“Horrendous Disc” Rerelease Isn’t, But It Isn’t Great

For those whose memory of Christian rock spans further back than 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 many fans remained faithful during these artistic twists, but for those who did or came on board when the twang transformed into thunder, Horrendous Disc was sweet meat.

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 its overseers continuously added additional items 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 pops 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, mainly except for the title track, all of the second side, which suffers from hewing too closely to the aforementioned Beatlesesque influence at the expense of solid tunesmanship, overall Horrendous Disc is still well worth a listen.

Things start noticeably fraying 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 period when Horrendous Disc sat in mystery-shrouded limbo. There are also two songs recorded during the album’s original sessions that did not make it to its eventual release. Finally having these long-rumored but never heard tracks available is a joy. The problem is they reveal a band in transition that would not regain its full stride until the change 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 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 has more than a few moments that could have and should have appeared either scattered hither and yon or left 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 a 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 an excellent job of covering the basic facts regarding the album and the various struggles that delayed its release. Still, it needs more robust graphic design, and there is a painfully obvious lack of proofreading. A personal note: while I can and do mangle the written language regularly, I am very good at proofreading the work of others. Also, I’m not 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, I 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 includes individual band member photos taken 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 an open-ended version in which all the digipacks would snugly fit.

It’s not that the Horrendous Disc release is terrible. It’s not. It is a mammoth effort and something over which all Christian rock fans, young and old, can and should rejoice. However, its colossal approach misses several opportunities to be genuinely great. It sure beats not having it at all, though.