For those whose memory of Christian rock spans further back than, say, Switchfoot, Horrendous Disc by Daniel Amos holds a special place. Few albums have ever been as controversy-raising without actually being released, as for three years debate raged on multiple fronts as to why the album, originally planned for a 1978 debut, didn’t see the light of retail day until 1981, finally hitting the shelves a whole six weeks before the band’s fourth album ¡Alarma! announced its complete transformation from country/rock ensemble to new wave edgemeisters. Horrendous Disc was a bridge between the two; while not entirely abandoning the softer melodic side of Daniel Amos’ eponymous debut or followup Shotgun Angel, it also discarded the country flavor of these releases in favor of an ofttimes Beatlesesque rock vibe. Not a lot of fans remained faithful during these artistic twists, but for those who did, or who came on board when the twang was traded for thunder, Horrendous Disc was sweet meat indeed.
Fast forward four decades or so, and has become the wont of many Christian classic rock albums Horrendous Disc has been given the remastered rerelease treatment. This time through, the project’s popularity was such that additional items kept being added to the available versions. True to the album’s spirit, the project was a year late in release. It is now here, though, which is a good thing. Unfortunately, it is perilously close to being far too much of a good thing.
Starting with the album itself, the remastered sound is packed with power. The late Mike Stone, who produced the original recordings, did a masterful job of capturing the band at full throttle, giving everything a crisp, deep, rich sheen. While parts of the album have not aged well, particularly, with the exception of the title track, all of the second side which suffers from hewing too closely to the aforementioned Beatlesesque influence at the expense of strong tunemanship, overall Horrendous Disc is still well worth a listen.
Where things start noticeably fraying is in the bonus material, which in addition to the usual alternate takes and such of known songs includes a bumper crop of songs recorded throughout the time period when Horrendous Disc sat in mystery-shrouded limbo. There are also two songs recorded during the album’s original sessions that were dropped prior to its eventual release. Finally having these long rumored but never heard twenty tracks available is a joy. The problem is they reveal a band in transition that would not regain its full stride until the transition was complete. The songs individually and collectively are okay, but Daniel Amos whenever it was riding high — which was most of the time — wasn’t okay. It was brilliant. The newly released material is interesting historically and definitely not unlistenable, but it’s far from showcasing the band at its best.
It seems strange to think a set of five CDs could be missing several possible configurations and songs, yet the compilation left more than a few moments that could have, and should have, been included either scattered hither and yon or on the table altogether. Ranging from elusive to absent altogether are such items as all of the original mix versions Mike Stone assembled for the album, all of the track variations that appeared on the original US, Canadian, and British releases, and everything planned for unreleased projects such as an 1979 EP entitled Pointless Blazing Wrath. As exhaustive as the compilation is, having these items missing is quite frustrating.
In addition to a lengthy CD booklet, a companion book titled (what else?) Horrendous Book is available. The book does a good job covering the basic facts regarding the album and assorted struggles that delayed its release, but suffers from weak graphic design and a painfully obvious lack of proofreading. A personal note: while I can and do mangle the written language on a regular basis, I am very good at proofreading the work of others. Also, I’m in no way knocking John J. Thompson, Bruce Brown, or Brian Quincy Newcomb, each of whom penned essays for the CD booklet. They were all vital parts of Christian music journalism’s early days. But I can write a little too, and I also was there. How about asking me to contribute something once in a while, people? Okay, got that off my chest; back to the review.
The final element is the project packaging. The discs come in individual cardboard sleeves contained inside an oversized box that also includes individual band member photos taken during a time when Daniel Amos utilized satirical costumes as part of its assault on religious cults. It’s nice, but for archival reasons it would have been preferable to have the discs housed in digipacks for better protection and the box replaced by a open-ended version in which all the digipacks would snugly fit.
It’s not that the Horrendous Disc release is bad. It’s not. It is a mammoth effort and something over which all Christian rock fans young and old can, and should, rejoice. However, in its mammoth approach it missed several opportunities to be truly great. Sure beats not having it at all, though.