Written By: Dave-Fi

Angry Metal-FiAngry Metal-Fi is a series of articles that are cross posted on Angry Metal Guy and Metal-Fi as a collaborative effort to evangelize dynamics in metal.

I purchased my first remastered CD back in 1999. It was Metallica’s Master of Puppets, released by the now defunct reissue label Dunhill Compact Classics, with remastering by Steve Hoffman. Hoffman’s engineering chops are the stuff of legends, and DCC was a label known for its “audiophile grade” reissues, so you would expect great things from such a release. Back then I didn’t know any of that. All I knew was that my ‘86 Elektra Records original CD had been played so often (and repeatedly moved from one Case Logic to the next) that it was scratched beyond repair and had to be replaced, and I was enticed by the fancy packaging and shiny, shiny gold.

As it turns out, despite the package’s “From The Original Master Tapes” claim, Elektra had engineer George Marino take another crack at the mastering for Metallica’s early albums through Justice in 1995 (read: make them all louder), and those were the tapes given to Hoffman, not the ‘86 tapes. Hoffman did the best he could, and his work does beat Marino’s remaster, but it’s still a downgrade from the original. Without access to the tapes used to press the original CD, there was simply no way Hoffman could match it, no matter his skills. Since 1995 was just a few years into the Loudness War, Marino only pushed to DR8, (insanely loud remastering would come later) but cutting four points of DR out of his original ’86 master was still enough to do real damage.

Despite being burned once, I hadn’t learned my lesson about buying remasters, and so in 2004, I purchased all of the Megadeth remasters through Youthanasia. I say remasters because that’s how they were described, but in actuality, the 2004 Megadeth reissues were both remixed and remastered. So what’s the difference between mixing and mastering? To put it very simply, the mixing engineer takes each piece of a recording: the guitars, bass, vocals, drums, and any other elements, applies any desired effects to each, and balances them all as he or she sees fit. The fundamental sound of an album is determined by how it is recorded, and how it is mixed. Once the mix is locked down, the job of the mastering engineer is then to apply EQ and additional compression. It’s worth noting that there’s nothing stopping mixing engineers from applying plenty of compression before the mastering engineer ever starts their work. Death Magnetic is case in point; the mastering engineers claim that what they received was already bricked to hell, and there was basically nothing they could do.

Master of the Puppets - Metal FiMustaine got the idea to remix and remaster nearly all of his back catalogue after releasing the remastered version Killing Is My Business two years earlier to generally positive acclaim, barring the idiotic inclusion of the bleeped version of “These Boots.” As it turns out, KIMB had already been remastered a decade earlier for an Italian market reissue, and then again in 1999 for a wider EU reissue on Century Media, but I don’t think Mustaine had any direct involvement with either of those.

Mustaine’s remastered KIMB was stupidly loud, but the original CD did completely suck in terms of sound, so I can understand the remaster getting a pass. The original vinyl did not suck, but that’s a story for another day. Unfortunately, with KIMB now blasting at DR6, having his other old albums all at DR10+ just wouldn’t do. Mustaine could’ve just remastered them all and cranked the volume to similar levels, but instead he decided to go all George Lucas (i.e. Han shot first. These are not the guitar parts you’re looking for). Since Mustaine wanted to radically alter, rather than just jack up the volume of his old albums, remastering wasn’t going to cut it. He had to go back to his original mixes, and lo and behold, some very important chunks (solos, guitar and bass parts, and some vocals) were missing, so he opted to re-record them, after all what possible harm could that do?

What Mustaine ended up with were a bunch of Frankenstein monsters with old and new pieces glued together, and of course everything jacked up to hell with clipping as the inevitable result. So glad I bought those. Unfortunately for my wallet, I also purchased the version of Countdown To Extinction released by the audiophile reissue label Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab in 2006, and wouldn’t you know it, it was the same story as the DCC version of Master Of Puppets. Yes, despite MFSL’s signature “Original Master Recording” plastered right at the top, what MFSL actually got was Mustaine’s 2004 mess, and as before, their mastering engineer could only do the best with what he was given. The MFSL engineers could very likely turn the original 1992 master tapes into something phenomenal, but we’ll never know.

Megadeath - Metal FiWhat’s a shame is that as with Marino’s “louderized” remaster of Master Of Puppets, none of this needed to happen. The original versions of Peace Sells and Rust In Piece both sound great, there was absolutely no need for Mustaine to come in and butcher them. Extinction on the other hand could have used some tweaking, as the original mix is a bit imbalanced, with the guitars too far back, and the cymbals too far forward. Instead, it was also butchered.

As a wise man once said, “fool me…you can’t get fooled again.” When it comes to “special editions” or “anniversary editions” or other ploys to get you to buy remastered reissues of classic metal albums, don’t be fooled. In almost all cases, “remastered” really means “ruined.” Sadly because remastering is sexy from a marketing standpoint, and because old pre-Loudness War metal albums are quiet and that makes everybody uncomfortable, don’t expect this practice to change any time soon.

There are exceptions of course, Noel Summerville for example is doing yeoman’s work with much of Earache’s back catalog for their Full Dynamic Range reissue series, at least in the cases where the originals were brickwalled or otherwise badly produced. The usefulness of some of his retouches is more questionable, but at the very least, I’ve yet to hear an FDR reissue that’s worse than the original, and when it comes to remastering, I call that a win. There are also cases where a dynamic remaster alone is not enough. A prime example of that is And Justice For All. That album’s thin, lifeless guitars and plastic toy drums are simply inherent in the recording. Plenty of engineers including the guys at MFSL have tried to make it better, and no one has succeeded. Newstead’s inaudible bass can be brought up so that you can actually hear it, but that’s as far as anyone has gotten.

Ultimately, the moral of the story is if you are thinking about buying a remastered reissue, at the very least check the Dynamic Range Database, as it just may save you from making the same kind of expensive mistakes I did.

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  • Hooray! You didn’t take a shot at me for my embarrassing-as-fuck Blind Guardian review!

    • Dave

      Nope. The BG remasters were definitely unnecessary, but Mustaine deserves all the hate. Those 2004 abominations SUCK. Just listen to the intro of “Ashes In Your Mouth.” WTF is that? WTF are those drums? They sound like bad programming.

    • For the record, your Melechesh The Epigenesis (Nov 2012) review stated:

      “Aside from the obvious and never-ending complaint that whoever is responsible for the mastering needs to turn everything the fuck down because I can’t listen to this record in my monitors due to peaking, the sound is much more natural than on previous record.”

      You were a MFi’er before MFi! Kudos!

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    I thought your review of BG was pretty spot on!

    • Nah, the one of the remastered tracks a while back.

      • Carlos Marrickvillian

        Ah,
        I always enjoy the angry metal fi collaborations. Keep em coming!

  • brutal_sushi

    What about the remixed remaster of “As the Place Burns”?

    • Excentric_1307

      It’s still too loud, but the mixing itself sounds pretty good. If it were mixed more dynamically we’d have a winner on our hands.

  • RuySan

    I remember buying Candlemass Epicus Doomicus Metallicus remaster, maybe 13 years ago or so, and after the initial excitement (it’s one of my favourite albums), i got shortly to the conclusion that it sounded way worse than my old cd.

    At the time i wasn’t aware of the loudness wars, or dynamic range, or anything like that, but the difference was evident.

    Never again.

  • Daniel

    Another really awful remaster was the Sodom Agent Orange double disc. Not only way too loud but random noise and gaps.

    • Dave

      I’ll have to check that out, I’m gonna be doing AO for our Classic Wax series in the not too distant future.

  • For the record (pun intended), I too bought the Megadeth remasters in good faith not knowing a damn thing about the Loudness War. C’est la vie.

  • Vega Magnus

    I have a question as a non-audiophile. I listened to Opeth’s Pale Communion a few days ago while I was working on a computer project. It was dead quiet, so I could hear it well and it of course sounded great. However, it is rare that I listen to music in an environment that quiet and attempts to listen to it elsewhere haven’t worked well because too much of it is too quiet to hear over background noise. So are super dynamic albums meant only to be listened to alone with no other sounds, or am I doing/perceiving something wrong?

    • tomasjacobi

      I would say (with all due respect) that you’ve got it wrong. In my experience, something that sounds good will sound good no matter what environment and what equipment you listen in/on. Pale Communion is not “super dynamic”. It’s just not ridiculously compressed like most music. In a sane world music would never be compressed below DR6 like a lot of stuff is now.

    • Turn the volume up! Problem solved.

    • RuySan

      Pale Communion sounds like a cat licking your honey-covered toes, while you are sitting next to a fireplace and it’s snowing outside.

      It’s a sound that it’s out of its time, for all the good reasons. Yes, just turn the volume up and enjoy.

    • Dave

      This is where good earphones or sealed back headphones come in. They’ll take care of the background noise distraction so you can enjoy that sweet dynamic sound.

  • tomasjacobi

    I think the new Led Zeppelin remasters sound really good. In fact I’ve been buying them on CD even though I often prefer vinyl, but these CD’s sound so good that there’s no need to buy them on vinyl unless you absolutely want that format.

  • FutureBeyondSatan

    Not too impressed with JP’s Defenders of the Faith 30th Anniversary replowed version. I am curious to hear other opinions.
    The live recording from ’84 made the purchase tolerable.

    • tomasjacobi

      Only heard it on Spotify, but it sounds terrible.

  • The hard part these days is finding original presses that aren’t scratched/damaged beyond repair. It seems to me one of the worst things that can be done to CDs is storing them in anything other than their original jewelcase, which sadly was the thing to do back in the day with those Case Logics and similar. :/

  • We run a tight ship.

  • RuySan

    Now i remember that i also have a remaster of “Peace Sells..:” and while i don’t remember anything awful about the sound, its cover art had an horrible printing quality.

    So much that it almost looked like a bootleg.

  • DIMENSIONAL BLEEDTHROUGH

    Those fucking gold CDs…what a crock. I’m convinced Neil Young’s Pono thing is the same thing for this decade – a phony increase in quality to pry money from gullible “audiophiles” when 99% of people can’t hear a difference. You bought the $30 gold CD of some dollar bin Doors album in the 90’s, and now you can upgrade to “HD Audio” for your shitty earbuds.

  • PEACE_SELLS

    Great write up! Even I’m tired of labels (ESPECIALLY RELAPSE!!) remastering already perfect sounding albums. I bought Mastodon’s Remission box set recently and it sounds pathetic! Loud, compressed..the rawness is gone. I really feel cheated buying such cheap (sound quality wise) reissues.

    Another example is the Leprosy reissue. Why on earth would anyone want to disturb such an awesome sounding recording! I’m really considering not to buy the new Nile vinyl reissues done by Relapse. I don’t want to be disappointed again. I mean I love the presentation and packaging but that doesn’t mean they can screw up the SQ!

    • Relapse are really not doing Death justice by compressing the hell out of those remasters. I admit there are some improvements, but in general, they are way too loud. Period. Man I wish Noel S. @ Earache could do a whole FDR series of them.

      • PEACE_SELLS

        Yeah even I wish Earache gets the permission to do a Death discography box set. FDR of course.

  • Wilhelm

    This is why I would rather buy originals than remasters, they are usually cheaper and sound way the fuck better…consumers are so gullible.

  • In my post bandcamp world I have only bought few remasters, the remix of Woe’s Quietly, Dramatically, and a few of the Full Dynamic Range Editions from Earache. In the CD days of yore I would be tempted to, but usually was too broke to go for the usually more expensive versions, and I think I was lucky for that.

    • Carlos Marrickvillian

      Why post Bandcamp?
      Bandcamp is my home away from home these days.

      • I guess I meant after I knew of bandcamp, where I do most of my music buying nowadays

  • drocmerej

    I keep doing these “expensive mistakes” just because the Dynamic Range Database has its limits. If no one has entered the information about an album version, I feel like you’re stuck. My “Last mistake” was Moonspell’s first two remastered albums. They’re OK though (DR 7 instead of 9…). The worst was an an “audiophile recording Vinyl Replica” Blue Oyster Cult album. It turned out to be squashed at DR5 !! ouch…

  • Martin Knap

    So according to the Dynamic Range Database Death reissues are nothing much… i’m still buying them though, what can I do if I want them on a CD…

  • chitownproud85

    Sooo…that linked version of …And Justice For All is fucking incredible, even with the bass simply turned up to an audible level. Far and away my favorite Metallica album, and hearing one of the songs from it with bass makes it feel like I’m hearing it for the first time. Goddamn Jason, I’m so sorry man. Wow. It should be a crime.

    • Dave

      Yep. Metallica seems to have a thing about deliberately wanting their albums to sound bad which explains the drums and such. The bass though was apparently them just being a dick to Jason because he was the new guy. They did basically the same thing that Dethklok jokes about doing to Muderface’s bass parts.

  • Jeff Kent

    In addition to remastering and remixing, there are artists who will go back and change the actual songs. Steven Wilson is often ‘guilty’ of this and it’s not always a bad thing. I suppose that he’s the artist and if he feels he needs to add new (real) drum parts to something that initially had drum machines, that’s his perrogative. Frank Zappa caught a lot of flak for replacing bass and drum parts that had corroded of the original master tapes and we all know what Ozzy did with Lee and Bob’s parts…

  • RilesBell

    Thanks for that DR Database link. Great stuff as always, I love the marriage between AMG and Metal-Fi.

  • Noobhammer

    Hi, my name is The Noobhammer, and I’m a remasteraholic. I have just always been a sucker for them. I remember going into a Media Play (remember those kids?) and purchasing Iced Earth’s remaster of “Night of the Stormrider”, since my cassette version was starting to wear thin. After that I bought their Dark Saga box set complete with remasters of the first three albums. Then went to buy “Days of Purgatory” with Barlow remixing and remastering.

    I was clean until Blind Guardian released all their remasters and remixes and went and got those. It was a dark day.

    In all seriousness though, in terms of the loudness war this is a terrible thing, especially for those of us who are familiar with the band’s work. Yet I can see the benefits of these in that they can attract new fans to these bands. It used to be hard, before the days of P2P clients, iTunes, AMG, and dedicated metal sites to the find back catalog of bands. If I was reading a Metal Maniacs and they went on about how amazing some new band’s album was and I went down to local shop, or in some cases an FYE, and they didn’t have it in stock, it’d have to be special ordered, like I had to do for Rotting Christ’s “Thy Mighty Contract” when I discovered them in 2004.

    And one final thing, I think Andy Sneap’s remixing and remastering of Nevermore’s “Enemies of Reality” is miles ahead of the original job.

    FANTASTIC article as always AMG

  • Hermione Granger

    i have no problems with a quiet album where i am in control of the volume button… and with a good cd player that upsample the cd to 24 bit/384 kHz. the old cd is very close to the vinyls, that is now played to death and have lost its good sounds.. i hate remasters!

  • haskpts

    Very tough to know what the original CD (for instance) sounded like if you never owned it. That said didn’t realize that the original Iron Maiden albums … say up to Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son BLEW away the bastardized 1998 remasters.