: the right amount of energy is invested between sections even as the whole carries a cooler, looser quality than expected. Head-bopping stuff.

Breath of Sin
6 / 10

One of the more understated tracks for Requiem despite the icy setting of the map in which it’s featured… it makes sense that Shaw would try and adapt the few elements that set the track apart from other heavier numbers like Carnage and Rage before it–to give it more character. Results are mixed, with details that overcrowd the limited structure in pursuit of a sifting, steely beat, resulting in something that feels less than the sum of its parts. Thematically, it’s an interesting move (the mobile bass and horns of the MIDI version certainly open the door for a fuller-sounding rendition) but I’d like to have heard more done in isolating unique points of the structure in lieu of those extra elements.

Somewhere Over the Horizon
10 / 10

Horizon is an evocative enough track to begin with that the team could have been forgiven for embracing the forlorn, orchestral build wholesale, along with the effective transition in the second half, without much in the way of compromise. In contrast to many of Klem’s tracks in the album, however, which take slighter liberties within an already working space, it has had its existing qualities emboldened with obvious distinction. And it’s amazing. The weight and timbre of the strings are here partnered by synth that pitches and soars over the arrangement. When the rhythmic guitar breaks the mould it capitalises to full effect, flicking into gear to sustain one of the most engaging minutes in the album (~4:30). An already wonderful piece of work made better in Reimagined.

Mystic’s Glance
7 / 10

It’s hard to discern intention from limitation with MIDI, at times, and if Breath of Sin needed something more precisely complicating to help elevate it into the lands of high production value, Mystic’s Glance is a track that is best-served by remaining understated. Here, however, Shaw has introduced a number of additional components to resound in crashing waves throughout the track; an evocation of deep open spaces and jangling bone chimes. The sort of scenes you might find in a Conan film. Does it work? It’s certainly inspired and well-directed, even granted the almost intrusive onset of Herrera’s solo–ultimately a tasteful addition to the track, when it gets going. Perhaps slightly overburdened once more, though my nostalgia appears to have survived intact. Handle With Care.

Path of Destruction
9 / 10

As noted, this one carries itself with confidence. The bass which had in the MIDI thundered right up the spine of the track is here synthesised and upstaged by an all-powerful, air-shaking barrage of snares. Delicious and rich! Like with later tracks Skinny Puppy and Devil’s Ground, the intricacies of Klem’s beats, plus other elements, allows the team to reach deep into the genre toolbox and pull out all the sounds that best realise its potential. Love the new outro… but you’re bloody lucky I don’t dock marks for ditching the sax. Retsnom latigid a s’tI.

Jacob’s Staircase
7 / 10

Too much love and care has gone into this project for any one track to seem “by the numbers,” so I won’t be levelling that criticism at Jacob’s Staircase. It’s a well-done piece, softened by the slightly more open-sounding production quality of the mixing and instrumentation. Unlikely to be making the line-up for the Requiem Reimagined World Tour, though.

Under Death
9 / 10

It won’t get points like Horizon does for attempting something different; but it will make almost all of them up with slick execution. Everything works to a tee, here. You loved the MIDI with its satanic toy box-turned-engine of destruction; you’ll get down on your knees for the reimagined Under Death.

The Helix
9 / 10

If you don’t know Helix like the back of your hand then prepare to get thrown for a loop. Actually, scratch that–you’ll get blind-sided anyway. The team exercises full artistic license here to deliver something nostalgic, almost charmingly self-indulgent, and totally in keeping with the established trend of guiding Shaw’s game-fit soundtracks into interesting new spaces. Very few of the original track’s limited motifs are employed in the way you’d expect, instead being incarnated with a kind of night-life vibrancy; carried along by a delicate-sounding keyboard, haunting vocals and smooth bass. The vast majority of those recognisable bits are ousted altogether, in fact, including the calamitous interlude, which has been replaced by something even more ambitious. Not bad on the solo front either, guys.

Lordly Might
5 / 10

…And then, unfortunately, a bit of a misfire. Many of the twists are too deviant given the available material, and although you can sense the fun being had by Herrera, the whole doesn’t quite come together. A shame, as the rolling storm of slap bass, brass and percussion in the original is what many will have hoped to connect with (I’ve noticed the lack of brass as well, Klem. Don’t think I’m not on to you).

Hunter’s Lair
10 / 10

…And we’re back up to speed! At nearly ten minutes, Hunter’s Lair is the longest and most tempered of Shaw’s tracks. It’s also among the very best. The slow burn of strings leading suddenly into what some consider to be Requiem’s crowning melody has been built-up and smoothed over with measured, mellow tones, layered guitar work, and enough space to allow some more progressive parts to take flight. Like with Helix, there’s an undercurrent of nostalgia beyond the obvious associations with the source material. It’s the sort of product that only could have resulted granted the twenty-odd years between drinks. An excellent piece of work.

Breach of Madness
9 / 10

No holds barred. Breach of Madness is a track that’s packed with blistering energy and makes no pretense about where it’s headed. Read: fever pitch. As is the case with most of Klem’s work covered here, the resemblance remains true more or less throughout, but there’s also a surprising amount of additional effort placed into paving the ascent. Of particular note are the anguished guitars that help sustain the intensity for the first half, as well as the ultimate solo and Herrera’s bass, which really makes the most of those spotlight measures (~2:40). These little fills and rolls are what makes the piece a stand-out.

To give you an idea of how turbulent this track is: I almost got seasick.

Lamneth’s Ground
8 / 10

A personal favourite from Requiem, delivered here with a traditional lean. Shaw must have either cashed in all his chips with Helix or given this one the slip, because it survives more or less one-for-one with the original incarnation… and thank goodness! Even the sky-high guitar solo–the most iconic in Requiem?–is happy to man its station dutifully until the outro. I’m in two minds about the mixing in some places, which is a treatment sounding similar to the one given to Jacob’s Staircase, but which here dampens the clarity of sound in moments where a delicate tone is required. A fine track, all the same.

Devil’s Ground
8 / 10

Devil’s Nightclub is definitely the correct interpretation. The strobing waves of synth, saw and square signalled precisely this outcome. In the interest of advancing the music beyond its Doom origins, those eight simple bars of distortion guitar have been spiked and let loose on the dance floor, where Herrera is waiting to sling it over his shoulder and run it roughshod through the mix like a drunkard. Excellent! Are you having fun, yet?

Last Resort
8 / 10

If you somehow manage to miss the urbanized Resort through all that swaggering bass, chill keyboard and Doylosian phasing (this involves the frequent “cutting into” of a sustained note’s volume levels), then rest assured: you can eventually hear it crossing over the room upstairs and slapping together the next segment. It’s a reimagining that’s not totally surprising granted the advanced techniques used by Doyle that, like with Klem’s work, allow for clarity in inspiration, but it’s still quite far removed from what the original sounds like. It’s also very good.

Tides of War
7 / 10

An interesting consistency across two of Doyle’s remaining tracks in Reimagined is the percussive sounds–the tribal or subcontinental thrums and taps that are coupled with synth-heavy effects, in keeping with the overall tone of the album. Again, like with Resort, it makes sense granted the prevalence of stylistic traits and how reliant the MIDI version is upon them for distinction. The arrangement, dominated here as it was previously by a disquieting, almost brooding tone–typical of Doyle’s earlier work–is preserved and appreciated… and repeated, moreover, more than is needed in a track of this length. Without any significant departure in the way it’s is structured, the listener’s attention must be carried across on waves of variation. A tough ask, and one that Tides doesn’t quite respond to convincingly.

I liked Tides to begin with, though, so it would have taken more than this to sink it.

Skinny Puppy
7 / 10

Skinny Puppy has a significantly reduced tempo versus the MIDI version and a far longer runtime, verging almost on trance with its highly phased layering and soft pinging; a drowsy, crystalline quality that wraps around the familiar bass and covers most of the piece. What little structuring there was before has more or less been shunted in favour of maximising the potential from this decision, and it probably fares better than Tides, which trusted in the original sequence of transitions for the extended running time. The bass break, featured twice in the original, is used just once here around the 6:00 mark.

The Everlasting Negative
8 / 10

There’s a lot to be getting on with in Everlasting’s two minutes, so a dutiful rendition was to be expected, especially granted the playful, sprightly energy that gives this piece its distinction. The guitar work is tempered and bold, perhaps lacking just a little definition without those ornamental frills. Slightly languid, but does the job well enough. It’s a neat little piece!

Elegant Tension
8 / 10

Here we have the first of two unused Requiem tracks, both by Doyle, which remained unheard and unreleased until 2015 (they’ve already been pilfered by the Doomworld crowd for use in their latest WADs and Mods!). As a MIDI it’s quite a spooky and ethereal piece, light on percussion, warping constantly with details and effects typical of Doyle’s style. The reimagining doesn’t veer too far from the framing of the original but does swap in a number of significant components including a decidedly… well, inelegant beat; a stiff, robotic slamming with jittering synth; a metallic growl that phases over the middle part of the track. It all brings to mind the image of magnetic horrors being summoned up from the depths of a dust-blown junk yard in Hell. It’s different, but I like it.

Bucket of Fear
9 / 10

Correction: that clanging you hear at the start of the track isn’t one of the tribal instruments mentioned in the Tides of War review. It’s actually a bucket. A bucket of… angry, pent-up rage. Don’t spill it!

Doyle’s second unused MIDI is almost like a distillation of his style’s most identifiable traits into one angry track, and the album version is only too happy to build upon what’s provided with massive surges of savage energy. What fun! Riding the sense of anticipation between those moments of release is a much easier ask in this piece versus Tides, also, with plenty of character bestowed upon each iteration of the central, galloping lead-in. The controlled demolition nearing the end of the track is brilliantly done.

Time has diminished neither the talent nor the creative vision of Doom’s Mightiest Music Men. Though it’s perhaps inevitable that some listeners’ expectations will be left stranded after twenty years of nurtured imaginings; this would only occasionally be resulting from, say, the musicians’ over-eagerness to engage with tools that weren’t available for use at the time. Removed from all comparison with the source material, we still find ourselves in possession of an album boasting an excellent display of skill, craftsmanship and attention to detail, and which is surprisingly if not totally well-rounded for its length. Even if you’re one of the unlucky few to have never known Requiem or heard any of its music: do yourself a favor!

And oh, play some god damn Doom, while you’re at it.