Vinyl Showdown – City Of The Living Dead Soundtrack

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City of the Living Dead (AKA Paura Nella Citta Dei Morti Viventi AKA Fear In The City Of The Living Dead AKA The Gates of Hell AKA That Movie with the Fucked Up Scene with the Drill) is one of Lucio Fulci’s most…let’s say memorable…films.

I mean, we should be honest here, City of the Living Dead is not a great film. Shit, I think it would be a stretch to call it a good film or even a halfway decent film. It’s an incoherent mess of a film, a film full of hilariously bad acting, horrid special effects and plot holes that a army of zombies could march through no problem.

But it’s also an oddly memorizing film filled with evocative and unforgettable imagery, with a dreamlike quality unmatched by many other horror flicks. It may not make a lick of sense and have some rather drastic problems, but that doesn’t make it any less visually stunning and captivating to this day. If a film can be so-bad-it’s-good and a legit classic at the same time, then it’s City of the Living Dead.

While much of the film’s high points can be credited to the amazing direction of Lucio Fulci, the score by Fabio Frizzi definitely deserves second billing in an explanation as to why the film transcends its cheesy nature. Many Italian horror films of the era featured spacey, prog-influenced soundtracks. Most were by Goblin, the prog-rock outfit who frequently worked with legendary film director Dario Argento on many of his greatest films, including Deep Red and Suspiria. Many consider their work on those previously mentioned films to be the best soundtracks to come out the Italian horror scene of the 70s and 80s. However, if you ask me, Fabio Frizzi’s score to City Of The Living Dead actually transcends them in many ways.

It’s the most “proggy” of the bunch, with a great bass and guitar sound that sounds highly reminiscent of Pink Floyd – if they had been big Romero fans. And it has more memorable hooks than most of those other scores. When you remember most Goblin scores you remember one key melody or theme, but the score to City Of The Living Dead has countless motifs that stick with you long after you listen to them. It’s simultaneously creepy and catchy. A rare combination.

So that’s why when I saw that Death Waltz was distributing Private Records’ limited edition re-issue of the original soundtrack on blue vinyl, I jumped at the chance to pick it up. I didn’t even think twice. Although I guess I probably should have, because I didn’t realize that, as a member of Death Waltz’s subscription service, I was already getting their own version of the film’s soundtrack as well.

Oh well, a great excuse to compare them then and help potential buyers out there figure out which one is best for them! So let’s get down to it!

Content

The Death Waltz version has 19 tracks, while the Private Records edition has 17. Most tracks are on both. The only track to grace the Private Records version that isn’t on the Death Waltz one is an alternate version of “Apoteosi Del Mistero” that’s just a minute or so long. Meanwhile, the Death Waltz release has an amazing seven-minute live performance of a suite composed of highlights from the film’s score. It’s inclusion makes this one a no-brainer.
Advantage: Death Waltz

 

Presentation

I feel that objectively speaking I should say that Death Waltz wins this round. I mean, just look at that record.

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It looks like an actual pit to hell.

Now compare it to the Private Records edition.

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Neat label.

Blue vinyl is pretty and all, but damn those colors sure are neat. I love how it actually looks like an actual gate to hell. Note, my version is the ultra-limited edition subscriber edition, other versions may vary.

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Death Waltz edition

What won’t vary, however, is the packaging. The Death Waltz edition comes packaged in a sturdy gatefold sleeve that has a nice booklet featuring liner notes by Fabio Frizzi and several others involved with the production of the film. It’s full of great insight and pictures, and should be of great interest to fans of the film.

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Booklet inside the DW pressing.

So why am I so hesitant to hand this one over to Death Waltz?

Well, I just really don’t like that cover. Sure, it’s a fantastic piece of art and is very evocative of one of the film’s more memorable scenes, but to me it doesn’t hold a candle to the original poster/home video artwork that the Private Records edition uses for its release. I just like that image better and don’t really think a new piece of artwork, however nice it may be, really improves on it all that much.

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Private Records’ cover. Classically creepy.

Also, while the sleeve for the Private Records pressing is rather bland, included inside are two cool mini-posters that re-produce the film’s original poster designs. Granted, I’ll never hang these gruesome beauties on my apartment wall, but they’re nice little bonuses.

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Additionally, while the thick paper stock used by Death Waltz for their most recent releases sure is thick and sturdy, it can also be kind of a pain in the ass. The sleeve is so damn thick that getting the record out and back in can be a hassle at times, I almost felt like I was going to tear something trying to jam the LP back in when I was done listening to it. Also, I prefer glossy album covers, so the embossed, grainy texture of the Death Waltz cover just isn’t my thing.

Still, I see the appeal of the Death Waltz version, and when I factor in the booklet I guess I have to give this one to them. It’s a close one though
Advantage: Death Waltz

 

Audio Quality

While both LPs sound rather similar, there are enough differences between the two to warrant a comparison. When comparing the two versions, I found the Private Records version to have a warmer, somewhat fuller sound. It’s hard to explain exactly, but it just sounds bigger and more impressive.

However, the Private Records version also suffers from considerably more surface noise. When I record my LPs to my computer I usually run them through click removal software that can typically slice away even the most drastic snap crackle or pop with minimal effect on the source material. No such luck here, the defects in the Private Records edition are so drastic that any click removal that wouldn’t damage the source recording proved to be relatively ineffective.

Sadly, Death Waltz’s release isn’t perfect in this regard either, with side one especially falling victim to some rather hefty scratchy sounds. This has been a problem with Death Waltz releases in the past, and while it’s getting better (side two actually sounds fine) I’m disappointed to see it still crop up from time to time. Still, it does sound much better than the Private Records release
Advantage: Death Waltz

 

Winner: Death Waltz

So that’s Death Waltz with a three-to-zero win. Huh, when I started this I thought it was going to be closer. I guess it’s good that the Death Waltz one is the winner, as there are still pressings of that version that are in print, and the Private Records one is long gone.

Death Waltz still might not be perfect, but their presentation and enthusiasm alone makes them worth rooting for and supporting. Bravo to them on a quality release, and here’s hoping things continue to improve with their audio quality.

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