Friday, September 12, 2008

Death Magnetic's Sound: the Scoop

Death MagneticI am now the proud owner of Death Magnetic in mp3, CD, and two LP vinyl form, and have come to some conclusions.

First, the retail CD is beyond loud. But for a CD being so loud, it's listenable. Yes, there is a layer of distortion that sits like a haze when the instruments really get cranking, but the sound guys were somehow still able to get some space between the instruments. The drums sound crisp most of the time. It's only when things get really crankin' that they, plus the vocals, recede in the mix, and the guitar tone suffers. I should be used to this: Metallica just has never been about the best sound.

The two LP vinyl set: it's a nice package, but don't expect miracles from it. By nature of it being quieter, and warmer, you can push the volume more without it feeling shrill. And I think the drums for "The Day That Never Comes" sound really nice on my stereo for the quieter parts. I've always felt, for whatever reason, that a good piece of vinyl on my stereo has more punch than a CD.

That being said, the distortion is still there. It's easier to take, but it's still there. We get a more pleasing experience because it's vinyl, but it doesn't change the loudness that was introduced during recording and mixing. This was confirmed by Ted Jensen, the disc's mastering engineer. When asked about the issues, he replied:

"I’m certainly sympathetic to your reaction, I get to slam my head against that brick wall every day. In this case the mixes were already brick walled before they arrived at my place. Suffice it to say I would never be pushed to overdrive things as far as they are here. Believe me I’m not proud to be associated with this one, and we can only hope that some good will come from this in some form of backlash against volume above all else."

Forgetting the distortion for a moment, the album's biggest problem (no matter what format you buy) is that there's no dynamics. So the loud part of "Day" is just as loud as the quiet. Furthermore, in all of these songs, near the end where they really start jamming, you get a wall of sound effect.

Is it as bad as Rush's Vapor Trails? Hrm, probably not. That album really suffers in the drum department. Here, most of the time, Ulrich's drums are very easily heard. The stereo separation is pretty good overall. It actually astounds me that the album is this loud and it sounds as good as it does. They wanted this album to "rock" by being in your face, but I do believe they pushed it. Thus: distortion, fuzz, and haze that lives underneath the instruments.

So here's my advice: if you have a turntable, get the vinyl, because by the nature of it you're going to get something that's less harsh than the CD. But don't expect the sound to turn into something miraculously open and full of hidden nuances. If you want something closer to that feel by Rubin, get an unremastered copy of The Cult's Electric: that album has this production style, yet is very open and very clear. The fact is that they shoved the volume on Death Magnetic so it would be purposely intrusive ("Hear my me-TAL roar!"), and it is, whether you have the vinyl or CD.

The downloadable mp3 files are a bit quieter, which also has a pleasing effect, even though they still have haze. Someone over at Metallica HQ is trying to solve the problem, but it's a mostly futile effort since the problem is in the recording.


Blogger Raimundo Lagos said...

DM resmastered by me here!

2:15 AM  

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