What "Death Magnetic" SHOULD Have Sounded Like - Mastering Media Blog

Friday, 27 March 2009

What "Death Magnetic" SHOULD Have Sounded Like



Ladies and gentlemen, I rest my case. Not distorted, not clipped - sounds great. Make sure you click the HQ button...

(If you're not sure what I'm talking about, please listen to this:









- or click here.)

Actually even this version would benefit from some more dynamics, but at least it isn't distorted to hell and back !


7 comments:

Daewon said...

Thanks for the posting. It should sound like that! However, the band did not want their record to be sounded like that. The following is what Metallica themselves think about the sound of Death Magnetic.(excerpted from Guitar Player Magazine some month ago) It's apparent that those exceptional sounds were from their choice, not from the mistakes involved in the recording process. The center of the prolem seems to be wheter listner thinks the record sounds "livelier" even though it is heavily clipped at all.

---------------------

Question: "There’s a big brouhaha on the Internet about the overall sound of Death Magnetic, and how the versions on the Guitar Hero video game are clearer and less compressed. What’s your take on all that?"

Hammett: "A lot of that has to do with Rick Rubin’s opinion that the kind of production on Death Magnetic makes the album sound livelier. I’m inclined to agree with him. I think it sounds pretty cool. I think it sounds good and raw and in the moment. It’s less than perfect, but I like that aspect of it. In the past, we’ve gone to great pains to eliminate any kind of digital distortion or redlining. I think for these songs—and the concept of this record—it sounds good."

Hetfield: "I don’t know. Some people will always find things to complain about, and I realize that. They might not be used to the kind of sound that Rick Rubin goes for— which is pushing the limits. We went back and forth with the sound of the record. I was one of the first ones to notice the compression was affecting the overall sound, but when we took it away, something was missing. It was like the mixing desk was part of the sound. When the compression was taken away, some of the liveliness went away with it. So, after comparing both directions, we said, “This sounds better.” It’s as simple as that. There’s nothing technical about it. We didn’t get into worrying about what people were going to think. As far as the Guitar Hero tracks are concerned, those are probably very early versions, but I really don’t know. It’s so complicated these days. You never know where, how, and when music is being released. It was a lot easier when you sat down, mixed the record, released it, and that was it. Now it’s more frustrating. The more variables there are with CDs, mp3s, ringtones, and games, the more potential there is for different sounds. People are talking about it, though, and that’s somewhat important. There’s passion there, and we accept that as a good thing. People have always been pretty passionate about Metallica—positive and negative."

ianshepherd said...

You're right, I think the evidence is stacking up that the band really did decide to have it sound this way - here's some comment from "So What" magazine:

***

Steffan:
"So you have fun, you make a lound record and everyone, or shall we say 1 percent of people, bitch about the sound, this "clipping" stuff and so on. I think this is a good opportunity for me to ask you all about this issue."
Kirk:
"My attitude is, if you like it, good. If you don't like it, that's fine too.
Lars:
"My attitude is, if you like it, good. If you don't like it, it was Rick's fault (laughs)
James:
"It's part of the charm of the record, it's part of the vibe of the record. I certainly had questions about it at first. Here's the story, Lars and I were not there for the mixes, none of us were there for the mixes. Lars and I are usually there. We weren't. We were on tour. We were getting digi-deliveries to our computers, and listening on supposedly the same kind of studio set-up, but in a tent in Germany, or in a little closet in Switzerland. And you are going, "I can't listen to this, there's no reference point. You know. Lars dosen't have his Mercedez, I don't have my truck, I don't have whatever you're producers and engineers listening to it on. It was tough. But I just kept noticing that things were clipping, things were sounding a little more distorted than I remember. And I wondered what was going on with that? Is it my audio set-up? or the digi delivery?
We went to the studio after the tour and A-B-ing stuff that's maybe pulled back a little and stuff that's right at the red line, pushing it. I had no idea which was which! But there was some things we did fix, but there was also times when we sat there and said - "this one sounds better" - Which one was that? Well, it's the one that's pushed hotter, and had a liveliness to it.
Steffan:
"Do you think it's because maybe there's a whole new generation of listeneres who now how these hypocritical "digital ears" or something as opposed to more "oldschool" hearing?
Lars:
"I don't know. I gotta tell you, honestly? I hear it in my car, it sounds great"
Kirk:
"When I listen to it, I'm in my van. To me it rocks. And I get a postive feeling, I get a good feeling of energy and agression. You know, technical shit aside, it feels good on a gut basis for me."
Lars:
"All I know is that 99 percent of the music I hear is in my car, and in my car "Death Magnetic" FUCKING ROCKS HARD!

***

So... there we have it !

The explanation of all of this is simple. The distorted version sounds more "lively" because it has extra high-frequency distortion energy in the sound. The original (GH3) has very few of the usual audio "sweeteners" used in metal like reverb, delays, keyboards etc. So it sounds very blunt and in-your-face, and if we're honest, a bit dull and lame.

The compression and distortion help make up for this - they just go way over the top. The video above and the one for "All Nightmare Long" prove it's possible to get a great sound for this material without the ridiculous distortion.

It's just a shame for Metallic fans that they are only choosing to mix them that way now, after the horse has bolted.

Hollow Man said...

This is what it's come to...making sure that music sounds good in the car? This is stupid, but even more stupid is that if they had done everything right, that would've sounded good in the car too. This is heavy metal we're talking about. Even with dynamics, most of the stuff will be loud, so one wouldn't be constantly fiddling with the volume knob.

At least James admits he heard distortion and just gave up after a while. It's small consolation, but it makes me feel better in some small way to know he recognized the issue (even if he said hell with it when push came to shove).

akagugo said...

Mr Shepherd,
I have an minor impairment in my right ear (tinnitus and 25% reduction in sensitivity to bass range). Because of this I tend to feel "fatigue" rather quickly when the production is poor, and I agree with you that mastering a record should be a careful process of bringing out the best of the sounds from instruments and vocals so that a normal listener does not tire from the experience.
This may not be a good example, but I think that the band Anthrax gives a great lesson in mastering on its "Armed and Dangerous" EP. The opening self-titled song starts with a muddy fade-in which gradually "expands" into a deluge crystal-clear "arpeggio" notes of acoustic guitars before the song explodes in your face. What would you think about telling all "nay-sayers" (including Metallica themselves) that the whole of "Death Magnetic" resembles that muddy intro to "Armed and Dangerous", and that a proper re-master would only do justice to their great compositions? Would this be an appropriate example?
What would you think of an album such as Dark Angel's "Darkness Descends", a memorable record, btu with a despicable sound?
- Akash

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