Metallica "Death Magnetic" - Band not present at the mix ? - Mastering Media Blog

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Metallica "Death Magnetic" - Band not present at the mix ?

The plot thickens. In the latest twist in the "Death Magnetic" saga: fans claim the band weren't present during the mix or master.

In a thread on the Metallica forums, user Hetfield1963 says he conducted a phone interview with the band's James Hetfield, and quotes:

JH: I think things came out really good. They’re going to be mixing it while we’re away in Europe. Yeah, and that will be…well,we haven’t done that in awhile. We’ve usually been around for the mixes. I think it will be good for us to step away from it for a while. Let Greg Fidelman do his magic, you know that he is the engineer, he’s going to be mixing it. He is very tuned into what we like and need. He’s very tuned into what Rick likes and needs. So, he’s kind of the point man, which will be really great. We don’t have to worry about what Rick is going to think about this, or Rick isn’t going to have to worry about us battling him on some thing. You know, [Greg], he’s going to be doing the mixing, he’s a guitar player, he gets some great sounds and that’s really helpful.

Elsewhere in the thread, it is also claimed that the band weren't present for the album's mastering sessions, because they were performing at Ozzfest.

The engineer mentioned in the thread, Greg Fidelman, shares a controversial history with the albums producer, Rick Rubin. They both worked on Red Hot Chilli Peppers' "Californication", another CD both revered and reviled for it's sound - harsh, highly compressed and very loud.

Sound familiar ?

The question is, at what point did the sound of the CD move away from the comparatively clean, dynamic "Guitar Hero" version, to the highly compressed, distorted final release ?

Update: Rolling Stone magazine is reported to have an article with Lars Ulrich, saying

the record, more than two years in the making, still isn’t finished. Rubin is overseeing mixes in Los Angeles while the band is in Europe, headlining shows...


Simon said...

As a sound engineer I find this whole scenario truley saddening.
Correct me if I'm wrong and I'm sure as a mastering engineer you will know better than I.
But don't mastering studios and pressing plants have the right to refuse copies of albums deemed to fall outside certain strict limits and criteria, i.e albums badly mixed, with unnacceptable distortion etc.?
It's undeniable that a music industry giant such as Metallica will find no resistance to the steam-roller release schedule for a new album, but is it really worth all that effort just to piss it up the wall at the last hurdle?

I feel sorry for Ted Jensen and his peers as their craft and skill will simply be bastardised and their good names tarnished by this kind of substandard work which is so quickly becoming "the standard"

ianshepherd said...

I know exactly how you feel. Certainly mastering studios can refuse to handle work - but Metallica are one of the biggest rock bands in the world, and work is work. The music industry is extremely competitive at the moment, so I can't blame Ted for going against his better judgement.

We can only speculate about what happened here, but I'm sure he would have queried the distortion, but was obviously instructed to go ahead. It will be interesting to see if the band choose to respond, or simply wait for this to blow over.

Miggity said...

The band owes it to everyone that bought the album and ESPECIALLY to those that bought the expensive vinyl to explain and redeem themselves.

Matthias F said...

In this interview , Neversoft director Brian Bright is asked "why does the DLC pack two GH-exclusive takes of Suicide & Redemption but lack the studio version of that track".
In the answer he points out, that that song was not finished yet.
Which leads to the conclusion that the GH folks did get untainted masters!

Richard Tollerton said...

The post is gone, btw.

troy said...

im the mastering engineer at spectre mastering here in seattle, thanks Ian for your blog..i think it helps alot of people understand...

please realize everyone ...most bands do not attend the mastering session...and theres no way this is teds fault...ive seen mixes before and after teds gets them, and when hes allowed to do what he likes to do the results are usually mastering guys we have all been in his place..and bottom line it sucks...

that said this is not a new argument..the loudness war has been going on for decades...motown in the 60s use to cut louder vinyl and distort the cutting stylus to do this...other labels hated them for it because it didnt sound as good...but it was louder than everyone else and it worked for the time being..and it got thew dj's attention.

i work with a ton of heavy rock and metal bands from underoath..august burns red..bloodjinn..demon hunter ect..bla bla..mixes come in at all different levels and some are just way too loud and theres nothing you can do about it if the mix engineers refuse to change it..theres no undo can only add more..its a constant frustration of mine...metal rock records should make you wanna turn up the volume knob...NOT turn it down because they hurt..there is a fine line between agression and pain sonicly...and metallica crossed it with this release in a big way

distortion is a VERY powerful tool...its our friend when used responsibly..(imagine a metallica record with no distortion on gtrs..pretty lame)..and its our enemy when its not..and as you can can backfire in a big way for a band...

the loudness war is cant go louder(unless we change the format we deliver music on to the public) it can only distort as youve heard...the price of being the loudest band on the ipod or the cd changer is ..your the band that everyone turns down when your song comes on because it hurts.....congrats..we have succeeded in making quiet the new loud. how backwards is that.

troy glessner
spectre mastering

Anonymous said...

The words above by James Hetfiled that you are quoting are from the latest issue of Metallica's own fan magazine "So What"

I think you are taking the words out of context.

Also, I don't think the album sounds that terrible aside from the drums... they for sure have some digital crunch.

But look at Californication - same team, similar questionable sound quality - still launched a second wave of the Chili Peppers career and is often listed as one of their greatest albums.

ianshepherd said...

Hm, I don't want to mislead people - what is the context of the quote that makes it mean something else ?

Check out my most recent post linking to a video with comparison of the two, and let me know which one you prefer

Miggity said...

"But look at Californication - same team, similar questionable sound quality - still launched a second wave of the Chili Peppers career and is often listed as one of their greatest albums."

...and just like the Guitar Hero rips of Death Magnetic sound better, the "Unmastered" version of Californication that is out there is 1000 times better too.

Mike said...

I can understand that a band might not be present for mixing/mastering. But, are you telling me that a band as big as Metallica, who clearly had to make up for the St. Anger coffee-can snare drum fiasco, didn't listen to the mastered tracks before release?

Some have been quick to jump on Fidelman, who has mixed some of my favorite albums of recent times. But, isn't it more likely that the mix is exactly what the band asked for?

troy said...

the politics behind a release of this size and a band of this size are numerous..who me it doesent matter whos fault it doesent change the fact that it sounds henious...they all have a responsibility to present the public with a listenable product.

troy said...

made the front page of the wall street journal here today...with a funny little hand drawn picture of rick rubin


Trent said...

Its really quite simple. If you cannot hear digital distortion in a tracking/mixing process, you should NOT BE IN PRO AUDIO. If you are too gutless to stand up for quality over money, you should NOT BE IN PRO AUDIO.

Sack Greg Fidelman now.

Anonymous said...

Reading about this band is perfect because that's my favorite band, so I've heard the Metallica's manager has to take viagra everyday to work perfect and get inspiration.

Matte said...

This sounds worse by the minute, as time goes by and more details get out about this recording we are more and more likely to see that this album final edit has nothing to do with what Metallica originally intended. This Cialis junkies are just too focused on sales

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