Metallica "Death Magnetic" - Remixed from stems by "name" mystery producer - Mastering Media Blog

Monday, 22 September 2008

Metallica "Death Magnetic" - Remixed from stems by "name" mystery producer


Today the "Death Magnetic" saga took yet another strange twist, with the arrival of a "remix" of one of the tracks, allegedly by a "name" metal producer, according to the email which acompanied the file. This new mix of "Broken, Beat & Scarred" has been created by the mystery producer using "stems" extracted from the Playstation 3 game "Guitar Hero". The PS3 mixes in realtime to allow guitar parts to drop in and out as part of the gameplay, and this allowed the extraction of 3 stereo submixes - Guitars, Bass and Drums + Vox. Even with this limited palette, a new mix has been created, adding reverb, EQ and mix tweaks - even going so far as using a clever trick to add reverb to the snare.

Almost immediately I was offered the chance to listen to the track, and despite initial reservations my curiosity eventually got the better of me and I decided to take a listen. I didn't have high hopes - it seemed unlikely that only 3 stems would enable a major improvement. And, once again I'm at home so relying on my trusty MacBook Pro and some high-quality headphones, but even at this early stage I can say it's quite a transformation.

What follows are my early impressions of this "new mix" - bearing in mind that it has been created without the bands approval, the methods used to create it are questionable legally, and distributing it publicly is clearly out of the question. Please treat this as a "bit of fun".

So:

First impressions are strong - more bass, fuller guitars, more spacious drums and great weight and power - all the things that are missing from the GH version, and flattened or buried in distortion on the CD.

Listening in more detail, here are some initial observations:
  • No distortion
  • More bass - fuller & deeper.
  • Richer guitars - reverb and EQ added. Maybe width enhancement ?
  • Drums similar to GH but smoother and cleaner. The snare is lower level and has reverb - see below
  • No stereo FX on the guitar solo - this will be a limitation of the stems
  • Still too loud. This mix measures a long-term RMS of -7.7, whereas the CD has a punishing -5. However this mix is still mastered loud. Too loud ! It's clearly been limited hard, what was the point of shaving off those last few dBs ? Luckily:
  • Comparatively speaking, it's clean as a whistle. (Bearing in mind I'm listening to an AAC file) Thankfully no trace of the huge distortion that masks the CD, bar remenants of the clipping already present in the GH version
  • Overall impression is similar to the CD but cleaner, wider and fuller - more spacious. Maybe too polished.
One of the most noticeable differences is the selective addition of reverb to the snare, and it turns out this has been achieved by sampling the snare sound from another Metallica classic album - the Bob Rock produced "Black Album", triggering it in time with the track, and using it to add reverb. It's not clear if any of the snare sound itself was added to the mix - if so, it sounds as if it was minimal to me. Regardless, this is a very cunning trick.

So, in summary ? Personally I prefer this mix to both the CD and the GH version - it's much more the kind of sound I would have liked to have heard. And to achieve this result with only the three stems to work from, is truly impressive. In my opinion it is still unnecessarily loud though - an extra few dBs of breathing space would make a welcome relief.

HOWEVER

This mix certainly isn't the sound that Rick Rubin and the band wanted. Both GH and the CD mixes are dry as a bone, and there's no doubt that's exactly the way they were intended to be. The GH version proves that the hard, dry sound of the CD could be achieved without the distortion, and personally I find productions that dry tough to listen to, but the transformation wreaked here moves this mix firmly from the realm of "alternative version", where GH sits, to "fan edit" space.

Fan Edits & mash-ups are obviously a big buzz on the internet at the moment, and it doesn't take long watching the Metallica forums to realise that a host of these alternative mixes will certainly now follow in a short space of time, once the stem files are out "in the wild". However these versions are exactly what the name says they are - "fan edits". Not what the band wants, or what the producer wanted, in a any shape or form. Who knows - in light of the intense media scrutiny and 10,000+ signatures on the petition, maybe Metallica will speak out on this issue soon, and release a remixed version of Death Magnetic, more along the lines of the mix presented here. But maybe not. This reminds me of one of my favourite expressions -

A man with a watch may know what the time is, but a man with two is never sure

For example, legendary Beach Boys album "Smile" got the fan-mix treatment in the same way when copies of all the original 60's tapes escaped and were widely shared on the internet. Many versions existed and were endlessly discussed, but eventually the generally agreed "ultimate" version of these edits only materialised when Brian Wilson himself finally released a brand new recording of the record, and the fans were able to duplicate it as closely as possible using the original takes.

In the same way, until (if) Metallica ever make a clear statement about the sound of the Death Magnetic CD, we will never know if this is how the album should "really" have sounded. This mix I think moves too far from the existing versions to be able to claim that for itself.

Personally I think fans would be better advised to maintain pressure on the band and label to release a different, (non-distorted!) official new version of "Death Magnetic", rather than spending hours second-guessing what they "might have done".

But having said that, remixing your favourite band's stuff is really good fun - it's something that has long been talked about as the ultimate in audience participation, that my idol Brian Eno has long advocated, and here I am commenting on the damn thing already ! Time to listen to my own advice and so something else more useful instead...

UPDATE: Having listened in the studio this morning I stand by most of my comments above, with a few extra comments:
  • For me, listening on speakers, (this stuff is hard to judge on cans) the snare is now too low in the mix, and doesn't have enough weight - it's too tasteful. A compromise between this and the GH version would be better. Interestingly, lots of fans have commented that there is too much reverb added to the snare, but the reverb itself is quite subtle IMO - the big difference is you can hear the drum's "ring" much more clearly now - there is a lot of extra high frequency EQ on the drums. This is audible in the GH3 version too, but not in the same way.
  • Overall it's a little too bassy, in my opinion
  • It is unnecessarily loud - I wish it were a few dBs quieter. This may not sound like much, but when you're pushing stuff this hard, every little helps.

Finally to return to one of my points above - apart from the issues I've raised, this would still be my choice of mixes to listen to so far. BUT I can't "commit" to enjoying it in the same way as I could to a proper remix from the band. It doesn't feel authentic, because the band aren't involved. I think we as listeners look for statements from artists, and this isn't it... an official remix is still needed.

26 comments:

Ze [Zuplemento.com] said...

1st comment? =D
Ian you rock! \m/

Saludos desde Caracas,

Ze

Hollow Man said...

I really agree that the mystery mix is too bass-y. There are also a few artifacts introduced, but since this is not made from the original tracks, I expect some funkiness.

The biggest problem is it's way too loud. This is what the main issue is with the original CD and vinyl! So I'm beyond saddened to see this mix put in such high regard by a lot of people. Granted it sounds better in some ways, but I contend that the original CD mix would've sounded just fine (I've always liked the Rubin dryness approach) if it was simply not spiked to 11 in the volume department.

M.Yass said...

This is the first time I was able to listen to the *music* and not be constantly annoyed and sidetracked by the sound. I had already decided that I don't like the songs, I could barley stand to listen to a complete track. Now I think I might actually like this song.

Mitchell Payne said...

Good stuff here, Ian! Isn't it sad that the retail version is so unfavorable that fans are seeking other means to enjoy this album - even trying to re-mix/re-engineer the album themselves? A pity really.

By the same token, I agree that it would be a lot of fun to get to play around with mixing the artist's original recordings.

Music Radar has also picked up on this: http://www.musicradar.com/news/guitars/mystery-producer-remixes-death-magnetic-174640 .

P.S. I like the added punch in this mix. A bit loud and messy at times, but certainly showing some welcomed flavor IMO. This mix rocks rocks my poor little car so hard lol!

taikonautti said...

Wouldn't it be great if Metallica would allow it's fans to remix (from original tracks) the Death Magnetic (DM) for the (unavoidable?) re-release of DM.

The guitar distortion, bass mixing and drums (snare mostly) in DM truly is so crappy that I left the album in the record store when I had a chance to listen to it with good speakers.

Also the song writing is promising but fails to deliver for me the final punch.

Blogwart said...

I also heard the Mystery remix today and it is unbelievable how good this can sound compared to the original CD. Still not perfect as you said, but much, much better.

But what does that say about the staff who recorded and mixed Death Magnetic? This is sad: if someone puts out a mix lightyears better than what you can actually buy – only from a handful of stems. That does make everyone involved in the original mixing process and approving this mess either deaf or dumb.

I support you with demanding an official remix. But hearing what is on the CD, I wouldn't put any trust in the people Metallica put trust in to make this record as good as possible, because they failed in almost every possible way.

They didn't even defend themselves (apart from Ted Jensen). If they said: That's what it's supposed to sound like, then I still would think the sound is an intolerable mess but I could be sure not to buy a new Metallica album again.

Without any statement I would still hope to get finally a good Metallica record again.

Bernard said...

So far the Greg Fidelman mastertape sounds the best to me, nowhere near as much clipping, Rob's bass is clear, and the volume levels seem right cf. the GH3 rips. What do you think Ian?

Hollow Man said...

Any "Fidelman" mix floating about is undoutedly a scam. The problem with the release of the GH version is that it's far too easy for anyone to take the tracks, EQ them as they seem fit, and release them under whatever name they choose.

Bernard said...

um ok, so where did the extended version of S&R which clocks in at 10.42 come from? I haven't seen or heard this version anywhere else.

Hollow Man said...

I have not heard it yet, but I read on the Metallica forums that someone did a composite of the two GH versions of "S&R". So if you're seeing a 10 minute plus version available, this may be it.

Bernard said...

Oh ok. Does anyone know if the GH3 source files are compressed for sure? Apparently they're a 1.4GB download. It would be nice to know that the files are not lossy to start with.

Hollow Man said...

The general feeling is that both the Xbox and 360 files are compressed (1.4 GB is too small an amount for uncompressed separate music tracks). Which is another reason that all of these fan remixes are a bad idea. Because even though many of them may be lower in loudness than the CD, other aspects of quality will keep degrading, depending on the methods used to do the remixes.

Bernard said...

Ugh. Poo. I think I need to sign that petition several million more times before anyone in the Metallica camp will notice, if they do at all. Shame, because the music itself is the best they've made in years. 5 albums to debut at 1 - impressive. Bigger than U2 and the Beatles lol

Bernard said...

Ok what do you think of the 24/96 PS3 rip? Are the source files identical to those from the Xbox, or are they lossless 24/96? 936Mb

Hollow Man said...

I don't know the technical details of either set of files. Only enough to be fairly sure they're lossy, because both can be fairly quickly downloaded.

My understanding is there are 3 separate tracks for GH songs. The guitars share a track, and the drums and vocals share a track, so this is just not the best method for trying to improve upon the GH mix as it currently stands.

Blogwart said...

@hollow man:
The GH stems may not be the best possible way, but unless there is nothing other to mix this will be the best solution.

And hearing the mystery remix compared to the actual CD it is amazing tha someone can provide better sound quality with just a handful of lossy tracks.

But I would prefer a better solution. I think the smartest way for Metallica to get out of this without losing their face would be to provide the fans with the separate tracks to mix for themselves. That would be really fun and I think the fans would appreciate it. They do it anyway with the GH3 stems, so why not make it official and better quality? Didn't NIN do this? I think such a move would be a brilliant idea. Since fans didn't appreciate the sound of St. Anger and DM much, this wouuld be the ultimate way to give the fans an album with good songs but also the possibility to make it sound like they want it to.

Hollow Man said...

Sadly, Metallica is no nin. And I love 'em to pieces. But they're just not that cutting edge. Note the whole suing Napster debacle.

The most we can hope for is that awareness has been raised and the next record will be better. That's what we got from Rush and Iron Maiden when this happened.

Blogwart said...

Maybe you're right…
I hope they will get cutting edge some time again, although sadly I have not very high hopes for that. They kind of represent the old music business – which they have every right to, but I think the industry changes gradually and we'll have to see if Metallica can keep up or not…

In the meantime I listen to the new Opeth CD I discovered when i was frustrated about DM and searched for some other music to enjoy. It is kind of ironic that I turn to a Death Metal band when I thought I was done with new Metal albums. :-)

ianshepherd said...

We did the authoring for the recent Surround DVD release of "Still Life" by Opeth - incredible, awesome sound...

Blogwart said...

You did? Cool! Unfortunately, I have no surround system to check it out, so I have to enjoy the wonders in stereo land… ;-)

I remember seeing the cover of Opeths first album back in the 90s and thinking: »Wow, what a cool cover! I wonder how they are musically?«, but I only discovered their music a few days ago.

Books said...

http://blog.wired.com/music/2008/09/lars-ulrich-res.html?cid=132822819#comment-132822819

Lars and the band ARE NOT fixing their broken album.

All I can say is... Rick Rubin obviously doesn't care about music and shouldn't be producing albums for ANYONE.

JXQ said...

Hello,

I have difficulty understanding your point that this isn't an "official mix by Metallica", makes it difficult to commit to.

What's the difference between pulling the tracks, EQing and compressing them, etc. to get the sound that your ears enjoy best vs. asking Metallica to try and do the same? If anything I would prefer the former, and both are asking the artist to stray from their original intent, as terrible as it may have sounded.

ianshepherd said...

It's just a personal thing, really - I consider a recording and mix to be almost as important a part of a new release from my favourite bands as the songs themselves.

It's the use of additional reverb that makes the biggest difference to the "mystery" mix, and this is what pulls it too far away from the band's version for my taste. Also it is a bit bas-heavy and too compressed still.

As soon as these qualifiers come into play (ie. the alternative mix isn't "perfect") I tend to loose interest in "fan mixes".

Of course the exception is where the fan absolutely nails is, as with the Purplechick "Smile" bootleg.

Does that help ?

Ian

JXQ said...

I think I understand - it's more that this specific re-mastering of the GH3 tracks aren't quite up to snuff rather than the fact that Metallica was involved in the mixing, which makes this mix a little tough to commit to.

Thanks for the reply!

unfa said...

Maybe "Death Magnetic" was made bad for a purpose?
Maybe it was a marketing trick to create hype around the release. to make it controversial? Maybe people who want to hear undistored Metallica's songs will buy a ticket to see them live? Maybe it's a part of a plan?

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